Is This the Fastest and Easiest Way to Scan Films at Home?

If you’re a film aficionado, you’re probably used to trying to make the process of converting your negatives into print-ready digital files as painless as possible. One photographer has ditched his scanner in favor of an incredibly simple setup using his Fujifilm X-T3 and a rather unique Lightroom plugin.

This in-depth video from photographer Matt Day takes you through his entire workflow, explaining the various tools he uses and why he uses them. I’m particularly impressed with the simplicity of his system, as well as the Lomography DigitaLIZA which Day uses to hold his film strips. These hard-to-find film holders will be back in stock at B&H from May 16.

Critical to Day's process is a rather funky piece of software entitled Negative Lab Pro, the creation of photographer, software developer, and Lightroom instructor Nathan Johnson. As Day notes, it was created because Johnson found a gap in his own workflow and decided to create a Lightroom plugin to make life easier. Pleased with his results, he put it on sale. The advantage of using Negative Lab Pro over a Lightroom preset (that, among other things, flips the curves to create a positive from a negative) is that it analyzes the image in order to determine the settings, not too dissimilar to how a scanner would function. 

Day's process raises the rather philosophical question of whether the resulting image is a Leica or a Fujifilm photograph. Your thoughts in the comments, please.

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17 Comments

michaeljin's picture

I do this using the Nikon ES-2 and it works quite well. For black and white, it's about as fast a workflow as you're going to get for high-resolution images, but for color, the lack of digital ICE means that it might actually be slower if you take into account dust/scratch removal (ICE does not work for black and white negatives).

Either way, it's a really good way to leverage gear that you probably already own rather than buying a dedicated scanner which isn't really good for anything else.

I think that the ES-2 is a better solution for 35mm, but the I use the Digitaliza for 120 film and I backed the Pixlatr on Kickstarter, which is a pretty nifty solution for multiple negative formats.

Andy Day's picture

Good knowledge. Thanks for sharing. :)

Josh Wright's picture

Someone just needs to make good film scanners. The R&D is already there

I agree, but who will do that? Nikon made good consumer level scanners, but the market dried up. This is not a bad solution and cost effective if you already have the camera and lens for this task. Just not sure how you would adjust for exposure in the camera when photographing the negative.

I am interested in having family photos I took over the years scanned in bulk. And I don't want to do it myself. Any suggestions for a place to send them?

These guys have been around for a long time. First as a photo lab then as a scanning service.
https://legacybox.com

I've been using Negative Lab Pro on formats from 35mm to 4x5 with excellent results. I scan my film using a D810 and a macro lens, sometimes stiching to achieve higher resolution. NLP has the best color conversion outside of a Fuji Frontier or Noritsu. And for those wondering about traditional scanners, the guy who makes NLP is integrating the raw files you can produce from Vuescan to work with it. So if you have a Coolscan or similar, you should still be able to get a great conversion. It's a game changer in scanning IMO.

I've been using Negative Lab Pro for a while now, with a Nikon ES-2 for 35mm and DigitaLIZA for medium format.

In the past I've scanned with flatbeds, an Imacon, and drum scanners, but DSLR scanning with NLP is much faster and easier to use in a modern workflow (e.g. Lightroom-based) than anything else I've tried.

The primary reason is that NLP is all non-destructive rawfile-based, instead of .tiff-based like all the other scanning options. This saves me time during processing and a ton of hard disk space.

As far as the quality, it depends on your camera and lens, but with my D850 I estimate it competes with high end 4000dpi scanners like the Nikon Coolscans (the D850 is ~5500dpi but you lose some to the lens and the bayer filter). The only scans I have that best it are drum scans, but the margin is surprisingly small except at massive print sizes.

I've also been experimenting with stitching multiple 2:1 macro images for even more resolution ;-)

Hi guys! Nate here, creator of Negative Lab Pro. Thanks for including this! Really excited too to see Matt's next video too, which will go over Color Negative conversion using this software. And if you want to try out Negative Lab Pro for yourself, you can download a free 12-shot trial here on the website (https://www.negativelabpro.com). There are also some sample DSLR raw scans on the download page if you want to play around with them. Cheers!

Tim Anderson's picture

Scanning is necessary evil if one intends to actually do anything with film photos besides gaze at them in Printfile binders. Even if you print RA4 you still have to scan the print to share it. So for film scanning: the medium format options in particular are expensive, slow, or fail to give decent quality. Sometimes all three. I began digitizing film when I began developing my film at home. I have a Nikon Coolscan V bought new in 2007 which is great for 35mm, but medium format was a problem. I solved it using my A7Riii and an adapted Canon 100mm macro, later replaced by the Sony 90 macro. That was last year. I was doing the raw to maketiff to Silverfast dance that was acceptable, but did not give enough control over tonality. It was also slow. A few weeks ago I tried the NLP plugin. I bought a license the next day. It cut processing time by one third and gave me back the fine control over highlight and shadow. Besides that, the color was closer to acceptable with far less effort. The ratio of work to quality of results is better with this workflow and plugin than any I have tried so far. I can resolve grain in medium format negatives and get color comparable to Frontier scans. That’s as good as it gets in 2019.

Richard Karash's picture

Agree with everything Tim has said here.

Richard Karash's picture

I have long been seeking a full-auto way to get good color from camera-scan of C-41 negatives. Negative Lab Pro is a breakthrough. In a nearly automatic process I get color as good as we used to get from the mini-lab. And, it's in Lightroom, which facilitates my workflow for multiple images. Sure, you can get good color with manual inversions and curves in Photoshop, but this is the best nearly-automatic process I've found. And, I've tried many. If you are trying camera-scan of color-neg material, and if you are using Lightroom, this is a must-try.

Andy Day's picture

Thanks for your thoughts! Keep an eye out for the Fstoppers review of Negative Lab Pro in the next month or so. :)

Nathan’s Negative Lab Pro plug-in has saved me countless hours and given me great results

Negative Lab pro is the real deal. I’ve been working on scanning my own color negs for a long time and no other workflow has come close. Just keeps getting better too!

Please try to leave out your personal comments, like the reason you put gaffers tape on the lightbox... Does it matter if someone pays you or not? Show us HOW and that is good enough. Please don't waste our time.

I suggest buying a $35-$50 cheapo USB strip scanner and try it out. In any major store, you can use it and bring it back for a refund or a credit within 2 weeks or longer. It depends on what you are doing with the scans. If you want them for prints it is more sensitive, but if you are sending it to someone as a souvenir or for the www. Test and see. The USB scanners are much easier to use.