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Scanning B&W negatives

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  • Scanning B&W negatives

    I'm about to embark on scanning a box of 1940s and 50s B&W negatives I found among my late mother's things.

    Being a complete novice, I read and reread all the postings on the forum I could find before starting in earnest. I picked up a lot of useful information but just now, when I thought I was ready to go, I discovered that there's something I don't know and didn't see mentioned: should I scan with the shiny side of the negative facing down towards the bed or up towards the lid?

    I guess that the negative's orientation would affect whether or not the image was the right way round (left to right) but, apart from that, it occurred to me that it might be important that the light passes through the emulsion and the film in the correct direction.

    I'd be grateful for a steer on this matter and any further tips about getting it right. Thank you,


  • #2
    Scanning Negatives

    Hi Ambrosie and welcome to Retouch Pro!
    I hope you are not trying to scan the negatives on a flatbed scanner without a transparency adapter. If you are it will likely not work or produce very poor results.
    For proper results you need a transparency adapter or a dedicated slide / negative scanner.
    Generally the emulsion side faces the scanner, which is also the way they are printed. It will still work if you inverted but you images will need to be flipped horizontally to be correctly oriented.
    Because you negatives are old, they are likely to have a lot of dust that you can not see. To avoid damage by cleaning solutions or cloths, I recommend you use an air compressor and nozzle to blow the dust off without making any actual contact with the film.
    Good luck with the project.
    Regards, Murray


    • #3
      Scanning negatives (air compressors)

      Thank you for your advice, Murray. I'm using an Epson 3490 Photo scanner which has a light box inside the lid when you remove the white panel, so, not as good as a dedicated fim scanner, but OK.

      I had read about air compressors on earlier posts and thought that I could not justify that sort of investment even for my family's heirlooms. When I read your reply (having laid out ready an old (washed!) make-up brush; some 95% alcohol and a lint-free cloth) I thought perhaps I ought to look into the matter a bit more.

      Other (UK) members who have, like me, been put off by the expected cost, might be interested to know that I found two mini air compressors on Maplin's website for £5.99 and £12.99 (both delivering 250psi which should more than do the job). Unfortuately they both plug into a car cigarette lighter socket but I've found a couple of adaptors on their site (more expensive that the compressors!) and I'm waiting to hear from their technical people which, if either, is suitable. Otherwise I guess I COULD do them in the car.

      Thanks for goading me - the negs ARE pretty filthy (as are a load of old photos I shall be scanning later) - they might be in a box now, but I found them loose in drawers, cupboards and bags all over my mum's house.



      • #4

        You can also buy what's commonly referred to as "air in a can" from photography and art stores. Since you live in the UK, I have no idea what they call it there, but either someone here will answer, or you can ask around close to where you live. It's just compressed air, and it's clean, regular air compressors can, (and usually will) introduce water onto whatever you're spraying due to condensation forming inside of the air tank. (They do sell water traps that eliminate the water, but still, you'd have to buy a compressor) If dirt is stuck to the negatives, air alone may not be all that you need. In places I have worked, they all use the canned air to blow off the negatives, but these slides and negatives are usually slightly dusty, not dirty so much. Also, they used what is called "film cleaner", to get rid of the tough spots. Again, I can't give you a name for it, but I 'think' it was "Bestol" brand if I remember correctly, but that came in a gallon can, but there has to be a smaller can similar in propeties that you can buy. (I may be wrong on that name though)
        I hope that this helps some, and this is definitely the cheaper route, and it should work.



        • #5
          Scanning Negatives

          Firstly, I strongly recommend NOT using air in a can. They contain Tetrafluoroethane which is nasty to you and the environment. If you tilt the can the wrong way they sspew a white film on your negative. The pressure from the cans are not great enough to be useful. The stuff is expensive.

          I understand your concern about investing in a compressor so I have another suggestion. At your local hardware or automotive store, you can pick up a splain tank that holds compressed air (10 gal size). You can fill it with ~ 100psi at your service station or from your car if you have one of those battery operated compressors. Then all you need is an air hose from your local hardware store (air toolstools section). If you live in an area of high humidy, you can buy a small moisture filter which connects between the hose and the spray nozzle which will filter out any moisture or microscopic air particulates. These filters are also sold in the air tools section of your h/w store.

