Digitizing Your Film Using Your DSLR


With the cost of my local neg scanner in London being £40/hour for a Hasselblad Flextight, I have been digitising using a DSLR for a quite a while. The results can be extremely good as long as a little time is put into the setup to begin with.

Obviously this type of digitising is only suitable for enlargments that the camera used is capable of, but with that in mind the results are extremely sharp, with a smooth tonal graduation and the ability to go through a few rolls of film very quickly!





After going through the images, I can then select a few frames to take to the Flextight in order to do the high-resolution scan for fine art printing if needed…

The setup is very basic; the negative is placed onto a horizontal piece of clean optical glass (taken from an old scanner) the camera is above pointing down. As always the choice of lens here is critical, Canon L glass (or equiv.) macro if possible. Also getting the camera perfectly square on saves a lot of time later in Photoshop.


Under the glass is a gap of an inch or two, then a horizontal sheet of 5mm translucent acrylic. The acrylic is to diffuse the light, and the air gap to ensure that any surface irregularities or scratches in the acrylic do not come through into the capture.


On the floor is a strobe pointing upwards, with layers of trace to diffuse and reduce the power of the strobe, as per the diagram.




As with the zone system in the darkroom, I found that the best practice for a correctly exposed black and white neg is to expose for the film density, so it registers just above black (RGB 10,10,10). Then everything else will fall into place along the histogram, with any further adjustments being done with curves and levels. Very thin or very dense negs can take some trial and error but almost any neg can be digitised with some experimentation.





As you can see from the screen shot, the camera is set to fairly normal studio settings (1/125 F11 ISO100), with the aperture adjusted to maximise sharpness for the lens begin used. Too low and the best of the glass is not being used, too high and diffraction errors will start to creep in. The levels have been crossed over to invert the negative back to positive again.

Here are a few more sample photographs digitized using my Canon 5D Mark II:




About the author: David Wilman is a London-based fashion, still life and fine art photographer. Visit his website here.

  • Gonzi


  • Ed Steinerts

    I’ve had fairly good success using an old cold light enlarging head. That way I keep the film away from contacting any glass. Avoids Newton’s Rings that way.

  • Rick DeNatale

    I can’t tell if some of those pix are color negatives, some look to be chromes but others look like negatives.

    Any words on the best way to invert these and remove the color mask? I’ve had varying success trying to do this both in PS CS6 and LR 4.

  • slvrscoobie

    I like how he says to use L glass, then sticks some glass in front of the negatives at some arbitrary angle (Battery chargers for spacers, i hardly call that square..)
    Seems like there is some optimization available. And why no 5DII scan vs FlexTight, show us how good it is compared to real deal…

  • Konrad Beckmann

    I’ve been doing this for quite a few years and can only recommend this technique. If you want to have higher resolution, you can always move closer and stitch multiple shots. I’ve done this and you can achieve way above 50 megapixels if you want to (from 6×6), although it’s usually not necessary to get above the level of the grain.

    I have mostly scanned BW negatives and color positives. Color negatives are hard to get right in my experience, would be glad to get some hints on how to do it right.

  • Gaetan Cormier

    Is this worth all the trouble when you can get an Epson V500 that has amazing reviews about it’s performance?

  • Jack

    I have a v700, but I have to admit that doing multipass dslr ‘scaning’ with a macro lens produces much better results. That said, I only bother with my top images that I would have sent off to be drum scanned anyways.

    A less terrible writeup than the above is at

    (with direct comparisons to a v700 and a drum scaner here:

  • goosemcgoose

    The best way I have found to remove the colour mask of negatives, is a piece of software called Colorperfect combined with Perfectraw, both made by the same developer. It is a plugin for Photoshop. Basically you take the raw files you’ve shot with your DSLR, convert them to completely unmodified TIFF files, and then open them with the plugin in Photoshop. The software has a large number of built in pre-programmed settings for many different film bases.

    The results I’ve gotten with this software combo, and then above mentioned scanning technique is about as good as I’ve found with professional labs.

  • Furunomoe

    The first thing that came across my head when seeing that scan of Velvia slide is Instagram…

  • NW

    For negatives, shoot in RAW, and shift the white balance to between 2000 and 2100k and the tint slider to -15 to -20. Then, when opening the images in photoshop, go into levels and adjust the white and black points for each individual channel. I find with Ektar 100 that this requires very little secondary color adjustment, miraculously, but sometimes the blues and cyans need a little hue shifting away from green while the reds need a little shifting away from yellow plus a little boost in saturation to achieve those Ektar reds. All in all, works for me.

  • aa

    or a canon 9000f for 200 bucks?

  • Konrad Beckmann

    Thanks for the tip, will definitely give it a try.

  • Guest

    Great write up and advice. Ideal for 6cm negs and slides but for 35 mm format I’r recommend a Zoom Slide Duplicator.

  • Tom Waugh

    Great technique for 6 cm slides and negs but for the 35 mm format I’d recommend a Zoom Side Duplicator. Just point at the nearest light-source and copy away.

  • Bob

    I put a blue filter on the flash, chosen so that the orange mask photographs as a gray. When the image is inverted, the colors have no bias to them.