Film Photography

Scanning color slides at home

I enjoy color slide film for the bold, beautiful color it delivers. But I shoot it seldom because the film, developing, and scanning are expensive.

The Velvia I shot recently was a gift, but it costs about $10 a roll in 120 and $18 in 35mm. Other slide films cost about the same — there are no bargain slide films! It cost me $30 plus tax to have those two rolls developed and scanned. Fulltone Photo did the work for by far the lowest price of any of the labs I normally use.

I knew I could cut costs even more by scanning the slides myself, but could I get scans as sharp and colorful as Fulltone’s? Also, Fulltone’s scans are smallish at 1024 pixels square. I can easily get more pixels from my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II.

I tried it on a couple frames. I thought I’d show you my scans and the Fulltone scans to see what you think. My scans are at least 5100 pixels square — I select each frame by hand in VueScan, so the pixel dimensions vary slightly frame to frame. I shrank them to 1200×1200 for this comparison. WordPress shrinks them further to fit the blog template. I edited them all in Photoshop to my liking — nothing too invasive, mostly stuff like color temperature and exposure.

My scans are first, Fulltone’s are second.

Red flowers
On Talbott Street

Fulltone managed to bring out far better shadow detail than I could get from the CanoScan, VueScan, and Photoshop flow I use. Their scans look slightly sharper than mine.

But the Fulltone scans have a green cast that I couldn’t entirely erase, a cast that isn’t present on the slide. My scanner captured color that looks a little truer to the actual slide. Also, I was able to capture more of the frame than Fulltone did.

I don’t think there’s a clear winner here. Both Fulltone’s and my scans are fine. It’s a roll-by-roll judgment call whether saving $5 in scanning charges is worth the couple hours I’d spend scanning the roll myself. But when I want scans with large pixel dimensions, it’s very good to know that my existing scanning setup produces good results.

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41 thoughts on “Scanning color slides at home

  1. I don’t use enough film to bother making an investment in scanning equipment. But getting it done at a lab is often unsatisfactory. Development plus a basic scan (2300×1500) for 6,000 Won is not bad. Development plus a high quality scan (3600×2400) is better but costs 10,000 Won. When I have a photo that I really like I send film in for 50MB scans, but I find them to be worse in some ways. More and uglier colour noise. Maybe 50MB is a bit too much for 35mm film? Anyway, in the future I think I’ll just stick to the 3600×2400 scans. It’s not too expensive and more than good enough for posting to my website. One good thing about the lab I use is that they let you choose either Kodak, Fujifilm, or Noritsu scanners. I prefer the Noritsu scanners. It’s Kodak if you don’t state a preference.
    I see that your scans don’t have as much shadow detail as the photo lab scans, but yours look better overall. A shame that green cast won’t come out.

    • At current exchange rates, 10,000 Won is a good price for dev plus 3600×2400 px scans. I pay about that at the photo lab Downtown for scans of similar dimensions. But given the pandemic and how far away that lab is I have been mailing my color film to Fulltone Photo. Their scans (C41 35mm) are 1500 px on the long edge, not as generous, dev/scan costs just $7.

    • If you don’t already have a scanner, you might consider one of these.

      https://www.amazon.com/KODAK-SCANZA-Digital-Slide-Scanner/dp/B00O2BU8PK/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=kodak+scanza&qid=1606737126&sr=8-3

      This isn’t so much a scanner but a digital camera with a light table. I have a similar device and it was sooooo easy to do the “scans” compared to using my flatbed scanner. And it’s a lot faster too. The quality isn’t all the way to flatbed scanner levels but it’s plenty good enough. You scan directly to an SD card you insert, and then when you’re done you stick the SD card into your computer and harvest the files.

        • It truly depends on what you want from the scans. I have a Wolverine “scanner” much like this one and everything you say about the Scanza is true about the Wolverine. But I was able to scan all of my negatives from the 1970s and 1980s quickly and easily to a quality that’s good enough to share online and maybe even make a occasional 4×6 reprint. It would have taken me bloody forever to do the same with my Canon flatbed — assuming I could even get negative holders for 126 and 110. This is why I recommended the Scanza to JP. Here’s my review of the Wolverine.

          https://blog.jimgrey.net/2014/08/15/wolverine-super-f2d/

  2. Dan Cluley says:

    I built a rig to use my DSLR for scanning and am pretty satisfied with the results, but dust is often a problem. Does your scanner software deal with that, or do you have another solution.

