Film Negatives to Digital (My Workflow / How To Guide!)

Negative to digital scan - 35mm film in fuji gf670 girl portrait

Film Negatives to Digital (My Workflow / How To Guide!)

People often ask me on Flickr how do I process my film negatives to digital images to upload for social media and what is my film photography workflow.  Here is my simple 4 step guide to how I process film from camera to a digital image and the equipment I use.

(*I process maybe 50-70 rolls of film at home a year so this is based on what I have learnt along the way)

Film Negative to Digital – 4 Step Process

  • STEP 1: Shoot film (any film format, 35mm, 120, 4×5 ..)
  • STEP 2: Develop film (at home or outsourced to a film lab)
  • STEP 3: Scan film (at home or outsourced to a film lab)
  • STEP 4: Edit Film (Lightroom/ Photoshop workflow)

Film Developing Kit List – What you will need!

This is the main film developing equipment I use to develop all my film + Amazon links to help you find it.  I also have an Epson v600 scanner but upgraded to the Epson v800 and find it much better.  I started out with the smaller 2 reel Paterson developing tank (UK) / (US) but would recommend a 3 reel tank if you regularly shoot film or if you use 120 film rather the 35mm. (I use 2x 3 reel Paterson tanks side by side  (link below) and have the 2 reel tank as a backup).  I detail the chemicals I use but there are lots of other options available too if you want to experiment.  (For now I just enjoy the safety net of using tried and tested chemicals I have experience with).

Film Developing Kit – Film developing specific essentials
  • Epson perfection v800 – film and photo flatbed scanner – (UK) / (US)
  • Film changing bag / darkroom bag (to develop film in daylight) – (UK) /(US)
  • Paterson developing tank (3 reel developing tank) – (UK) / (US)
  • 4×5 MOD 54 insert – for Paterson tank (for 4×5 film) – (UK) / (US)
  • Kodak Xtol developer (5L) (B&W film developer) – (UK) only
  • Adox Rodinal developer (alternative B&W film developer) – (UK) only
  • Kodak T-Max fixer (for B&W film) (I can’t find listed, sorry)
  • Tetenal Colortec C-41 kit (C41 colour film developer kit) – (UK) only
  • Seagate External Hard Drive (final step: save your film scans!) – (UK) / (US)

Alternative chemicals that are also available in the US and are popular are:

  • Kodak D-76 developer (Xtol alternative) (B&W film developer)  – (US)
  • Unicolor C-41 power kit (Tetenal alternative) (colour film developer) – (US)

Rodinal 1:100! Coming soon! :)

Film Developing Kit – Common items you will need

In addition to the film developing specifics listed above you will also need some common kitchen ware / household items.

  • Thermometer (for liquids)
  • 1 Litre plastic  jugs (I use x3)
  • Timer or stopwatch (you can use your phone)
  • Pair of scissors (To cut film)
  • Pegs to hang film (I use clothes pegs)
  • Empty bottles to store film chemicals (I use 1 litre pop bottles)

Fuji GF670 + 35mm Film

STEP 1: Shoot Film! (The Basics)

  1. Buy a roll of film – this can be 35mm or 120 film (or 4×5 sheet film!)
  2. Load film into your favourite analogue camera
  3. Take photos (by exposing the film to light)
  4. Make notes on camera settings used / conditions
  5. Finish shooting the entire roll
  6. Rewind the film (in camera)
  7. Unload exposed roll of film
  8. Store exposed film until ready to develop

 

Negative to digital scan - picture of film cameras and rolls of film

STEP 1: Shoot Film! (My Top Tips)
  1. Buy film in bulk (multi-packs) if possible to reduce unit cost or bulk load film  from a 100ft-400ft roll using a 35mm bulk loader
  2. Make a note on your phone or a notepad what film you loaded (especially if you use multiple film cameras like me and if the camera doesn’t show you what film is inside via a small viewing window
  3. Note the camera settings and lens(es) used when taking the photos (I detail the lens, the f. stop used, shutter speed and anything else useful to me)(if I remember – sometimes I am changing cameras and lenses so much I forget)
  4. Ensure to make note if you expose the film at any ISo different to box speed such as Fomapan 100@800
  5. When film is unloaded number the film to tie to list on phone or notepad or write details on film itself like “Model – Aneta @400”
  6. For 35mm film I fold the end of the film over several times as a clear visual that the film is exposed (120 film will already have “Exposed” printed on the film backing paper when you unload)
  7. Refrigerate exposed film in an air-tight sealed bag until I am ready to develop it (freezer bag or zip-lock bag to prevent moisture)(If I shoot half a roll of film it might be in the camera 1 month – 1 year before I finish the roll but I don’t worry unless work for a paying client (where I will shoot the entire roll of film where possible).

