Film Photography Tutorials

19 February 2022 - 35mm film negative scanning workflow

I have sat at my iMac for weeks, scanning old "found" negatives. I adopted a scanning workflow starting with scanning 35mm film negatives using my Epson Perfection V600, SilverFast 9 Plus, and the Negative Lab Pro plugin for Adobe Lightroom Classic. This workflow is adapted from Matt Wright's illuminating article in 35mmc. While scanning my 35mm film negatives myself saves me some money (about $5/roll), my recent focus has been on digitising decades-old photographs in an attempt to preserve memories.

For my most recent 35mm film captures, I have scanned the negatives to 1800x1200 DNG files at 300 pixels per inch (PPI). I have kept the PPI low to keep the image file sizes small when I export them on my blog or for sharing on social media. Most people have switched to using smartphones to share and view images. On such tiny screens, anything beyond 1000 pixels is mostly a waste of bandwidth. I am uploading 1800x1200 images to my blog for those who prefer to use a computer or tablet screen to view photographs.

But prompted by a recent blog post by Jim Grey, I have been thinking quite a bit about what resolution to use for archiving of older 35mm film negatives. I searched the web for information about the resolution of 35mm film but found mostly articles debating the benefits of film versus digital. But from websites like dppreviw and others, I eventfully put together what I think is a correct answer.

A 35mm film negative frame is 24mm (height) by 36mm (length). Most full-frame digital sensors are approximately the same size. Film resolution is based on the ability of film to resolve "line pairs per mm" (lp/mm). I then took a look at the resolution specifications for some modern films. I did not consider the resolving capability of lenses. Some 35m films were rated at nearly 200 lines/mm, but most were less. According to the specification notes, Fujichrome Provia 100F film has about 140 lines per mm (l/mm) and Superia X-TRA 400 has a resolution of 125 lines/mm. There is a tradeoff between sensitivity (aka ISO) and grain size. The higher the ISO, the larger the grain size. Grain size increases noise and lowers the spatial resolution of more sensitive films. This assumes the frame is exposed at the optimum f-stop, and the camera is mounted on a tripod to minimise the camera shake.

To be clear, I am not comparing 35mm film to digital; I am comparing scans of 35mm film to digital.

While photographic film grains are randomly distributed and have size variations, digital image photocells on a specific sensor will be the same size and arranged in a grid. Direct comparison of film and digital resolutions is not straightforward. The ISO setting on a digital camera controls the gain of the electronic amplifier on the circuitry of the chip sensor. High ISO settings on a digital camera operating in low light conditions result in a noisy image, but the visual appearance differs from traditional photographic film grain.

To better compare these values with digital photography, we must transform this information into DPI (dots per inch) or pixels per inch. Doing some quick math, I calculated a frame of Fujichrome Provia 100F 35mm film has a maximum resolution of 5040 x 3500 lines or 16 megapixels when exposed at box speed. In comparison, a Sony α7 full-frame (35.8 mm x 23.9 mm) sensor has a maximum resolution of 6000 x 4000 pixels (24 megapixels) and a native ISO range of 50 - 25600. The modern digital full-frame sensor has better resolution. But this didn't answer my question. What scan settings do I want to use to extract the "best" archive scans from my Epson Perfection V600.

The dimension of a single frame of 35m film is 36mm x 25mm or approximately 1.42 inches x 09.98 inches. So it seems that to make archival scans of a negative of a single frame of Fujichrome Provia 100F 35mm film, I need to set my Epson Perfection V600 to scan at about 3571 PPI. If I scan lower-resolution 35mm film negatives, such Superia X-TRA 400, scanning at 3189 PPI is more appropriate.

The table below lists popular 35mm film stock and my approximate recommended scan resolution for each film stock (MTF in lines/mm at 1000:1 contrast) in pixels per inch (PPI). These calculations are for a 1000:1 contrast ratio. Fujifilm’s website was full of helpful information, but Kodak Alaris was less forthcoming. While For example, while KODAK PROFESSIONAL PORTRA 160 datasheet mentions that the film is "ideal for scanning", the document provides no suggestions. However, Kodak Alaris did include a Modulation Transfer Function graph that shows the cycles per millimetre. According to Ken Rockwell, "Cycles per millimeter is also called lines per millimeter". Assuming that is true, I have included the data for some popular 35mm film stock in the table below.1 NOTE: Some of these film stocks are discontinued.

