Still Film Digitising – Saving Your Pictorial Memories

Still Film Digitisation

Should you capture your photographic images now?

There have been many improvements made to scanning equipment over recent years and some of the lower cost scanners are capable of producing good quality scans of slides, negatives and photographs when in the hands of experienced multimedia technicians.

Most still film and photographs that have been stored in anything other than ideal archival conditions will show some signs of degradation. Fading, shrinkage, warping, mould, dirt and scratches are all signs of degradation.

If your content is valuable and justifies the cost to transfer to a more modern file format that can be software edited and duplicated, we recommend you consider the move sooner rather than later. You will benefit from archiving and being able to share your historic or family images electronically over the internet with friends and family.

Film handling, cleaning and Restoration.

Old film and photographic materials commonly suffer from dust, finger prints and age related degradation often caused by poor handling or storage. Ideally film assets should be stored in flat, sealed packaging in a dark air conditioned environment. This is rarely the case.

Care should be taken when handling any film, slides or photographs to prevent dirt, fingerprints or physical damage to them. One should wear nitrile or lint free gloves and use appropriate tools including tweezers to handle photographic assets. Without such precautions fingers may accidentally touch a photograph or slide, and leave marks.

Good handling and cleaning techniques lead to better quality scans. Cleaning every slide and the scanner bed will remove almost all traces of dust and give better quality scans. We want to eliminate scanning any unwanted dust or debris. You may not see any debris on your film or photos but high resolution scanners will, and they will scan every speck introducing noise to the scanned image which is very difficult and time consuming to remove post scanning.

Each film asset should be carefully inspected. Ultra clean compressed air (this can be purchased in a disposable can) or an air puffer and a soft antistatic lint free brush is used to remove any surface dust. A lint free cloth is used to very gently wipe any other dust or marks from the film. For tiny specks, a fine lint free swab can be used to gently clean small parts of the surface.

You should try to avoid using any liquid cleaning products on the film emulsion (the matt side of the film). Inspect each asset prior to scanning. Any assets which are dirty or damaged will not produce good quality scans. In extreme cases you can use a mix of 50% isopropyl alcohol and demineralised water with a lint free fine swab to carefully clean the affected film surface.

The flat bed of your scanner should be carefully inspected and cleaned regularly throughout the scanning process. Ultra clean compressed air with a soft lint free brush is used to remove any surface dust. A lint free cloth with a small spray of eye glass cleaner is used to very gently wipe the glass bed. Care should be taken to ensure no excessive pressure is used which could scratch and irreversibly damage the glass bed of the scanner.

Film scanning Workflow and methodologies.

At FATS Digital we utilize two methods of capturing photographs and film assets. We either capture the image with very high resolution reprographic equipment or we scan the assets with a high resolution scanner.

When handling materials where the highest quality scan is sought, the preferred method is to photograph the film assets. The transparent film is rear lit by an even intensity and colour temperature light box, whilst being held flat utilizing anti newton ring technology. The film or negative is photographed using a high resolution reprographic camera setup. Care is taken using proprietary jigs, to ensure the subject being captured is aligned parallel with the lens and is in sharp focus across the entire object. Using software to magnify the captured images allows us to electronically see what our eyes are not capable of natively seeing and allows us to accurately check the quality of the captured images. When the equipment is carefully aligned and focused, we can see all the grain structure in the original assets. We use a range of tools to ensure the images we capture are pristine and technically perfect.

To ensure that we are not capturing any dust or debris that was never intended to be part of the image, all of our work is carried out in a class 1 HEPA air filtered environment.

A lot of film digitizing projects do not have a sufficiently large budget to allow the use of a high resolution reprographic setup to individually capture each asset.

When capturing film and photographic images that are not as critical or where the budget is lower, a film scanner can be used. If care is taken, good results can still be achieved.

We use a number of different scanners including a Nikon Coolscan 4000 and an Epson V700 A4 flatbed scanner capable of scanning at 4000 dpi, 48 bit colour and an optical dynamic range of 4.0 Dmax. This Nikon scanner is fitted with an SF-210 auto slide feeder. These scanners are capable of scanning slides, negatives, transparencies and photographs.

Generally our first high resolution scan is a natural ‘warts and all’ scan in tif format. We generally transcode the master tif images to JPG and PDF in a compressed format to give the client a more manageable file size to view without any visible effect on the image quality. Each image can be given its own unique file name.

Professional flatbed scanners generally come bundled with a range of enhancement software such as ROC or Digital ICE from Kodak, designed to help you remove dust, scratches and fix faded colours.

We have nothing against these software enhancements that can help fix scans. They help speed up the scanning processes and they are very easy to use (press a few buttons and you’re set) however what you gain in speed, you lose in quality. If your aim is to scan and archive your film assets at the highest quality for any potential future use, we suggest using the scanner for its designed purpose – to scan. These natural scans can look poor, however the data in the scan, is the result we are aiming to achieve. We want as much untouched digital data as possible. We can then use purpose designed graphic editing software downstream to manipulate the digital images.

Using enhancement software supplied with most professional scanners can cause two major problems.

1) The Scanner Software removes detail and can make images look Fuzzy


The first image is a natural scan. The second has had Digital ICE and Dust Removal applied and has lost a vast percentage of the detail. Dust removal has fixed some of the dust and scratches but it has also blurred the pixels because the scanner has applied dust removal to the entire image, without discrimination between important detail and specks of dust.

2) The scanner software produces inconsistent unnatural Colours


The first image is a natural scan. The second image has had Digital ICE and colour fix applied. The software has over-saturated the colours. It is not aware that the water is supposed to appear blue rather than purple. The software has applied “enhance and brighten” to the flat faded colours across the entire image making it look unrealistic.

The solution is very simple. Use the scanner for what it is designed to do. Perform a natural warts and all scan and then back up the high res file. Then use graphics programs such as Photoshop to personally enhance each image after the scanning process or only enhance each high resolution natural scan at a later time when you want to use the image.


The example above has been manually manipulated in Photoshop to remove dust and enhance the colours and contrast.


The example above has been manually manipulated in Photoshop to correctly adjust the colours so that they appear natural.

Once the assets have been scanned and inverted, the luminance and colours adjusted, all files should be backed up in duplicate and physically stored in multiple locations for long term archival. Customised metadata can be added to files for future identification and retrieval.

FATS Digital (FATS) (established 1987) is wholly Australian owned and has operations in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. FATS is a leading multimedia organisation representing Sony video products, and offers broadcast duplication, video QC, digitization of all forms of multimedia assets, archiving and digital ancillary services to the broadcast, production, Corporate and Government industries.

FATS currently performs film scanning, retouching and archiving services in varying formats and resolutions for a wide range of clients including state libraries, schools, universities, advertising agencies and television production companies.

If you would like further information on still film digitisation services contact one of our local offices.