If you’re an avid photographer, a hobbyist, or even just someone who not only wants to keep easily accessible copies of slides and negatives, but also have the power to easily fix and enhance them, having a film scanner can be to your advantage. With the advent of the digital darkroom, photographers who work with film can now take advantage of the same tools that have become common among digital photographers. Film scanners allow photographers to transfer film to digital media, where said files can be edited and enhanced with corrective software.
Film scanners come in a variety of forms specialized for certain types of film, including the common 35mm format film. While some flatbed scanners do have attachments for scanning film and slides, the basic architecture of these scanners cannot provide the same quality that a dedicated film scanner can.
The first advantage that a film scanner has over its flatbed counterpart is obvious upon first glance – its size. Most of these scanners are just a fraction of the size of flatbed scanners, making them easier to handle and easier to store. This can be a big help if your workspace is constantly crowded – you won’t have to worry about finding a spot to place a comparatively bulky flatbed scanner. They also relatively portable, meaning that you can have one with you if you are on the move for extended periods of time.
Film scanners have another advantage over their flatbed counterparts. The basic operation of a flatbed scanner is akin to a copy machine, with the transmissive light source covering the entire glass bed area. While there are negative and slide holders equipped with an additional light source to focus more transmissive light directly on the film, most flatbed scanners still lack the additional features that can produce the best quality film scans.
With this type of scanner, not only do you have more options for ensuring the quality of the scan, but you also have the ability to scan individual frames at various resolutions, in order to create the best quality digital copy possible. They not only offer greater resolutions, but also offer a wider dynamic range, allowing them to pick up true whites and deep blacks. In addition, they can also handle the issue of color balance easier than flatbed scanners, plus they come equipped with their own built-in software that can be used to balance and correct these scans.
While film scanners offer the best in quality and control, there are a few tradeoffs. The first one is speed. Most can be slow and are generally not suited to handling multiple negatives and slides. Most commercial photographers actually prefer drum scanners, due to the fact that drum scanners can handle a greater number of negatives, while providing an even greater amount of quality. However, drum scanners can be prohibitively expensive, with brand-new examples priced at $12,000 or more.
The second tradeoff is price. Flatbed scanners, while often of lesser quality, are cheaper than film scanners. The average price for a film scanner can range from $120 for the cheapest model to upwards of $1200 for an advanced model.