    • I’ve considered DSLR scanning. My DSLR is an old Pentax K10D, 10 MP, and if I could get a macro lens for it, plus a light table and a copy stand, I’d think it should do well enough at this. But then I’d have to store all that stuff, and storage is a problem here. My flatbed is just out on the table next to my computer desk all the time and isn’t obtrusive.

      I’ve also considered a dedicated 35mm scanner like a PlusTek. I’m not that happy with my 35mm scans on the flatbed — they’re okay but not better than okay.

      As for dust, I use a soft cloth to gently wipe my negs before I put them into the scanner, but I still have to remove marks from negatives post scan. I don’t know a way around it.

  3. Andy Umbo says:

    Scanning is another one of those things that’s become a ‘crap-shoot” in the modern era. There are very few labs I’ve been to that have the type personnel working in them commensurate with what was going on twenty years ago. A lot of the labs that have even been listed on the lab “round-up” on this page, I’ve gotten scratched and damaged film back from because whoever is doing the scans, are just dragging it through whatever machine is doing the scanning (and I find it disconcerting that I cannot get just processing and proofing, they only process and scan). For me, the fidelity of the film is what I am paying for, it must be pristine or I’m not taking the chance.

    Having said that, if you’re paying five to ten dollars a roll for scans, it’s obvious you’re getting automatic machine scans. Someone is dragging it through the film gate of a machine that’s doing an averaged scan the same way your camera is making an average exposure guess when you’re using an internal meter; the only difference is it’s not only making a guess at exposure, but density and color as well. If you’re lucky, the kids sitting at the scanner may be monitoring a screen that’s giving some sort of “pre-scan” look that they may be able to make some decisions on changing. Maybe. Most likely, someone with three inches more experience than the operator is setting and testing it for a general ‘look’ every so often. Maybe.

    BTW, I saw the Kodak version of these machines early in the digital era, that used to give you a CD with multi-versions of the scan on them, none of them that would have given you a sharp 11X14. I was told that the more rez you want, the slower the scan. I’m pretty sure you are not getting the rez you want for bigger sizes because the scan process would be slowed way, way down to accomplish this, and not worth seven to ten dollars a roll!

    I’m explaining all this because I want to say that if you are a person that needs quality scans, you might as well save up and buy a decent scanner for the film size you use. I can tell you that if you buy a scanner like one of the Epson flat beds that can do sheet film and 120, your 35mm is going to look “not so good”. Too small for the mechanism. There are scanners that do a great job on 35mm and 120 alone, and are sharp. BUT, you’re getting into the scanning business now, so you need to know color correction theory, density control, etc. If you want quality scans, you can’t just set the machine on automatic and let it go!

    Just as a comparison, the last time I had a “real” scan done, to match the transparency, and at the resolution I needed, I had the choice of getting a Hasselblad Flextite scan for 30 bucks, or a drum scan for 50 bucks. For an individual scan from a piece of 120 film, by professionals, making color moves based on solid experience and knowledge.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great when you do these comparisons, Jim, of scan qualities at different places, and I read them with great interest, BUT just understand that with automatic machines, a seven dollar a roll scan lab will have varying quality on any given day. Good today, not so good tomorrow.

    The other thing is, if you’re getting jpegs, and doing some work on them, and then saving them as jpegs again, you know it gets “soft” every time you do that? Every time you “jpeg the jpeg”. If your lab has the ability to give you .tiffs, that’s what you should be getting, and then after working on them, you can save as a jpeg in the size you need.

    • Hi Andy. It seems we both a long-read commenters. 😃

      Unless I want my film developed at Walmart or CVS, I send them away to the Darkroom. I have the Epson V600 which is a huge step up from the Scanza that Jim recommended. It’s good enough considering the main purpose is preserving family memories from fading prints and saving some money over the $8/roll price for scans at The Darkroom.

