Scanning Photos


[Författarens anmärkning: Denna artikel finns även på Svenska]


It is not too difficult to turn your old photographic prints, slides, negatives, and rolls of film into digital files. You can buy a suitable scanner and do it yourself, or you can make use of one of the many reliable scanning services around. Photographic materials can be scanned at various resolutions and saved in several different digital formats.

In this article we take a look at the scanning options you have for each type of material, and give you advice on what scanning resolution and output format you should choose depending on how you want to use the digitized photos.



professional photo scanning services

doing it yourself - buying your own scanner

useful scanning technologies and options

print scanning tips

film and negative scanning tips

slide scanning tips

dpi figures, resolutions, and file formats



professional Photo Scanning Services

If you do not want to buy a scanner yourself, the simplest option is to make use of a scanning service. Here in Sweden there are several companies that you can send your photos, films, negatives, and slides to and have them turned in digital files.

There are also scanning services elsewhere in Europe that offer a fairly quick turnaround. (Of course you will need to post your materials to them, so if you value your old photos it may be wise to send them by registered mail!)

Companies that offer scanning services fall into two categories: basic and professional. The basic services just take your photos and scan them on their own fancy scanners that include technology that automatically removes minor dust and scratches and enhances faded images. Professional scanning companies offer additional services like colour correction and retouching by hand.

The advantage of the basic scanning services is that they are fast and cheap. They are almost certainly good enough if you just have family photos. (If you find a basic service that you like, post a comment at the bottom of this page telling us your experiences.)

If you are a professional photographer, or if you have some delicate photographs that need special attention, a basic scanning service may not meet your needs. But you go to a professional scanning service expect to pay more – sometimes a lot more.

We are aware of the following professional service companies in Sweden (again, professional scanning services are welcome to describe the services they offer by posting a comment to this page).  

Crimson AB, Stockholm

Brännkyrkagatan 80-82,
(vid Zinken)
Box 17 184
104 62 Stockholm
Open: mån-fre 09 – 17
08 429 29 29

Odenlab, Stockholm

Norrtullsg/Vidargatan 2,
11327 Stockholm
Open: Mån-Fre 10 – 18:30, Lör 11 – 15:30
08 790 50 00

Spectravision, Örebro

Boställsvägen 1,
702 27 Örebro
019 27 00 40

These scanning services can scan your photos at different resolutions and output the digital files in several formats in different media (more on this later).


Doing it Yourself – Buying Your Own Scanner

There are many scanners on the market that are particularly good for scanning photographs, slides, and negatives. However, not all scanners can scan all types of photographic materials, and some may not scan to the quality you need, so make sure you but your scanner from somewhere you can return it if you can’t get it to work the way you expect.

Camera shops are probably not the best place to buy them as they will charge you full price for them and are not happy if you try to bring them back. If you do by from a specialist shop, make sure to check their returns policy before you hand over your cash.

If you just want to scan prints (photographs on paper), the good news is that you just need a flatbed scanner, and almost any one will do the job, even the cheaper models.

If you want to scan film, negatives, or slides, however, you have the choice of either a flatbed that has special features that enables them to cope with film or a dedicated film scanner.


One of the cheapest scanners you can buy is the Epson Perfection V300 Flatbed Scanner. I have always liked Epson products, particular their old printers, as they are always sturdy and well-made. This scanner can scan film up to 4800 dots per inch (dpi). The built-in transparency unit allows you to scan six four slides or six frames of negative at a time. The scanner minimizes the effects of dust and scratches and comes with easy-to-use software for colour restoration. You can find this scanner for less than 1000Kr if you hunt around.

Epson B11B193081 Perfection V300 Photo Scanner

Prints: GOOD
35mm slides: OK
Larger format film: GOOD
Colour negatives: OK

Image of Epson B11B193081 Perfection V300 Photo Scanner

HP also make a nice range of scanners that can use to convert your old photos, slides, negatives, and film into digital files. Like the Epson V300, the HP ScanJet 4850 Photo Scanner can scan up to 4800 dpi and also features dust and scratch removal. It can remove scratches, restore faded colour, and correct red-eye. Some people think that the HP software is too complex, but otherwise this scanner is well liked. This scanner costs around 1000Kr.

