Scanning Old Film Negatives

October 24, 2012  - by 
Scanned Negative

Among the thousands of photos I have been scanning for the past few years, I have accumulated a large number of negatives. Those of you who are a little older may recall that when you took your black and white film to be developed, you received not only prints from your film, but also the negatives. The negatives in my collection date back into the early 1900s. Up until now, I had no way to get a high quality scan from these negatives, some of which are large from the view cameras used at the time they were made. Except for those made after the advent of 35mm cameras, none of the old negatives are a standard size.

Fortunately, technology has advanced to the point where a high-quality scan of these odd-sized negatives is possible. Although some of the subjects in the negatives are mundane, many of the photos are priceless and the only record of the events depicted. One huge pile of negatives came from my great grandmother, who was a professional photographer.

Above, is a scanned image of one of the negatives. I have decided to publish a lot of the older negatives and photos on my Walking Arizona blog.

In deciding how to scan these images, we did a lot of research online. We have had very good results for years from my Epson scanner. The Epson Perfection 4490 Photo Scanner is an example of the more recent kind of scanner. However, we have also had excellent results with Canon scanners.

After considerable review, we decided on the Canon 8800F. I am very pleased with the quality as well as the speed of this scanner. The scanner allows you to scan both in reflective mode and transmitted light mode. I have found the transmitted light mode to be somewhat cranky. Since the quality of some of my negatives is very poor, the scanner cannot detect some of the pictures and sometimes splits one picture into two. However, by working with the position of the negative on the scanning bed, I have solved most of those problems.

Once the scans are made, the scanning software will sometimes convert the image from a negative to a positive image. There does not seem to be any consistency in this conversion, and some of the images come up as negative after the scan. However, this is no problem since I can invert the images in Adobe Photoshop CS5. If Photoshop is out of your price range, you can also try Photoshop Elements.

Here’s what the photo looks like converted in Photoshop:

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  1. This is some really good information about photo scanning. It is good to know that it would be smart to have a professional help with taking the negatives and scan them into positives. That does seem like a good thing to be aware of when you have a lot of old family photos.

  2. Hi I have some old B&W negative taken circa 1943-1945 of word war II images. I have a Canon MX490 scanner/printer/faxer. How do I convert them into images?

    1. are they 35mm or individual 2×3 or 3×5 negatives?? I am looking at getting a negative scanner… looks like a wide range of negatives… KODAK SCANZA Digital Film & Slide Scanner

      1. I have the scanza and it will not accommodate the old black and white negatives from the ’40s and 50s, and will not ‘see’ the full view of the earliest Ektachrome slides. Works well for slides from the 70s.

  3. Are there companies that would develop old negatives from the 1950″s? I don’t have a scanner like is mentioned here.

    1. Hello Louann. Our company does that for good prices and quality, in you are interested. Contact tomazinscanning (dot) com. Digital files, prints, restorations, whatever you need. Take care, Ryan Tomazin – owner/operator.

    2. That’s great you were able to get that processed. I have only one set of negatives I would like to process. And, they are from 1991, so they are not B&W. I don’t have a negative scanner. Is the family history center able to develop them?

    3. Louann, hi. I’m trying to get some old negatives developed. Did you ever find someone? I’m not having any luck.

  4. I have about a 100 old negatives from 1930s there 2 by 2 or 2 by 4. I want to look at them before making them into prints. what’s the best way in most economical way to do this