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Q. Can I convert old photo negatives straight to digital?
A. Yes, you can. You needn’t develop your negatives before scanning the images. And once you have the digital files, you can use photo-editing software to touch up the pictures, share them via e-mail and put them on a photo-sharing Web site. You can do it yourself or send the negatives out to be scanned commercially.
Any flatbed scanner can handle photos, but some models support slides and negatives, too. For instance, the Canon CanoScan 8800F (about $200) does a good job on photos and can scan up to twelve 35mm negatives at a time, as well as larger negatives. For bigger scanning projects, the CanoScan 9950F ($250) can handle thirty 35mm negatives at a time and supports negatives up to 4×5 inches. The Epson Perfection V500 ($199) and V700 (about $440) offer similar capabilities. The V700 supports most negative sizes.
Flatbed scanners do an adequate job with negatives and slides, but for the best results, you need a dedicated film scanner. The Plustek Opticfilm 7300 (about $250) scans a strip of six negatives at a time, but supports only 35mm film. The Nikon CoolScan 5000 ED scanner also supports only 35mm film, but it’s faster and produces higher quality scans. It will set you back about $1,200.
Your local photo processor can scan negatives and save the files on a CD. Wal-Mart charges 28 cents per negative.
If you don’t mind sending your stash away to be digitized, many scanning services operate via mail. ScanMyPhotos charges $9.95 to digitize twenty-four 35mm negatives at 2,000 dpi (dots per inch) and $2.48 to scan larger-format negatives at 1,000 dpi. Prices go down for larger quantities. ScanDigital charges 58 cents per 35mm negative and 68 cents for slides scanned at 2,000 dpi, or you can send a batch of 250 items for a flat fee of $179.95.
If you decide to use a commercial service, have a few negatives scanned as a test before you decide to send in your whole collection. It’s hard to get good-quality scans of negatives, so you might have better luck having prints made from the negatives and then scanning the prints.
Get detailed guidance on digitizing family photos and negatives with Family Tree Magazine‘s Photo Rescue ebook.
From the September 2009 Family Tree Magazine