Thinking about digitizing your old negatives?  You’ll love sharing them with your family and friends. Stick them on a cloud service, like Flickr, or Google Photos, so they are totally safe if your house ever burns down. Here’s a guide on the basics of what to expect, what you’ll need, and how you do it.

Shopping list

1. A negative scanner

There are lots of options here. If you’re on a budget, the Epson Perfection V600 will do the job. If you can afford it, have a look at the Epson Perfection V800 instead. Why? Scanning at high resolution is a pretty slow process. The negative tray in the V600 lets you scan as many as 12 35mm negatives in one go. The V800 can do twice that. The V800 is better optically, too—but unless you’re a professional, it might be overkill. Yet if you’ve got a really big archive on your hands, the V800 will save you time going back and forth to reload your negative tray. Canon also has some good negative scanners but I think the proprietary software is a bit cumbersome compared to Epson. That said, neither are perfect. Of course, there are also third-party software options, like VueScan, but you’ll have fork out more cash for those.

2. Negative sheets and an archive folder

Once you’ve scanned your negatives, you’ll need to somewhere to put them. Preserve them with some Archival 35mm Negative Pages and stick those into a binder like this one, which keeps the outside light out. Store your negative binders in a relatively dry (30-40% humidity) and cool, but stable place. Avoid putting them anywhere that is exposed to environmental extremes — garages, attics, basements, etc.

3. Anti-static gloves and an air blower

Before you handle your negatives, put on a pair of anti-static gloves like these. You can also use cheaper, cotton gloves like these, but the anti-static ones are better because they attract any dust from the negatives, resulting in cleaner scans. Also, grab yourself an air blower for a few dollars.

4. A loupe and a light box

A loupe and a light box are really good investments, although not completely essential if you are on a tight budget. This Carson LumiLoupe 10x will only set you back about $5. This light box will do the job, but if you have an iPad, you can just use that, too. Check out this app for about $1.

Scanner Settings

I like to scan my negatives at about 4000 DPI, since there is very little difference beyond this resolution on consumer scanners, and anything bigger is pointless unless you plan on making enormous prints. The table below should help you figure out what size is right for you.

Scan Resolution Pixel Dimensions Megapixels
2000 DPI 2700 x 1800 4.8
3000 DPI 4050 x 2700 10.9
4000 DPI 5400 x 3600 19.4

Generally, I’d say you will want to scan your images as JPG files. TIF is probably overkill unless you plan on doing some very heavy lifting in Photoshop or Lightroom. If you do plan to go the TIF route, keep in mind they are uncompressed, so you better have a pretty large hard drive and a very fast computer because you’ll end up with whopping big files that take forever to do anything with.

Scanning

When you’re ready to start scanning remember to wear anti-static gloves so you don’t damage the negatives. Be sure to use an air blower too, to remove any dust. You may also need a small pair of scissors to snip the stubs off your film. Use the light box and the loupe to check the negatives before you scan. If you don’t have a loupe and a light box, just scan away and see what you get.

Remember to scan with the emulsion side of the negative facing down on the scanner glass. That’s the glossy side of the negative; the opposite is more matte textured. You can also identify the emulsion side by looking at the text on the film stock. The emulsion side will have the text the right way around. The reverse side will have the text backward like looking in a mirror. Another thing you may notice: older film stock will sometimes curve slightly. If it’s curving, the side that arches up is going to be the emulsion side.

Problems

Newton rings

Newton rings are circular/oval rainbow-colored artifact on your scans. They are caused by reflected light from the flat scanner glass and the spherical surface of the curved negative. Newton rings sometimes show up when your negative is curved enough to make contact with the scanner glass. Flatter negatives don’t do it because they don’t actually meet with the scanner glass. Instead, they are suspended about 1 mm above it. If you find you are getting Newton ring artifacts with some of your scans, there are a couple of things you can do:

  1. Wet/fluid mount the film
    Wet/fluid mounting is complicated, cumbersome and messy. The results, however, are incredible. Wet mounted film scans will look noticeably sharper than dry mounted scans, resulting in far more detail. It’s done by suspending the negative in a fluid directly on top of the scanner glass. As I mentioned, it’s complicated, and you’ll need to pick up a few extra products. To find our more about how to do it yourself, check out this video by YouTube user, Analog Process.
  2. Use glass inserts
    A company called Focal Point make a few products you can use to flatten out your film. Here’s a guide on how to do it. Glass inserts won’t be as good as fluid mounting, but it will be easier and far less mess.
  3. Increase the humidity
    You can try leaving the curved negatives emulsion side up on some parchment paper in a room with a humidifier going for a short time. About 55% relative humidity should straighten them out (generally, however, negatives are best stored at 30-40% relative humidity). Never ever dip your negatives in water. That’ll ruin them.

Archiving

I archive and edit my images with Adobe Lightroom and keep a backup of everything on Amazon Cloud. Another option is Flickr, which offers one terabyte of free space for your photos. Google Photos does the job too. For me, I like Amazon because it’s unlimited and can be used store raw files (uncompressed images from my camera) and other media too, like movies and documents. That said, it’s not free. If you’re just looking for somewhere to stash your jpeg photos, Google Photos and Flickr are both free and will suit most people. Your images will be safe with all three services, but each offers slightly different products. Figure out which one is best for your own needs.