 

#blackandwhite #film #filmdeveloping

STEP 2: Develop Film! (The Basics)

  1. See my Colour Film Developing Process (for C41 film or Kodak Movie film)
  2. For B&W film developed with Rodinal see my Rodinal Stand Developing / Semi-Stand Developing process (if you plan to use the Rodinal film developer)
  3. Here I will detail my current black and white film developing process – B&W film developed in Kodak Xtol developer
Kodak Xtol Film Developing
  1. Make up Xtol solution from the powder mix
  2. Load exposed film into a Paterson film developing tank (in complete darkness)(if daylight use a darkroom changing bag to load film in complete darkness)
  3. Make up diluted mixture of Kodak Xtol developer
  4. To make litre of solution I use 250ml Xtol + 750ml water
  5. Use thermometer to check temperature of diluted Xtol. I use 20-25 degree Celsius normally
  6. If too cold stand diluted Xtol in warm water bath until the needed temperature (I have Xtol in 1 litre plastic jug and sit in pan of warm water
  7. Once correct temperature pour diluted Xtol into Paterson tank
  8. Start the timer
  9. Agitate as desired during the needed time period (agitate more for high contrast effect, less for less contrast)
  10. Extend the normal developing time you use if you want to push the film (say if you expired Kodak TMax 100 at ISO 400)
  11. Less agitation will give shadows time to de below as highlights develop first (for semi-stand developing)
  12. After time period empty diluted Xtol out of Paterson tank into a jug (store for 1-2 days to re-use)
  13. Fill Paterson tank with tap water and empty, to rinse
  14. Pour the fixer into the Paterson tank (I use Kodak T-Max fixer)
  15. Agitate every minute or so for around 10 minutes (you can do less but I play it safe as the-use my fixer)
  16. After 10min or so empty out fixer to re-use
  17. Fill Paterson tank with tap water and agitate for a minute
  18. Empty tap water out and repeat process (I do this quite casually with no exact times)
  19. Add a few drops of washing up liquid to tap water, make up a litre and add to empty Paterson tank (prevents water marks)
  20. Agitate tank a few times and after 1 minute remove Paterson tank lid
  21. Remove the film reels and unload the film
  22. Use your fingers (clean them first) to pinch the film and run down the length of the film to remove excess liquid
  23. Hang film to dry in area away from dust or excess heat
  24. Wait a few hours and film should be dry and ready to scan

 

Film negatives

STEP 2: Develop Film! (My Top Tips)
  1. Wait to accumulate (normally) a minimum of 4 rolls of 120 film, 6 rolls of 35mm or 12 sheets of 4×5 (but ideally 6x 120, 9x 35mm, 18x sheets 4×5)
  2. Make up a 5 litre batch of Kodak Xtol developer from the powder packet mix (If I already have Kodak Xtol developer made up I use this instead)
  3. Transfer the 5L of Xtol developer into 5x 1 litre bottles (filling to the top for minimal air inside)(I use old pop/squash plastic bottles and crush them as I use the liquid inside to keep any air inside the bottle to a minimal)
  4. Label and date the bottles of made up Xtol and store in a cool dark cupboard
  5. Hang the film to dry in my kitchen using an old light stand + horizontal support + pegs to retain the film
  6. Allow the film to air dry – no special treatment
  7. Wait 2hrs approx until the film is completely dry (or when I get time)
  8. Aim to scan the film as soon as possible after it is dry (where practically possible (it might be 1-2 days later if I am busy)  Scanning the film sooner minimizes the risk of excess dust landing on the film
  9. You can also remove the film and scan later (I do this if will be away for a few days) – I cut the film and place in a plastic wallet but you can use film negative strip sheets

Epson V800 Scanner arrives!

STEP 3: Scan Film! (The Basics)

  1. Plug in and turn on the Epson V800 scanner
  2. Ensure the film and scanner glass is free from dust (I use rocket blower)
  3. Select the needed Epson film holder – 35mm, 120 or 4×5
  4. Load the developed film into Epson film holder (try to hold at the edges)
  5. Using your computer open the Epson Scan software
  6. See my settings used in the 3 screenshots below (just my way of working)
  7. Once you have selected 48-bit color or 16-bit greyscale click preview
  8. Open the preview in thumbnail view and rotate images if needed
  9. For clipped highlights in the preview I select the histogram adjustment
  10. Histogram adjustment lets me make basic corrections to avoid lost pixels
  11. Scan film as a TIF file (I do)(so to retain maximum detail)
  12. Name scan as “Camera type + lens used + film used
  13. Save film scans to external hard drive: I stack  2TB, 3TB & 4TB HDs!

*Please note this is only how I scan my film.  There is probably 100 different ways to do it in terms of settings used etc so I just detail what works for me.

