It’s no secret that analog photography has grown over the recent years, and with that, so has the need for a film scanner. However, not all scanners serve the same purpose for all photographers, so you must dig deep to choose an option that best suits your needs.
But, if you are new to the world of film scanning and have no idea where to begin, let’s talk about some key points to understand the purpose of film scanners:
Understanding Film Scanners
In simple words, a film scanner is a device that allows you to copy your film images in digital format via the negatives. That way, you can send your analog photos directly to your computer without having to go to a lab or print anything.
There are plenty of options to fit different photographers, film formats, and budgets. Some are dedicated film scanners, while others provide more versatility for scanning prints and documents (flatbed scanners).
Depending on your plans for your photos and the type of film you use, it will be clearer to identify which features and accessories can’t be missing in your ideal scanner. You only have to define your needs to set a starting point in your search.
What are the benefits of film scanners?
The main benefit of film scanners is that you save a lot of money in the long run. Instead of taking your negatives to a lab and paying additional costs for scanning (which can be pretty expensive, by the way), you can digitize your photos yourself without spending a dime. If you love shooting film and need to scan images regularly, your scanner will pay for itself in a few months.
On top of that, scanning your own film gives you total control over the output you get. When you leave your negatives in a lab, you can’t oversee the scanning process, so you can’t decide the exposure and color settings of the results, and you might even get your photos cropped. A home film scanner solves this issue.
Another perk is that no one will take better care of your negatives than you. Not all labs handle film negatives with the required delicacy, especially if they have to take them to another place for scanning. That can lead to dust or fingerprints on your photos, and no one wants to go through that ordeal.
How to Choose the Best Film Scanner
When choosing the best film scanner, price is not the best indicator to make the wisest purchase. The scan quality, functionality, and type of scanner you need will depend on what you want to do with the scanned images later.
For example, if you only want to create digital versions of your analog photos for social media, a basic flatbed scanner will fit the bill. But, if you want to make large prints with great detail, you should go for an option that provides higher image quality and advanced features.
With that in mind, let’s head into the main types of film scanners:
Types of Scanners
- Flatbed scanners
A flatbed scanner reads the intensity and color of an image by shining white light through the glass and capturing images line by line. In essence, they are not specialized film scanners, but some of them include a transparency unit to scan negatives. That makes them the most versatile option since you can scan prints, slides, documents, and various film formats with the same scanner.
Also, most flatbed scanners are pretty affordable compared to regular film scanners, but they don’t offer the best resolution for professional film scanning.
- Negative scanners
A negatives film scanner (also called a slide or transparency scanner) works with uncut film and scans the image using a narrow and focused beam of light that records each photo, frame by frame. A motor scrolls the negatives automatically, and a CCD image sensor captures the data.
Overall, negative scanners offer impressive image quality but are still a cheap and easy-to-use option to scan film and slides.
- Drum scanners
A drum scanner uses photomultiplier tubes that record each image as it passes in front of optics that transfer the photos to your computer. It can capture more information than other scanners and provides the highest scan quality for professional uses. But, it is also the most expensive and complex alternative, so it is not suitable for home use.
What to Look For
Image Quality and Scanning Resolution
Try to look for a device with a scanning resolution of at least 3000 dpi to ensure you capture a neat image. But, keep in mind that a higher optical resolution means more money— and probably a slower scanning speed.
Film or Flatbed Scanners?
If you want a multipurpose scanner, you should go for a flatbed scanner. They are perfect for scanning slides, film negatives, medium format film, large format sheet film, prints, and documents— all in a single device! But, if you don’t care that much about versatility and you want to get high-quality scans with more detail, then go for a dedicated film scanner.
Color or bit depth refers to the amount of data that the scanner collects for each color. For these values, the higher, the better. That will give you a wider variety of colors for more vivid, accurate images with smoother gradations.
Dmax refers to the optical density and amount of detail that the scanner can capture in the shadows and highlights— think of it as the dynamic range of the product. It is measured on a scale from 0 to 4, and it is the most relevant factor to determine the quality of the final scanned image. In this case, always look for something with a Dmax above 3 to ensure the best results.
You will need good software to use with your film scanner to process your images. Most scanners come with great programs, but if you are not satisfied with the way your images transfer, consider upgrading to photo editing software that gives you more control over the sharpness, color, and exposure.
Best Film Scanners in 2022
Kodak Slide N Scan
This Kodak digital film scanner features an impressive set of functions and accessories to make your scanning process quick and easy. With it, you can scan color and B&W 35mm film and slides and convert them into 14 or 22MP digital photos. It includes a 50mm slide holder and adapters for 135, 110 & 126 films, making it a versatile alternative for analog enthusiasts.
It is super easy to set up and allows continuous film loading to speed up the entire process. Besides, it has a 5″ LCD screen so you can preview, edit, and enhance your photos, or even use it as an electronic picture frame.
