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How can I scan negatives and diapositives using a flatbed scanner? What hardware do I need?

I'm a little confused here, both regarding what I need and how it works.

10-15 years ago, I think, it was common that flatbed scanners could be bought with a negative holder but when I look it up today that seems to mostly have disappeared of the market.

Furthermore, it seems that such device (basically a plastic frame that makes the negatives stay flat) requires backlit - but flatbed scanners aren't backlit, are they? How did those devices work back in the days?

I am in the market for a multifunction printer/scanner in the $500-range and it would be nice if it could scan some negatives with decent quality. It doesn't need to be perfect - I am never gonna print those scans anyway, the only usage will be on screen.

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Flatbed scanners with film scanning capability have not completely disappeared from the market. You are correct, scanning film requires the film to be backlit. So scanners with the capability have an illumination source on both sides of the scanner platen. It is (sometimes?) called a "Transparency Unit". "Back in the day", that's how it worked, and that's still how it works.

You won't find a multifunction printer/scanner with film scanning capability, as far as I know. You'll need to buy a scanner with film scanning capability, and it will leave you with more flexibility in choosing a separate printer (if anyone still needs a printer in 2021).

You can search on a website like Amazon or B&H, or visit manufacturer websites. Take a look for example at Epson's "Perfection" scanners, particularly those with "V" in the model name.

Also I guess the best way to understand how it works is a search on YouTube.

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  • Thank you for your answer. Aren't typical multifunction machines flatbed scanners? Or are all flatbed scanners not made equal in this respect? (I want a multifunction device because I want duplex scanning and an automatic feeder. I don't think you'll find that on dedicated flatbed scanners at a reasonable pricepoint, do you?) – d-b Mar 20 at 12:06
  • Yes, the scanner of a multifunction device is a flatbed scanner. But not all flatbed scanners have illumination on both sides of the platen - which is the key point for the film scanning capability. If you want every feature, you may need to buy multiple devices unfortunately. Personally, I have an Epson document scanner with automatic document feeder, as well as a separate Nikon film scanner (which is not a flatbed scanner but rather a dedicated film scanner). – osullic Mar 20 at 12:10
  • Worth a mention - I also don't think you will find a (non-multifunction) scanner that can scan film, and which also has an automatic document feeder. As I said, if you want all features, you may need to buy multiple devices. – osullic Mar 20 at 12:32
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    If you only shoot small amounts of film, or only have an ungrowing archive of film to scan, it may make more sense to use a scanning service that scans the film for you. Whenever I get a roll of medium format film developed, I pay also for scanning and then I don't have to bother with that myself. – osullic Mar 20 at 12:36
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    Found another solution instructables.com/Scan-Photo-Negatives-Using-a-Scanner - but one of the comments were intriguing indeed: place your phone with screen set to white on top of the negative. That's brilliant! I can use my iPad Pro as a light table and backlit the whole scanner! – d-b Mar 20 at 23:27
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Photographing negatives with a digital camera is an alternative to a flatbed scanner. For on screen use, a even a modern smart device camera may be good enough.

Because negatives and slides modulate light by transmission rather than reflection, capturing their information effectively requires a light source behind the negative. Bespoke products are available for purchase from companies such as Lomography and do it yourself solutions are feasible.

The web is a great source of ideas and information about “scanning“ negatives with a camera. It is probably the most common method in use these days because digital cameras are so common.

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  • ... are so common and have become so good. Here someone I knew from a German photography newsgroup describes his setup: derscheuch.wordpress.com/2009/12/28/… Back then, 24MP cameras like his were still rare and rather expensive. – Carsten S Mar 20 at 19:04
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In case you have a sufficiently large amount of pictures, I recommend buying specialized hardware with an automated feeder. 16 bits per channel is an absolute necessity! Depending on your use case, you may want to rent one rather than buy one. I used a https://reflecta.de/en/computer-required/23-reflecta-digitdia-7000-magazinscanner.html (I am not affiliated with the brand) and it was well worth the money (rented one week for 150 EUR, processed more than 2500 pictures).

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    I think I will be scanning less than 10 negatives/year, and have no high quality needs. – d-b Mar 21 at 0:32
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My (fairly old) Epson V200 scanner, as set up to scan negative/slides:

enter image description here

Specs says it can scan at 4800DPI, so you can get a 30Mpix image out of a 35mm slide/negative (personally never went that far). Epson still has photo-capable scanners in its line-up.

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