I have been messing around with developing negatives myself and want to scan them but I don't have a backlit scanner. I don't have a lot of money currently but have some options that might work for scanning. But I do not have access to a high-quality digital camera that would be better than my phone camera.

I have a non backlit scanner and understand that that won't work, I've seen people talk of various ways to scan with them. The one I keep seeing pop up is using a piece of paper and a light.

If I want to use a digital flatbed scanner that isn't backlit, could I use a light table to manually backlight it consistently instead of using paper and a light or using something to reflect the bottom scanner light through the film. I haven't came across anyone using a light table as a work around and was wondering if that would be viable as an option.

As another option, could I use a light table and my phone to take photos of the scans and then invert and correct the image myself?

I understand neither of these options are ideal but I'm just trying to work with what I've got available to me currently.

If there's any suggestions for ways to make these work better or which option is better pursuing to try and make work, I would appreciate it.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Could you perhaps focus your question a bit more in the concrete issue you're facing? There are plenty of resources available on how to setup a film scanning setup with a light box and a camera, fron your question it's unclear which resources you've seen so far, and why they are not sufficient. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 14, 2023 at 22:43
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @SaaruLindestøkke, reading between the lines, I don't think Lewis actually has a dedicated digital camera; only a phone camera. \$\endgroup\$
    – inkista
    Commented Jan 14, 2023 at 23:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi yes this is my issue, i dont have a high quality digital camera, i have one but its very old and produces photos at lower quality than my phone. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 15, 2023 at 23:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ My specific question is if i wanted to use a digital printer that wasnt backlit, could i use a light table to manually backlight it consistently instead of using paper and a light or using something to reflect the bottom scanner light through the film. Sorry for the unclear question i was a bit out of it because i was in a place that was very noisy when i postef this, i have seen various resources to scan film, but i hadn't seen anything talking about specifically using a light table and wanted to know if anyone had used on with a flatbed scanner and had any luck with it, thank you \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 15, 2023 at 23:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Put a white paper bowl whose diameter is 2x the negative's diagonal over the negative before scanning. This will softly reflect much of the scanner light bar back behind the negative. A light table behind it will also work, but could have hotspots, better to raise it slightly. \$\endgroup\$
    – dandavis
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 6:00

2 Answers 2


I've been quite successful in "scanning" slides with my digital camera (Canon EOS-M).

My setting was based on equipment that I already owned:

  • Notebook screen as light source (showing a 100% white image),
  • Home-made slide holder (cardboard) offsetting the slides from the screen by a few centimeters (to put the screen's RGB pixel structure far enough out of focus),
  • Lens extension tube to convert my kit zoom lens into something "macro-capable",
  • Tripod to hold the camera in the appropriate place.

The results were quite convincing regarding resolution as well as contrast. And the scanning process was super-fast.

In your case, the combination of light table and phone looks promising, if your phone camera is macro-capable, meaning that it can achieve focus when you're close enough to the negative to make it full-screen.


Your reflective scanner can be used with transparent originals, after a fashion -- you merely need a steady, even light source behind the original.

This is how DSLR or mirrorless camera scanning is done -- lay the negative on the equivalent of a light table and photograph it with a macro lens -- and a scanner is just a scanning-sensor digital camera, after all.

That said, it's relatively uncommon to do things this way, because the "light table" needs to lay flat on the scanner bed, which makes it relatively difficult to ensure the negatives are flat and aligned. Further, the front-light in the scanner head will cause reflections that interfere with the scanning.

In the past, I've scanned B&W negatives on a reflective flatbed by laying a sheet of white printer paper over the negatives; the scan light passes through the negative, scatters from the paper surface, and returns through the negative to the scanner. This results in expanded contrast, but it does produce an image.

What I'd suggest as an alternative, however, without spending money on a DSLR or mirrorless and macro-capable lens (plus copy stand and easel), is to use a smart phone. There are a number of relatively inexpensive adapters (priced all the way down to "cut your own from waste cardboard") to lay over a light source and position a smart phone camera at an optimal distance to photograph the negative; modern smart phones can thus pull up to around twenty megapixels from a 35 mm or larger negative.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.