I have spent quite a few hours – if not days – looking for what looked like, at least to me, a perfect DIY project for scanning my old, and less old, negatives. My Minolta X-500 (X-570) makes me eat through film faster than I actually eat and as my current budget does not include a proper negative scanner (at least not yet), I had to find a workaround. Plus, I have other 35mm cameras from my grandpa.
There are lots of DIY on this subject on the Interwebz, it takes less than a few clicks to find one that would work well enough and that would use material readily available to me. So I spent quite some time reading through the posts I found, regrouping material used, ideas, advice, and what not.
I ended up making a list of what I could use, things that I needed to focus on, and went to work!
– 2 cardboard boxes
– cardboard or very thick paper sheets
– a small wood stick that used to be a garden prop
– a small lamp
– cotton gloves, dust cleaning equipment
– loads of patience
This is not going to be a step by step DIY presentation post, I honestly think that the best way to do this DIY, and any DIY for that matter, is to get an idea of how everyone else has done it, what has backfired, what was great, what was bad, and fly with it. You’ll therefore get to take a look at my own project, I’ll let you know what I think was the most important thing to actually not mess up, and I’ll give you a few tips based on what I have been shooting / scanning.
The most important point to walk away with from this post:
– Focus is key. You need to be able to be extremely precise and fast at the same time. Which means master the distance between your camera and the negative. If this distance can be kept constant, then you’re out of the woods. If not, you’ll have to focus once again for each and every shot instead of just “making sure”;
– Also related to focus, the film holder. The negative MUST stay flat. This is the exact same issue that MF scanners have, if the negative is wavy, parts of the shot you’ll take will be in focus, and others out of focus;
– Use a constant light source instead of a flash, it’s easier to focus that way and the quality of your shot will be higher. I started by using a flash but it was hard to make sure that everything was properly setup. With a constant light source, your settings will be constant throughout your shoot (unless you come across a very over/underexposed shot – then you’ll need to adjust). But then, I also tried a led light and unless covered properly, you’d see the leds through your negative;
– You can also use very small pieces of masking tape (the one that doesn’t leave traces on anything) to help out with focusing;
– A macro lens is ideal, you’ll be right in front of your negative, it will fill up your frame so you’ll get the most of your shot. If you don’t own a macro lens, you can still use macro rings (I used 3 rings on my Pentacon mm f/2.8 Preset and it worked like a charm). And if the rings are not part of your equipment, take your best zoom. It will be more complicated to maneuver, you’ll need a tripod, but it can also be achieved.
I have more film to “scan” and it’s time consuming, but it still beats some scanners that take up to 7 minutes for one frame. Okay, the quality won’t probably be the same, I admit, but it’s also better than taking pictures of a picture or using a regular scanner that will give you white streaks.
The only frustrating thing right now is that out of focus shots are not fixable. Depending on what these shots are, it shouldn’t matter. I found a film roll shot by my grandpa some 20 years ago, no matter what technical errors have been made, these shots will always live on now.
Here is the out of camera shot of what has been “scanned” above:
And the postprocessed version (Lightroom various adjustments, CS6 sharpening adjustments – out of focus is still out of focus unfortunately…):