As for the memory and connectivity options, the Kodak Slide N Scan supports SD cards up to 32GB and comes with a USB cable to transfer your images directly to your computer without installing any software. Additionally, it includes an HDMI cable to connect the device to your TV.
Pros & Cons
- Lightweight and portable.
- Compatible with three film types.
- Quick and easy to use.
- One-touch scanning.
- Digital picture frame mode.
- It provides an instant preview and editing options.
- Great connectivity options.
- You can’t use it without an SD card.
- Not suitable for professional scanning.
Plustek OpticFilm 8100
The Plustek OpticFilm 8100 is a dedicated 35mm film and slide scanner designed to please both amateur and professional photographers. It features a 3.6 Dmax and 7200 dpi optical resolution to capture more detail and reproduce neater images. With it, you can scan color negative film, black and white negative film, slides, reversal film, and Kodachrome film.
This photo negative scanner is an excellent choice for making high-quality prints. It has built-in ICC profiles for different slide films to ensure accurate and rich colors, and it can also enlarge your photos up to 36 x 24 inches without losing details. Yet, it is a bit slow, so don’t expect immediate results.
Besides its powerful scanning capabilities, the Plustek OpticFilm 8100 is bundled with SilverFast SE Plus 8 software to enhance and process your photos. It is compatible with Windows and Mac and includes a versatile toolset that gives you plenty of control to tweak your images as much as you want.
Pros & Cons
- It provides superb image quality for digital and printed photos.
- Great dynamic range.
- It includes SilverFast software with intelligent functions and tools to enhance your images.
- Rich colors.
- It only supports 35mm.
- Slow— especially at higher resolutions.
Epson Perfection V600
The Epson Perfection V600 is one of the best film scanners for newbies as it is affordable, easy to use, and versatile. It is a flatbed scanner with an optical resolution of 6400 dpi and an optical density of 3.4 Dmax. With it, you can scan pictures, documents, slides, negatives, and medium-format panoramic film. Also, it is great for photo enlargements up to 17 x 22 inches.
Moreover, it has Digital ICE Technology for film and prints. This technology reduces the appearance of creases and tears from old photos so you can recover details from damaged photographs. Likewise, it removes dust and scratches from film negatives.
On top of that, the included editing software allows you to play around with basic retouching and color managing tools to enhance your digital images. However, the program has an outdated interface, and it may be buggy on some recent computers —mainly Mac devices.
Other cool features include one-touch color restoration and the ABBYY FineReader Sprint Plus OCR software to convert scanned documents into editable text.
Overall, the Epson Perfection V600 delivers good-quality results and comprises a varied set of tools for a reasonable price. Yet, it is a big and heavy machine for which you need to make room.
Pros & Cons
- It is a versatile option to scan negative film, slides, prints, documents, books, and 3D objects.
- Dust and scratch removal.
- It comes with 35mm and medium format 120mm film holders and a slide holder.
- It includes scanning software.
- Great value for money.
- Good image quality for most applications.
- It is a bit slow when processing images.
- It takes a lot of space.
- The included software looks outdated and might be buggy on some computers.
The Kodak Scanza is a compact and portable negative film scanner designed for beginners. It can turn negatives into jpeg images in just a few seconds and supports 35mm, 126, 110, Super 8 & 8mm negatives and slides.
This entry-level scanner has a tilting LCD screen to operate the scanner and display and customize your images. The one-step Scan and Save feature makes it simple to load numerous photos with the press of a single button. Also, the included software has a clean, intuitive interface that makes it super easy to use for new users.
The scanner is incredibly versatile to use. It saves your photos directly to your SD card and comes with USB and HDMI cables so you can connect it to your computer or TV.
Pros & Cons
- Large buttons and easy-to-use commands.
- It supports various film formats.
- Compact and portable.
- Intuitive software.
- The scan quality is decent for online sharing but not great for making prints.
Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE
The Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE is one of the best film scanners in the market for both enthusiasts and professionals. It has a dynamic range of 3.6 Dmax and a 7200 dpi optical resolution to ensure sharp images with vibrant and accurate colors.
This scanner delivers professional-quality results, and it’s excellent for making prints up to 36×24 inches. It features a sophisticated imaging system with dust and scratch removal and a high-sensitivity color CCD sensor. Yet, it can scan slides and 35mm film only.
Additionally, the Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE comes with SilverFast SE Plus 8 to correct colors and reveal more data from shadows without compromising sharpness.
Pros & Cons
- It provides superb image quality for digital display and large prints.
- High dynamic range.
- Solid construction.
- The film is easy to load.
- The scanner is easy to set up and operate.
- It only supports 35mm film.
Magnasonic All-in-One Film and Slide Scanner
When it comes to affordability, this is the photo scanner you need.
The Magnasonic All-in-One is a simple yet powerful budget film scanner that converts 35mm film, 126, 110, and Super 8 negatives and slides into high-resolution images. The built-in LCD screen allows you to preview each photo so you can adjust color and brightness as needed. What’s more, you don’t have to install any additional software to run the scanner.