      What film scanner do you recommend?

    • Lots to unpack here!

      First, I’m not a pro and don’t aspire to be one. I’m unlikely ever to have a negative drum scanned. I really am fully working in the realm of inexpensive lab scans and my flatbed scanner. This is my baseline. I receive scans that are good enough for my purposes: sharing online and an occasional print, usually 4×6 but I’ve printed a few 8x10s over the years.

      Second, I recognize that “good enough” doesn’t necessarily mean “good.” I’m with you: my flatbed is not up to the task for 35mm negatives. I get soft results that require too much Photoshoppery to look “good enough.” I keep going with the flatbed because it’s what I have, but I’m considering a dedicated 35mm scanner like a Plustek. I have a couple more experiments to run using the flatbed but if those don’t pan out I’ll buy a Plustek. Another photoblogger I follow did that and the quality of his 35mm scans went way up immediately.

      Third, yes, I do realize that bringing a JPEG into PS, modifying it, and saving it as JPEG again does cause some loss of information. I scan my own to TIFF for this reason, but no lab I use will scan to TIFF. Fortunately, one resave to JPEG does not damage the image noticeably to my eye, and the resulting image remains good enough for all of my purposes. But I wouldn’t reedit and resave that JPEG. Once is my limit.

      • Hi Jim, I think you were responding to Andy, but hit the reply button under my response to Andy. I agree with all you have written. I looked at a Plustek but as it doesn’t scan prints, the V600 was the best compromise.

        And you are correct. No lab returns a TIFF. 🤬

      • The lab I use saves their high resolution Flextight scans as TIFF and they have a fairly new service where you can get regular roll scans done as TIFF. But the price goes up from 10,000 Won to 15,000 Won per roll. Oof! The lab says on their website that the file sizes are huge, you probably won’t notice much difference in quality, and don’t bother unless you really need TIFFs.

  4. My wife and I are both immigrants from countries (India and the Commonwealth Caribbean) considered “poor” by American standards. Our fathers came from poor families but by the time I has 13 my Dad had worked his way into the upper middle class. My wife’s family had a tougher time.

    Very few people in these countries have cameras but we do have a few precious family photographs of great grandparents, grandparents, aunt and uncles. Before the pandemic, my mother visited from Florida and brought a box full of fading photographs and negatives. We were both concerned that losing these precious family memories. But I soon learned that my 600 dpi Doxie Go was not suitable for scanning prints or 35mm negatives. I set the box aside and forgot about it.

    Then my wife “found” a box of prints, 35mm negatives and 35mm slides in the basement. I found photographs that I had taken the year I bought my first film camera, a Pentax P3. I had forgotten how much of an avid photographer and documentarian I was. I had photos from 1987, all the way through 1999 when I set the Pentax aside for a Sony DSC-S70. I was very excited.

    In the meantime I had “returned” to using 35mm film. After a “failed” rolls I remember that cost was one of the reason I stopped shooting film. Between the cost of film, developing and scanning, I was spending just over US$40 per 36 exposure roll with the Darkroom.

    When my wife found that box of “goodies” I revisited the idea of owing a scanner. After trying out a crappy Kodak Scanza, I bought an Epson V600. So far, I have scanned all my college Kodachrome 64 positives and Tri-X negatives, and the few older family photographs my mom left; my grandparents wedding day, my mom as a girl with her grandfather, toddler portraits of me, my brothers, family dogs, etc.

    The V600 does a decent job “restoring” the cracked and scratched vintage print, and I can colour correct the scan previews before finalising each scene. It’s been tedious but rewarding.

    I have not yet compared the Darkroom scans to the V600 but I think I will be happy with the results.

    • Your V600 is about as good as it gets among flatbed scanners. You could upgrade to the V700/750/800 and possibly get some incremental improvement, but my opinion is that it’s not worth it. I’m discovering that technique is critical in getting the best possible flatbed scans. I’m still developing my technique, but it improves slowly over time.

      For 35mm, my understanding is that a dedicated scanner like one of the Plustek models is the best bet.

