Digitizing Old Color Film Negatives

Assuming you refuse to mail or take a few old color negatives to a film processor and pay for the service, you will need the right equipment and lots of patience. Likewise, you do not want to invest any money and learning time in film-scanner hardware and special software.   So, all you need is a digital camera, PC with a photo-editor.  Latest iterations of  smart-phones work too.   Negatives can be done manually digitized in just three easy steps:  1) Take a close-up/macro digital photo of the original negative, 2)  Invert the Colors on the digital Image within photo-editor and then,   3)  Crop and touch up the image using a photo-editor.  Here is a more detailed explanation:

Step 1 – You will need to be a bit creative in order for you to take a good close-up photo of your negative. It’s the most important step. It would be best that you have the proper “light-table” equipment to insure the negative is back-lit with the proper color-temperature lamp while being held uniformly flat. Lacking this, a primitive way is to tape the negative to a piece of glass with a piece of mat white translucent paper on the backside. Experimentation is suggested, the better the digital photo the better the result. I use a 100mm macro lens on my Canon EOS with a preset holding technique against a skylight with a plastic or paper diffuser. I use an even more primitive setup when I take a quick snap of a negative (or slide) using my Galaxy Note 5 smart-phone. I create RAW image files when using the Canon. Even though the newest smart-phone can create raw image, standard full-sized JPEG files work just fine.


Example Photo of negative taken by DSLR camera




20160405_161900_smartphone_orig   Example photo of negative taken by smart-phone

Step 2 – The colors of the image within the negative are the obviously opposite to what is normally viewed in a photograph (positive.)   The must be inverted. The full-sized original photo-file taken in Step 1 needs to get transported into a PC that has a photo-editing software application (program) installed. I use Photoshop CS and Elements but almost all editing software have a color “invert” function.   Even free editors (like Goggle’s “Picassa”) have this capability too. Smart-phone users can download free “apps” like Photoshop Express” that have the feature too so the image file can be processed on the same smart-phone as what took the photo.



Example of color inverted image via Photoshop editor:







Example of color inverted JPEG image via smart-phone ‘s built-in editor app:



Step 3 – Unfortunately, a simple color invert of the original photo seldom is ready to show, print, or archive. The colors are unlikely correct and the image needs cropping, straitening, and trimming.  A photo-editor will usually have tools to correct these and also have other functions to correct contrasts, exposure, etc.    Most likely, the original film negative was photographed in Step 1 using lighting unlike the lighting at the time that the original negative was snapped.  For example, it may have been taken in mid-day sunlight while the close-up of the negative was shot using a tungsten lamp bulb in a light-box. Hence the inverted image colors are unlikely correct.   Further, fifty year-old negatives may have lost or shifted its color profiles.  So, after “cropping/trimming” the original image into your desired size-shape, the primary work needed in Step 3 is to correct and/or enhance the resultant final photo colors.  A photo-editor must be used to color-balance the general color-temperature of the image and make any other corrections.  Some editors makes this easy and have “Auto-Color-Correct” functions and correcting tools.


Example: Final digitized photo via DSLR camera using Photoshop:


Example: Final digitized photo using a smart-phone:






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