I am considering scanning my B&W and color negative films. I will most likely rent a scanner for this. Many of the negatives may be some 30-40 years old.

Two questions:

  1. I wonder whether the negatives are subject to a loss of quality over years. If so, in what way? (Darker? Loss of sharpness?)

  2. Scanning of a color negative to e.g. 2-3MB JPGs — roughly how much time will this take?

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Hi, and welcome to Stack Exchange. It's really better to ask two separate questions separately unless they're highly related. (Like, the answer to one part might impact the other.) I suggest editing this question to remove Q2, and then asking that as a new question. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 11:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Lifetime CAN be excellent. Non definitive datapoint: I just had a quick glance at a handful of colour slides all about 35 years old. One had a distinctive magenta tint which was probably not original but the rest appeared colour true. Storage has been dark and dryish. Photographic processes are chemical ones. Lifetimes depend greatly on the care which was taken in stopping the "developing" reaction. I have one set of colour prints which aged very badly while all others from 30+ years have been good. Very old films have problems with the "carrier" material - not so far evident with my material. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 4, 2013 at 12:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Kodak, Fujifilm and Ilford provide a .pdf file on their websites for each film family. It's specified on some .pdfs the ideal storage conditions for developed film of that kind. It varies from one film to another but as already pointed out it is always a cold, dark, dry place. Store your negatives in an opaque box with silica gel in a fridge and it should last generations with not much deterioration. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex
    Commented May 5, 2013 at 18:16

2 Answers 2


Long-term degradation of film depends on a few different factors including the type of material they were stored in, along with temperature and humidity of the storage environment.

That said, from the four types of film most people are exposed to (pun intended), B&W negative and Kodachrome slide film are perhaps the least affected by age.

B&W film is basically silver crystals on an emulsion and, if developed/stored properly will last a few lifetimes. All of my B&W film from 20+ years ago still looks like the day I put them in sleeves.

Kodachrome slide film is this way because it is an additive-type film emulsion where the color dye is in the development chemicals, not on the film itself. It has been around since the 1930’s and I have read reports that 50 year old Kodachrome looked like the day it was shot.

Now onto regular color slide and negative film. My stock of a few thousand of each has definitely deteriorated over the past 20-25 years. Primarily, they have shifted in color (e.g. picked up a magenta tint) and for sure lost some saturation. Now, granted I haven’t seen most of these images in over 20 years, but I would almost be willing to bet some have even lost detail and have become more grainer.

The primary reason for this is because this type of film has the photo dye directly on multiple layers of emulsion. This dye can and will fade over time. Especially considering most of the dye used on this film, and the development process it went through, was never intended to be archival in nature. As the dye fades, so does color and detail (i.e. sharpness/grain).

With all this degradation in mind, I was able to correct for a lot of it either at the time of scanning or inside Photoshop and/or Lightroom, especially the color shifting issues. I attribute this success to the file format I used for scanning which is mentioned below.

Now, onto the scanning process. I selected and was overall very happy with a Plustek OpticFilm 7600I SE scanner for the task at hand. As of this writing, this scanner doesn’t appear to be available anymore on Amazon, but other models do seem to be in stock.

I used the scanner’s native, maximum, optical resolution of 3,600 PPI (pixels per inch) for everything and selected to save the scans in the best file format that I know the scanner supported which is TIFF. With these parameters in mind, each scan took an average of 5-7 minutes to complete for color and about 2-4 minutes for B&W. Each TIFF file was approximately 50 MB in size.

I lastly wanted to note that although the times for each scan were noted above, some images took well over an hour to complete when you consider I fixed dust and scratches that the scanner could not along with the color and sharpness corrections. And then there were some of my B&W negatives and Kodachrome slides that went straight through the entire workflow process in 10-15 minutes. So all told, it took me about six months to select, scan, and fix around 800 of a few thousand images I have on film. Doing so on nights and weekends only.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, but I don't think TIFF makes that big of a difference in the range of compression available. If the scanner supports 16-bit TIFF that will help avoid posterization if you require massive color shifts, but the primary advantage will be in avoiding compression artifacts, no adjustability. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 15:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm I agree on that. With film scans you can even do a substantial amount of editing without posterization appearing because film grain acts as natural dithering. TIFF makes sense here more as an intermediary format to save a high quality (95+) JPEG from, or if you plan extensive post processing of the scan. \$\endgroup\$
    – lightproof
    Commented May 20, 2017 at 10:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ PlusTek OpticFilm 8200i is a current successor to 7600i. Basically, it's 90% the same scanner. \$\endgroup\$
    – lightproof
    Commented May 20, 2017 at 10:58

I am now scanning the 1000th roll of color negative film. The oldest is from 1981. So, to your answer ..

  1. Color fades. The worst is Green-Magenta. Even the best preserved (in very cold and very dry place) rolls does fade. Best is the 15 years old or less.

Worse than color fading is film deteriorating! Acetate film is very sensitive to temperature. It can lost the water content (thus shrink). The acetate chemical decomposes (vinegar odor) and film becomes brittle and fragmented.

  1. Depend on scanning resolution and (infrared) dust removal (ICE). The 1200 dpi without ICE is around 30-45 seconds/frame. The 9600 with ICE is around 2-3 hours per frame.

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