Well, basically, a film scanner is a device that scans film! This is pretty easy to figure out. But what is a film scanner exactly? What does it do? And why would you want one or want to use one, when you can simply use the standard flatbed scanners and printers available at most consumer electronics stores? Well, in this article we’ll attempt to explain all of this stuff!
Basically, a film scanner is a direct type of scanner; it sends the information from the film directly into a computer instead of making any sort of prints from the material first. This is important because as any audio engineer or computer scientist will tell you, any time you take a link out of a translation or conversion process, it makes that whole process clearer and less apt to introduce loss.
Another real positive of a film scanner is that you can scan in a ‘’print’’ of basically any size; you’re using the original. If you plan to crop the image for posterity, or change the aspect ratios for viewing on different size monitors or screens…this can be done very easily, from the original, and with almost no degradation as a print does not have to be made first.
Film scanners are more straightforward and focused ‘’beasts’’ as compared to your standard consumer grade flatbed scanner. Flatbeds do have their advantages; a flatbed scanner can handle things like transparencies, photo prints, and pieces of paper. Obviously you can’t do that sort of thing with a film scanner. But a film scanner scans film well!
You’ll have to figure out what kind of film you have first. There are dedicated scanners for 35mm film, Super-8 film, or pretty much any type of film that has ever existed. You’ll have to make sure that whatever machine you get works with whatever film you’re trying to feed it.
Another benefit of a film scanner is its ability to remove dust or scratches from the images without losing quality! You can even adjust the colors of film images to make them more natural and correct, aka you can adjust for the discrepancies of color that occur when shooting with specific types of film! Kind of cool, right?
Film scanners obviously are basically all electric-powered, so the first thing you’ll have to do with them is plug it in. Then you’ll have to plug the USB cable to your computer and calibrate the scanner to whatever type of film you plan to use.
Most scanners feature auto-calibration either from a menu with different sizes and types of film, or by downloading a set of comparison files through the use of whatever software is on the machine you own. This is not unlike downloading drivers or something in this case you’re telling the machine specifically what kind of film you’re using therefore how you want the colors and sizes of the scan to match up.
Calibrating your scanner is super important, and depending on the model you have it may be easy or sometimes quite daunting.
Think about it like owning a point-and-shoot digital camera vs. owning an SLR one works quickly and easily, while the other requires a bit more tuning but can sometime achieve better results. Depending on what kind of scanner you have, you may want something easy to use or you might want something with a bit more control check out your model and how it works before purchasing!
A lot of the good machines come with Silverfast, which is kind of like the Photoshop for scanning film. Depending on what machine you get, you may get more or less features here.
Either way, it’s surely more convenient and interesting to scan your own film instead of sending it to a lab, and a lot of labs charge $20, $30, or even $40 to scan a roll of film! Plus if the scans are a bit blurry or a bit too sharp and you got them from a lab, what do you do? Not a whole lot. Another important issue is time.
If you own your own scanner, you can scan a whole lot of film in a manner of days. If you have to rely on a lab, you’ll have to wait usually a week to get your scans back again, unless you can pay extra for rush services. A lot of rural and suburban areas don’t even have photo labs that scan film because these days so many people just shoot pictures with their phones.
If you do decide to get your own film scanner, even for say, a hundred USD or a couple hundred USD you can get a machine that has the ability to scan at 5000, 7000, even 10,000dpi. That’s a lot of megapixels! In the end, it kind of comes down to what you want.
If you just are interested in convenience and you shoot film, you may be OK with just dropping your film off at a lab. This way, you literally do no work, and you’re also virtually assured of decent quality digital images and resulting prints.
But a lot of that also has to do with what labs are near your physical location, and/or if you plan to send your film/negatives/slides out through the mail to be scanned. If you do that you’ll have to think about the time delay that will inevitably happen as you wait for the lab to finish your stuff.
Finally, you might just be interested in not only saving money and time …but also interested in having a bit more control over your images. If this is you, then you should for sure look into the idea of getting yourself a film scanner.
As said before, even a halfway decent one doesn’t cost more than a couple hundred US dollars. You will inevitably get more control and higher quality files, and if you plan to do real-time cropping you can save yourself a lot of time and a little bit of a quality reduction by not having to deal with making prints first.