How to Convert a Film Negative to a Digital File Without Using a Scanner

Getting film developed is expensive, and depending on where you send it, it can take more than a few days. If you find yourself with some old negative film strips and you're wondering how they would look today, check out this fun tutorial for developing them in Photoshop.

Coming to you from the prolific YouTube Photoshop educator Unmesh Dinda of PiXimperfect is this video describing a rather clever little trick for "developing" a piece of negative film if you don't have access to a decent scanner. Okay, so it's technically not film developing, as it's taking a digital image of a negative; thus, you won't even get half the amount of detail from the film with this method, because you're limited to the resolution of the camera. Also, interpolating film resolution to pixels is not a straightforward process.

But we don't have the time to send film away to be processed, nor do we have the money to invest in a high-resolution scanner — like this amazing film scanner on sale at B&H with a saving of $70; so, we need to make do with our phones and a bit of Photoshop wizardry. Even if you don't get near the same results as you would from a proper developer, it's still a fun way to digitize some old family photos and learn a new processing trick in Photoshop. 

I know that I'm going to be giving this a go later. Has anyone else tried this?   

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9 Comments

Michael Jin's picture

I just use Negative Lab Pro these days. Along with a macro lens and high resolution sensor, it beats everything short of perhaps a drum scan.

Same here. It works great and is fast! Well, faster than a scanner anyway. I use my 5Div, 100mm macro, Digitaliza negative holder, and a home made stand for the camera/lens over a light table.

I photograph my slides and negs and process them in PS.

Adriano Brigante's picture

Seriously??

"a rather clever little trick for "developing" a piece of negative film if you don't have access to a decent scanner. Okay, so it's technically not film developing, as it's taking a digital image of a negative "

You don't seem to know what "develop" mean. You can't develop a negative, by definition. I think you meant "enlarging".

"Even if you don't get near the same results as you would from a proper developer,"

And here's the confirmation. You don't know what "develop" means. The developer is the chemicals used to create the negative from the exposed film. You meant to say "enlarger".

I may seem pedantic, but I think this kind of inaccuracies should not be allowed of photography website.

Thomas H's picture

I agree, I am also stunned that such "quality" advise finds its place at Fstoppers. If that would be April 1st... well than maybe.

Michael Jin's picture

If you want to get that pedantic about it, "enlarging" isn't even necessarily the correct term since you could make a contact print from a negative which wouldn't be an enlargement. It would just be a print, which would be exposed, developed, and fixed just like film. So "developing" an image from a negative isn't necessarily incorrect, although the way the author words it is a bit odd...

Adriano Brigante's picture

Yeah, you could also use "print", but that doesn't make "develop" right. It's not just a bit odd, it's flat out wrong and confusing as hell.

Faux expert. Come on Fstoppers, you can do better than this!

Richard Karash's picture

Frankly, although nicely produced, this video is far below the quality of advice I am used to seeing at F-Stoppers. I suspect anyone using PhotoShop will be aiming higher. I will add a couple of points on content: 1) If converting a color negative in PS, Invert as shown, then Curves... hold down Option (Mac) and click Auto. Find Dark and Light. Snap neutral mid-tones. This will give you a reasonable starting point for further adjustment. 2) If you want to work in PS, Google "Color-neg challenge" to see a long thread with examples, methods, and tools. 3) I find it far easier to work in LR where Negative Lab Pro is a real game-changer.