Best Film & Slide Scanner for Digitizing Your Film Collection
Film photography has been making a comeback in recent years, with many people rediscovering the joys of using analog cameras. However, one challenge of film photography is the need to digitize film images for sharing and storage. This is where a negative film scanner (or a 35mm slide scanner) comes in handy! In this article, we’ll be exploring the best film scanners on the market.
A negative scanner may not be the most glamorous piece of equipment in the film photography process, and we understand that. However, it is very important to get a good film scanner, because it directly affects the image quality of your photographs! You could buy your favorite film, use your favorite lens, and get the film developed correctly, …but if the scan is no good, you’re in for a major disappointment.
With that being said, let’s dive in!
Explanation of Slide & Negative Film Scanners
A film scanner is a device that allows you to scan any film negatives or slides, and convert them into digital files. This makes it possible to view, edit, and share your slides digitally. You can’t just use any photo scanner to scan negatives or slides, however, because they need to have light shining through them.
A scanner that is capable of scanning film will be either a dedicated film scanner, of course, or a flatbed scanner that is 2-sided.
Importance of Choosing The Best Slide Film Scanner
Choosing the right film/slide scanner is crucial in ensuring that your scanned images look as good as possible. A good scanner will capture all the sharp details, vibrant and subtle colors, plus the full range of highlights and shadows of the original film image. This allows you to create high-quality digital versions of your image, which is optimal for online display, of course, but also for creating physical prints.
Types of Film Slide Scanners
Flatbed Film Scanners
Flatbed film scanners are the most common type of scanner because they are so commonly used to scan documents, of course. They have a flat glass surface onto which you place the film or slides to be scanned.
This category of scanners can be more affordable than some dedicated film scanners, but most of the budget-friendly options are simply not capable of scanning film at all, or, their resolution and image quality is subpar. only but they may not offer the same level of quality and resolution. The best flatbed scanners, on the other hand, can cost even more than a good film scanner.
NOTE: if you use film formats larger than 35mm, such as medium format or large format photography, then you will need a flatbed film scanner.
Dedicated Film Scanners
Dedicated film scanners are specifically designed to scan film negatives and slides. They often offer higher resolution and better color accuracy than flatbed scanners. However, they can be more expensive. Also, they are a unique investment because they cannot be used to scan documents, of course, and they usually are only designed fo scan 35mm negatives and slides, but not larger formats of film.
Features to Consider When Choosing The Best Film Slide Scanner
When you are choosing which is the best film negative scanner or the best slide scanner, there are a few things to consider, of course. Resolution, color depth, and dynamic range are thankfully all quite good for the top scanners on the market. Whether you are scanning negatives or slides/transparency film, you’ll get excellent image quality.
There are some things that are equally important, though, and can make your life very easy or very difficult. Specifically, the connectivity and interface of the scanner itself. Is it easy to set up and connect to your desired storage & editing device? Is the software easy and intuitive to use?
Of course, the ultimate deciding factors are going to be your budget, and the physical compatibility with the type of film you want to scan. Before we proceed, you must know the answer to this question: Are you scanning 35mm film negatives, and/or mounted 35mm slides, and/or larger format film?
With that in mind, let’s proceed!
Top Film Slide Scanners on The Market In 2023
Since film photography has fallen (and then risen again) in popularity over the last couple decades, some film scanners that were once widely popular are now no longer available, such as the Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 ED and Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED. Thankfully, you don’t need to spend thousands on a used version of one of these discontinued models; our recommendations in 2023 and beyond are much more affordable, and offer even higher-quality results.
By the way, if you are also looking to scan prints as well as film, you must read this article here in which we recommend good photo print scanners.
The Epson Perfection V850 is a high-end flatbed scanner that offers a maximum resolution of 6400 dpi and a color depth of 48 bits. It comes with advanced software for the scanning process, including color correction and dust removal on film.
