I have a low cost USB negatives scanner that is operated manually by passing the negatives in a tray through it and scanning one by one. The quality looks good enough - for old everyday leisure photos mostly taken on compacts, nothing of precision here. The sensor is 5M pixel and colour depth per channel (RGB) is 10 bits.

Spending money to save time (scarce)

The alternative option for me is to get the negatives digitized by a service, and Boots and Jessops in the UK offer such a service at a price point that I'm happy to use: between 5-8 pounds per 24 or 36 frames. I have many packs of frames, multiples of 10.

My spare time is very limited. So I am seriously considering a service, to spend money to save time as I am able and willing to afford this.

Care of developer handling negatives

Regarding concerns one might have over loss of precious memories at a developer: 1) I have the best shows from the negatives in print form and 2) Both services offer 1 hour turnaround service which makes it unlikely that they would get "lost in the post", for example.


Once the process is done and I am happy with the results, I will discard the negatives and any prints. I am currently in the advanced stages of digitizing all my documents if their paper form is not mandatory, or simply discarding non-essential material without digitizing. My place is increasingly minimalist by the week :)

My question is: do you think the results of the service would be at least as good as doing it manually at home? Regarding quality?

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Why don't you try it? Scan one of your negatives yourself and get the same negative scanned by the service. After that you can compare. \$\endgroup\$
    – asalamon74
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 9:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have heard good reports about scancafe.com from some colleagues of mine who've used them. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 25, 2012 at 1:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 Thanks but this is U.S. based - useful for US readership though :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 12:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ I used Boots in the UK - Southampton City Centre branch. I am very happy with the results. In summary the quality level, service and price were good enough. (I don't work for them). I will add more detail here a little later. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 12:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would reconsider getting rid of the negatives. If they're kept properly they can potentially outlast your "digital" archive. I say this having a fairly sizable collection of digital material (not photos) that I no longer can access due to changes in file types and lack of access to "outdated" equipment. \$\endgroup\$
    – moorej
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 16:44

3 Answers 3


I would stay away from using the word "always" as exceptions certainly exist. I would assume that the quality of scanners in most shops is much higher quality then your basic negative scanner, but why don't you just ask them what quality the scans are? Most shops that are legitimate have different levels of scans depending all on what you want (and price of course).

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 Good point about the quality level of scans, I hadn't thought about that. However, this was not discussed when I made enquiries in the shop so wouldn't think that there are any options regarding that. But thankyou. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 9:20

I worked in a professional lab for 15 years. With a modern high quality scanner (like the Epson Perfection V600 Photo Scanner) there will be very little difference between what you get at home and what you get from the lab. The real area where the difference exists is the final product. At Miller's (the lab I worked at), we had every scan cleaned up by a professional Photoshop artist. Any scratches or dust spots were removed and the color was corrected by quality control before the file was finished. If there was a problem, such as damage or severe degradation, they would contact the customer and ask if the customer would like more extensive clean up and restoration. Those are things you just won't get with a home scanner. Additionally, check with your lab to see what level of service they provide when they scan. If there's no clean up or color corrections, then don't waste your money on them when you could do it yourself.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It seems like you didn't read the question and you are only answering based on the title: 1. The home option is a cheap "toy" negative scanner not an high end Epson scanner. 2. The lab has a 1 hour turnaround time so (unless they are really quick with Photoshop) there's no retouching 3. the asker want to this because he doesn't have time to home-scan not because of the quality so "don't waste your money on them when you could do it yourself" is, well, just not an appropriate answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nir
    Commented May 5, 2013 at 8:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ I upvoted your comment as I think it was helpful for me. When someone is looking for an answer, they might not have the specific details of this question. I found this question while looking for a link for a friend. I tried to make my answer general to fit a broader scope. You do have a good point though. I should have added this in my original answer. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – B-Rell
    Commented May 5, 2013 at 15:02

Answer: I used a PhotoLab (mostly)

I've only just recently completed sorting the batches of negatives that I had scanned for me, back in 2012, by Boots in the UK, a high street/town centre chain store, primary business is pharmacy but they have an established photo department in their stores. I've come back on this site to close this question with this as an accepted answer.

