Hot Topics: Digitizing Pictures

Lead Image

Doityourself.com's Forum features conversations among 250,000+ experts and novices in over 120 categories. Every week, we highlight a conversation that may help you with a project. This transcript has been lightly edited.

Original Post: Digitizing my pics: know nothing about film

lokahi - Member

Aloha everyone,

Let's keep it simple because all I know about photography is there's a camera on my phone. However, the wife was an avid photographer back in the day and I happened to run across a couple of dozen rolls of her 35mm film.

Always trying to stay on her good side I thought that for her upcoming birthday I would take literally thousands of slides, negatives, prints, etc. and digitize them.

Ok I get it. I need to get a film to digital scanner/converter.

Now the question of the day; does these machines work on film rolls? Do they "read" them if there undeveloped? does this machine develop them?

Now that you all had a great big laugh am I in left field on this? Perhaps a little kokua on the process starting with step #1.

Mahalo everyone in advance. How does my phone develop the pictures?

PJmax - Group Moderator

Dozens of 35mm rolls waiting to be processed? Do you mean developed?

There are units out there that are supposed to help you transfer slides etc, to video. They only work marginally. I have transferred many pictures and slides to digital but it takes time. I actually project them on a small screen and shoot that.

There are also companies that can transfer your slides for you. They get anywhere from $0.29- 0.45 a slide based on scanned resolution. It's a time consuming job.

Marq1 - Member

"Do these machines work on film rolls? do they "read" them if there undeveloped?"

No, the film has to be developed, it's a chemical process which will then allow you to make prints or just convert the negative.

Open the can, expose to light, and they are ruined!

Pilot Dane - Group Moderator

Many of the companies that develop film also have a digitizing option. Luckily the film can go through the mail so it won't be bad if you have to send them to the mainland.

GregH - Super Moderator

Unless you were planning on more than this one project I would suggest that you just pay someone to do it for you.

It would be much cheaper than buying a scanner.

It's not rocket science to digitize negatives but you would have a bit of a learning curve to be able to do it.

GregH—HVAC/R Tech

lokahi - Thread Starter

Many thanks for the info.

As for how many photos need converting, oh about fifty odd years worth. any recommendations on where I can get these undeveloped roles processed. I'm not sure on the age or content of the film. Will these places let you know beforehand just in case there is nothing worth developing? Would hate to pay for a bunch of black photos.

Thanks again looks like it will take awhile and many drinking, uh, thinking sessions to decide best course of action.

Marq1 - Member

Any drug store will process, they do it in the store. Now way to preview, all or nothing!

A scanner is not expensive, I purchased a hi resolution photo scanner three years ago to do all my photos, it's a winter project that isn't moving too fast.

When done I will sell it on eBay so it will cost me around $50!

Pilot Dane - Group Moderator

Just search the Internet. There are numerous places that can develop and scan your photos. To some extent you get what you pay for. Cheap places like major retailers and drug stores just do a standard developing and scanning with little to no time spent balancing or correcting the photos. There are companies that specialize in doing processing and scanning for advanced or professional photographers and will spend more time and care insuring that your photos come out better. Unfortunately that extra service makes them more expensive.

If looking for a more premium service the website can tell you a good bit about their capabilities. Someone who just offers processing and scanning I'd expect a low price and basic service. If you find a processor that offers retouching and photo restoration or list separate pricing for the different types of processing then they have the equipment and skill to do more than just develop and scan.

Long ago I used this company in New York. I gave them some Kodak TMax film used in astrophotography that was pushed very hard and asked them for special processing to compliment the ISO stretching I was doing and they responded "no problem". Most of the other companies I talked with had no clue what I was talking about. Unfortunately I don't have any recent experience with film so I don't know if the company I linked is still good.

PJmax - Group Moderator

I've used the company in the link below.

My mom actually has a 300 slide project with them right now.

Dig My Pics

Upvote

Zorfdt - Forum Topic Moderator

I found a local company to digitize old negatives. I liked the fact that I could go and meet the person and talk through it with them. Some internet tools are cheaper, but you don't get the same personal touch.

They offered a few different options, just digitizing (least cost), digitize and color-correct & minor improvements (mid-cost), and much more time consuming cleanup including removing scratches, etc.

I went with the lowest cost since I did have quite a few to digitize. You can always go back and have them (or someone else) do the photo editing on a handful of the better photos.

Good luck... what's the worst that can happen?

XSleeper - Group Moderator

Keep in mind that if the roll of film has a short tab of film sticking out if it, it is unused 35mm film. Only rolls where no film tab is sticking out would be exposed (undeveloped film).

stickshift - Group Moderator

It has been my experience that exposed but undeveloped rolls of film have a relatively short life expectancy; I would at least get these developed right away and worry about digitizing later.

AllanJ - Member

How long ago were the rolls used? Do you know which rolls were used first and when?

Some film rolls are wrapped in paper. Do not unwrap them more than about one inch, just enough to read the label describing what kind of film they are. They must remain wrapped (or in the can) until they get to the processing facility and the folks there will open up the film.

Rolls less than seven years old (from purchase date, not usage date) will probably develop okay using the standard procedure that the local drug store (like CVS) or camera store (like Ritz) does. (The film is usually sent out and it comes back in a few weeks.)

Color film rolls more than 15 years old will probably come back with an almost unrecognizable grayish image. But there is a special somewhat more expensive process that only a few specialty camera stores and mail order firms offer and will almost always (not guaranteed to) develop them into reasonable black and white pictures.

In between (between seven and 15 years old) it is guesswork as to whether it will come out gray when developed as color or whether you should play it safe and use the expensive but more reliable black and white method.

I think that there is only one processing plant in the world (or maybe none) that can process Kodachrome trademarked film in full color. Kodachrome rolls of any vintage can be processed as black and white using the aforementioned expensive method.

When film is scanned it is not unusual to have the digital picture come out too light or too dark even though you scanned the previous picture on the roll the same way and that one came out just right. Most people scanning film end up scanning a picture more than once to try to get the brightness right. Skilled scanner operators could hold the film frame up to a ceiling light and then adjust the scanner and get it right with just one scan.

purduephotog - Member

On the side of each canister of film they will give a process number. Some simple-

C-41 (standard color negative film)

E-6 (Standard Slide Film)

K-14 (standard Kodachrome, now... *sniff* taken away and I think only done by Rocky Mountain)

Before C-41, there was C22- that's in the 70s. Before that, you're getting dicey.

Now the great thing is that these can still be processed. So grab a drink and google, but Rocky Mountain used to be the only go-to place.

After that you'll get negatives/slides/whatever. Nowadays you can have pretty much anything digitized. Whether they do it right or not...

The older the film is the more 'fogged' it'll get. That's where the base exposure level comes up, but the image doesn't get any brighter. So it lowers your signal/noise... making the image harder to make out. In extreme cases you won't see anything but gray. Digital can pull out detail here that wasn't possible before.

I hope that helps on the chemical end.

Edit: Oh—mentioned above was a BW process for color film. Personally I wouldn't go this route. The process is a little weird, involves re-bleaching the film and exposing it to light during processing. Honestly, just stick to the color processing and use digital to pull out details. There's some remarkable algorithms now. Whether or not you can get the detail you need from a cheap scanner or not remains to be seen.