Scanning Film Negatives with a DSLR

Scanning Film Negatives with a DSLR on Shoot It With Film
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Written by Amy Elizabeth

I am fortunate enough that I have a Noritsu LS-600 (read: super swanky scanner, you can find it on eBay here) for my 35mm film. It can take in and scan an entire roll at once, is extremely fast, gives me great results, and has saved me a ton of money over the years.

It only has two flaws: It doesn’t scan sprocket holes, and it doesn’t scan 120 film.

(Some of you might think #2 is a HUGE flaw, but honestly, I really, really love 35mm film and making it my primary medium is no issue for me #unpopularopinion.)

So, what do I do when I want to scan sprocket holes or 120? I have my trusty Epson v600 scanner.

It’s a workhorse I’ve owned for more than a decade. It does have a few problems, though. You can only scan small strips at a time, it’s slooooow, and, when scanning C-41 film, I can never get the color how I imagine it.

These are very annoying issues to have and why I have been hoping for some sort of alternative to try.

How to Scan Film Negatives with a DSLR
How to Scan Film Negatives with a DSLR
How to Scan Film Negatives with a DSLR
Scanning Film Negatives with a DSLR on Shoot It With Film - Medium format film photography double exposure

Digitizing Film Negatives with a DSLR

Every so often, I hear other film shooters talk about using their DSLR to digitize their negatives and how they are choosing it over using a flatbed. So I started doing some research and gathered information to form my own strategy.

Through LOTS of trial and error, I now have a set up that works, saves me time over my flatbed, and have even found software to alleviate lots of those pesky color issues when scanning C-41 film.

I’m SO EXCITED to pass this information along, because with minimal investment, you too can digitize your film negatives right in your own home.

And if you’re looking for a more detailed look at how to scan your own film negatives, check out the lessons over at Shoot It With Film Insiders.

Scanning Film Negatives with a DSLR on Shoot It With Film - Medium format image on Kodak Portra 160
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The DSLR Scanning Process

I’m going to outline my process here, but I have also shot a video for IGTV, because I love being able to see things in writing and also in action. I hope this helps you, too, but if you have any questions, please ask away!


Let’s start by addressing what you need to do this process. It’s going to sound like a lot, but you most likely already own the more expensive items and others you can purchase relatively cheaply.

  1. A DSLR camera

Some of you might be tapping out already. I know quite a few fellow film shooters who up and sold their DSLR.

I kept mine because I use it a couple times a year for our church directory shots. It’s also a Nikon D700 (circa 2010), and I don’t think I would get more than $50 if I tried to sell it.

I figure it’s of more value just to have access to it. If you have one of those fancy, newer DSLR cameras I bet your digitizing will turn out waaaay better than mine.

  1. A light table

I just bought one on Amazon for like $20, and it was worth every penny. I tried using my iPad at first with just a blank, white screen, and it was NOT good. The pixels were extremely obvious in the shots, even when I tried placing something to filter the light over the screen.

  1. A tripod

I’m going to assume you already have one of these, but if not, I’m not going to shame you. I’m just going to look away while you order one, and, in two business days, we can pretend like nothing ever happened.

  1. A level

Once again, super cheap and makes a huge difference. Yes, you can level things out in post, but, really, you need the entire negative to be in the same focus plane. You don’t want part of it blurry just because you didn’t spring for one of these bad boys.

  1. Remote shutter release

Any bump in the camera will mess this process up, so do yourself a favor and use one.

  1. A macro lens

Okay, confession time: I didn’t own one. (Am I even a real photographer?) I did have extension tubes, so I tried to use those, and it was a disaster. You’re stuck with such a narrow focus range and getting it lined up for the negative to fill the frame and get it in focus was killing the whole project.

I stopped by my local camera shop They ship orders over $50 free, and they have a great warranty and customer service. I cannot recommend them enough! I love getting gear from them, and I want them to stay in business for a very long time, so I love helping others discover them.

Just to tell you how awesome they are, the sales associate talked me OUT of the lens I was looking at to sell me a cheaper lens that does everything I need it to. I walked out of there spending less than $50, and it was exactly what I needed. I subsequently used it at a newborn shoot on my Nikon F100 and was thrilled to have it in my arsenal.

  1. An anti-static cloth

I always keep one handy to wipe off my negatives to prep them for scanning.

