Westminster fountain at sunset

by Jorge Córdoba

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I'm looking to digitise my old photos - I've probably got about 2000 frames to scan, so not sure if I really want a dedicated film scanner as I'd like to be able to continue using the scanner to capture sketches, kids drawings etc.

So obviously I'm looking for recommendations, but given the long life of answers on this site, I'd be much more grateful for suggestions of what features I really need to look for. For example:

  • for someone who will not likely print anything larger than A4 what maximum DPI should I look for? (if I want bigger I can get something scanned professionally!)
  • dust removal features - worth it, or just marketing?
  • anything else that is worth searching out or paying extra for?
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Might want to take a look at photo.stackexchange.com/questions/96/best-35mm-scanner –  chills42 Aug 29 '10 at 20:16
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Yeah - I saw that, but I want to know a bit more than "buy X scanner because I say it is great". What should I be looking for in a scanner for what I want seems a better question, IMHO. –  dunxd Aug 30 '10 at 18:27

2 Answers 2

up vote 16 down vote accepted

If you want to use it for documents as well, you're looking at a flatbed scanner, and there are a few options. The two I hear recommended most often are Epson's v-series (in particular the v700 and up) and PlusTek. I have a slightly-older Epson 4990 (the immediate predecessor to the v700s), and have been perfectly happy with it.

For printing, most flatbed film scanners should give you adequate scans of 35mm film for printing at A4 sizes. I wouldn't do gallery/portfolio prints from them, but for anything else they've been fine for me. With the right image and a bit of care in post-processing, I've printed up to 11x14 from flatbed scans and been happy with the results.

Resolution is partly the reason; despite flatbed scanners being labelled with high numbers for dpi (e.g., my Epson is 4800dpi), their optical resolution is somewhat lower; topping out around 1500dpi. Above that, you get more pixels, but not really any extra detail. This does have a bit of a silver lining, as sizing down (e.g., scanning at 4800dpi, reducing the resulting image by 50%) is a quite effective way to reduce the noise in the scan and smooth out some gradients in the result. Some of the higher-end scanners have a liquid-mounting option that improves results, but is definitely not something you'd want to do on a mass basis, nor would I think it gains you much advantage for A4-sized prints.

Of slightly more importance than resolution for me is the scan area. Some scanners can only scan film in a narrow strip; sometimes just one 35mm strip. Others can scan much larger areas and so can do more strips of film at once, or larger formats. Again to my 4990, it can scan up to 8x10 film, which means 4 4x5 negatives, four 35mm strips in the holder, and pretty easily six if I put them directly on the glass (which does hurt quality, but is good for making a "contact sheet" for review).

Software can obviously play a role; unfortunately there's no clear winner. In terms of ease-of-use, none are spectacular, and all are serviceable. Personally, I've always been happy with the default Epson software, but VueScan is a popular choice, especially if you're trying to get the absolute most out of your scans.

Dust removal comes in two flavours: software, which isn't worth bothering, and hardware (commonly "digital ICE"). The difference is in how it works: software-only methods just look for sharp lines of high contrast, and will often blur a lot of general detail. Hardware methods use an infrared channel; color films are transparent to infrared, dust is not, so it can tell which defects are from the dust, and which are part of the image.

I don't have much direct experience (I shoot mostly B&W film, the silver is IR-opaque, so doesn't work with ICE-like methods), but the general consensus seems to be that software methods aren't useful, and ICE/hardware methods are useful at least sometimes. A further wrinkle is that depending on the scanner, ICE processing time can be very high (3-5 times the normal scan time, or even more).

Dmax is potentially something to be aware of, depending on what you need to scan. This doesn't really enter into the equation for negative films, but some transparency films can have very dense shadows that are difficult to scan well (Kodachrome and Velvia in particular). Unfortunately, like dpi, these ratings aren't very reliable if the manufacturers even make them available. It's better to rely on reviews and user feedback.

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That is an excellent answer - just what I was looking for. Many thanks! –  dunxd Sep 1 '10 at 20:10

Get someone else to do it?

Have you considered using a scanning service such as ScanCafe?

I'm in a similar situation, but I have come to the conclusion that I won't be able to scan negatives / slides as well as a dedicated lab. (So now I'm saving up!).

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+1 for having someone else do it, but not necessarily for ScanCafe. –  bmb Sep 1 '10 at 1:07

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