I have 4 binders filled with 35mm black-and-white negatives and contact sheets. I've had good luck scanning the contact sheets, but bad luck scanning the slides. Professional scanning services are 50 cents to $1.25/image. Apparently you don't want to scan to B&W JPEG, because they are only 8-bits deep, but scanning to TIFF results in files that are 20-30 MB/image. And none of the home scanners are truly automatic, by which I mean that I can't just put down the negatives on the scanner, hit a button, and end up with 10 decent scans.

I've also read that Digital ICE doesn't work with black-and-white negatives.

So what's the right approach for scanning a lot of 35mm B&W negatives. I'm interested in preserving them and making them usable. By usable I mean that I want to be able to rapidly search the archives using face recognition and post images to the web.

My budget is $500 to $1000, and the scanning cost of the commercial scanners seems $5000 or more for the amount of images that I have.

  • 1
    What's your goal? Are you scanning these negatives for archival/backup purposes? Either way, if the images aren't worth 50¢ or a few minutes each, then maybe you don't really need high quality scans of every one. You could save yourself a LOT of work by scanning only the best shots now, and using the contact sheets to find additional images to scan later if you need them. – Caleb Dec 6 at 6:03
  • There are home scanners, which at least can scan each negative strip in one go, but obviously no scanner, which will automatically pick the strip out of the folder, scan it, put the negative back in the folder and continue with the next strip. You will either have to do that yourself or pay someone to do it for you. As you have noticed, it is pretty tedious and I doubt that you will get decent quality from a scan service charging only 50 cent/image. – jarnbjo Dec 6 at 12:13
  • Thanks. I've explained my goal with the edit. ScanCafe seems to offer pretty good scans for amazingly cheap prices... – vy32 Dec 7 at 1:26

Not sure if this is an answer to your scanning issues, but there is no problem scanning grayscale film (easier problems than color scanning), however printing grayscale photos on an inkjet printer can suffer a bit.

Your size comparisons do miss some points. If uncompressed, 8-bit mode grayscale data is 1 byte per pixel, and 8-bit mode RGB color data is 3 bytes per pixel (one byte each of Red and Green and Blue channel, called 24 bit color)... just how real life is. Color is simply 3x larger data. So 20-30 MB grayscale would be near 20-30 megapixels if not compressed, and only 1/3 of those megapixels if uncompressed RGB. That is not a meaningful quality comparison, however color is generally considered to be a plus.

And TIFF data is often uncompressed. TIF LZW compression is available (in photo editors, but not so much in scanners), but it compresses only a small percentage as much as JPG compresses, because LZW is lossless, but JPG is lossy (you could say, an approximation). Selecting a HIGH QUALITY JPEG setting is a larger and thus better quality image.

I'd say just wade into the scanning if you're willing. A thousand scans is a lot of work in any situation. It can be faster to use a digital camera in a macro slide-copy situation, if you have a way to hold the film and light it from the back side. Using the scanner film holder to hold it might simply it.

It is true that presence of metallic silver in the emulsion prevents Digital ICE from working, because silver is "seen" as a solid, same as dust or scratches would be seen (all color film except Kodachrome are dyes, with no silver). ICE removes visible spots that are not dye based (because infrared does not see dye at all).

  • Thanks for the details. I wasn't aware that Digital ICE didn't work with Kodachrome, but now I think I remember that. I do seem to be heading towards doing the scanning myself, which would suck, but it would suck less than spending $3000 on this project. – vy32 Dec 7 at 1:28
  • It sometimes worked with Kodachrome, but it depends on the processing, how well they removed the silver from the dark parts. The remaining silver blocking the light did not affect viewing the dark parts, but it could cause the infrared to recognize it as a spot to be removed. – WayneF Dec 7 at 5:02

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