  1. Optional: a negative holder with sides

I created one out of cardstock using an exacto knife to cut an opening for the negative and two slits to string the negative through. Check out the video above to see what it looks like.

Everything just stays more centered, and the sides block out ambient light.

The first time I was fiddling with the set-up, I noticed some splotches in my results, and I figured out it was from a lamp bouncing its light off the negative.

So I for sure would recommend you NOT have any overhead lights on during this process, and if you don’t make sides to block out light, that you at least put up some sort of barrier so sunlight or lamplight doesn’t sneak its way onto the negative you’re trying to digitize.

  1. Optional: a spare section of film

I took a roll of film that was blank, and I taped it onto the ends of my film so I could “thread” the film through the holder I made and pull it in one long strip, seamlessly through the cut-out. (Also shown in the video above.)

Scanning Film Negatives with a DSLR on Shoot It With Film - Medium format landscape image

Your Camera Settings

The next piece is to figure out the settings on your DSLR. I am still experimenting with this part, but, so far, the settings I have found best for me are f8, 1/80th second, ISO 640.

I use f8 because I’m very paranoid about everything being in focus, and I want to give myself a rather deep focal plane to work with.

For my shutter speed, I found that anything below 1/80th of a second gives me some camera shake.

I wonder if it’s my tripod (read: inexpensive) or because I keep my tripod a little askew because I’m not working with a neck for the camera. Either way, I can’t have camera shake, so 1/80th it is!

The last piece is ISO; obviously the lower the better, but when I went lower than 640 my base images were too dark in Lightroom.

Maybe I have to use a higher ISO because I’m using a smaller aperture and faster shutter speed, or maybe my light table isn’t as bright as it could be.

Either way, I can’t have a dark negative, so I compensate by using a higher ISO than optimal. I encourage you to play around with your settings to find the sweet spot where everything is in focus, the image is bright, but you’re not adding unnecessary noise to it.

Scanning Film Negatives with a DSLR on Shoot It With Film - 35mm sprocket holes on Kodak 400 film

Setting Everything Up

Once you have everything, you just kind of piece it together and go. Setting it all up is the longest part of the process, but once it’s done, digitizing them is a breeze, and it’s still waaaay faster than my flatbed!

Put the remote shutter and level on your camera, and the camera on the tripod pointing downward.

(I had to adjust the legs so my camera could point down and still get the negative in the frame. This is where having the level on the camera helped a ton, because my tripod wasn’t level but my camera was so I couldn’t just rely on the level built-in to the tripod.)

Tape the spare pieces of negative to the ends of the roll you want to digitize, then thread through the negative holder. Place the negative/holder on the light table.

Raise or lower your camera until the negative takes up as much of the frame as possible.

Make sure your camera is level. Put the camera on Live View so you can zoom in and focus as precisely as possible. I zoom in on the film stock name so I know I’m trying to focus on something that should be crisp and clear.

Double check that your camera is still level. Use your shutter release to take a picture of the negative, pull on the end to advance the frame, and take another picture. Do this until you have taken pictures of the entire roll.

Scanning Film Negatives with a DSLR on Shoot It With Film - Medium format ocean image

Editing the Film Scans

Bring all your photos into Lightroom, and do yourself a favor and test out Negative Lab Pro. It is the best software I have found/used for dealing with color negatives.

You can use this no matter how you scan, so even if you love your trusty flatbed scanner, go over and give Negative Lab Pro a try because it’s free for your first 12 negatives!

If you’re scanning on a flatbed, just be sure to scan it as if it’s a positive, because Negative Lab Pro does its thing by converting the negative into a positive.

If you’ve taken pictures with your DSLR you don’t have to worry about remembering, because you’ll always have the original file as a negative.

Here are a few tips for color correcting your scans.

Scanning Film Negatives with a DSLR on Shoot It With Film - Medium format film photography on Kodak Portra 160

Using Negative Lab Pro

There’s a tutorial for how to use it on their site, but I’ll just give you a quick overview here.

Use the white balance dropper to select an area of the negative that isn’t exposed (so between frames is the perfect spot.)

Crop your negative so none of the borders show (no sprocket holes, no nothing. Just the image)

Decide if you want the color profile to be Noritsu or Frontier (or “None” but let’s be real: you’re already on Team Noritsu or Team Frontier, so there’s no way you’re not going to choose one of these as your color profile.)

