TLDR- It's not for me

The short of the long of it is flatbed film negative scanning (on a frame-by-frame basis) is absolutely not for me.

  • CON - It takes so much dedicated time, which, as a mom and a person who just generally considers her time valuable, isn't going to work for me long term. This is the biggest kicker.
  • CON - The dust is killer and I don't love the results, especially on 35mm.
  • CON - I don't like the editing controls, it's finnicky, and done on the thumbnail preview which makes it hard for me to get it just right so I'm doing minimal post-post adjustments in Lightroom.
  • Pro - I gotta be honest, it does have an innate film scanner-like quality to the output I can't quite describe.
  • Pro - If I could get Digital ICE to work it would be so so cool.
  • Pro - The digital workflow is more straightforward since you're automatically given a positive to work off of (as opposed to some of the simply but extra steps ya have to take with digital camera scanned and inverted images).
  • Pro - Scanning panoramas would be really easy and not require any special extras.


I used an Epson v600 with negative holders to run these tests. A v750 or v850 would be faster and output technically higher quality end-results, but they're also less economical and available for the quick experiments I wanted to do with them. I decided to give this a try because I was looking for a digital contact sheet archival solution. I'll write up how I do that another day.

It's slow

So, here's how the workflow goes. Say you're scanning a 36 exposure roll of 35mm film. You load 2 strips of 6 negatives into the scanner. Make sure everything is fully not dusty. And I mean REALLY make sure. Then open the scanner software. Set up your preferences, and run a preview scan (takes about a minute). Go through each image thumbnail in shoddy quality one-by-one and make adjustments with a clunky editing panel. Then actually scan the strips in good quality. For me, high quality, 48 bit color, 2400 dpi jpeg scans took about 8.5 minutes.

8.5 minutes isn't that bad, you say. Wrong. Remember, you still have to repeat this for the other 4 strips of 6 frames from this roll of 35mm film. So at an absolute minimum you are going to spend 25.5 minutes just letting the scanner run and that doesn't account for the time you spend adjusting the images ahead of time (which really doesn't bother me because you're going to color correct film negatives no matter how you process it, but I just think the interface is clunky and hard to see), and the fact you have to come back to your computer every 10 minutes or so and re-give the roll your attention.

It's the iterative need for attention every ten minutes that I don't have time for in my life most of all. Honestly, if it could do all 36 images at once and took 25.5 minutes to run that would be infinitely more appealing than me having to come back every ten minutes. My life doesn't work that way. It's one of the reasons I like digital camera scanning so much. I can scan a whole roll of 35mm film and digitize it in 2 minutes if it's uncut. I can then take however long I want, whenever I want, on my computer color grading it at my convenience. I can leave my laptop open on my kitchen table and do an image here and there while I'm making dinner or between dance parties to the Frozen soundtrack that I'm partaking in. Flatbed scanning requires too much babysitting, and I already have enough of that going on in my life.

This is how long it took to scan 12 images (2 strips of 6) at 48 bit color, 2400 dpi, high quality jpegs.... + about 15 seconds to finalized the export and push it into my folder so I can drag it into Lightroom. That's why I approximate it takes 8.5 minutes. To do a whole roll it would take a minimum of 25.5 minutes. MINIMUM.

The dust is killer and I don't love the end results

I find it much harder to get rid of dust and lint ahead of time when flatbed scanning vs digital camera scanning. I know, you're going to say "but flatbed scanners have Digital ICE." Sure. That's what I thought too. The dust still shows up and is a pain in the butt to remove. I know a lot of people complain about that with digital camera scanning, but I don't have NEAR the problems with dust digital camera scanning as I have with flatbed negative scanning.

I seem to have better luck with medium format film as opposed to 35mm film. I'm not entirely sure why. It's still not as easy as digital camera scanning is for me, and I feel very hamstrung in a lot of situations where I know I'd have significantly more artistic freedom if I were working from a RAW camera file... But, it's all a spectrum, right? I am very comfortable with the fact that anomalies will always look better having scanned them in a specific way and it won't be fully replicable by all other technologies. So for me, the question is "which technique can I get results I like the most, the most often?" And it's still digital camera scanning as far as my home solutions are concerned.

I'm not going to tackle the resolution conversation, because I could scan negatives with a superior flatbed scanner to achieve higher resolution images that would legitimately rival my digital camera scanned negatives, but I'm not buying one in order to accomplish that. And also, I'm not spending any more time letting the scanner scan than needed.

So dusty and the purple line is probably indicative of dust on the sensor and needing to clean something else as well. The colors aren't great either. Though, to be intellectually honest, I think I could've done a better job color-grading this with some more time and practice into this technique that I do not feel inclined to devote to it.

Color grading is hard for me on preview thumbnails

Since I'm doing all my initial color grading on low quality preview thumbnails, it's hard for my eyes to understand the color choices I'm making as I'm pre-color grading the images. That's not to say I couldn't be better at it, but it is to say my eyes do a lot better at color-grading a perfect RAW file's conversion than a somewhat pixelated blurry preview image. I can see color pretty well, but I find I make a lot of adjustments in Lightroom in post on flatbed color-graded scans that I do not have to make on digital camera scanned, converted, and color graded scans. I always seem to want to zoom in more and can't.

This is a scan done on an Epson v600 of 35mm Portra 400 film. It was pre-color graded prior to final scanning and I did dust off my negatives and the scanner prior to running the dang thing, and look at it. It needs so much TLC still.

.... but there is something innately unique about the scans

I can't quite describe it, but the scans do look, right out of the box, a little more like what I'm inclined to see from a lab film scanner. It's something in the character, and I'll be exploring this in greater depth at a later time. Honestly, if I were just starting out shooting film and single, I think this might have been a really great way to kickstart the hobby. There are ways to make this more useful, less dusty, etc. The fact that it takes a long time sucks, but different phases of my life might have accepted that shortcoming. And, frankly, I think it might take a little less of a developed palette for color grading than digital camera scanning does. I can totally get lab looks with digital camera scanning, but it does help to have an opinion going into the process of how you want your film to turn out. I think flatbed scanning gives you less versatility but probably makes it slightly simpler for someone new to film to get lab-like results. Also, these arguments only stand for color film. Most of the nuances of these techniques come down to color grading. I'd still choose digital camera scanning for B&W every day.

Here's a short video, no audio, of the with a bird's eye view of what it takes to color grade flatbed scans prior to scanning and in Lightroom.

You'll notice there's a lot of dust I didn't even bother cloning out of the final image. This isn't for client work, I'm just testing the process, but I want you to see how painful that could be so you're aware of what you might be potentially walking into without really diligent anti-dust practices (and potentially even with).

Here is a much longer video with audio of me rambling and going through the process of scanning, color grading, scanning, and post-processing these 2 strips of Portra 400 on the Epson v600.