Scanning Negatives Vs. Prints

Scanning Negatives Vs. Prints

For those of us lucky enough to still have negatives tucked in the side of those packets that are full of prints there is an important question to address; is it better to digitise your negatives or prints?  There are some clear pros and cons of scanning both types of media; so I have summed up the most important points to take into consideration when making this decision.

 

Negatives 

Advantages

The detail found in a negative is usually much higher quality, and truer to the original image that was seen through the viewfinder on your camera on the day you clicked the shutter. The dynamic range is also usually much higher because of the way light can go through certain areas of a negative (compared to a print where light is simply reflected) creating a greater range of light and dark.

Disadvantages

If a high quality photo lab was used for printing, then any image enhancements they have done will have no impact on the negative.

Negatives are a nightmare when it comes to looking clearly at the image and analysing their quality. Scanning is a very good way of seeing clearly what the image is; however individually scanning in a negative is a very tedious process. If you send them to us (or any other scanning service) they are more expensive than prints because they need to be scanned at a much higher resolution, and it is a more unwieldy process.

 

Prints 

Advantages

The scanned image of a print will look very similar to the original print, provided the scanner settings are correct. This makes it very easy to sort through the prints you want scanned and to know what you are getting as the final result.

Photo scanning is far cheaper than negatives scanning (10p for prints compared 35p for negatives, for Standard Quality) because it is a more streamlined process and auto-feed print scanners speed up the process dramatically.

Disadvantages

If you used a cheap printing service for your prints and are now wanting higher quality prints, then scanning the negatives is far more appropriate. Cheap photo labs, especially in the 70s and 80s, did not use very good colour correction and cropped relatively large amounts of the negative on either side for printing. The negative will still have the original image so if that extra few millimeters of image or having the original colours is important to you, the negatives are what you want to scan.

Prints that are stuck into an album can take longer than a negative because each image has to be separated out by hand.

 

I have done a comparison of a negative and a print below. The difference in colour is very clear; although the print may look more vibrant it is actually oversaturated by the photo lab that printed it and hence it has a yellow/orange tinge. The negative on the other hand has more realistic colours, and because of this has a much better capacity to be enhanced in a program like Photoshop.