Questions about Camera Scanning a large archive

Hi there,

I am looking for some advice on how to approach scanning a very large archive.

I recently inherited my grandfather’s incredibly large film collection comprised of about:

  • 10,000+ slides (mostly kodachrome)
  • several thousand 35mm negatives
  • several thousand 120 negatives
  • a few 4x5 negatives

I have currently been scanning the slides with a Pacific Image PrimeFilm XE and have been very happy with the results. However, it is simply too slow for the amount of scanning that I have to accomplish and cannot scan 120. I am trying to find a way to scan this archive without buying 5 different types of scanners.

After doing some research into the camera scanning workflow, I think that it may be the best option for my situation. That being said, I have some concerns:

  • I want to be able to scan large amounts of the archive at a time, but I am worried about the time I will need to spend editing after scanning (cropping each scan, adjusting WB/exposure, etc). From what I can tell, camera scanning (just the scanning) seems much faster than CCD scanners, but requires much more work on the backend.

  • Scanning the slides: from some forums I have been reading, camera scanning color positive slides can be quite difficult due to the slides having such a high dynamic range.
    Is it even worth attempting to camera scan slides? What would the ideal camera for that be? Would I actually save money or time buying a medium format camera with a high PDR vs a faster CCD scanner or paying a lab to scan them?

Any advice helps!


Welcome to the forum @fl0am

Reply to your last question

Short answer: It depends.

Longer answer: Assess the following

  • are you going to tag your work with a price?
  • what are the prices with your provider? Per item scanned? Bulk? Quality level?

…and make your calculation. If your provider asks 1 USD per item (slide or converted negative), you’re looking at a USD 10’000 plus bill. You’ll probably want to tag all those files with a title, description, names of locations and/or people etc. anyways, but that part of the workflow is the same if you camera-scan yourself. Tagging 50 images per hour? Maybe, if similar images are grouped already, say 200 hours of typing. If you value your work at 50 USD per hour, that’s another 10’000…

I hope you get the drift. My recommendation: Read posts here about gear and procedures, outline your workflow (assuming that you either already have bought the necessary gear or you found a reliable provider). Once you have assembled your workflow, bring it back here for review. Don’t forget a vital step: culling. Are all of those 10’000 slides unique and/or worth keeping? Be honest with yourself and throw away what is not good or needed. Or are you suffering the consequence of someone else’s lack of culling?

Very rough workflow

  1. get all items into reach
  2. review items and sort for Scan or NoScan
  3. assemble batches
  4. scan batches or have them scanned (lots of helpful info about this in the forum)
  5. review scanned output and add title, description, locations, names etc.
  6. repeat, go for a walk, eat, sleep…

If you go Fuji GFX 100ii, consider that you need some macro lens and mount. Check out Novoflex gear. sturdy and precise and certainly not cheap, but that does not seem to be a major issue.

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I think you may be overly pessimistic about the quality of the results that you will get from copying transparencies/positives with a modern camera sensor. Certainly colour negatives have a much lower dynamic range but I think you’ll have very few transparencies where the dynamic range of the transparency will be limiting in any meaningful way.

The dynamic range of the GFX 100II and the Sony A7RIV are quite close at normal ISO in fact:,Sony%20ILCE-7RM4

This is super helpful! I will keep all this in mind.

Yeah just seeing how some people were ending up with poor results camera scanning positive slides concerned me. I don’t want to run into the issue of having to change settings or do lots of editing per slide for good, consistent results.

Yes, that is what I found too. Transparencies have a wider dynamic range and that can cause issues when printing. As for camera scanning and converting, dynamic range of transparencies have not been an issue up to now in my case.