Then, hit “convert negative” and watch the magic happen.

You’ll now have access to sliders to fine tune the image (brightness, contrast, tint, temp, highlights, shadows, etc.) When you’re done, you’ll just “apply” the changes and have the best looking scan you can do at home without owning your own Frontier or Noritsu.

(If you want to show off the sprocket holes or the edges of the film, just re-crop it now that the color work is done!)

Scanning Film Negatives with a DSLR on Shoot It With Film - 35mm film photography with sprocket holes and overlapping frames

Final Thoughts

So, is scanning/digitizing with a DSLR more convoluted than scanning with a flat bed? Yes. But, ultimately, it ends up taking way less of your day. And even with my ancient D700, I feel like the quality of my images rivals my flatbed. So get out there and start digitizing your film!

If you need help learning how to develop your own film, check out my tutorials on developing black and white film and developing C41 film. You’ll become your own mini lab in no time.

Thank you so much, Amy! Amy is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and you can check out her other articles here, including tutorials on how to hack your DX code and how to create light leaks!

To see more of Amy’s work, be sure to visit her on her website and Instagram! Amy also shares tips and tutorials for shooting film over on her IGTV channel. Go check it out!

Leave your questions about scanning film negatives with a DSLR below in the comments!

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Amy Elizabeth

Amy Elizabeth is a regular contributor for Shoot It With Film. Find her other articles here, such as How To Develop Black and White Film at Home and How Metering and Rating Film Go Hand in Hand.

Blog Comments

I love this tutorial!! Thanks so much for sharing!

My pleasure!!!! I’m so glad you found it helpful!

Well written! I can’t wait to try this.

What lens did your local shop recommend you buy? I need to get a macro lens just for this but I’m not sure what to get!

Why didn’t I state which lens I got? That was total oversight on my part! It’s the Nikon 55mm f/3.5. It’s manual focus, so I do like to use the Live view feature on my camera to hone in on the details and focus. I have also used the lens at things like newborn shoots for those sweet baby details! I wish I would’ve bought it a long time ago!

Thanks for your tutorial. I will be using a d810 and the same macro that I’ve had since new–a truly great lens.
Do you tether your d700 to your computer for shooting?
Do you use LiveView on the camera?
Do you ever lock up your mirror for less camera shake?
Are you limited is size of printable image by the camera technique vs the scanner?

Hi John!
1. I have not tried tethering, but I have thought about it. In all honesty, it’s out of laziness because I’d have to look for the cord and I don’t know where it is 😉
2. I definitely use LiveView. Because my macro lens is manual focus, I cannot imagine nailing focus without it. I actually mention that in the article and in the video.
3. And I thought LiveView locked up the mirror. I did borrow my FIL’s sturdier tripod (and newer Nikon) and that allowed me to shoot at a lower SS.
The newer Nikon also provides me with larger files. A medium format (6×7) photo scanned on my v600 flatbed would yield 4800 on the short side (due to the settings I used. More than that seemed unnecessary), whereas with my FIL’s camera it would yield around 3500 on the short side. (my d700 would yield about 2700 on the short side).
As for printing, the largest I printed when scanning with my d700 was 8×8 and it turned out very nicely. I would like to print larger and compare them! So that’s a great question!

Thanks for the response, Amy. Yes, with LV the mirror is up.
As I said, I have had that same lens for over 30 years and it is still considered one of Nikon’s best. Do you focus on the grain of the film?
With negative lab pro can you use the option key to set white and black points, as can be done in Lightroom?
And can you save as presets the WB adjustment for various films?
I built a light table and I am awaiting delivery of the Digitaliza attachment for medium format negs. I have the Nikon slide copier for 35mm and it works well.

At what point do you save your raw scans, before or after you WB w NLP, or at some other point?
I like your rig to cut glare, I will make one also, so thanks for that too!

Other than cleaning with a microfiber cloth, how do you deal with DUST? I tried “shooting” my 35mm slides and achieved excellent exposure & sharpness. But hundreds of DUST particles ruined the results. There were way too many to use spot removal with Lightroom (too time consuming).

