Scanning negatives with DSLR and lightbox?

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by malin_ranwala, May 26, 2014.

  1. Hi all, I'm currently planning to digitize and preserve my family's collection of 35mm colour negatives and a few slides. I've seen various tutorials on the Internet on how to do this with a DSLR and lightbox or flash for evenly illuminating the negs. I've currently tried this with my bridge (Sony DSC HX1) and a white screen on my phone to illuminate the film from behind.
    However, I've noticed with the negs, especially when I place the camera close to the film, that there is quite a bit of vignetting around the white screen, which gives a large dark patch in and around the center of the frame when I invert the shots in PS. (try aiming your phone's camera at a completely white image on your monitor and you might see what I mean).
    I know that this should be done ideally with a DSLR to get the best image quality, and I will be getting a Nikon D5300 and macro lens in a couple months' time. Would I be able to get a completely uniform white backgroud if I use a small lightbox (eg: ) with the DSLR or a wirelessly triggered flash instead?
    Anyone who's tried this technique, I'd like to hear about how you did it, and I've attached a couple shots below. Any help would be greatly appreciated :)
  2. You might want to search for some of the many threads on this topic:
    Personally, I would advise getting a decent film scanner. The slide to camera procedure works fine for a few slides or negatives. Acceptible, if not fantastic, scanners include ones as cheap as under US$200 like the Canoscan 9000F
  3. pge


    One of the many ways to get perfectly uniform lighting behind your slides or negatives is to use parts from an old enlarger. Enlargers come with negative holders (to hold the negatives of course) and condensor lenses to flatten out a light source. You can put anything on the other side of the condensor lens, a constant light or a flash, and you will get even lighting on your negative.
  4. Decent 35mm film specific scanners can be had for under $300 new. Commercial lightboxes---even the small ones--- are relatively expensive, considering the low technology involved, but if you're on an extreme budget, you can make one fairly cheaply. Make sure you use so-called 'full spectrum' flo tubes and white translucent Plexiglas/Perspex as a diffuser. I have also done it with flash, the easiest way being to use a flash sync cord that allows communication between camera body and flash for exposure purposes--Nikon SC-29, etc. The auto-exposure TTL flash system works really well in this arrangement, with only the occasional need to retake the exposure. The only downside of the flash method is that in order to view the negs for framing and focusing, a modeling light of some sort must be rigged.
  5. Faced with a computerless friend who asked me to scan two boxes of slides, I put my Sony Alpha 900 with 50mm Macro on a copy stand. With the slide on a light box I made a cardboard mask to cut out stray light. The big problem was getting the colours right as it wasn't a daylight tube.
    So I made my own light box using a stout cardboard box, the extra depth to help even out the illumination, with a daylight tube in the bottom and a curved white card to reflect the light evenly upwards. Thus worked well but with exposure times of around a second, I was struggling to get them sharp (not forgetting to switch off steady shot).
    Next I decided to use flash by poking a flashgun through a hole in the side of the box. I was surprised to find the illumination still even, especially over the critical area at the centre, and with the much more powerful lighting I could use a shutter speed of 1/125 with apertures typically f8 - f16, so focussing wasn't quite as critical (I used auto focus). The flash was synched by a cable rather than wirelessly.

    Using this technique once it was all set up I could rattle through 36 slides in half an hour or so, probably much quicker than scanning. The quality was good enough for on screen display but I wouldn't have liked to try and make big prints from them. One problem is that the sharpness of old slides or negatives is often not as good as we might have expected from 6x4 prints or a small slide viewer - the quality of the original media may be the limiting factor.
    I also use the set up for digitising medium format, as well as some old glass plates I acquired. It comes into its own more with these larger originals.
    Having said all that, since most of your images are negatives its probably more likely that a film scanner is a better option, since photographing a mounted slide is fairly straightforward, but you would need special holders to do a strip of negatives, although I guess once you get the strip in the holder, it would be a quick process. But you would also need to invert the colours in an image editor, and probably manually adjust them to compensate for the orange mask. A film scanner would do this for you. Ditto cropping the "scans" as I found it very difficult to avoid including a border of the slide mount, it's surprisingly difficult to frame the shots to include exactly the image alone, and none of the surrounding area.
    Hope this helps.
  6. Why do we call it scanning?
  7. I don't think I'll need a dedicated film scanner as my parents weren't big on saving negs :( so I'm only left with about 20- 25 rolls of surviving negatives and a couple of sets of slides (around 500-600 pictures in total), and the only hard part in the editing process is dust removal. Inverting the neg is no problem as I use Photoshop's built in tools as well as the Kodak ROC plugin.
    Earlier I did fashion out a film carrier out of parts of a square ice cream tub, and it holds both strips and slides comfortably too. It gave satisfactory images with my phone's screen as a lightsource, apart from the uneven lighting problem.
    Today I designed a new rig with a large shoebox, lined it on the inside with white photocopy paper and made a small opening in front to shoot through, to which I taped the film holder. In the side I made a hole to stick an old Cobra 210 flashgun through, with which I plan to use a sync cord with the camera. Unfortunately my HX1 has no hotshoe so I haven't had a chance to properly test the setup,but I soon will, once I get the DSLR :) By the way, would a trigger voltage of 90v too high for the D5300?
  8. If you use a DSLR to copy slides (or negatives) you're not scanning, but copying.
  9. You can, but the quality won't be as good as a dedicated film scanner.
    Before digital I used to use a Canon FD slide copier attachment on bellows with 50mm macro. I used daylight only, entire assembly on tripod pointed at blue sky. Made some nice black and white transparencies from BW negatives, but the quality then and now is nothing like from my nikon film scanners.
    Not sure what Nikon made with respect to bellows and film copying attachments,scroll down about 2/3 of way down on right, there is a pic of the canon slide duplicator, you get the idea.
  10. This is a good discussion too.

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