Transparencies don’t need NLP, but they can be improved, at times, following this hint:

Sometimes, and mostly with Kodachromes, the effect of said procedure is less obvious or absent:

Original scan (left) and positive created by NLP from an internegative (right)
Although the lower LH corner seems to be drowned in the screens above,
details can be retrieved, e.g. with local adjustment, as we can see below:

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First of all, I second all points @Digitizer and @Harry are making. I would say that even after culling the archive and having just one third of the initial volume to scan, it’s still a very big undertaking. My take is that you certainly need to go camera scanning route which is inherently many times faster than any other type of scanning. I would say that you may want high end equipment just because the high end equipment is much more sound mechanically and thus allows for less focusing and better throughput. It also should have a decent resell value.

Slides should not be a problem as what you see is what you get. Yes, you will need to play with backing light to optimize the result, like having magenta filter helping with color fidelity, but all of this needs quite a bit of trial and error before you start getting consistent results. I would say that you should avoid measuring exposure for each slide, but rather adopt single base exposure and then bracket all slides as a rule. You will get three times the volume, but you are guaranteed that one of three will be good enough and you will be able to HDR process especially problematic ones.

The dust is the serious issue as well as film curling . I typically recommend to remove slides from paper mounts - there are good tips around how to do this efficiently , and then clean slides without mounts, and remount them in cheap thin plastic side-mounting mounts like Pakon or HAMA which will keep them all of the same thickness and will protect them from dust accumulation forever. The scanning of slide of same thickness will be much faster and reliable.

With camera scanning you will not have issues switching between 35 mm and 120 and 4x5 provided you have large enough backing light.

Keep in mind that for 35 mm you actually don’t need higher resolution than say 30 MP . For 120 and 4x5 you decide what resolution you want and if you actually need more than 30 mp even if image has more info than 35 mm frame.

this decision is important as it informs what sort of camera and lens you need. The heavier camera and lens, the more durable and rigid rig you need and that will drive the cost up significantly.

Ideally , if you can find someone in your area who already doing this, you can ask for the facilities tour to get first hand idea how people do it IRL.

This is big undertaking and i would go in steps before committing large amount of money and then realizing that process is essentially so boring that you may run out of willpower to finish. I am serious - once you start doing things and it becomes routine you will need certain resolve to bring this to conclusion.

The following device is probably the best for your needs: Let's see your DSLR film scanning setup! - #23 by ChrisCDSMedia , though it costs around US$3000, but still it is probably the best one performance-wise. Look at all other setups in that same topic to get an idea what can be done.

Good luck!

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You might take a look over on the “Digitizing film with a digital camera” Facebook forum, it’s private but of course it is straightforward to join.

I’ve been impressed by the posts from Scott Rowed, himself a photographer, but who has been ‘camera scanning’ the archive of his photographer father Harry Rowed. See his posts here, he does go into what he uses:

Here are some of the results of his efforts:

It’s not for me to say of course but I imagine that he would be only too pleased to offer you some advice for your project.

Also perhaps this particular thread from Tim Sondrup:

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Thanks, I remember your original post, it looks like a very effective technique. I will try it on some of my ‘difficult’ slides.

Actually, with this particular slide if you inspected it on a lightbox, or even projected it I suppose, would that shadow detail in the bottom left corner be evident or have you in fact revealed shadow detail that wouldn’t have been obvious?

Just looked at the slide on the Kaiser Plano light panel. The details showed, but I had to darken the room and shield all other light from the panel. I copied that slide without masking any light from around the frame, something that does not “conform” to best practices. The Kodachrome cardboard frame was very visible…and had I masked off stray light, the wiggle-room for post processing would have been bigger.

As for scanning your items in an “assembly line” manner, I back @VladS with his proposal:

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I bought one of these Perfection V850 Pro | Consumer Scanner | Scanners | Products | Epson United Kingdom
It scans 18 negatives in one go and has two holders so while one is being scanned the next can be loaded. It also does 12 slides in one go again with two holders. It also has an IR channel to help remove dust and scratches which worked fine. But haven’t tried slide scanning. Nor can i compare it to using a camera and whether the workflow is faster with a camera. I suspect its about the same.

