Scanning film with a DSLR

The other day I used my DSLR to scan some of my old 35mm negatives. I don't shoot nearly enough film to a buy flatbed scanner (yet!), and the $5-10 scanning fee most labs charge can add up quite quickly. So using my D90 proved to be an economical, yet effective method. Results aren't the best of course (the D90's 12.1 MP spec holds it back here), but it's acceptable - certainly enough for small prints and online posts. Below is my method:

What I used:

  • Nikon D90 (w/ remote shutter)
  • Nikon 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5D 
  • Slik U212 Tripod
  • iPad
  • White grocery bag + piece of glass (taken from a broken Hoya filter)

The goal of this setup is to get a clear picture of the negatives. Using the items listed above I followed this process:

  1. Place the iPad on the bottom. This acts a pseudo-lightbox, illuminating the negatives from below. 
  2. On top of the iPad, place a white piece of translucent plastic (I used a grocery bag). This prevents individual pixels (from the iPad) from appearing in the final picture. 
  3. Place the 35mm negative on top of the plastic, and use a piece of glass to keep the negative as flat as possible. I personally took the glass from a broken Hoya UV(0) filter. 
  4. Using a remote (to prevent blur), release the shutter. You should get a clear picture of the negative. (See below). 

A couple of things to note: the closer the camera to the negative, the better. A macro lens is ideal for this, but a standard lens can work, especially if you use extension tubes. My 28-105 has a 1:2 macro feature, so I was able to fill up most of the frame with the negative. However, I ran into problems with corner sharpness, so I ended up having to keep the negative towards to the center. I'm not sure if this was a problem with DOF (perhaps the negative wasn't completely parallel with the camera) or the lens' softness (probably a bit of both). 

Now that you have the picture of the negative, import it to Lightroom. Using the Tone Curve, invert the colors to make the negatives, positive. Make all the necessary adjustments you normally would on a normal photo (contrast, highlights, shadows, etc). 

And that's it! Not bad for a poor man's setup. Here are some more examples (click to enlarge):