Photography started going digital about 30 years ago, so if you’re older, your loved one may have recorded part of your childhood on film-based formats, like slides or copies. prints made from film negatives. Or maybe you have stacks of old slides and film negatives from long-lost photos boxed up in your attic or garage. While it’s not quite as simple as scanning old photo prints, digitizing that film saves family history from outdated media and makes it easy to share recovered memories. Here are a few ways to get the job done.
For prints, you can “scan” a slide or negative with your smartphone by taking a picture of it or using one of the many slide/movie scanning apps. For best results, make sure the original is dust-free and evenly illuminate the transparency from the back. An inexpensive scanner – which provides a backlight as well as a place for your phone to rest for more stable photos – is one option.
Kodak’s portable film scanner kit ($40 and under) is one of the options. It works with the free Kodak Mobile Scanner app for Android or iOS. Simply place a slide or negative on the battery-powered LED backlight, then focus your phone’s camera from above and take a photo. However, depending on your phone and camera(s), you may have to experiment with distance and focus to get sharp images.
Rybozen makes a similar smartphone film scanner. You can also create your own slide scanner from common materials to capture images with a smartphone or standalone camera with a macro lens for close-up focus. YouTube hosts a number of videos on the subject – just search for “Do-It-Yourself Film Scanner” or the like to find some tutorials from DIY enthusiasts.
Photomyne’s SlideScan invention app ($40 for two years; free trial available) is another option. You hold the slide in front of your laptop showing a simple white web page and take a picture of it; The software automatically upscales and crops the resulting image, or you can make manual adjustments. Photomyne’s separate FilmBox application does the same for negatives. FilmLab ($6 a month) is another smartphone scanning app that comes in Windows and Mac versions.
Scanning smartphones has a number of downsides. You don’t get the highest quality results and it gets tedious if you have a lot of images. But it’s relatively cheap.
Smartphones can be all-in-ones, but using hardware designed for a specific task often yields better results. If you have a clear box for conversion, investing in a compact film scanner (like Wolverine or Kodak’s) can simplify and speed up the process for about $150; Plustek produces higher end models.
A flatbed scanner that can handle film along with prints and documents is another option, like the Epson Perfection V600 (about $250 online). Wirecutter, a product review site owned by The New York Times, also has scanner recommendations.
If you already have a flatbed scanner for documents and photos, check your model’s manual to see if it can handle slides and film negatives, as some include that possibility. If your scanner is not equipped to handle transparencies, you can make your own adapter out of silver cardboard to diffuse the light of the scanner and illuminate the image; Make: Magazine has free samples and tutorials online, as well as other DIY sites.
And make sure to scan images at a high enough resolution that they look good at enlarged size and for print; 3,200 pixels per inch is common.
If you don’t have the time, patience, or equipment, sending photos to a media conversion company like Memories Renewed, ScanMyPhotos, or DigMyPics is another option. Most stores charge by the slide – prices can start around 21 cents per store.
For your money you get high quality images. Some companies allow you to preview the results and even skip certain dud photos from your gallery. Your originals will be returned once the scan is complete and your digital copies are ready.
Get ‘worthy of the Gram
Slides and negatives can fade over time, especially if they are stored improperly. Many film scanning smartphone apps also include basic editing tools for color adjustment and cropping. And you can always use Apple Photos and Google Photos for mobile and desktop for free, quick photo editing that’s ready to share.
Share and save space
All the time, effort, and (possibly) money you spend digitizing old movies offers another benefit besides easy-to-share photo files. You can store them in a safe place online as a backup – and as a new archive should you decide to part with the originals during the spring cleanup.