If you’re only looking to scan 35mm slides or film strips, of course, then you don’t need an entire flatbed scanner. Therefore, although this is one of the highest-quality scanners available, its value is not necessarily optimal for film/slide scanning, unless you are using large-format (4×5″, 8×10″ transparency film.
The Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE is a dedicated film and slide scanner that offers an impressive maximum resolution of 7200 dpi and a color depth of 48 bits. Since it is entirely dedicated to scanning 35mm film sizes, the value is excellent compared to a flatbed scanner. The Plustek film scanner comes with SilverFast software for advanced color correction and dust removal.
For an upgraded version of this scanner, $499 will get you the Plustek OpticFilm 8200i AI Film Scanner, which includes the industry standard SilverFast Ai Studio 8 software.
The Pacific Image PowerFilm Scanner is also a dedicated film scanner, and offers the same maximum resolution of 7200 dpi and color depth of 48 bits. It features an automatic film feeder for scanning higher volumes of film strips, making it perfect for anyone who is looking to not just scan their most recent roll or two of film, but digitize a very large archive of film.
However, it is important to note that the Pacific Image PowerFilm Scanner only works with un-mounted 35mm film strips, so if you have mounted 35mm slides, this option isn’t for you.
For those who prefer the workflow of editing raw images in Lightroom, there is another option that you may not have considered. If you have a full-frame mirrorless camera in addition to your 35mm film SLR camera, however, you’ll definitely want to check out this unique option, a “slide to digital” converter of sorts!
The Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter ($139) is an adapter that allows you to quickly “scan” your 35mm slides and negatives by simply photographing them with a macro lens! The price of the product itself, a mere $139, makes it one of the best values around. However, you’ll need a macro lens that is capable of 1:1 reproduction, of course, and those are not cheap! You’ll spend $1,049 on the most modern option, the Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S Maro. Alternatively, you can find many DSLR Nikon F-mount macro/micro Nikkor lenses for $500-1000, or many third-party options.
We only recommend choosing this option if you already own a Nikon macro lens, or if you want one specifically to also use for dedicated macro photography and not just “scanning” film.
Click here for more details about the Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter.
Comparison of Top Film Slide Scanners
Each of the scanners listed above has its own pros and cons. For example, the Epson Perfection V850 offers versatility (and excellent image quality) to those who need to scan various types of film, and/or documents, but it is more expensive than some of the other scanners. The Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE offers a great balance of value and excellent image quality, however, it only scans 35mm format film and not larger formats.
Here is a quick comparison chart of the top film slide scanners:
|Epson Perfection V850 Pro Scanner
|Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE Film Scanner
|Pacific Image PowerFilm Plus Scanner
Additional Tips For Using Film Slide Scanners
When using a film slide scanner, there are a couple of things you can do to always ensure you get the highest quality final images. First, make sure to clean the film or slides beforehand to avoid dust and scratches on the final scan. Second, consider adjusting the color and exposure settings during the scanning process to achieve the desired results.
For example, if you have captured a high-contrast scene on film, you may want to scan the slide/negative twice, once with a slightly darker exposure to capture the highlight detail, and once with a brighter exposure to capture the shadow detail.
Finally, make sure to save the scans in a high-quality file format like TIFF or DNG to ensure the best possible image quality. (If you are creating extremely high volumes of images, saving to the highest-quality JPG is acceptable, as long as you are performing minimal edits later.)
Choosing the best film & slide scanner is important for ensuring high-quality digital copies of your film images. Both negatives and slides/transparencies can be scanned with incredible image quality, making the process just as good as, or in some ways better than, printing directly from the film itself.
When choosing a scanner, it is important to consider features like resolution, color depth, connectivity, software, and price. However, one of the biggest factors in what will be a good value to you as a film photographer is, of course, whether you only need a 35mm slide scanner or negative scanner, or if you need to use a flatbed scanner to scan larger film such as medium format or large format.
Therefore, ultimately, the best film slide scanner for you will depend on both your needs and budget. We recommend checking out the film scanners listed above and making your decision based on your long-term needs.