Hi Richard! Yeah, dust can be an issue. I use a can of compressed air and an anti-static cloth. This helps, but there is still dust. There’s a real opportunity for someone to invent a dust removal plug-in for Lightroom. We just gotta convince someone it’s worth their time lol.

Invest in an air cleaner with a HEPA filter. I have a bedroom I use as an office and keep closed when not in use. If I don’t run the air cleaner for a half hour first, there will be dust everywhere which will move every time you touch something in the room.

I used a slide copier from the 1960s. Its made by Minolta. Does a great job of making copies.

Plus you can use your manual film camera as a enlarger to make paper prints.

This was my 1st enlarger

Hi this might seem like a silly question but does this mean I can just unroll my film and set it up? Or do I need a specific way to get the film out of the roll, like a darkroom or something? I can’t seem to find an answer anywhere, or maybe I’m just wording it wrong. Sorry I’m a total beginner here ?

Hi Patricia! Great question! So, you won’t be able to take the film out of the cartridge, because it won’t be developed and fixed yet. You first have to develop it by taking it to a lab or following a tutorial like this one!

I’m quite curious how the DSLR scanning for 35mm comparison to your Noritsu. Because I’m thinking of buying one. And if there is no real difference I could use the money to buy more film 🙂

Unfortunately, the Noritsu makes life soooo much easier with scanning and getting good colors. I know Negative Lab Pro keeps improving, but the quality and ease of the Noritsu is currently unsurpassed.

It would be nice to know which side of the negative is facing the camera? Is it the dull emulsion side or the shiny side?

Hello Amy – Thanks for your scanning article ??. The only problem for me is that “Negative Lab Pro” only works with Lightroom. After many years with LR, I change to PL6??.

I’ve just built a setup to copy 120 film, but I’m curious about the white balance settings. The flat panel LED light I’m using appears neutral with a daylight WB, which I guess is a good start.

Will using Auto white balance make things better, or worse? I’m specifically thinking about the orange neg base here.

Will a custom white balance set by measuring the light through the orange neg base be useful?

Is it best to try to to deal with the cast from the orange film base in-camera, or afterwards in Lightroom with software, or both?

Hi Mark! Thanks for stopping by! Great questions. So, I use Negative Lab Pro (NLP) to convert my negatives when digitizing with a DSLR. In negative lab pro, the first thing you do is use the dropper to select the orange and that will calibrate the image to the proper white balance. Then you convert the negative with NLP and you can fiddle with the white balance of the positive from there. But this technique gives you a better base to start from.
I hope this helps!

I have a Nikon 4000 which I wish I could get going again. Has the blue line of death down the middle of every image. I bought a v600 but havent really used it. Think im going to skip it and go dslr. Going to use a canon 5dmk4 with a 100mm macro L lens and edit in PS bridged to LR. I have a astronomical amount of negatives to get through. How big do you think I can print using this method? My efforts are to create a coffee table book of images. Wish me luck. Thanks for the scanning method.

Very interesting this article. I haven’t read all of it yet but I thought about this here : if you would prefer a low ISO like 100 or higher, and also prefer a f8 or even f11 aperture, your shutter should be open longer than 1/80th, depending on how much backlight you’ve got, whatever. Couldn’t you arrange the mirror setting so that it flips up like a quarter of a second before the picture is being made? I used it like this for other pictures, with a Nikon D200 from 2009, and a Nikkor 60mm macro lens. I even did portraits with this lens. In Belgium were I’m from and still live. See my scale model pictures on flickr

Forgot… I also worked with a Rolleiflex from 1956, did portraits with a Mamyia RB67, Pentacon Six TL, and other stuff on 35mm with a Pentax ME Super. And they are not my only film cameras…

I would use a 10s shutter delay and leave shutter speed choice to camera. ISO 100. Of course a tripod.
Negative Lab Pro is a must for color negatives. No chance to flip the colors so good yourself 🙂

thank you so much .
Now i can realy start
i was using a scanner for years with very mixte results and i was told about using a digital camera to copy negative and using lab pro .
i also saw videos of using light room to convert the negative into positive , although not as fast and occurate as lab pro, theresults were very acceptable.
Thanks again .

Hi Amy
Don’t know if you’re still answering here, but here goes.
Great article and I will try it (I have a V700 but dread having to scan, so much time wasted! My question is how do you combat film curl, ie edge curling along the length?

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