Their equipment is not exclusive, it's a Fujifilm SLP1000SE minilab, accoring the EXIF data in the images on the CDs that came back from the processing which I think other stores, such as Asda use.

The results are rich vibrant and colourful, balanced and crisp and good dynamic range to my eyes, without sounding like a cheesy promotion (I don't work for any of these companies). The image resolution is the equivalent of 2 megapixels which by today's standards is rather low, but this does not concern me for 2 reasons: the photos were mainly taken on a Olympus MJU compact film camera and a Canon DSLR entry level camera in the 1990s-2000s. Both are decent cameras but the film grain is perhaps slighly larger than the pixels. Second reason is that by the early 2000s 2 megapixel cameras were affordable so I would not be gaining given the fact that higher resolution wasn't available. This specification may vary with PhotoLab/shop.

All this stands up well to a cheap "Traveller"-brand USB manual slider negative scanner from Lidl or Aldi cut-price supermarket, if I recall, where the dynamic range is less so with a slight red tinge. So this point answers my original question.

I had about 50 negative rolls, each either up to 24 or 36 shots, so would have been a daunting soul destroying task to do manually, perhaps. The scanning shop mentioned above did these in the space of a week as they offer a say turn around and in some cases on the day or within a few hours. They generally offer 1 hour service, but with the volume I had, I did this in batches and it was understandable that they wouldn't be able to do them all in 1 hour.

Even though this was very quick, there is still time required to check through the results. I didn't want to keep the negatives or the original photos so had to spend time comparing the digital results with the negatives (only briefly held up to the light) and the original photographs. Depends on how OCD you are on this. For me this was part of my ongoing activity to declutter.

Let me share some learnings with you:

  • be methodical and realistic about the time you will spend checking (if you want to) the digital versions that you get back.
  • If you have a lot, understand that you will have to do this over several sessions if you have a full time job commitment, family, pursuits etc. After each session, note where you were at to pick up for next time. This is a mistake I made where I didn't track my progress after each session and did spend a bit of time on the next session going over what I did before.
  • If you are unsure of the shop, have a non-valuable set of negatives done first to "test-the-water", that's what I did.
  • Then if you are happy, you might want to try to have as many done as possible in a large batch onto one media. I say this because in my situation, I got a CD back for each 24/36 roll of film, about 50 CDs. This has now been condense onto one DVD-ROM data disk. The CDs have been cut-through and sent to a CD recycler which melts them down and uses them to make low grade mouldings for various purposes.
  • If you get in a muddle about what files are which, BeyondCompare and Fast Duplicate File Finder can help. BeyondCompare was great for checking copies I put on the DVD-ROM against the original CDs, before destroying them.
  • When I said "I used a PhotoLab" mostly, it was because the PhotoLab/shop did miss about around up to 3% of photos. Sympathetically, I put that down to natural human error in the shear volume of negatives I gave them in a short space of time. The remedy here was either to use the USB hand scanner or for better results I found the DoxieGo portable scanner gave similar quality to the PhotoLab- I use this for scanning in paper documents usually, to be able to discard them.
  • It's important to note beforehand what you give the PhotoLab in case of any disputes over what might be lost. I didn't have this issue. Tip: you may find with your original photos that the processor also gave an extra 'photo' with thumbnails of the negative roll. Keep this and use as proof as to what you submitted.

Overall, it's worth paying someone to do the work for you for a large quantity: spend money to save time. Though for me this did run into 100s of pounds, but meant I had time for other things in life. I would recommend who I went with in the UK, but I have pointed out other options and would say again, I don't work for any of these companies.

As well as high-street/town centre shops, there are specialist businesses that will also do the job and do it very well, that I know of, just search online or checkout your local business directories or advertising papers or local press.

Finally I would credit everyone else who has answered here, their thoughts are useful for your consideration.


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