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How to Convert Film to Digital Pictures

By Staff Writers | Tuesday | 20/09/2005

We all know it's possible to convert your digital snaps to glossy print-outs, but is it possible to go the other way? we show you how it's done.

Digital cameras have really become the preferred way to take pictures these days. But while few people are still shooting film, most of us have those boxes and albums filled with memories of wacky weddings, old school formal dresses and other classic events.

Scanners are a handy accessory.

Turning old photos into digital files will cut down on space, allow you to make copies and even let you touch up those images. The solution is not to work with pictures but with the negatives that they came from in the first place. The reason?  Negatives don't fade or lose colour the way a print does. There are companies that transfer film to digital for you, but it's easy enough if you can spare a little time for the process and some money for equipment.

Your PC is a great place to store your photos.

Flatbed scanners
Flatbed scanners are not very expensive and most computer types have one already for scanning documents and photos. Quite a few of these include a film scanner option - a small device that you can place a strip of negatives into, and which then is placed on the scanner. 
The software then treats it like a print, so you can preview the image and add any enhancements. For example, you might want to auto correct how much light the negative was exposed to. The entire process is simple, but you do have to cultivate patience because you'll need to scan one negative at a time.
Accessory film scanners are easy to use; they just replace the lid of the scanner and work in tandem with the flatbed/base portion (the part that provides the light that shines through the negative. Depending upon the model, this accessory might take a strip of negatives as opposed to only doing a single one at a time. It might also be able to handle varying sizes of negatives.
A 35mm is fairly standard across the board, but then there is also Kodak's Advanced Photo System (ASP) as well as larger film sizes, such as medium format (2.5-inches), and possibly even larger.
Epson's Perfection 2480 Photo ($299), which even has the film scanner built-in as part of the overall design, is a good example of an inexpensive model to use.
Using a transparency adapter, it can hold three frames of 35mm negatives or two 35mm slides. The more expensive Perfection 4870 Photo model ($976) can accommodate a negative up to 4x5 inches or up to 24 35mms at once in its built-in-film scanner. Resolution is 2400x4800 dots per inch (dpi) - a pretty good image should you decide to print it out. Epson's Easy Photo Fix software is included with the product, making it very simple, whether working with a PC or Mac. 
And more recently we've heard of the mid-range model, the Epson Perfection 2580 ($349), which features an auto film loader, plus automated features that include one-touch restoration.

Cost  vs. Quality

The main issue for digital files is resolution: the greater the resolution; the more detail and the larger you can make your print. Dedicated film scanners will always be superior to those made from a flatbed because their resolution is so much higher (as is the cost). As a way to get those negatives into digital form so that they can be viewed (not just stored), you can't beat the convenience of a flatbed scanner with a film accessory.
Film scanners have a definite advantage because they're built just to scan film and have higher resolutions than those found on flatbed scanners. Depending upon the model, you can scan film from 35mm on up to 2.5 inches and beyond.

Make sure you clean the negative for dust before scanning, using a camel's hair brush, canned air or lint free cloth.

Start Scanning
Place a strip of film negatives (or a single frame/slide) into the holder, and then insert it into the scanner's slot. The software "captures" the film and creates a digital file.
These files will be quite large, so you'd better have the hard drive space to store them. Additionally, a fast computer will help to speed up the process some, although in general it will take up to a minute or more per scan.
Another good scanner is Nikon's Coolscan V ED. The V ED hits about 40 to 45 seconds per scan and has a fast 2.0 USB interface to transfer the data to the computer. And the resolution of 4,000 dpi is very good. It takes 35mm and has an option for APS film as well.
If you run Kodak's Digital ICE software, it will automatically take care of cleaning up the image as it's being made. The results are often quite good, but in general it's a better idea to scan "raw." You can always clean up or retouch the file later. If you are looking to touch up later, Epson's Film Factory has a lot of features for this. You can also take a look at Adobe's Photo Elements 3; it's very user-friendly.
Scanning negatives is easy, though time consuming. However, the ability to save those memories in a digital format is worth the time and trouble. Just make sure you have a reasonably fast computer and plenty of hard drive space; afterwards you can always burn the files to a CD or DVD for saving. Unlike the negatives, now they can be taken out at any time and viewed!

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