My scanning experience and some advice

So as you remember from my previous blog, I decided I want to scan all my negatives.

Lucky for me I am just an amateur so I found myself with only ~3000 pictures I gathered through the years that I wanted to scan (don’t worry, I won’t try to upload them all).

If I were a bit more serious I would really be in trouble.

And now the dilemma starts.

How much money are you willing to spend on pictures that were already taken?

It makes sense to invest in a new shiny DSLR because of the potential future photos you can take.

But what do you do about a scanner?

I shopped around some Photo labs back then (2008) and the price for scanning each frame was outrageous, I don’t think they offered even 3MP.

So I decided to buy a scanner.

Once again, shopped around, read many articles, wasn’t willing to spend the price of a new DSLR so I finally bought the Epson V500,

scanned a few frames and was happy.

After playing around a bit and reading many more articles and realizing every frame needs to be post-processed, I scanned all of my negatives to Tiff files at 6MP.

This took quite a few patient months because scanning a strip of 6 frames can take almost an hour using ICE, eliminating scratches and dust.

After I had all my Tiffs I could finally start processing the files.

After processing quite a few pictures I encountered my first major disappointment.

Looking at the pictures on a different monitor made me realize my pictures are not at all good.

This introduced me to a whole new world of monitors and calibrations.

To make a long story short, I bought a new IPS lcd monitor, borrowed a calibration tool and was ready to go.

I read more and more Photoshop articles and for a year I slowly slowly processed many of my pictures learning many features such as levels, curves, color balance, sharpening and selections.

All the noise introduced by the scanner was blurred away with my selection skills and blur tool.

I was a happy man.

Until I discovered something called saturation. Realized what a boost it can give to most pictures.

I had to go over all the processed files and add saturation.

I was once again happy.

Until a Mr. Ami Levin introduced me to Dreamstime.

Suddenly I realized the potential – I can not only enjoy my photos and show them over the web, I can sell them and get approval from the world.

I uploaded a bunch of photos, and no – they were not rejected.

The reason they were not rejected is because Ami suddenly mentioned something about Noise Ninja and that I have to give it a try. So I did.

That’s when I realized everything I did so far was nice and may be good for 4x6 prints or uploading to facebook but were mediocre at best.

I was lucky to delete the files from Dreamstime before they were reviewed.

And so I read more and more Photoshop articles, learned about layers, adjustment layers, masks, brushes, LAB, sharpening via ‘find edges filter’ and improved my skills.

Took my favorite Tiff pictures worked on them for many many hours and managed to get some approved.

And still, many were rejected because of “out of focus”.

© Roargh

Even though I was improving, two things didn’t change.

The first was that I spent hours and hours on each single picture.

The second was that some pictures, no matter how hard I tried could not get sharp enough to be accepted.

This was really frustrating.

Eventually, I came to the sad conclusion that I can’t keep spending so much time on each frame and that perhaps the scanner is just not good enough for high standard quality.

I shopped around again and found that prices are reasonable and I can scan all my negatives in a lab for the price I originally paid for the scanner.

And so I did and got the scans back in less than a week.

I don’t want to repeat here the sounds, words and phrases that came out of my mouth when I saw the results.

Let’s just say - they were much better.

I replaced all the DT approved files from the Epson with the new scanned ones. Even though the Epson scans were very good and sharp, when looking at them side by side, the professional scans were better.

© Hugoht
© Hugoht

© Hugoht
© Hugoht

The good side of the story is that I finally have all my pictures in top notch quality and my acceptance ratio is drastically improving.

Do I regret all the hard work I did? – not at all. I learned so much from the whole process and all those rejections that today it takes me a just few moments of Photoshop work to finalize a high quality digital picture.

If you have thousands of pictures on negatives or slides and you want them in top quality I think you know by now what should be done.

If prices are still high for you it may be worth waiting – even a year or two till prices drop.

Scanning on a professional scanner will save you a lot of agony.

Remember – time is money and if you have to work extra hard to clean and sharpen it may be worth paying for it.

In addition, it took the lab 4 days to scan what took me several months of my free time and you still need to post process every scanned image.

My recommendation – spend your free time on creating new images, spend some money on the old ones.

Photo credits: Amilevin, Sebastian Kaulitzki, Hugoht, Maxfx, Roargh, Pavalache Stelian.

