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What is a Negative Scanner?

By Leo J
Updated: May 16, 2024

A negative scanner is, in a way, a bridge between the worlds of film and digital photography. Many longtime photographers are hesitant to abandon their wound film canisters and dark rooms for cold, lifeless storage cards and computers, but the benefits of going digital are numerous. Digital cameras have become fairly affordable, and they eliminate the need to purchase roll after roll of film. Images can be stored on a computer or on a CD; they can be printed out at any time; and they can be e-mailed to friends and family with the click of a mouse.

Skilled photographers, though, are still able to produce higher quality images using film cameras. Film cameras offer more control over all the variables that go into taking a photograph, and digital cameras have struggled to match that quality for a comparable price. But regardless of the type of camera, working on a computer has all but replaced working in a dark room. Thanks to the negative scanner, photographs taken on film can be easily imported into a computer, where they can be digitally manipulated and processed.

A negative scanner is piece of computer hardware that can read a film negative and reproduce it on the computer as a developed image. The negative scanner helps conserve the time and energy required to develop photographs in a dark room, and it gives the photographer more control over the way photos are processed than, say, the local supermarket. After placing the negative into the negative scanner, the photographer can use a program such as Adobe® Photoshop® to import the images. One can then use the software to crop the photo, adjust lighting and color or add any number of effects to the image. It can be done within seconds and it can always be undone, meaning fewer headaches over minor mistakes.

Like anything else, the negative scanner has been made available at many different pricing levels. There is the lower-priced, consumer-friendly type of negative scanner, which often can also process slides. These are particularly useful for people with boxes of old, deteriorating negatives that can be preserved better digitally. There is also the higher-end and much more expensive type of negative scanner, which is more commonly used for professional publications like newspapers and magazines.

A negative scanner can be especially beneficial for newspapers, many of which have hundreds and thousands of old photographs archived on negatives. Since just about all major newspapers have made the switch to digital photography and turned their dark rooms into storage rooms, negative scanners are the only way to reprint any of these older photos in future issues.

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Discussion Comments
By anon150427 — On Feb 08, 2011

I have a stockpile of negatives, including that of my parent's wedding. I saw a book with a CD software for scanning negatives and slides. Will this CD software and a regular scanner will do the task of scanning my negatives?

By anon130021 — On Nov 26, 2010

Easy way to scan negatives, buy an epson nx420 scanner and scan the negatives with the scanner lid open.

By anon115027 — On Sep 30, 2010

Can I get a retail store like Walmart or Calagaz to develop my film but not print pictures, then run the negatives through a negative scanner onto my computer? Will this be cheaper or will they charge me the same processing fee? Thanks

By wes1569 — On Mar 21, 2010

I am a photographer/owner of a photographic studio founded by my late father in 1939. We are having over six hundred thousand color and black and white negatives mostly medium and large format (12x10 inches).

During the tsunami, some of these went under water, but were salvaged and restored by our loving staff. At about the same time we were in the process of turning digital from analog, and as a result we came to a state in which we were unable to print these negatives.

So we decided to find a scanner or to make one, capable of scanning large format negatives. We are now proud to announce that, although we failed in finding a scanner, we were able to make one.

With this scanner we can scan negatives up to 12x48 inches and down to 8mm, color or black and white. Now we are in the process of scanning all our negatives, some of which are 60 years old, and are systematically arranging them in a database on our computers. A. Guneratne

By anon61874 — On Jan 23, 2010

can i use 35mm film straight from a camera into a negative scanner without processing the film first?

By anon49434 — On Oct 20, 2009

can these scanners be used to scan from 8mm home movie film?

By anon47124 — On Oct 01, 2009

There are services that will scan negatives for you and mail the negatives back along with a DVD containing the digital files.

By bird3925 — On Jun 04, 2009

I have a lot of negatives 21/2 X 3". I would like to scan them and print to cd. What can I buy for this process?

By shane — On May 28, 2009

I am looking for a scanner that will scan negatives from the early 1900's. I have negatives and photos dating back to the old tin plates and want to share them with family and friends.

thank you for u=your help

By anon22394 — On Dec 03, 2008

No, you have to get the film developed first. Right now you just have exposed film, not negatives.

By Kerryn — On Nov 27, 2008

I have an old camera Fotonex fujifilm with the drop in cartridge type and was wondering if I have to get this developed first or can I drop as is into a negative scanner or will the light expose it?(Thinking of buying scanner as camera takes a lovely pic but lots of waste )Have just joined this site so hoping it will answer all my photo probs. Many thanks.

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