Do you have negatives in your photo collection? Are you unsure of what to do with them? Most photographers – pro and amateur alike – switched to digital in the mid-2000s, so this format can seem ancient! But 35mm negative film (the most popular format) has been around since the mid-1930s. And negatives may be the only existing copy of family images you have (prints were often lost or given away.

Scanning Negatives

When I work with a client’s photo collection that includes 35mm negatives, I scan at a very high dpi (in combination with a minimum 400% enlargement). This gives a much richer, more detailed image. Scanning from a negative is ideal whenever possible. The reason? The negative is the original source material. This means more leeway than with a print (which is second generation). In other words, I can make a better scan from a negative than from a print. But 35mm is the smallest size to get a decent scan from.

Here’s why: remember the Kodak Disc Camera from the early 1980s? The negatives are tiny and because of that, lack the necessary information for a good print. The Disc Camera fell out of favor for good reason. The prints were grainy and soft and the colors were dull. I shudder to think about how many important family photos exist from this source. Yet, we can still scan from these negatives and get a better image than the original prints. These negatives, however,  are not ideal and may need to sent to a professional photo lab that deals with odd-sized media.

Contact Sheets

Before the digital era, I worked as a photographic printing technician. Since 35mm negatives were the most popular types of film, I spent much of my time creating contact sheets. This allowed clients to view the images on one sheet of paper before committing to individual prints. These days, a digital version is available. This makes it easy for clients to chose which images they want scanned and enlarged. If you only have 35 mm negatives, but no prints, this is a great way address that issue.

Some older photo collections I’ve worked with also contain larger format negatives. These range from 120mm to 4×5″.  Scanning these result in better images since they are originals. They are much than larger than 35mm film.

If you have negatives and want to decide if they are worth scanning, you can try this approach. It is also a heartwarming story of discovery and the power of family photos.

Need extra assistance? I’m here to help you manage, organize and preserve your photo collection.