I received a question about scanning slides and negatives:
How do you scan your photos and negatives? I want to buy a scanner that will do both plus slides. Thanks. --Marlu
I thought I'd write a brief piece hopefully answering her question. Maybe there are others out there who would like to be able to scan old slides and negs that haven't seen the light of day for a long time.

For years I owned a very high-end Epson scanner and it always worked perfectly. It could scan anything I threw at it. I was saddened when I had to get rid of it, but it had a SCSI connection and didn't work with my newer computer. So I went shopping for a new one. I did a lot of reading and decided to stay with Epson. Their scanners are workhorses and easy to use. I chose the Epson Perfection 700. It's most likely more than the average person needs. I needed it for work. But Epson makes two "lower" end machines that are both excellent: Epson Perfection V500, Epson Perfection V300.

You can also buy a standalone dedicated slide/film scanner. I have one of those. I rarely use it. If you need really superior scans of your slides a dedicated machine is the way to go, but be prepared to sit at the blasted thing forever sticking slide after slide into it. They are relatively inexpensive, but like I said, they're dedicated to doing only one thing, scanning slides and negs. You won't have the ability to scan anything else.

With a good flatbed scanner you're able to scan documents (including old photo albums, books, etc), photos, negatives, and slides. You need to make sure that it has the ability to do transparencies. Don't go buying one of the all-in-one (fax, scan, print) machines. They're not built for this.

A flatbed that can do transparencies has a special lid. A portion of the scanner lid, the underside, is removed allowing a light source to be both above and below your negs/slides. Epson includes a variety of neg and slide holders. You simply place your neg or slide in the holder, place it on the flatbed exactly where the manual says, remove the underside lid cover, push the button, and wait for the image to appear on your screen. There is more to it than that, but that's the basics.

You'll need to learn about resolution so you know which resolution to scan your image for whatever particular output you intend to use. If you just want something to look at on a computer screen 72 dpi is fine. If you want professional output you'll want to use 300 dpi.

For slides you're going to want the highest resolution possible. Each of the Epson's offer 6400 dpi. The higher the resolution, the larger your file which means the larger your final output size. Since slides are so small if you're going to want them at around an 8" x 10" print you'll need high resolution.

For negs that don't fit into a traditional size holder Epson offers a simple "holder" called the "area guide" that you place on the flatbed and then just place your slide/neg directly onto the glass bed, and push the button. The photo below was done this way, as were the Captain Kangaroo View-Master images at my ephemera site.

The Epson software is easy to use and does a great job. I work so much in Photoshop that I just do everything from there. I believe the Epson V700 and V500 come with Photoshop Elements, not the full version of Photoshop. But Elements is a great program, easy to use, good results. The Epson V300 doesn't mention Photoshop, but it sells from Amazon for an amazingly good price. Considering that my first scanner cost me over $1500 to see one down at this price, capable of doing negs and slides, is amazing.

When you're a novice it'll take you a few bad scans and a little learning curve to completely get up and running, but once you do you'll be scanning everything in site. A whole other world is opened up once you're images are digital. New ways of sharing old family photos. You'll be able to put together DVDs to view on tv, scan images at the right size to make photo books, scan and email images family members didn't even know existed. It's simply fun and you won't regret it.

The scan below was done in a matter of a few minutes on my Epson Perfection V700. I love using it. Anything to make life simpler.

As to who the young fellow is, I haven't a clue. It's just one of the negs in the big bag of negs from the estate sale. This was a pleasant surprise to see when it showed up on my screen because it's not one in the old album I also bought. So though I have quite a few photos of this little fellow in the album, this one was brand new for me. Who knows, he could be the baby in the man's arms in my previous post.

As to other brands of scanners, I can't give any thumbs up or down information about HP or Canon. I don't know anyone that uses them. I know they're both fine machines, but I can't give any specifics since I've never used either. If someone wants to weigh in on either please do.


  1. Wow! What a great article, full of information. Thank you so much!
    I had heard of the Epson Perfection 500 and this really helps me understand more about "how this works."

  2. I'm so glad! I know it sounds like I'm just hawking the Epson, but for me I'm sold on their quality. I've been a professional graphic designer for a very very long time and I just want the tools I use to be good and easy. I don't have time to waste. I'm always pleased with the quality of the scans I get.

  3. Good article.

    Like you, my first scanner was back when I had exactly five to choose from. I hated to give it up but it also had its own "card" with a SCSI connection.

