Will Hopkins

How I scan film

Introduction

Scanning film is the great bugaboo of film photographers. I want to share my work on Instagram or Google Photos, so at some point I’m going to have to digitize it. Before I started developing my own film, I relied on my lab for scanning services, but now that I develop at home I need to do the scanning myself.

After investigating my options, I settled on DSLR scanning. Please note that this isn’t a terribly thorough how-to: there are plenty of those on the Internet already, so instead I’m going to recap the decisions and trade-offs I made, and link to the resources I used to arrive at this setup.

Setup

My only digital camera is a Nikon D3300 (using Nikon’s DX crop sensor), and while it’s not the newest model it works consistently well so I have no desire to upgrade. My laptop falls into the same category: it’s an aging-but-serviceable Chromebook Pixel 2 running GalliumOS, a Linux distribution built for Chromebooks. Both of those items limited my choices somewhat, since Lightroom (and by extension Negative Lab Pro) doesn’t run on Linux.

After some advice from my mentor, Renato, I purchased a Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/4 AI lens from KEH to use with the D3300. I discovered as soon as I received the lens that the D3300’s Live View function doesn’t support non-CPU lenses, so I started to investigate tethering options. Luckily for me, Entangle is a Linux program developed for exactly this need, and it supported live preview on my laptop out of the box. I have to manually set the exposure with the aperture and shutter speed, but once that’s set for a scanning session I can just advance the film, capture a frame, and move on.

In order to position the film, I use a Negative Supply 35mm carrier. It’s pricey, but works very well, and is vastly superior to flatbed scanning for 35mm film. I am not using their freshly-launched motor drive, but for now it’s fine for me to work manually. I use the full-frame guides, so I can capture the full, uncropped image.

Entangle also bypasses the camera’s local storage, so each time I capture a frame it’s stored directly on my laptop. From there, I open the raw files in darktable, my F/OSS image editing software of choice. I manually invert the curves and set the D.max based on the film base. I haven’t yet found any automation for inversion that I’m happy with, so it’s currently still a manual process. Finally, I export the images as JPG files and back them up to Google Photos and my other photo storage options.

Caveats

  • I’m using a crop sensor camera, so I’m not getting the most possible resolution, but it’s more than good enough for my purposes, and properly archived negatives will be around for years for re-scanning or printing. Plus, I didn’t have to spend extra money on the camera.
  • The Negative Supply carrier is pretty pricey, as much as a DSLR and lens. It works well, but I’m sure there are almost-as-good options that would be less expensive.
  • I still send my color film out to a lab, and don’t have a good way to scan 120 film.
  • I have but haven’t tested the Negative Supply 4x5 frame.

Recommended Reading


Welcome to the darkroom

Hello and welcome to my site. Thanks for stopping by!

I’m a photographer who works primarily with film, and I’ll use the Words portion of my site to share some behind-the-scenes details of my photos, plus the occasional travelogue or interview.

Self portrait in Detroit

Once I finish building my darkroom (the details of which I’ll share here), I also plan to post some of my prints and explain how I made them and what I wanted to achieve.

What don’t I plan to write about? Reviews! I’m really not interested in being a reviewer. Rather, I look forward to sharing my photographic process (and, I hope, my photographic output) with you.


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