In 2004, multimedia software giants, Adobe Systems, launched an open source image format called DNG, whose specialty was it contained all the raw image data as well as the meta data required to reproduce the photograph from anywhere without camera information (a sort ofdigital negative). It was also designed to be compatible with various vendors, formats, standards, and software.
Do you have shoe boxes full of old photographic negatives stowed away, wishing that there was a way you could revisit all your precious memories― that picture of you that your father took when you were learning to ride a bike at the age of four, an older cousin's wedding, or even the first trip you took with your spouse?
Voila! Do not despair! There's a solution―you can convert these priceless moments into digital format, and cast your worries away about any loss or damage to the negatives or even the thought that they are simply too old for any image to be reproduced from them (physical media like old negatives degrade in quality with time). Turning your old photo albums into digital ones is a great idea. That way, you will be able to share them with your family and friends who live miles away, and/or view them wherever you are. PhotograFeed rolls out some options for you to convert your negatives to digital image files.
Ways to Turn Negatives into Digital Photos
Using Image Conversion Services
The easiest way to save yourself time and effort is to use an external service to complete this task. Stay rest assured that the work is being handled by professionals who are good at what they do rather than trying it out yourself and being unsure of the outcome. You will stand to save rather than lose your money if the negatives are few and of the standard size, 35mm.
The choice is yours for the asking―take the whole box of negatives down to a photo studio or have them shipped to an online service that specializes in this. However, the number of negative films you wish to convert will determine the cost and time required for the conversion which may vary from service to service.
Are you hesitant to hand over the testament of your entire life to a complete stranger? Or do you have extremely old negatives from the 1950s or even earlier, not of the standard size of 35mm? Afraid it will dent your pocket if you give them to a fancy, specialized, negative-film-to-digital-image conversion service?
Worry not! If you would rather convert your negatives to a digital format by yourself at home, you can do so easily without even having to invest in a scanner, but only if you are willing to spare more than just a weekend. Here is a guide to the most cost-effective way to convert your negatives.
What You Need
- The film of negatives that you wish to convert
- A good digital camera which supports photography in macro mode
- An attachable focus lens (optional)
- A tripod stand
- A mechanism to provide backlight (for e.g., a light box)
- Cardboard paper
- Black paint
- A good pair of scissors
- A picture editing software (for e.g., Photoshop)
- A LOT of time and patience.
- The first step is to a make a black cardboard frame. This helps to cut out the camera flare, and saves you the effort of adjusting exposure in the final image using photo editing software later.
- Cut out two neat 'L'-shaped cards of any suitable dimension from the cardboard.
- Paint them completely in black, and allow the paint to dry.
- These cards can now be used to frame each negative image while you photograph them. Since the frame does not have fixed dimensions, it can be used with negatives of any size.
- If you do not have a light box (the kind used for slides), then, you can also use the window of your study as a backdrop preferably on a bright day with the sky, blue as ever. However, having to mount negatives on a vertical surface will prove to be tricky than a horizontal one, as with the light box.
- Adjust the tripod in such a way that you will be able to take a clear shot of the negative. This part will be easier if you are mounting the negatives on a vertical surface. If you are using a light box, and your tripod does not allow you to get the right angle for the shot, you could prop up the light box to a slight angle and adjust the tripod such that you can line up the camera to that angle.
- Place a negative film on the mechanism for backlight, and ensure that it is held in position. At this point, a flat surface would prove to be conducive as compared to the window, which will require you to fasten the ends of the negative film somehow so that its position is secure.
- Place the black frame around the first image in the negative film. Again, make sure its position is secure.
- Place your camera on the tripod, and adjust the tripod's location and angle so that you get a comfortable shot.
- Use your camera's macro setting while clicking the picture. You can use an extendable lens for extra focus, if you own one. Make sure that the image of your negative is absolutely clear in your camera's viewfinder.
- Use the timer while clicking the photo to completely eliminate vibration/jerks/instability.
- Once you figure out the position of the camera, its settings, and the exact spot at which your negatives must be placed, it is easy to click a proper picture of each image in it. Then, all you have to do is change the image that has been framed for photography.
- Once you have clicked pictures of every image on every negative film (or when your digital camera runs out of memory), you can transfer those pictures to your laptop.
- Open Photoshop or whichever photo editing software you prefer. You can download GIMP― a free, open source photo editing software which is a handy tool.
- Open each image and invert its color. In some cases, you may need to adjust exposure or give the photographs an additional touchup.
It may seem like a painstakingly slow process. However, as you proceed, you will be able to pick up speed, as all you have to do is change the position of the film. The advantage of carrying out the conversion of photos by yourself is that you are in complete control. You can even sort your images into appropriate folders, something that a third person scanning your images will not be able to do.
Using a Scanner
If you do not want to invest in a dedicated service that converts negatives to digital images but do not have the patience to physically click a photograph of every image, here's a third option―a scanner.
Check whether the typical flatbed scanner that you use to scan documents has a feature that allows it to scan slides and negatives as well. If your scanner is a recent purchase, you are blessed. The newer models generally come with this feature, especially the range of Epson (V300, V500, V700, etc.) ones. However, if you own an all-in-one printer, scanner, photocopier, and fax machine, there are chances that scanning of negatives will not be supported. A transparency adapter comes to your rescue. This can be used to enable a conventional flatbed scanner to scan negatives.
If you are thinking of purchasing a scanner for the sole purpose of scanning negatives and old slides, you can even look into buying a dedicated film scanner. There are many advantages to owning one.
- They are lightweight and occupy less space.
- They help in scanning the negatives quickly and convert them to positive images instantaneously.
- Some of them do not need to be connected to a PC at all; they come with a small display screen showing you what your image will look like. The converted digitized images are stored in a removable SD card.
Tips to Scan Negatives
- Make sure you clean every frame of your negatives thoroughly before you scan them. The dust particles that settle on them will give the photograph a very grainy effect when scanned.
- While scanning negatives, choose the setting that gives you the highest optical resolution. As is obvious, higher the resolution more the clarity. Hence when you crop, enlarge, or edit the image, the degradation that occurs in the image quality will not be major.
- Do not save your image as a TIFF-format file. Although TIFF files have better quality (as technically speaking, an image of this format does not undergo compression), it is literally archaic now, and it will unnecessarily take up a lot of memory space. You could conserve memory without compromising on quality by saving your images as JPEG files.
We have thus laid out some options for you to choose from, to help you convert negative films into digital images. Liberate these valuable moments of your life from the restrictions of physical media, and safeguard them in a timeless digital format to preserve your legacy.