    Since then I have used (up) several. Epson is the best I have found also.

  4. I read somewhere that if you put your neg on the scanner glass and put white paper on top, you get a passable, but not brilliant print. Either that or a a scan of a negative which you can then invert in Photoshop to reveal the image. Sorry, its been so long since I did it, I can't remember what the result is. Perhaps someone could try it. I know I was surprised to see some photos of my parents taken in1948 which I had never seen. I have about another 100 negs of them which I have never seen prints of. I like the idea of the Epson holder. Have you any more info on it.

  5. Thank you so much! I inherited tons of slides when my 93 year old grandfather died a few years ago. I need to get them scanned and was wondering the best way to go about it. You're great!

  6. Laurie, I've never heard of that method. It's going to have serious limitations since no light will be going through the neg. I can imagine taking it into Photoshop and inverting it, but you'll never get the quality you want.

    For those not wishing to invest money in buying a scanner I'd suggest looking around locally to find a place that will do the scanning for you. Even Costco does it now with good results.

  7. Willow,

    Like I said to Laurie, you can find a lot of places that will do this for you, but it does take some of the fun out of doing it yourself. Plus, you're in control of the scans.

    But Costco offers good prices for doing this. I've heard some good reports from others.

  8. AnyJazz,

    I remember a friend had an Agfa. She loved it, but the bulb burned out several times. Agfa replaced each time for free, but that was a long time ago.

    I can't believe how much cheaper scanners are. Same if no better quality than I got out of the heavy $1500 one.

  9. Laurie, I forgot to respond to your question about the holders.

    I keep all of my holders, from the new scanner and my old one, in a large padded envelope. The old scanner actually had a "drawer" on the lid to store them. Not so with the cheaper one.

    The Epson includes holders for a variety of sizes including film strip negs. The one problem is that so many old negs aren't of the standardized sizes used the last 50 years. This is when you get out the area guide. It's just a thin rectangle with the center cut out, but you must place it just so on the glass bed. Then you can place your negs anywhere on the bed to get your scan. I often put quite a few at once to see which are worthy of bigger scans. This is also how I did the View-Master scans because there's obviously no holder for them.

    I'd be lost without my scanner.

  10. I have a Canon Pixma MP760 that I've scanned photos with decently, it has 2 options for slide, either the side slot for a single or on the bed in a sheet for multiples, but it's so complicated I never use it for them. I assume I could do negatives on the bed as well, but am too lazy.

  11. nice post, keep blogging!!!

  12. Thanks so much for this - it is a very useful article. I will bring it to the attention of all the other SS posters next week if you don't mind.

  13. Anonymous7/05/2010

    I use a "JS Jenscan 21" which is especially designed to scan slides and 35mm negatives. These absolutely wizard devices were designed to work with Win 98E, but work with Win XP just as well. Mine is priced at £99.99 on the box, but I got it for £10 in a sale because the shop thought that it was no good for the new XP format! Silly buggers!

  14. We have an Epson as well. I can't remember the number, but it's a large flatbed scanner. We also have a dinky ScanSnap for documents only. What I like about the Epson flatbed is much of what you have illustrated, plus it has Digital ICE technology. It can basically restore a photo/neg during the scanning process. It also has the neg holders.

    When we were researching scanners for a client who has a horticultural business/website, we found that the dedicated slide scanners are actually not as good as the flatbed ones. Although some can handle uncut negs as well as slides, the image quality in reviews was not as good as the Epson scanners. Just a note.

    Your images are great!

  15. Thanks. I do swear by my Epson. I learned long ago to buy the tool that works best instead of wasting time trying to get an inferior tool to do it.

  16. You are so right! We bought the best we could afford and our client went with something very similar. She's got hundreds of color slides she's converting to digital images. I looked last night and we have the Epson 4870 or 4780. :-) My only complaint is that while the glass is wide enough for two cabinet cards side by side, the scanned area is about 1/8" less than the glass. It takes a bit more time because I have to scan cabinet cards one at a time. When you have a lot, well...

    I started a new old photo site - I hope you'll stop by some time. http://whowerethey.wordpress.com

  17. Norkio, thanks for the link to your site. I'll keep an eye on it. Isn't it amazing how grim people looked in cabinet cards? Their life can barely come through.

  18. Norkio, thanks for the link to your site. I'll keep an eye on it. Isn't it amazing how grim people looked in cabinet cards? Their life can barely come through.