HP Scanjet 4850 Photo Scanner (L1950A#B1H)

Prints: GOOD
35mm slides: OK
Larger format film: GOOD
Colour negatives: OK

Image of HP Scanjet 4850 Photo Scanner (L1950A#B1H)

At the higher end of the market the Nikon Coolscan V ED Film Scanner is a high-quality scanner that uses Digital Ice technology to remove dust and surface scratches. It has great lenses, and produces high resolution scans with excellent contrast, colours and sharpness. It can scan both 35mm slides and negatives (but not prints or larger format film). Several image editing applications come bundled with the scanner. The Coolscan retails for around 5000Kr but can be hard to find in Sweden You may need to go to a specialty photo shop to find this one.

Nikon CoolScan V LS-50 ED 35mm Film Scanner (4000 DPI)

Prints: no
35mm slides: EXCELLENT
(but see Kodachrome issues under Film Scanning Tips).
Larger format film: no
Colour negatives: EXCELLENT

Image of Nikon CoolScan V LS-50 ED 35mm Film Scanner (4000 DPI)



Add Ons

Most flatbed scanners come with a simple way to easily handle 35mm slides and negatives. HP call this a transparent materials adapter (TMA) and other scanner makers offer similar solutions.

If in doubt, ask you retailer how the flatbed scanner can be adapted for your slides and negatives.

Some scanners allow you to scan as many as 32 slides at once, and will split them up into separate files for you, allowing to process a lot of slides or negatives in one go.

Again, it is worth checking to see how the scanner can handle you slide archive. Flatbed scanners can be fiddly when it comes to scanning uncut negative or positive film.

If you can afford it and have a lot of film you want to convert to digital media you are probably going to be looking at a scanner that comes with a roll film adapter. These are available for some high-end scanners, but you should expect to pay around 5000Kr for this kind of feeder.



Useful Scanning Technologies and Options

Many scanners these days incorporate Digital ICE technology. This technology cleverly detects surface defects like dirt, fingerprints and scratches and improves most scans. Digital ICE works well on colour negatives and positives, but not Kodachrome. Ektachrome is fine.

Although Digital ICE can remove surface scratches, it won’t remove deep scratches in the film and if you want perfection you will need some additional touching-up to be done, either by yourself or by the lab. This is probably something you won’t need to worry about unless you are a professional photographer. Furthermore, Digital ICE only works only on colour film; it will not work on normal black and white film.

A similar technology is FARE which you can find on some Canon flatbed scanners. This has received mixed reviews, and several photographers have complained about unwanted artefacts and a general softening of the image on high settings. However, as the Canon flatbeds are cheaper than dedicated film scanners that may say more about the quality of the scanner than about the technology itself.

Most scanners use LED light sources these days, but the light source dosen’t seem to have much impact on scan quality so don’t be misled by claims of better lamp technology. The important this is how good the images look.

Some scanners will automatically fix red eye, although it doesn’t always work successfully. They can also restore faded colour or unwanted tinting, or automatically enhance colour in dark areas.

If you not you are satisfied with the results of these automatic fixes (or have never taken a bad photo), make sure you can turn these features off.


Print Scanning Tips

For scanning prints (photos on standard photo paper) you just need an inexpensive flatbed scanner. The 6 x 4’ prints that you get back from you friendly neighbourhood photo lab are rarely printed at a resolution of more than 300 ink dots per inch (dpi) and that means there is no point trying to scan them at a higher resolution because you are not going to improve the image quality or see any finer detail, and it’s just going to take a lot longer doing the scan.

Most of the time you don’t even need to scan at 300dpi: you can get a similar quality by scanning at 150-200dpi.

Almost all scanners are good enough to get the job done these days, especially if you are just scanning holiday snaps.

Look at an Epson or HP flatbed scanner if you want quality at a low price. Epson’s “V” range seem particularly solid and can probably do everything you need and more. The 300 dpi barrier for standard prints is not something you can get around.

Scanning in print at more than 300 dpi is not going to give you any more detail, and if you want to get your prints blown up to a larger size you will just end up with a larger print that seems fuzzier than the original. For this reason many people are disappointed when they get their prints sent off to be blown up to a larger size, but the fault is not with the photo lab, but with the original print.

Some older black and white prints that were made by contact printing from large negatives may yield more detail, and can be scanned successfully at higher resolutions. If you have this type of prints, experiment with scanning at higher resolutions, say 600dpi – but expect to wait longer for the scan to complete.

