Digitising your old memories

Turning old negatives into digital files seems a plausible and practical solution for all the old rolls of film, but in practice is it easy enough to do?

Ash: In my past life I was a photographer, back then I shot everything on negatives and transparencies easily going though 20 or 30 rolls of film a week, then along came Digital Cameras and everything changed.

For all this time all those rolls of photos and memories still remained and have been stored away in cupboards, on the off chance that one day I may need them again. In this day and age printing negatives into photos would be a pain, so scanning them seems to be the best way forward, but how do I do that? Well…

I have seen scanners for years, but they always seemed more effort than they were worth. In the before times you used to be able to get scanner that was a slide mount that fitted in the lens of a SLR – you held the camera with a negative in the holder up to a window and shot – quite simply that was it, for years that was really the only way to convert negs into digital files. The main issue with this was you would end up with shadows, or variants in exposure due to the sun – so it wasn’t really the best way forward.

Digital Negative Scanners have appeared on the market in recent years and so I have been looking for a better way. With over 20,000 photos to copy this isn’t a minor task and the reviews of many of the scanners isn’t that great. Many scan at low res, they are poor at focusing or you are just taking a photo of a negative and then having to invert the photo yourself. Of course you get what you pay for and some are literally a frame to put your phone on and a simple light underneath to rest the negatives on and snap a shot. Others are more advanced, but fail in the quality or file size. Then you get the expensive ones, well into the hundreds of pounds. The problem with paying out a lot of money would be that this is a finite job, once the negs are scanned the device in obsolete and will be only useful as an elaborate paper weight or being stuck up on eBay to be sold on.

But recently I took the plunge and bought one, to set about the mammoth task. I received the Digital Film Scanner and found a nasty green device – if you know anything about me I loath the color Green! Inside the box apart from the machine, you get a plug and a USB cable, plus an assortment of negative holders 8mm, 110, 135 and a slide/transparency holder.

I dug out the boxes and trays of slides and got to work! I chose the slides first as there is less of them. I took the slide adapter out of the machine and tried to undo it – now this would seem like an easy task – 20mins later I finally did it! The latch mechanism is really stiff and fiddly and it still is no better. Then you have to slide the tray through which is a trial and error thing – sometimes it gets stuck midway, sometimes it works. But its another minute of playing about. Im sure with time this will either get easier or I will inevitably have broken it – as you have to do this for every single slide.

Then you turn the digital display on – its only a screen with 5 buttons beneath which are not clear when the screen is on or off. There is a power button with a big red light – which you would think is the scan button but alas is not. There is direction buttons (left and right) Ok button and then a C button – the most important button of the set. C = Mode which is either save or cancel depending on the directional buttons.

There is a resolution tab which sets the scan to what MB 14 or 22 – but I have honestly found no difference between the 2 settings, I have scanned the same picture twice and the file size is the same regardless. There is a film setting button to choose between slide/black and white or color. Which takes you into the scanning mode or you can go directly into capture mode.

You slide the slide in and you can see the picture on the screen – the slide will stay positive and the negative will be converted to positive. You press ok but you end up on a color evaluation screen – this can be really all over the place – too blue, too red, out of focus. You really have to compensate with all of that and move on after a few more button taps – mostly cancel. It shows a little hour glass and fairly instantaneously the picture has been scanned. Then do the whole process again for the next slide. To do negatives you have to insert the Neg scanner, side of the slide scanner – the wonderful joy of fiddling with that latch. To scan negatives you have to change the settings and then insert your negatives as you scan you slide the negatives move across.

Then you have to go into USB mode and plug it into your laptop and send it – they import as a Jpeg – then you have to remember to eject the drive. Then go back to the scanner and format the scanners hard drive (unless you have a memory card)

The files themselves seem to have light flare and crops part of the picture no matter what you do – how you position it etc it makes no difference. You may have to convert the pictures into black and white as there is a yellow/pink/blue tint to all of them.

Overall there is a lot of steps to this process and fiddly at that! But it is pretty quick in the actual scanning process. I have only scanned a few photos so far but I feel I will still be here for a very very very long time………

*Amendment (8/3/23): Just a quick addition – This scanner stopped working after just 200 scans and was returned for a refund. We are now on Scanner number 2, practically the same, just black and not hideous green! And we will start again. Only 19,800 files to go!

Well there you go another random review and should you want a secondhand scanner in a few months, you know where to look!

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