It supports SD cards up to 128 GB and has 128MB of internal memory to save your pictures.
Pros & Cons
- Easy to use.
- Quick scanning speed— about 5 seconds per slide.
- Built-in memory.
- It has a compact and portable design.
- It has a good scan quality for most applications (3200 dpi).
- While it’s fast, you can only load one slide at a time.
- Limited resolution for prints.
Epson Perfection V850 Pro
The Epson Perfection V850 Pro is a professional flatbed scanner packed with several functions to get the best out of your analog photos. It has a 6400 dpi resolution and 4.0 Dmax to ensure precise details and vivid colors with smooth gradations. With it, you can scan color and B&W negatives, slides, medium format strips, and 4×5″ sheet film.
This scanner features a dual-lens system that selects from two high-resolution lenses to ensure sharp and accurate results. It also has Digital ICE Technology for automatic dust and scratch removal, and it supports batch scanning to speed up your workflow.
Moreover, it includes LaserSoft Imaging SilverFast SE Plus software to adjust highlights and shadows, gradations, selective and global color, sharpening, and more.
For the most part, this is one of the best film scanners in the market. But, given its state-of-the-art design and advanced features, it is a pretty expensive option.
Pros & Cons
- Professional-grade quality.
- It comes with film holders for 35mm film, medium format film, and large format film.
- Automatic batch scanning.
- The included software gives you plenty of control over the output of your scans.
Pacific Image PowerFilm Scanner
If you want a negative scanner that can scan numerous pictures at once, this might be your winner choice.
The Pacific Image PowerFilm Scanner only supports 35mm film strips, but it’s perfect for scanning lots of negatives automatically. It can scan up to 60 frames per batch scan and features a 4000 dpi optical resolution.
This scanner comes with specialized software to process your images on your computer, and it’s also compatible with other popular programs like Vuescan. Overall, it is a simple and easy-to-use machine that provides sharp and detailed results. But, it is a bit expensive considering it only scans film strips.
Pros & Cons
- Automatic batch filmstrip scanning.
- Good image quality.
- Fast performance.
- It only supports 35mm negatives.
Pacific Image Prime Film XAs Super Edition
The Pacific Image PrimeFilm XAs Super Edition is a negative film scanner with a 10000 dpi resolution and 4.2 Dmax. It can scan 35mm negatives and slides, and features a Fast Scan Mode, Auto Film Feeder, and Auto Focus for simplifying and speeding your workflow.
This negative scanner includes SilverFast software with intelligent functions to make scanning and imaging processing a lot easier. However, although it provides high-quality results, it doesn’t offer the best performance compared to other mid-range scanners listed here.
Pros & Cons
- It provides high-quality results.
- Great for prints.
- High dynamic range.
- A bit pricey.
- A bit slow.
Wolverine Titan 8-in-1 Film to Digital Converter
This tiny yet efficient film scanner converts 35mm, 127, 126, 110, and APS slides & negatives into digital images in three seconds. It provides decent image quality for most applications, but it is not suitable for professional use.
Its most relevant features include internal memory and SD card support up to 32GB, a 4.3-inch screen, intuitive controls, and fast-loading adapters. The scanner is easy to set up, affordable, and it has USB and HDMI ports so you can connect it to your computer or TV.
Pros & Cons
- Compact and portable.
- Fast and easy to use.
- It has good connectivity and storage options.
- Not suitable for prints.
- Limited functions.
FAQs About Film Scanners
What is the best film scanner available?
There is no such thing as an ideal film scanner that suits every photographer equally. The right choice will always depend on your needs. However, we recommend the Kodak Slide N Scan (entry-level negative scanner) and the Epson Perfection V600 (mid-range flatbed scanner) for their versatility and ease of use.
What DPI should I scan 35mm film?
For most cases, anything around 3000 and 3200 dpi is more than enough to reproduce high-quality results. But, if you are planning to make large prints, you might probably need something above that to capture more data and enlarge the pictures without losing sharpness.
Still, the Dmax (or dynamic range) is a more reliable value to determine the quality of the results. The higher the Dmax, the better the detail and color reproduction.
What is the best way to scan old negatives?
To get the most detail and color accuracy, it is always best to scan your negatives with a dedicated film scanner that can give you all the control over how the finished image looks. And, if you need high resolution for making large prints, you should go for a product that can capture your pictures via a macro lens, which implies a more significant investment.
To get the most out of the film scanner you choose, follow the manufacturer’s directions closely for tips on hooking it up and the best way to use it.
If you are looking for a new film camera, see our Best 35mm Film Cameras here.
Scanning film might seem overwhelming at first, but it gets easier once you know the basics. Yet, you should invest some time in research and training to bring the best out of your negative scanner. The more you practice, the better and faster you will get— and the neater the results will be.
All the film scanners listed here do a fantastic job scanning different kinds of film to save your old memories as high-quality digital photos. Even so, always remember that each photographer has different needs, so be sure you have a warranty and can return the product if it’s not the right fit for you.