Your article must be written in English

August 17, 2013


I used the Nikon LS4000 for years with a very good result and used pictures scan from transparencies in magazine with excellent quality. I also use an epson perfection scanner, it is good enough if you start from a 2 1/4 slide with perfect exposure but it is very hard to get enough quality from a 35mm slide.

August 31, 2012


Many thanks for this article! It would be very useful to me!

August 30, 2012


On the above note: I said I have to consider if the pictures I took are of 'stock interest' or not, and if they are worth trying to scan and submit. Much of my travel is in Nepal, and my images are similar to yours, and I notice you have almost no downloads from those Nepal images. Bummer...

August 30, 2012


OK, I read all of that, and the comments. It sounds daunting! Ill give it a try with a few of my better images, and see how it goes.
I have a lot to learn first, though, about stock shooting. I have 2 digital cameras, and had my first couple of shots accepted. Ill submit for the next winter while I am traveling in Asia, then next spring Ill give it a try. I have the Nikon VED, and I sacnned a lot of slides for my website.
Ill also have to consider if what I have shot is actually 'stock material', or just fond memories of my travels...

February 27, 2010


You put a smile on my face. I too have thousands of old slides, sitting in boxes in my closets. Although they are pretty pictures, I have found after many attempts, with a Nikon Coolscan 4000, that not too many will scan in properly. FYI, I did try using Vuescan software to scan some of my images, rather than Nikon's software, with the Nikon 4000, and found that it did better with film grain. The Antarctica images in my portfolio are all scans, but it took way too much time trying to get them in right. I did find I had to take several passes with the scanner, on the same image, making adjustments to accommodate grain and scratches/dust.

February 18, 2010


Very nice Blog Hugo... :)

I'm proud of introducing you to DT.
I wish you all the luck in the world!

February 18, 2010


Dragos, thanks for the information. However, the Nikon Coolscan 9000ED is a 2000$ scanner.
That's more than twice what my D90 costs and more than 4 times what I paid the lab for the scans.
The whole idea for a person like me was to spend a fair amount on those old picture laying in a box like Gavril mentioned.
Thanks Rebecca, the selling is really a bonus, I really just wanted to digitalize my pictures...

February 18, 2010


WOW - fair play to you. I hope all your hard work pays off and you can make some good money! good luck!

February 18, 2010


I have a NIKON COOLSCAN 9000 ED scanner and I am very happy with it. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us

February 18, 2010


The Scanner the lab used is a Noritsu Koki QSS-32_33. It's what labs use as a complete solution for scanning and printing. It does a very good job on most images. Still, some come out looking like a drawing and will look good on small prints but are not micro stock material.

February 17, 2010


I also used to shoot slides but when I tried to scan them recently, I also got very disappointed with the result. I had them printed in large years ago and they looked very sharp, but somehow the digital copies I managed had a lot of noise and did not look good at 100%...
I decided to use my free time to shoot new pictures...

February 17, 2010


I admire your patience to scan 3000 frames manually.
I also wanted to do this once long time before DT and realised it takes so much time and the worst part was that the pictures were not that good. Not just noise but color, composition and also scratches. So I gave up. My old slides live now in sad cardboard boxes never opened. When we move (happened a few times) it's always a chore to move them but I can't bring myself to discard them.
Maybe when I retire I will do something with them. Who knows.
Good luck


February 17, 2010


Very helpful! Thank you for sharing :)

February 17, 2010


I made similar experiences. The scan-service I engaged for my old dias used a Nikon Coolscan 4000; I had to postprocess the scans with a special look on dust. Anyway, DT refused many of the scans because of noise, you can imagine that I wasn't delighted by this.

February 17, 2010


Interesting article. I only wish I had any photos from my pre-digital days that were even worth scanning.

February 17, 2010


Great article, thank you. Do you remember, by the way, which scanner the lab used? I recently also had scanning experience. In my lab they used 2 different scanners (very different price), and the difference in scans quality was also very big. I wanted to compare. The final files resolution was about 20MP from both scanners, but I downsized. I had one picture approved by now on the other stock. This picture came from Nikon4000. The others came from the scanner of machine on which they print images. These scans are sharper, but more grainy, too. And scratches on them look very hard. Didn't finish removing them yet.

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