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Tips & Tricks

A Clever DIY Solution To Use Your iPad To Preview Film Negatives

By Kishore Sawh on March 23rd 2015


There are just certain things that have applications beyond their marketed abilities and purposes; A monopod can be used as a walking stick, an umbrella can be used as an umbrella, and a photo assistant can be used as a mule. When we think of versatility and versatile products, Apple’s iPad stands out. It came on the market as a sort of nebulous mobile computing device, but after some time it’s clear that, like a teenage boy home alone with the internet, it can’t contain itself. The iPad is to be found in every environment imaginable and doing things that aren’t.

Unless you are totally self-consumed, you’ll have no doubt seen just how integrated iPads have become in photography. We use them on location to show clients images shot in real time, to reference set-ups, use them as light sources, and even recently, we highlighted how they can be used to control Lightroom incredibly well. So, it should come as little surprise when it turns out that an iPad can actually be used for viewing film negatives.


Swedish photographer Adam af Ekenstam created a short video demonstrating how to set up an iPad for this curious ability to view negatives. Essentially all it involves is changing the iPad’s screen to an option that inverts the colors on the screen. Keeping in mind that the negatives are actually inverted also, you can see how this would benefit. However, according to Adam, the white balance is a bit off, so for the best previewing experience, it’s beneficial to change to grayscale after you invert the screen.

To backlight his negatives, he uses his iPhone which gives a very even bright light, but of course, there are various things you could use instead, from a proper lightbox, to a window. Once this is done, simply turn on the iPad camera to view the backlit negatives, and just like that, you’ll be able to view, zoom in, use the exposure controls to check details etcetera.


It’s a clever little trick, and speaking as someone who is in the seemingly interminable purgatory of sorting old photos and negatives to decide which to keep and enlarge, I will actually be using this to have a quick look at what I’ve got.

[REWIND: CTRL+Console For Lightroom | Is This The Best Way To Control Lightroom?]

To set up within the iPad settings all you need to do is select Settings>General>Accessibility and you’ll see the Invert Colors and Grayscale sliders to be moved into the ‘On’ position.

Source: ISO1200

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Bogdan Roman

    what is the point of film if the end result is viewed on digital?

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    • Derek Schwartz

      I’ve found that integrating film into my digital workflow makes it MUCH easier to share, print, and publish. Not to mention that chances are, any photo lab you work with is convert the film image to digital, even if they’re just printing them off – nothing’s done purely optical/analog at this stage.

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    • Graham Curran

      I have a stack of old film negatives that I need to digitize.

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  2. Graham Curran

    You could also import an all white image into you photo library and use your tablet as a light table or modeling light.

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  3. Kim Farrelly

    That’s a great idea. Might try a screen grab of a neg for later referencing.

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