Manufacturer Film Stock Film Resolution Recomeded Scan Resolution
Fujifilm FUJICOLOR 200 125 3188
Fujifilm SUPERIA X-TRA 400 125 3188
Fujifilm FUJICHROME Velvia 50 160 4082
Fujifilm FUJICHROME Velvia 100 160 4082
Fujifilm FUJICHROME Provia 100F 140 3571
Fujifilm FUJICOLOR PRO 400H 125 3188
Fujifilm NEOPAN 100 ACROS II 200 5102
FPP X2 100 2551
Rollei RPX 25 260 6633
Rollei RPX 100 160 4082
Rollei RPX 100 100 2041

I don't know much about other devices, but modern Macs, iPads and iPhones displays have a resolution between 220 (macOS) and 480 (iOS) pixels per inch. I think scanning negatives at very high resolutions (anything beyond 300 PPI) to downsample those scans to 1800x1200 or 960x640 for display on a website or mobile device screen is a wasted effort. However, scanning at higher resolutions seems wise when I scan images for archive when the original film negative is damaged (like so many of my wife's college travel photographs are).

For comparison, I have compiled a table of instant films.

Manufacturer Film Stock Film Resolution Recomeded Scan Resolution
Fujifilm Instax Square 10 320

  1. Of course, Ken Rockwell will also tell you that it's MUCH more complicated

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  • Reply
    Khürt Williams
    12th August 2022 at 9:44 AM

    One of my frustrations with 35mm film photography is the effort involved in compensation for the lack of metadata.

  • Reply
    Khürt Williams
    26th May 2022 at 11:45 AM

    I searched to find out the story behind the artwork that adorns the outer walls of the old Asbury Lanes building on the Asbury Park boardwalk.
    American pop artist Shepard Fairey is known for his guerrilla “Obey” sticker campaign, which melded contemporary street art and guerrilla marketing into a phenomenon that put him on the artistic map. Shepard is also an activist and founder of OBEY Clothing. I also learned that Fairey designed the Barack Obama "Hope" poster for the 2008 U.S. presidential election.
    Sunday 24 April 2022 | Minolta XD-11 | MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2
    According to Wikipedia.

    His "Obey" Campaign is from the John Carpenter movie They Live which starred pro wrestler Roddy Piper, taking a number of its slogans, including the "Obey" slogan, as well as the "This Is Your God" slogan. Fairey has spun off the OBEY clothing line from the original sticker campaign.

    Obey | Sunday 24 April 2022 | Minolta XD-11 | MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2
    Fairey’s art, some of which are from album covers, is on display outside the old Asbury Lanes building on the Asbury Park boardwalk. The art installation was part of the music and art festival organised by All Tomorrow’s Parties. The festival was a collaboration with the Jonathan LeVine Gallery, which commissioned Fairey to create these murals. In September 2011, he unveiled several murals and a gallery show called “Revolutions”.
    All Tomorrow's Parties is a London-based organisation that has promoted festivals in the UK, the United States and Australia since 1999. All Tomorrow's Parties is also the name of a song by the Velvet Underground and Nico, written by Lou Reed and released on the group's 1967 debut studio album, The Velvet Underground & Nico. I don’t know if there is a connection.
    Sunday 24 April 2022 | Minolta XD-11 | MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2
    On the day I exposed these frames of Kodak Pro Image 100, the long side of the building facing the ocean was boarded up. I’m unsure why, but I suspect it was to protect the art. I remembered that I had photographed some of the artwork on my first visit and later visits to the Asbury Park Boardwalk. As it turns out, my first visit to Asbury Park was in November 2011, a few weeks after the Revolutions festival.
    Asbury Lanes | Sunday 13 November, 2011 | Nikon D40 | AF-S DX Nikkor 35 mm f/1.8

    All images (except for the Nikon) were scanned from Kodak Pro Image 100 35mm film negatives using an Epson Perfection V600 scanner, VueScan software and the Negative Lab Pro plugin for Adobe Lightroom.
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  • Reply
    Khürt Williams
    25th May 2022 at 11:41 AM

    The 35mm negatives from the roll of Kodak Pro Image I exposed last month in Asbury Park at the boardwalk were sent back. I digitised them using my 35mm scanning workflow.
    One challenging "feature" of exposing 35mm film is that by the time I get the film developed and the negatives scanned, I often forget why I took a photograph.
    North Eats is the summertime food truck court on the northern end of the boardwalk near Seventh Avenue. Food trucks have become ubiquitous in New Jersey. The North Eats food truck court was trendy. But then we suffered a global pandemic, the permit to operate the food court expired, and it’s been gone for a while.
    I like Asbury Park's solution to the challenge of providing an outdoor boardwalk dining experience. I hope it comes back soon.

