I've recently re-discovered and started using my parent's old Canon AE-1 Program. A recent roll demonstrated an unexpected result when scanned: a grainy/noise-like structure across all images. The effect is particularly prominent in regions of low contrast, but present across the entire image.

What have I done to cause this effect, and will it be present if I were to have the negatives enlarged to around 8x12?

Image example one Image example two

Relevant details:

  • Used newly purchased ISO 125 Ilford FP4 Plus film.
  • Photos taken in full program mode or shutter priority.
  • Overcast but bright day.
  • Film developed and scanned at my local photography store. I haven't had issues with them before when processing color and B&W.
  • The images were scanned and provided to me at a resolution of 3089x2048 pixels. The examples above are cropped for illustrative purposes.

I haven't observed this behavior on past occasions, including when using low-ISO film.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Without knowing the extent of the crops you made, it is impossible to tell anything from your examples. One can pixel peep scans of film until the image falls apart in the same way one can pixel peep very high quality digital images until they fall apart. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    May 23, 2019 at 16:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Since Film does not have NOISE. Did you produce prints to see how much grain is in the negatives and how evident it is in enlargements before introducing possible noise from scanning? You can not compare B to A if you do not produce A first to compare B to it. Have you examined the neg's with loupe to see if there is significant grain? Also the question title should read: What causes “noise” in SCANS of low ISO 35mm film? \$\endgroup\$
    – Alaska Man
    May 23, 2019 at 20:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's some very nice photos tho. \$\endgroup\$ May 24, 2019 at 7:48

3 Answers 3


Photos taken in... shutter priority... Overcast but bright day.

You probably underexposed the image. Since digital images can be "corrected", you will need to examine the film density directly to determine exposure.

Other possible issues:

  • Did you check whether the shutter and meter in your "re-discovered" AE-1 are fully functional?
  • Was the film expired? "Newly purchased" does not mean "not expired".
  • Have you used this film before? Perhaps you're just not familiar with its look vs other films you've used?

  • The developer the lab uses may increase the appearance of grain in some films vs others.

  • David Gibson suggests grain aliasing, where grain appears larger when scanned at insufficient resolution.

... will it be present if I were to have the negatives enlarged to around 8x12?

The grain probably won't be objectionable when printed.

  • Looking at a 3089x2048 image on a standard monitor at 100% is equivalent to looking at a crop from a 32"x21" print. Printing at much smaller sizes will significantly reduce the size of the grain.

  • You can measure the grain size in pixels to determine how large they will appear in the final print.

  • Printing on matte or textured surfaces may help "hide" the grain.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ To add to this, your scanner will adjust for improper exposure when scanning. This can and will lead to increased noise when the exposure is significantly off. Whip out the negatives and see if they're light/thin. That will tell you it's underexposed. FP4+ is close to the only BW film I shoot, it is not this grainy at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – timvrhn
    May 23, 2019 at 6:22
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Additionally, scanning will exaggerate the visibility of grain (search for grain aliasing) \$\endgroup\$ May 23, 2019 at 10:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, but this answer does not make sense. The images are posted in the question and there is nothing indicating that they are underexposed. Even if they were several stops underexposed, the sky in the lower image is bright enough to fall within the exposure latitude of the film and should look ok, which is does not. There is also no obvious reason how underexposure, a defect camera or expired film could cause the noise present in the posted images. \$\endgroup\$
    – jarnbjo
    May 23, 2019 at 13:25
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ underexposure + digital correction => increased noise. You can't tell film density from the scans. Camera defect and expired film can both lead to under exposure. \$\endgroup\$
    – xiota
    May 23, 2019 at 14:35
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @TimStack Because I'm souping in Rodinal and expecting a speed loss. The real ISO of D400 is 400...ish...and I'd prob. downrate to 320 if I used it. With D3200, the real ISO is ~1000/1200 and I downrate to 800. Grain ends up not being too over the top and the contrast and tonal range is also good. \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    May 23, 2019 at 18:11

For what it is worth: The noise pattern you've got looks a lot like matte beads. These are micro-plastic beads added to film emulsions to keep the emulsion 'bumpy' and not sticking to film/scanner/print. It's only on the gelatin side, not the base, and depending on the light source can significantly become visible. Since the beads are chosen NOT to be visible to printing light and, depending on the age of the film, they may have not been 'compatible' with a scanner point light source. Some scanners with very high intensity small diameter lights greatly exaggerated these effects. Also, development temperature and agitation strength can greatly affect grain size. You really need to look at the negatives themselves to determine if they're 'grainy' or not- digital scans aren't a sufficient way. Good luck.


Noise can caused by dirt whether on the lense or internal components. It also increases with longer shutter speeds, if you leave your shutter open for a longer exposure there can be a lot more noise than you would normally get at that ISO.

I was starting to get noise on my digital camera even at low ISO and a through clean of the lens and sensor solved it.

It can also be caused by the way the image is processed. With a digital RAW file if I adjusted brightness of colours too significantly when doing black and white conversion I would get noise.

In addition to this with film it could be the printer that is producing the noise. Although you have used the printers before they may have just had a day where there equipment wasn't clean getting your own negative scanner (or going to a different store) and viewing on a screen might be able to confirm if the grain is on the negative or was due to the print.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Dirt on lens surfaces is usually far out of focus - it might wreck your bokeh or your contrast though, but will not cause grain/noise in correctly exposed focused areas. That is, unless there is so much dirt that it causes underexposure, or there is heavily radioactive dirt involved..... \$\endgroup\$ Sep 17, 2019 at 8:42

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