Negative is as negative does

When we left sunny Colorado for sunny Hawaiʻi, I was faced with a conundrum. You see, I had many years worth of photos from my pre-digital years. Something like 20+ three-ring-binders, and I don’t mean them wimpy 1-inch binders. Nope; these were multiple 3-inch-binders that originally held the voluminous NASTRAN<<link documentation.

Once loaded with photos sleeved in archival plastic sheets, these binders became hernia-inducing behemoths. The cost of shipping them was prohibitive (as was the prospect of storing and keeping them safe in a tropical climate). Years of photos from varied trips (multiple Florida trips, Arizona Trips, Washington D. C. trips, Hawaiʻi trips, other trips) — in addition to photos snapped around the house and during local (Michigan) trips — all ended up in the garbage . . . but I kept the negatives. Lots and lots of negatives.

I’ll talk a bit more about this photo in a moment . . .

Over the years, I’ve tried different scanning methods and read a lot of things related to scanning, and . . . wait, let me share a bit of information before I continue.

Side Note: Lots of great information at the site A few scanning tips by Wayne Fulton (LINK). Read Scanning 101 if you plan on scanning, but look around the site if you are interested in . . . well, a lot of what’s there. Honest, if at all interested in photography and you don’t yet know everything about it, it’s worth a look-see.

Anyway, before we moved from Colorado, I would use my Epson Perfection V600 scanner (~$200 when I purchased it). I could do about 10 at a time, but the process of scanning at sufficient resolution is labor-intensive and slow. That model scanner is a few years old, and there may be better models out there now, but I was happy with the job it did.

However, the prospect of scanning as many negatives as I have was so daunting that I never scanned more than a few . . . hence why all my negatives came with me to Hawaiʻi and then moved back with me to the mainland, where they sat, beckoning me, pleading with me to make sure they don’t fade into history . . . until last year, when their voices became too desperate to ignore.

Disney World (1992)

So, last year I researched and came across a number of articles about using one’s fancy-schmancy DSLR to “scan” one’s negatives. Those articles talked about light sources, constructing a negatives holder, and the mechanics of photographing negatives.

In the process of researching using a camera to digitize/scan negatives (and slides), I came across two items that renewed my resolve to scan all my negatives. The first item was a box constructed by a company (person?) in Taiwan (LINK):

That’s the later version of what I bought (I have the CopyBox II) which adds the ability to control the brightness (three levels) whereas mine has a constant light source. You can see an article about the CopyBox II here: LINK. The CopyBox III is reviewed here: LINK.

I used to have a copy stand I’d bought at a garage sale, but that too went in one of our many garage sales, and now I’m using my tripod and a couple of levels to ensure alignment as I photograph negatives.

So, what does a photo of a negative look like as a digital photo?

That’s the negative of the photo at the beginning of the post. Notice that the image is reversed. That’s because it’s advised to photograph the “duller” side of the film negative to minimize reflections. It’s easy to flip the image afterward.

The first thing you then do is to set the White Balance (either sample the edge of the film or use the Auto-WB feature in your photo editor (I use Lightroom CC). Doing that gives you this:

The photo at the beginning was generated by me taking the above photo to Photoshop, inverting the image, mirroring the image, adjusting the colors, contrast, saturation, etc., and then bringing it back to Lightroom and doing final tweaks . . . or, with a few click of a plugin, I could have gotten this:

Pretty close to the first one, but a lot faster.

So, what plugin? Negative Lab Pro (LINK). Here’s a review (LINK). There’s a lot of information out there about it. If interested, you should buy it.

“It’s $100!”

Now, Bob, you exaggerate; it’s only $99.

BUT! . . . consider this: if you have a lot of negatives to scan, you’d buy a dedicated film scanner, something in the Nikon line, and you’re looking to pay up to $1,000 and maybe more; $300 for the box and software is less than a third, and a lot more manageable than another piece of hardware.

“You know, that Disney photo is not all that good . . .”

Well, Bob, you are right. All the photos in this post are from one roll I shot using my Nikon N8008 (one review<<link), and I shot that roll in 1992 (I’ll explain how I know that in a moment). And what I found out is what I remember most about the camera and what that reviewer (and others) noticed about it; when it gets things right, it’s amazing. When it doesn’t, it’s amazingly bad.

Many of the photos from that roll range from mediocre at best, to poor. Here is a shot of the Nautilus ride taken from overhead:

It’s metered pretty badly and not sharp at all. And that’s with me doing a lot of editing. I’m pretty sure I threw out the photo I got back from the lab as unusable.

This next photo is another overhead shot (two versions: the first processed by me in Photoshop as described above, and the other processed using Negative Lab Pro):

Manually converted from negative to positive
Converted using Negative Lab Pro

Negative Lab Pro does a much better job of resolving colors, but still, not a great photo.

Here’s another comparison of manual versus NLP processing:

Manual processing
NLP processing

It’s not just that they are processed differently (they are), but that NLP gets better colors from the negative; colors that are easier to work with.

That photo isn’t too bad, although it’s still fairly soft (I cleaned it up a lot), as are these next two photos:

People who bother to really look will notice a loss of sharpness at the sides; that had more to do with the cheap lenses I was using at the time rather than the camera (although, that doesn’t explain the center of the images being soft).

I mean, they are not awful, awful, but . . . well, here; this is what the camera was capable of when user and camera worked well together.

That rivals what I can do with today’s cameras, at least at the sizes one is likely to show on the blog or SmugMug. Printing would be a different matter, but probably up to an 8×10 it would be OK.

“So, how did you know this roll was from 1992?”

Good question, Bob. It’s because, on that same roll, I have photos of our visit to the Kennedy Space Center.

Specifically, of this display which had just opened:

That’s the “Inspiration”, a mock-up of the shuttle orbiter that is mentioned in THIS<<link and THIS<<link articles. From the article, the display opened in 1992.

Am I 100% positive? Probably 99.983%, mostly because I don’t have any other clue. I mean, I suppose it could be 1993. I suggest people who are interested keep an eye on this post. If I find out I was in error, I will update it because I know how important it is to my many readers. 

Now, one last thing . . . it was pure dumb luck that I picked a set of negatives that contained one of my all-time favorite photos . . .

Them who want to see the original size photos . . . well, you can’t because I didn’t match the zoom of the camera to the size of the negative so that I would end up with a 1:1 copy of the original. But, you can see the full-size versions of the above photos, whatever those might be relative to the original. The SmugMug gallery is HERE<<link.

The gallery of the above photos is below:

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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