  • Reply
    Khürt Williams
    1st May 2022 at 11:16 AM

    Last month, I grabbed my Minolta XD-11 and Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2 lens and drove to Palmer Square in downtown Princeton. Palmer Square is a public square and planned development across from Nassau Street and Princeton University that forms a collection of shops, restaurants, offices and (expensive) residential spaces. It's a mall.
    Palmer Square is named for the original builder, Edgar Palmer, heir to the New Jersey Zinc fortune. Constructed between 1936 to 1939, the Square was created by architect Thomas Stapleton in the Colonial Revival style as the town's complement to Princeton University, which sits directly across Nassau Street from the Square. The construction of the mall was not without controversy. In 1929, the houses on Baker Street, which was the centre of the original African-American neighbourhood of Princeton, were moved to Birch Avenue; however, the financial challenges of the depression delayed construction of the Square until 1936. Plans to extend the Square past Hulfish Street were put on hold after the initial construction phase was completed and were not realised until the 1980s.
    23 March, 2022 | Minolta XD-11 | MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2
    The original architect, Thomas Stapleton, used a variety of architectural styles borrowing from old Newport, Philadelphia, Annapolis and Williamstown. However, the plan of the Square is a mini-version of Rockefeller Center in New York City.
    The southern part of Palmer Square is bordered by Nassau Street, the main road through the middle of Princeton. Hullfish Street borders the northern part of Palmer Square. Palmer Square East and Palmer Square Werst are the streets around and through the middle of the mall. There was a lot of construction on Palmer Saure East, so I exposed a few frames on Palmer Square West.
    23 March, 2022 | Minolta XD-11 | MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2
    Palmer Square has evolved into the primary dining and shopping destination in downtown Princeton. One of my favourite coffee shops is Rojo's Roastery on Palmer Square West. Befoe the pandemic, the Winberie's Bar on Palmer Square Est was a favourite after meeting hangout for the Princeton Tech Meetup. Palmer Square has been one of my frequent subjects for photography throughout the 21 years I have lived in the area. When all the shops were closed during the global pandemic, it was effortless to photograph the shops and streets in and around Palmer Square. This has become challenging again as activities on the Square have returned to their pre-pandemic hustle and bustle.
    Palmer Square (and surrounding streets) is host to many popular local events such as Jazz Feast and Communiversity.

    This set of images is from a roll I exposed last month. The sky was overcast, but it was a bright morning. I wanted to finish the 36 exposure roll of Kentmere Pan 400 black and white 35mm film. This was my first time using this film stock. Each frame was exposed at box speed using my Minolta XD-11, set in aperture priority mode. After the negatives were returned from The Boutique Film lab, I scanned them using my Epson Perfection V600. I would typically have used VueScan, but there is some incompatibility between the VueScan software and the macOS Monterry version of the scanner driver. The negatives were scanned using SilverFast SE Plus and the scanning workflow that I learned from Matt Wright. I don't know the film resolution specifications for Kentmere Pan 400, but based on my study of other ISO 400 black and white 35mm film and what I learned from a blog post by Jum Grey, I assumed it was around 60 lines/mm. I set my scanner to scan at 1600 pixels per inch resulting in 20MB files.
    The scans have more grain than I expected from this 35mm film stock. Some photographers would be ok with this level of grain, but I'm not too fond of grain. I think I have become spoiled by how clean a high ISO image looks from a modern digital camera sensor. I think part of my disappointment is due to operator error. I am still struggling with properly exposing 35mm film. Some of the frames are overexposed in the highlights, and the shadows that attracted me are barely noticeable. I want to change up my technique.
    What technique do you use for exposing high ISO 35mm film?
    23 March, 2022 | Minolta XD-11 | MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2
    23 March, 2022 | Minolta XD-11 | MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2
    23 March, 2022 | Minolta XD-11 | MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2
    23 March, 2022 | Minolta XD-11 | MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2
    23 March, 2022 | Minolta XD-11 | MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2
    23 March, 2022 | Minolta XD-11 | MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2
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  • Reply
    20th February 2022 at 2:22 AM

    @khurtwilliams thanks, now I only need to find the energy to actually start scanning

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