      It’s a matter of diminishing returns at some point. You have to decide what’s “good enough” and from there just accept the quality you get.

      • Yeah. Truly, it’s device + skill. I have one and I am working on the other.

        I know Dad took a lot of family photos when I was a kid but those are all “lost” somewhere. At least with the scans I can show my kids and potential grandkids their ancestors.

        I am thankful we have these options.

        • Andy Umbo says:

          Agree with all, the Epson V series scanner is about as good as it gets for scanning prints at home, at least as good as you want to pay for. I’ve even seen scans from 4X5 and 8X10 transparencies that look great out of one of these (maybe the 800, can’t remember). But Jim has it right, if you want decent high rez scans from 35mm the only way to go is with a dedicated scanner for 35mm. Plustek has a great reputation, so..whatever, but I’ve seen output from most 35mm “only” scanners that will easily beat trying to get a 35mm out of a Epson flat bed. I’d like to say ‘read the reviews”, but again, the reviews are only as good as the people reviewing, always suspect for a pro.

          Khurt, I’d like to make a recommendation for a scanner purchase, but I either shoot digital when the need is digital, or shoot film and buy outside scan services from a pro shop. I’ll openly admit that the best scans I’ve had are from people that literally do scans for a living, like what we used to call a pre-press color service. These people have made a lifetime study out of scanning, the same way I have about film photography. It could take me years to get as good as they are, and at 66, I don’t need another hobby or profession! Every time I think about personally scanning something, I think I’m a pro photographer having an amateur scan his film! Which is not to say you shouldn’t do it, you should! I’m just looking for something else. What I always want to tell people is that most of the time, everything on “automatic” is going to be a guess; maybe usable, maybe not!

  5. I have no rales input because I don’t scan my own film and have no intention to.. it’s just so time consuming without the big, real machines. Your post does remind me of something that I’ve thought about for a long time though, and this discussion about scanning film seems like an alright time for it.

    You know how we live in a crazy hashtag world and I love me some #believeinfilm and #filmisnotdead hashtags. The one I really don’t get and never bought into is #buyfilmnotmegapixels. I mean, hello, you’re posting a scan of your film photograph literally made up of pixels on your computer/phone screen. That is the worst hashtag I’ve ever seen representing the film community. Sorry, rant over lol. Glad you’ve gotten quite a bit of good discussion out of everyone!

    • This is a huge topic that depends on several variables but in short:

      Fast, okay quality: Kodak Scanza
      Not fast, better quality: Flatbed scanner like Epson V700 using bundled scanner software
      Not fast, even better quality: Flatbed scanner like Epson V700 plus VueScan or SilverFast
      Easy but expensive, probably best quality: have a lab scan all of your slides

  6. Oh Jim you have opened an exciting can of worms! My experience is similar yet different. The labs I use charge $2 per roll to scan, the scans a re generally quite good as the use Fuji or Noritsu scanners, but also about 1500px across. Good enough for a 20 x 16 enlargement on fine art paper though. During lockdown I bought an Epson V800, and over several months I scanned all my old negatives and slides. Almost all 35mm. Mostly I have scanned at 300dpi using the Epsonscan software and been quite happy with the result. The colour restoration feature works really well most of the time. The film and negative holders allow me to adjust the height from the glass to sort any focus issues, and I can scan much higher resolution if I want to. Recently I photographed some original artworks for a local artist, I did digital so I could edit with the original in front of me to provide a reference, and also medium format with my RZ67. I think from memory I scanned those at 2400dpi, and the artist and the printer were very pleased with the result – you can see the individual brushstrokes, and the fine grain in the wood. I know I could spend more and get a better result, but the law of diminishing returns is going to kick in pretty quickly. Other commenters are right, you do have to develop some skill with the scanner and it’s software.

    • I’ve had labs argue that 1500px across is good enough for an 11×17 print, but they miss the point: I display 99.8% on screens, where raw pixel dimensions are everything.

