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Just as the question says, what sort of qualities should I be looking for when purchasing a scanner to digitize my film negatives?

I'd like to know what the qualities are and a brief description of each (i.e. DPI, ability to do medium format, slide carrier, information about the bulb, and so on).

I'm not really looking for answers containing scanning services, but you can include them and what I need to be aware of when choosing one of them (like turn around time).

I found this, which was closed; however, I think if I make it more generic, it should be fine and stand the test of time.

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    Please check this scanner buying guide. This should help you get started. – bbh Jun 8 '15 at 14:52
  • @bbh Thanks. I was partially asking to help make this the "go-to" site for all photography questions. However, it is interesting the best scanner they list (Hasselblad Flextight X1) is rated at 6300dpi, meanwhile I'm using a Epson V100 with 24-bit color at 9600dpi for color and 12800dpi for 16-bit B&W. I find that it produces very acceptable results, but I feel like I should be able to get better (even if I'm using 35mm @ 400 ISO). – SailorCire Jun 8 '15 at 19:49
  • That could be true. I remember watching a documentry in National Geography and the journalist in that story had to upload her pics and was using and recommending the nikon negative scanner. So I am thinking if NatGeo is okay with nikon scanner, then it must good too. – bbh Jun 9 '15 at 5:27
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Dedicated film scanners are generally accepted to give the best results (and highest resolution) when scanning film. However it's very expensive to buy a good resolution film scanner that will handle both 35mm and medium format negatives.

Flatbed scanners, while they boast very high resolutions such as 9600dpi, in most cases are not capable of producing these resolutions without interpolation. In other cases the manufacturer states either the vertical or horizontal resolution of say 9600, if both vertical and horizontal resolutions are not 9600, then the true resolution is not 9600.

With a dedicated film scanner you do not need to go to such high resolutions to achieve the quality you need to print from.

An example of a good prosumer quality dedicated film scanner is the Plutek 8100 Ai which can produce file sizes of approx 400mb. You will likely never need files sizes of this size but many photographers scan at this size and then reduce the files to produce sharper, less grainy images.

An example of a good flatbed film (and reflective) scanner is the Epson Perfection V750 Pro which does not produce image quality even close to the Plustek mentioned above and costs more than twice the price. However, it is suitable for scanning medium format negatives at an acceptable file size as a medium format negative is over twice the size of a 35mm negative.

The down side to dedicated film scanning is the time it takes. A high resolution scan on a Plustek can take up to 7 minutes per neg whereas on an Epson it will be no more than 2 minutes per neg. You can also mount multiple negs and batch scan on a flatbed scanner and this is not possible on a dedicated film scanner.

One of the most important issues with scanning, whether it be on a flatbed or dedicated film scanner, is the software you use to drive the scanner. Most manufacturers bundle their own scanning software which is useable but generally does not get the best results from the scanner. There are professional scanning applications, such as Silverfast, that will deliver better results.

Hope this helps.

  • Hi stephencosh, welcome to Photo.SE! When you have time, check out the tour page to learn more about this community (plus, you'll earn a badge). – Roflo Jun 9 '15 at 15:14
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Reference: http://www.filmscanner.info/en/FilmscannerTestberichte.html

NOTE: The actual numbers might need to be taken with a bit of salt, as do the stubborn recommendation to use Silverfast software for everything.



Fact: 2400 dpi scanning of 35mm film creates data just below 8MP.

Most if not all flatbed scanners have a maximum output below 2000 dpi in reality. All those 3200, 6400 and 9600 dpi figures are marketing-numbers.

To get to higher actual dpi above those you need to peek into the dedicated film scanners from Plustek or Reflecta (Pacific imaging). Beyond those are the Hasselblad scanners.

Nikon and Minolta scanners are still good, some of them still in par with the Plustek/Reflectas, but hard to run and possibly maintain as they have grown old.

Another alternative that may give very good results is 1:1 scale macro photography using a DSLR (~same MP as the sensor at most). Color negatives are a bit work-intensive though, in the meaning that you need to handle the orange mask.

  • Can I have a reference on scanners being less than 2000dpi? – SailorCire Jun 8 '15 at 21:05
  • If you follow the link above you will find a good load of them. Actually I believe most of them are. I know of none that can generate images at a true 2000 dpi (or above). – Hannu Jun 9 '15 at 17:46

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