 

STEP 3: Scan Film! (Epson v800 Screenshots)

Negative to digital scan - epson v800 settings

Negative to digital scan - epson v800 settings

Negative to digital scan - epson v800 settings- saving

STEP 3: Scan Film! (My Top Tips)
  1. I use Epson V700 film inserts in my Epson V800 scanner (bought them online)(I didn’t find the Epson V800 film holders that great for mass scanning)
  2. 35mm film – 35mm Epson film holder can hold 6 frames for scanning (per line x4 lines) but I cut my film into lengths of 5 frames to avoid part of the 6th frame being cropped by the film holder
  3. 120 film – 120mm Epson film holder can hold 4x 645 frames per side (8 in total) , 3x 6×6 frames per side, 2x 6×7 frames per side
  4. 4×5 film – 4×5 Epson film holder holds 2x 4×5 negatives (in total)
  5. I try to scan my film all the same orientation so to minimise rotating film once scanned
  6. I usually try to scan film dull or less shiny side (when in scanner) but have not noticed a difference either way
  7. If you film looks sharp to the naked eye but the scan looks soft experiment with raising and lowering the little “feet” on the film holders.  Default height works best for me but it is worth checking if all your scans look soft
  8. To avoid light leaks across film negatives (usually the frames on the ends) block out any gap in the film holder side not filled with film with black card.  I don’t do this as like the imperfections of film but that is how you can
  9. For scanning resolution I used to use 4800 dpi for all negatives.  Now I tend to use 3200 dpi for 120 film and 2400 dpi for 4×5 film to avoid the files from becoming too huge
  10. I name my film scans as such so when I come to edit at a later date I can share the camera type, lens and film used to make the image

 

Negative to digital scan - epson v800 35mm film scan preview Epson v800 scanner preview of 35mm prior to scanning

STEP 4: Edit Film! (The Basics)

  1. Photoshop – used to edit single film scans (perhaps a model portrait)
  2. Lightroom – used to batch edit film scans (film wedding photos)

 

STEP 4: Edit Film! (Photoshop – The Basics)
  1. Open the film scan in Photoshop
  2. Make duplicate copy of photo layer
  3. Clone out dust spots
  4. Add curve adjustment layers to correct contrast
  5. Make duplicate copy of photo
  6. Apply any simple localised adustments- dodge, burn, sharpen
  7. Straighten and crop scanned border (if needed / distracting)
  8. Add border to photo (if I think it helps)
  9. Save as full size JPEG
  10. Done
STEP 4: Edit Film! (Photoshop – More info)

That is my usual process for 95% of the film images I process via Photoshop. A clean well exposed film scan can sometimes be edited in less than a minute. A dusty film scan can take over one hour to clean up so the time taken to process a film scan varies a lot. The larger the film negative the less apparent the dust so 35mm film shows any dust much more than a 6×6 negative. Some film scans might need more sharpening if the lens is not great or if the film gives a softer look. Other scans will not need any sharpening (Hasselblad photos commonly!) I find colour film is usually slower to edit than black and white especially if the colours from the scanner need colour correcting.

STEP 4: Edit Film! (Lightroom – The Basics)
  1. Import film scan folder into Lightroom
  2. Crop and rotate photos if needed
  3. Use Lightroom sliders to make basic exposure adjustments
  4. Adjust colours if colour film scans
  5. Clone out dust
  6. Export from Lightroom as full size JPEG (if for myself)
  7. Export from Lightroom as reduced size JPEG if for client
  8. Done
STEP 4: Edit Film! (Lightroom – More info)

As with Photoshop, this is my usual process for 95% of the film images I process via Lightroom. I don’t apply presets or plugins to any film photos ever). Lightroom is used very little for my film editing but that is my process when I do use it.

Negative to digital scan - 35mm slide film

35mm E6 slide film – lab developed, home scanned

 

Example film scans – developed, processed, scanned & edited at home:

35mm Film

Ilford Delta 100 Portrait

Hasselblad H3D Film

 

 

120 Film Scan

Fuji GF670 Camera 6x6

Mamiya 6 150mm G

 

4×5 Sheet Film

Large Format Wedding

Fomapan 4x5 Film

 

I hope this proves useful to someone

Thanks

Matt

Related Posts

You may also like… What Gear I Use for Portraits!
  • See full details of my portrait photography lighting kit (2018) – HERE
  • See full details of my portrait photography equipment kit (2018) – HERE

 

Advertisements

Author: matthewosbornephotography

Coventry, UK studio based Model and Wedding Photographer offering both Medium Format Film and Digital Images. 1-2-1 Photography and Lighting Tuition also available.

2 thoughts on “Film Negatives to Digital (My Workflow / How To Guide!)”

  1. great, Matthew! I will follow your tips for scan. Usually I do almost the same but I do it in 300dpi, 1500%. To a print it seems to be good, but I will try your config too.

Leave a Reply