What do you do if you have hundreds of old, odd-sized black and white negatives and don’t have one of those dedicated negative/slide scanners? Do you have any other viable options? I decided to see what results I could get with the equipment I already have at hand.
My husband’s family inherited many items from a very much-loved, old family friend, Dr John George Morris Beale. Amongst these items is a set of very old black and white negatives which are from when he was deployed in WWI as an army doctor. The dates are from 1917 so the negatives are just over a century old!
The negatives are housed in archival sleeves and folder and the little negative-holder book they were stored in, is itself stored in a little archival box. This is very important as the book includes notes for about half of the negatives. (You know how you go on a long trip and you have every intention of making notes about every picture you took so you can remember what they were about but about half-way you just kind of give up? Well…)
The negatives, not including the borders, are of roughly two sizes:
- 4cm x 6.3cm
- 5.6cm x 8.1cm
I know there are many types of negative and slide readers out there, but due to the roughly cut borders of the negatives, no two negatives are of the same size and they are not going to fit into standard frame holders. As for the dedicated flatbed photo scanners, such as the Epson range, I would be outlaying at least $A300 for what I would consider the basic model required for the job.
So, before outlaying any cash, what can I do with what I already have? Is it even possible to use a basic scanner to recover photos from negatives?
My two available options are:
1. Flip Pal
- Faster scanning speed than the Canon
- Can only scan in jpeg format
- Maximum dpi is 600
- Only scan one large negative or maybe two small negatives at a time
2. Canon MX520 Series
- Up to 2400 dpi
- Larger scanner bed so can scan multiple negatives at once
- Multiple file formats including png and tiff
- Slower scanning speed – but that is because of the higher dpi and is offset by ability to scan multiple negatives at once
- Not portable
Below are the results of scanning negatives on both the Flip Pal and the Canon.
I used the maximum dpi of 600 for the Flip Pal and, of course, it only has the jpeg file format option. For the Canon, I used 1200 dpi and not the maximum dpi of 2400 dpi as I was never going to use it – the scanning takes ages and the resulting file sizes are massive. For the same reason, I used a png file format instead of a tiff format.
For this experiment, I have only scanned the negatives and then inverted the negatives in a photo editing program. I have not done any other tweaking so it gives a baseline of what the scanners can do.
The image on the left is from the Flip Pal and the image on the right is from the Canon. Click on the images to see more details.
Can the Results be Improved?
Unsurprisingly, the higher dpi of the Canon allows for a slightly more defined and less grainy image and they are a little bit cleaner as well. But, apart from that, there is not a great deal of difference in the quality of the photos.
But can the images be improved? Short answer…
In my next post, I will show how vast improvements can be made when scanning black and white negatives with a basic scanner.
I’m not affiliated in any way with any of the products or brands mentioned except as a normal user. The purpose of this post is to experiment and see what is possible with the tools already at hand and is a reflection of my own personal opinions and experiences. Please undertake your own due diligence to decide whether any product meets your own requirements and expectations.