It took me months to scan 3200 negatives but that was not full time. As an estimate i’d say it took about 5 mins to load a tray and setup. The scanner finds the frames and once you’re ready press the batch scan and sit back. The scan took about 30 mins for the entire set.

I also bought the upgraded version of silverfast that was before I discovered NLP so I scanned both negative and silverfast converted images. I would say both had similar results in terms of quality although i was able to recover poorly exposed negatives better with silverfast but there wasn’t much in it. NLP has the advantage that it works on the source material while silverfast converts to positive so can’t be reprocessed. The silverfast user interface is to be polite, old school, but does work.

Some things I learnt

  1. Each film you scan will need adjusting to some degree so its not just the time cost of scanning
  2. Buy a big disk especially if you scan to TIFF which results in 40-60Mb files and a backup disk for the entire collection.
  3. Don’t scan two lots of images like i did, not sure why i did it, perhaps i was trying to get perfect images or didn’t trust silverfish
  4. Buy a camera lens dust blower and microfibre lens clean (the dry ones) as dust / fingerprints can be a problem
  5. Devise a catalog system and try and date the image (dating films will be hard). I scanned each film into a separate folder with a date and name
  6. Use exiftool to adjust any metadata. I wrote a small program to adjust the image creation time using the date of the folder using exiftool

Good luck

PS I’ve also inherited my Mother’s prints that are still sitting next to my desk in two large boxes :frowning: but will use the scanner for that.

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I scan my old prints and even vintage prints with a digital camera. You do need additional lights to properly and consistently illuminate the prints but it goes quickly.

For some good information on setting up such a system and how to catalog, name, and store your files, may I suggest you examine the work of Peter Krogh of Bethesda, Maryland. He did a video on this subject for B&H several years ago. He has also published several ebooks on the subject. I have used many of his suggestions and it has made my digitization efforts go more smoothly than I could have done on my own.

You can check out his website here: I used two of his books, Digitizing Your Photos and Organizing Your Photos With Lightroom 6. Both include videos demonstrating the process he uses.

I hope this helps.

  • Raw capture in 14-bit or 16-bit color depth per channel is a must. NO JPEGs.
  • Clean the film! Clean slides minimize dust and scratches.
  • Choose a light source with 95+ CRI.
  • Diffuse the light source thoroughly.
  • Expose to retain highlight detail in raw files. Copying slides is a lot like making them in the first place: If you burn out the highlights, you cannot get them back.
  • Process to recover shadow details. A few slides may need HDR techniques.
  • Don’t be afraid of noise reduction as grain reduction.
  • Create your own color presets in Lightroom Classic. Make a different one for each major film type (Ektachrome, Fujichrome, Kodachrome, Anscochrome, Agfachrome…)
  • Be sure you use a mirrorless camera or lock the mirror up on a dSLR. Use a two second self timer to reduce vibration, or use a wired remote release or a smartphone app to trigger the camera.
  • Tether the camera to a computer if your camera has tethering software or Lightroom Classic supports it.
  • Use a true macro lens. Lens quality matters.
  • Test, test, experiment, and test! Keep a log of every change and what it does.

I scanned my Grandmothers film negatives from the 1930s, and my fathers film and positives from the fifties and sixties. You have to ask yourself how much time do you want to spend on this project. My advice is to get this book Declutter Your Photo Life by Adam Pratt. He is a professional film scanner and he gives a lot very good advice for people who want to do it themselves. I didn’t read all of the previous responses but of the ones I did see I saw no mention of software, it is the software that makes the difference and end product you want that is important. You could scan that many slides in short time if your goal is to just digitize the collection to JPEG (to some this is a blasphemy), but you need to be realistic. Ask yourself is every photo a printable masterpiece do you need to edit each and every photo or do you just need a record. I chose to digitize some to JPEGs to have a record then revisit the ones that were really good. Some old negatives can take an long time to restore.

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