Digitising My Negatives

As I mentioned before, I recently began shooting on film again (a little bit anyway). Of course, this meant I wanted someway of getting my images from the negatives and into my digital library for a bit of light editing and sharing.

I found myself on Amazon looking at the plethora of cheap negative scanners. Most of these consist of a 5mp CCD and a backlight; photos are scanned quickly, to JPEG, and mostly without the need to involve a computer. From what I could find though, this type of scanner has three problems: highly compressed JPEG output, relatively low resolution ‘scans’ and extremely mixed quality output.

Maybe I was worrying too much about image quality – but they weren’t good enough for me. I wanted RAW images and higher-resolution output.

The most obvious choice would’ve been something like the Plustek OpticFilm 8100 or a negative-compatible flatbed scanner. I could’ve scanned as TIFF at high resolution and have been done. The main problem with this solution was the price, I couldn’t justify the high cost for something I probably wouldn’t be doing often.

To this end, I decided to make the use of what I already owned (or could make pretty easily).

The Setup

The camera setup itself wasn’t too complicated, I used my Nikon D700 with and old 105mm Micro-Nikkor. The equipment isn’t massively important though, as long as you have a decent DSLR, mirrorless or high-end compact / bridge with a lens that can get close enough to fill the frame with a negative then you’re probably going to get higher quality shots than a cheap dedicated negative scanner. RAW shooting is a massive plus though; the results will need some white-balance correction.

All of this needs to be mounted on a fairly sturdy tripod that can take the weight of your setup pointing straight down.

A couple of things you will need to be able to do though: manual focus, or at least have the ability fix the focus, and a self-timer / cable release function. Shooting so close, things can get blurry quickly.

One useful little accessory is a macro focusing rail, it allows you to finely tune the focus without having to mess around with the camera’s settings too much. It can be especially helpful with older, heavier lenses that tend to fall out of focus when the camera is pointing towards the ground and nudged slightly.

Probably the most difficult bit of the whole setup was coming up with some way to backlight the negative a suitable amount and evenly. Fortunately an Amazon shipping box, printer paper, a torch and a lot of packing tape came to the rescue.

As I didn’t have anything suitable to diffuse the light directly under the negative I made a relatively long tube (appox. 30cm) and lined it with printer paper that curved up towards the negative-sized aperture I cut at one end of the box. This produced diffuse enough light that evenly lit the negative.

A special shout out should probably go to the torch I used, it was the extremely bright LED Lenser P7. This is probably the best torch I’ve ever bought, super-bright for normal torching with a neutral enough light temperature for small photography-related projects like this.

Now for the stuff that really matters…

The Settings

For my negatives I shot in manual mode: 1/50s, f/7.1, ISO 200. I left automatic white-balance enabled as I was shooting in RAW and the white balance would definitely have to be corrected in post-processing anyway.

I chose not to quite fill the frame with the negative to ensure I made the most of the lens’ sharpness in the centre. After cropping, most of my shots worked out at around 8mp, which was pretty good going and definitely better than the cheap negative scanners.

The Results

Straight out of the camera this is how the negatives looked:

Inverting the photo quickly got me to something that looked more sensible. The blue cast to the image is the nature of the colour film and this is what needs to be white-balanced away. This can take a lot of playing with to get right but once you’ve done it for a single image, it should be the same for the whole roll.

After a little pushing & prodding with your image editor of choice (mine is Aperture but I guess that won’t be true for much longer). You can get something that looks perfectly acceptable.

To be honest, this photo probably isn’t the best example, but you can find some of the better ones (B&W and colour) in my Flickr album.

Something that did surprise me during this process was the amount of dynamic range I got from the negatives by digitising them in this way, I could see details from the negatives that the original prints didn’t even give the smallest clue to. The large RAW photos also gave me a lot of latitude when I was editing, it was nice to maintain the atmosphere of film with the advantages of a digital editing workflow.

Did it take a while to do all this: yes, would I have been better off getting a scanner: possibly, would it have been anywhere near as satisfying or fun: definitely not!

Digitising My Negatives

Guess Who’s Back

As you may have noticed, it’s been a long time since my last post. There isn’t really any good reason for this. Plenty has happened, I just haven’t got round to writing any of it down.

First off I’d like to mention the website, it went through a fairly radical redesign a few months ago and I mentioned nothing about it. For some reason it’s not in my nature to be happy with what I make hence the many faces and iterations of the website. This website, whilst being my home on the internet, is also the test bed for my RoR programming, you may get tired of hearing about its re-designs and re-codes but that’s part of the reason I created it. Anyway, another re-design is coming, this time it’s not visual but all back end, the main difference you will notice is that I am doing away with user accounts and having a more open comment system (I could be shooting myself in the foot with this decision, we’ll have to see how the spam bots take it). To the people that have commented on the blog already, your comments will be preserved and, when I roll out the changes, I intend to reply to all the comments I haven’t yet replied to.

The second thing I wanted to mention, again website related, is my hosting. A good proportion of my posts seem to be apologizing for the downtime of the website. I was actually getting pretty bored of this so decided to, quite literally, take matters into my own hands. The website is now hosted on a virtual private server set up and maintained by me. This again, may be a case where I’ve shot myself in the foot. For those of you interested, the VPS is provided by the wonderful folks at Bytemark Hosting.

Number three. Many of the posts of my website relate to the use of the ‘rflickr’ RubyGem. Development of this gem seems to have been at a stand still for a good while now, I’ve therefore taken the decision to clone it and try to continue development in my spare time. More on this in a later post.

Four. Any of you interested in my photography will have noticed a lack of it over the past few months, it’s not that I haven’t been taking any photographs, it’s just that I’ve not published any. To try and remedy this I uploaded a batch of photos today that have been sitting on my computer for a while. You can take a look at them on the photo page of the website or on my Flickr page.

Guess Who’s Back

Scheduling & Photos

Things appear to be moving along more quickly than expected this week, I posted my main application iSyncIt and the My Book Icons on a few forums and the Apple software website and suddenly the visits to my website have rocketed from 200 a day up to 700 hits or more a day. Not as massive as some websites but it’s certainly an incentive for me to do some more work.

After many requests I have started to implement a more suitable scheduling system in iSyncIt, I added the original system for people that change their calendar and contacts very often but it seems people want more flexibility so I am currently coding something more suitable and user programmable.

Also, partially as an experiment and partially due to me wanting to unify my websites into a single website I have today programmed and uploaded a photography section to the website. This portion of the website showcases some of the better photographs that I take, for other people to see. It has been created using the ‘rflickr’ gem and my Flickr Photostream. I had several problems creating the section due to the lack of documentation for the ‘rflickr’ gem, so I will be writing a tutorial in the coming days to help other people who want to create something similar.

Well, thats all for now, check back soon.

Scheduling & Photos