  7. tbm3fan says:

    I haven’t shot a roll of slide film since the last month one could get Kodachrome 25 developed. Kodachrome 25 and 64 were my go to color films between 1972-2009 and this was before I knew anything about exposure latitude. I scan my own slides on an Epson V600 and you have seen some of them from my vintage San Diego car show on Curbside Classic. Today I would just get them developed and handle scanning myself as it really doesn’t occupy my time that much.

    • Andy Umbo says:

      TBM3FAN, your comment reminded me of something from the “olden” days of film. Pro’s trying to make dupes or prints through the interneg process were always greatly disappointed by trying this with Kodachrome materials. The E6 and C-41 processed materials just did NOT seem to represent the color and long density scale of Kodachrome materials. It was always just OK.

      When digital scanning and giclee output came along, we were all amazed that we could get prints that were so close to the original Kodachrome, it was stunning! I remember when I was living in Washington DC, I saw a show of large scans from Kodachromes taken during the late 30’s by the Farm Security Administration, and it was the first time I ever saw Kodakchrome literally on a piece of paper! The representation was so “Kodachrome-ish” I couldn’t believe it! Chalk one up for top-notch scan people and machinery!

  8. P says:

    Nice work, Jim! I do think your colors are superior. They’re closer to what I’d expect Velvia, a rather saturated film from what I understand, to look like in real life (as you said they were), although I don’t have any personal experience with it. I must say, your Yashica’s meter must be dead on, because all these look to be perfectly exposed.

    Regarding the missing shadow detail, slide film stocks have very high Dmax values, and if I recall from past reading/datasheet browsing, Velvia 50, in particular, can build up a lot of density. I think it’s Dmax is something absolutely crazy like 4.2, or thereabouts (I’d have to dig up the datasheet to verify). That’s way beyond what virtually any consumer scanner can handle. Negative films have much lower Dmax values than slides.

    • It’s helpful to know that Velvia’s high Dmax will interfere with my scanner being able to pull detail out of the shadows. I wonder what the labs do with their scanners to pull it out.

      • Jim lab scanners have better specs all-around, but especially with DMax values. Of course flatbed scanners claim crazy resolution specs but in the real world it’s just extra pixels, not sharper. Having worked with a lab scanner now for about 5 years I’ve seen just how capable they are. It’s aggravating though trying to get good scans from most labs because you’re at the mercy of underpaid teenagers doing the scans who just don’t care. Now for what you do your scanner is fine and you were able to get the colors more accurate, but you discovered that there is a payoff.

        • Yes, I’m sure at the labs they’ve set the scanners for a general case and they let the film just run through it. I can see that what happened here for me is that I learned a limitation of my scanner — one I should not be surprised by.

      • P says:

        Jim, if you’re planning to scan your own slides most/all of the time, then one thing you can do to retain more shadow detail in your scans is very slightly over-expose the film in-camera. This will lead to slides that have shadows with lower density, which consumer scanners can then better handle. For example, you could shoot Velvia 50 at EI 40 instead of box speed. The trade off is, of course, that your actual slides won’t have as deep and rich of shadows/blacks, and some highlight detail might be lost, too. I just wanted to throw it out there in case you wanted to try doing this sometime in the future, especially if you continue to be disappointed with your slide scans.

  9. I have the first-gen Canon 9000F and I’ve noticed a definite difference in scan quality between pro films and consumer films outside of the obvious differences.

    I find that the out of the box generic color profile on the 9000F seems to be much more friendly to Portra, Ektar, etc. I like the results I’ve gotten from ColorPlus 200 on the 9000F as well.

    I’m kicking myself a little for selling my Plustek 7200, but I found Silverfast just impossible with its terrible interface despite the excellent built in film profiles. I have read where some folks have used it with Epson and Canon scanners with good results, so YMMV.

    To really get the best from a flatbed requires a lot of work but for print, I’m going to use a lab.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience with color films on the 9000F! I’ve tried scanning color with mine but have never been thrilled with the results. But I’ve learned a lot since I last tried and perhaps it’s time to try again.

      If I get a Plustek I will use VueScan with it. I used Silverfast with my previous flatbed, an Epson V300, and it was not pleasant. VueScan is easier to use.

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