          Isopropanol (>90%) is the safest thing to use if you are going to try to clean the film first. However, there is a much higher risk of damage to the emulsion.
          Normal dust will just blow off. If the film has been reasonably stored over the years, there may not be any disolved dirty and there is a good chance that you will not have to contend with mold.
          The other work around non removeable dust or pinholes in the film, is to use Digital ICE software with your scanner (available from Epson). This s/w will scan your slide or negative twice and will clone over any holes or surface anomalies - sort of like Photoshop's Spot Healing Brush on the fly. While it doubles the time per scan, it saves you HUGE amounts of time from having to manually touch up those spots after the fact.

          Regards, Murray


          • #6
            Cleaning negatives and photos

            We do have the air-in-a-can things here, Randy, some places call them air dusters. I have one which I bought when I gave my CPU its annual internal clean a while back.

            I would have tried it on my negs and photos but in an earlier post someone said the propellent comes out with the air and can damage the surface (they also mentioned damage to users' lungs and the environment) so I left it in the cupboard.

            I didn't know about the water from air compressors - now I've cleared up the matter of which way up to put the negs, I'm all nervy and uncertain about this cleaning business and might have to do housework instead (but thank you for telling me).



            • #7

              I'm not trying to disagree with Mister Monday, he may have had bad situations with the stuff I mentioned, so nobody take it that way...
              All I can say is that all of the places that I worked for 25 years all used "Dust-Off" and Bestine (I think it was) film cleaner to clean negatives and slides, and not once have I seen any adverse effects from this use. Actually, the ONLY times I have seen any cleaner that actually did do damage was user error, meaning it was still wet and placed upon other negatives, that will make them stick together after it dried. The compressor idea will work, 'specially if it's a new one, or even a tank, but the more you use the compressor, the more water it traps, and if you don't have a water filter/trap, you can get mineral deposits on it, possible, it's not a 'for sure' thing. If you try wiping the negatives off afterwards, you could end up scratching it, so that's why I mentioned the Dust-Off. I am sure that Dust-Off has/had CFC's in it, or something similar, but walking outside also has probably more toxins than what anyone would get from a few negatives. I'm not saying it's 100% safe, I'm just saying they have used that stuff professionally for the last 30+ years that I am aware of, and everyone I know that has used it, and are still using it, are still doing fine. (I am no longer working for any company, but still go to some) Nothing's safe anymore really, so if we took all of that literally, (and it's still a good idea to) we wouldn't take aspirin or anything, I'm sure you have read labels. I'm not scoffing at the idea of being safe at all, but to me, you trying Dust-Off for the small amount of time won't hurt you, if you go by the directions on the can. I wouldn't hesitate to use it at all personally.
              Really, I know that ALL of the people that used Dust-Off would tip the can and never get bad results, and these guys were scanner operators that did this all day long, 3 shifts, and 5-7 days per week. I've used it too, not often, but I have never seen that happen at all, not once. I do have to say though, it CAN do that, but one usually has to hold the can almost upside down, but in regular use, one shouldn't have any problems. I do sculpting too, and you can use the Dust-Off (upside down) and freeze certain clays to make it easier to put in details, so I know that it can freeze stuff.
              I would think that most photography places would sell a negative cleaning kit, that may be a good way to go, I haven't seen one, but I would think that a good place would be able to help you choose a good product without have to go and buy any hardware.
              I cleaned all of my mother's old negatives from the 30's-40's, and 50's without using any compressed air, I only used the film cleaner. Here's several items that may be what you 'might' need or familiarize yourself with.
              The old negatives that I cleaned were not scratched at all, and they are still in as good of shape as the day I cleaned them, and they weren't taken care of either before I received them, if that tells you anything.

              What I would do if I were apprehensive is look for a kit of some kind, it should be inexpensive to try, and it might work for what you need it. Try it out on a few destroyed negatives, or dupilicates if you have any, that would be the safest way to test I would think.


              I may not know what professional photographers do about all of this, but I do know what professional scanner operators use, and that's all I can go by.



              • #8
                Scanning negatives: air compressors and similar v aerosol cans

                Thank you to mistermonday for explaining how to set up a cheaper alternative to a commercial air compressor. In that vein I would like to mention, for UK members, that Maplins have advised me that their "Cigarette socket power supply" code # L25AY (£19.99) will provide the means to operate either of their mini air compressors (Mini compressor # N62BG (£5.99) or RAC mini compressor # A69CZ (12.99)) from an ordinary 13-amp socket.

                Me? - having broached what I came to see was a contentious issue, I shall use up the rest of my air duster (air in a can) and then see about an air compressor (or equivalent) ...



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