Some flatbed scanners come with software that “sharpens” the digitized image. They do this by interpolating between the pixels in the image and tracing contours. However, a scanner cannot see what is not there, so the resulting sharpened image may not reveal what you expect, and sometimes unwanted artefacts will appear.


Film and Negative Scanning Tips

Film and negatives, unlike prints, are designed to be enlarged. Also, scanning film, negatives, and slides is different from scanning prints because the light needs to shine through, not be reflected from it as is done for prints or documents.

Flatbed scanner manufacturers have come up with various solutions to this problem, but by far the commonest is to use a second lamp in the lid of the scanner for scanning prints. Usually there is a setting somewhere that enables you to switch from reflective scanning (for prints) to film scanning and negative scanning.

Alternatively, you can buy a dedicated film scanner (which won’t handle prints). These look different from traditional flatbed scanners, and will cost you more – sometimes a lot more. Nikon and Minolta are the brands to looks for, but if you intend to by a scanner at this end of the market, you probably already know more than I can tell you.

For 60 x 70mm format film a medium to high-end flatbed scanner will give good results. If you want create 300 dpi prints at 20 x 25 cms, scan your film at around 1200 dpi. To do the same with 35mm slides, scan at 4800 dpi. Note, however that there are dedicated slide scanners (and feeders) that will probably yield better results.


Slide Scanning Tips

Good flatbed scanners can be used to scan 35mm slides. Look for a scanner which can do at least 4800 dpi or more.

Flatbeds are not as good as dedicated film scanners, and probably won’t satisfy professionals, but if you have slides you want to digitize they can be a good and fairly inexpensive option. The larger the film, the better the scan will be.

Scanning takes a long time for each slide, particularly if you scan at higher resolutions, so if you have more than a handful of slides you will need to expect to dedicate several hours or even days to the scanning process. Some photo labs offer scanning services for a few Kr per slide, so you should work out if it is really worth the time and trouble and cost of going down the scan-it-yourself route.

If you have a lot of slides that you want to scan, it may well be worth investing in a slider feeder to go with your scanner. These are usually sold separately and can cost almost as much as the scanner itself.

If you buy a scanner for your slides, check to see what feeding accessories are available for it, and how much they cost.


DPI Figures

Manufacturers like to advertise their scanners as having a resolution of something like 4800 x 9600 dpi. Ignore that larger number. The important figure is the lower one, because that’s the resolution that the charge-coupled device (the thing that actually sees your print or film) can detect. The other figure is just interpolation – i.e., the scanner’s hardware or software just fills in the missing pixels. So although you can get files that are 4800 x 9600 from the scanner, its resolution is only really 4800 x 4800. At this site I always quote the lower figure.

If you need more pixels than the scan you have made, just use a good bit of software and resample the digital image.


Dynamic Range

Cheaper scanners have a limited dynamic range. This means that they have difficulties in seeing detail in dark areas of the film and can introduce random noise (odd blue, green, red pixels).

It is worth checking online reviews to see if these effects are noted for the scanner you are interested in. The more you pay, the less likely you are to see these kinds of problems – that’s why professional photographers buy expensive dedicated film scanners: because they can see into the deepest blacks and accurately record what’s there. Dynamic range limitations are less noticeable when you are scanning colour negatives.

Again, the purpose to which you will put the scanned images is all important: if you are a professional, you may not be satisfied by the quality of the scan from a cheaper scanner.


File formats

If you just want to display your photos on your computer screen or publish them on the web, you can scan them and save them as compressed JPEG files or as PNG files. These are the best file types for photographs and work well in all Internet browsers.

If you are a professional and want to digitalize your slides for a stock agency, then you should usually save your files in uncompressed, high-quality RGB JPEG format (i.e. Photoshop level 10 or above). Make sure the file name ends in .jpg. Each file will be around 50MB, so make sure you have enough storage space for them.

Some agencies will accept (or require) uncompressed 8 bit, TIFF files, again these files will be around 50MB in size. This enables the files to be printed as posters and billboards at a reasonable resolution, and opens up those markets to you.

That just about wraps it up. The topic of scanning is a huge one, and we hope this little guide has been of use to you. If you think we got anything wrong, post a comment below and we’ll fix it up as soon as we can.

Meanwhile, happy scanning!


(This article is one in an occasional series for hobby and professional photographers. If you intend to submit you digital photos to an online stock agency like, take a few moments to read our article Keywording Photos for Online Stock Agencies.)


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