How to Convert Camera Film to Digital

by Shawn M. Tomlinson
Dick Luria/Photodisc/Getty Images

Whether you have old negatives or slides, you need to digitize. If you prefer shooting images on film and do not want to bother with a darkroom, transferring film to digital is necessary. You can do it with a few easy steps and a minimum of computer equipment. And, apart from developing your own film, you no longer will need smelly chemicals to process your images.

Step 1

Clean your negatives or slides. You can do this by using compressed air to blow off dust and debris, then using a film cleaner and lint-free cloth. Starting with clean film will reduce the amount of time you will need to spend fixing images in your photo editing software.

Step 2

Place your slides or negatives in the film carriers provided with your flatbed scanner. You will need a higher-end flatbed scanner to do this rather than most consumer-level scanners, because you need to have a light source in the scanner’s lid. These cost a bit more, but you need to shine a light source through the transparencies to scan them. Flatbed scanners intended for film scanning typically have film carriers with them or as options. Film carriers hold the negatives or slides flat and straight. This also will reduce the work you will need to do to “fix” your digitized images.

Step 3

Scan your film images at the highest resolution possible. The better the original resolution, the better the finished images will be. Follow the directions for the software that came with the scanner to increase the resolution. It is different with different scanners.

Step 4

Open your photo editing software and then open your batch digital image file to begin separating your images. If they are negatives, the scanner probably inverted them to positive images, but if it didn’t, you can do that yourself in the software. In Adobe Photoshop, for example, go to “Image,” then “Adjustments” and then “Invert.”

Use the “Selection” tool to trace out each image, copy the image, start a new file and paste the image. Then save it as a digital image in TIFF format. While JPEG will take up less room because JPEG files are compressed, TIFF provides better image quality.


  • This process may take quite a while, especially if you are scanning in high resolution. So when you cut apart the images from the batch file, just name and save them. You can adjust the tone and other image quality items later.


Photo Credits

  • Dick Luria/Photodisc/Getty Images

About the Author

Shawn M. Tomlinson has been a newspaper and magazine writer for more than 28 years. He has written for a variety of publications, from "MacWEEK" and "Macintosh-Aided Design" to "Boys' Life," "Antique Week" and numerous websites. He attended several colleges, majoring in English, writing and theater, and has taught college classes about writing.

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