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I want to scan a large archive of family film negatives, and am pondering between buying a flatbed versus dedicated film scanner. While quality is still important, we are not aiming at too high quality (in fact a size of 5MB per picture would be good), yet speed and ease of use are important factors.

Is it correct to say that flatbed scanner will be faster than film scanners, unless one goes for a film scanner with a batch mode? For now I see three main options:

  • Standard flatbed scanner: will allow to have multiples negatives at once, could buy a second negative tray and would almost work continuously (i.e. time of loading one tray might be time required to scan other trail?)
  • Mid range film scanner such as Plustek OpticFilm 8100, higher quality, yet much slower, only one series of negatives at a time (not sure if has motor to move the tray through)
  • High range film scanner with batch mode such as Pacific Image PowerFilm: faster as requires less manual work (no need to insert films on a tray + multiple films inserted at the same time), yet still takes 24 seconds per negative. So probably still slower than a flatbed but less manual work?

Am I missing some other options or aspects when comparing these alternatives? What would be final recommended option for scanning a large number of negatives?

Thanks!

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  • Another option is a digital camera and a “light box”. Also outsourcing has distinct advantages. – Bob Macaroni McStevens Dec 13 '20 at 21:17
  • Good point, outsourcing is also an option to consider at that point! On the other hand, I doubt digital camera might be fast enough compared to scanners!? – Matifou Dec 14 '20 at 0:48
  • A downside of outsourcing is the risk that if your negs get lost, your negs get completely lost. – Peter M Dec 14 '20 at 1:04
  • Scanner speed depends on the scanner. Using a camera depends on the setup. It's a pretty common practice these days. There are many Youtube videos about it and accessories that support it. – Bob Macaroni McStevens Dec 14 '20 at 1:24
  • Most film scanners can be set to lower than maximum ppi if speed is more important than quality. – Michael C Dec 14 '20 at 3:41
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There's usually a trade-off between image quality and time. Equipment capable of higher bit depths and resolution take longer to scan. However, your resolution requirements are modest, so you could set a lower resolution to scan more quickly.

Batch scanning saves your time, so even if the scan speed is slower, it would be more convenient, unless you're working against a deadline. Since you would be absent for the scanning process itself, you could scan at higher resolution to avoid having to rescan in the future.

Flatbed image quality often isn't as good as dedicated film scanners, according to reviews. But your requirements are modest, so it may suit your needs. Whether you can scan multiple frames in one pass depends on the software, which varies by manufacturer. Look for reviews to determine whether the particular scanners you're considering have this capability.

If you have any formats larger than 35mm that you need digitized, the only economic option is a flatbed scanner.

Other options you may consider:

  • Film digitizers. These are devices which capture the image at once with an ordinary digital-camera sensor. They're quick, but image quality may not be great. Some capture directly to SD card. Some can capture different film formats or have batch capability. Given your modest requirements, this type of device may suit your needs.

  • Digital camera with slide copier. Image quality can be very good, depending on your camera and lens. Capture is quick, but images usually require post processing before they are ready for use. Inverting and color correcting negatives can be especially time consuming.

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