Getting Film into a Digital format

I grew up with film as a photographic medium.  Back in the 80’s and 90’s, there wasn’t any other option, and film was just what you did.  You bought film, put it in the camera, shot the roll and sent it off to be processed – or maybe even processed it at home.  These days, it’s so easy with digital, but if you still like shooting film, there is a dilemma.  How do I get these onto my computer so I can share them online or print them.  You need to get them scanned.

There are a few options.  If you shoot a lot of film, it can be worth investing in a flatbed scanner, but I don’t shoot a whole lot of film myself so I haven’t bothered investing in one.  My approach is becoming more popular and it makes use of equipment I already own – a digital camera.

The process is basically the same as the method used for slide copying back in the film days – photograph the negative in front of a diffused light source.

I use an A4 light panel purchased from Amazon, and a set of extension tubes to turn a suitably distortion free prime lens into a macro lens.


In the image above you can see the pad, a mask made from artist board, and a couple of clips to hold it in place.  The mask simply covers all of the light pad apart from the negative.  This is important to reduce the possibility of light spill in the image which makes it look foggy.

The camera and lens is fitted to a tripod which has the centre column inverted – a makeshift copy stand.  Some people have invested in a proper copy stand for this as it is important that the camera is perfectly level otherwise you get problems with depth of field and distortion.  I haven’t found the need to go down that route however with careful setup.


I use the histogram to set the exposure and use focus peaking to get the negative in focus.  Once I have the raw image, this is imported into Lightroom.  The next step after some basic framing and cropping is to use the “edit in photoshop” option.  Once there I apply a filter called Colour Perfect.  This is about £40 to buy but is worth the money.  You have a vast collection of film profiles to choose from which apply reversal and correction to the particular film type you have scanned.  You can apply adjustments from the plugin but I rarely bother with this.  I apply the filter and save the image, closing back out to Lightroom.  Back in Lightroom, I work on the image in the normal manner, though because it’s a film based image, the corrections you can apply are more limited than with a digital raw file.  Hopefully, you’ve already done all the hard work in camera anyway.

The results are on a par if not better than most examples of flatbed scanning I’ve seen.  Certainly there would need to be a vast improvement in quality over this method to make me want to invest in a scanner.  Ok, a scanner is more convenient, but that doesn’t really bother me so I’m more than happy with this method.


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