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Infobank

Introduction to digital photography: Digital images from film

If you have been taking photographs for more than a few years, there is a good chance that you have a back catalogue of film negatives and slides. These may still have a commercial value, but most buyers now prefer digital files to transparencies and prints. Fortunately, it is possible to convert film images to digital files using a film or flatbed scanner.

Canon has stopped producing film scanners and is instead concentrating on its range of flatbed scanners. This is because, in terms of quality, flatbeds can now produce similar or better results to film scanners. They are also less expensive and more versatile, allowing you to scan many different film formats as well as prints.


Here is the procedure for a typical flatbed scanner.

1. Make sure the scanner software is installed on the computer. Connect the scanner to the computer and switch it on.

2. Prepare the images you wish to scan. Clean them with an air blower to remove dust. The cleaner your images at this stage, the less time you'll have to spend re-touching them on the computer later on.

3. Lift the scanner lid and remove the document cover from the top panel.

4. Ensure the glass scanner surface (platen) is clean, dry and dust-free.

5. Place your slides or negatives in the appropriate holder and then put this on the scanner.

6. Open the software supplied with your scanner (or other image editing software).

7. Click the 'Acquire' button (or in Photoshop go to File > Import > and then select your scanner from the list). This will open the scanner software.

8. Select advanced options - this gives you more control over the scanning settings.

9. Select the 'Source' as film and then choose either Negative or Positive (Slide) as appropriate.

10. Click the preview button and from the preview screen, select the output resolution and scale of enlargement you require.

11. Select the image or images you wish to scan and if you want to set any of the FARE options, do that now.

FARE

FARE is Canon's proprietary dust and scratch removal software which is built into all Canon scanners. It stands for Film Automatic Retouching and Enhancement. Since you can never clean your transparencies perfectly, the software will, during the scanning process, try to minimise any dust and scratches that may be present on the image.

At the same time, if you turn on the grain minimising option, it will attempt to smooth out the tones in the image and so avoid undue levels of grain which may detract from the final result. Each of the settings are controllable, so you can decide which ones you want active on an image by image basis. For example, you may decide that one image has a lot of dust or scratches that you want removed, in which case you could use the 'remove dust and scratches' option to help clean up the image digitally.

Having FARE switched on will increase the scanning time, but it may mean you have to do less work on the final image in your image editing software.

12. Click 'Scan'. This will scan the image and open it in your image editing program.

Slide copying with your digital EOS camera

You can use your digital EOS camera to copy your slides, capturing them in digital format. This has a number of advantages over using a scanner. Once you've set it up, copying your transparencies is very quick and simple. Also, as the settings (exposure and white balance) are consistent with all the images captured, you can batch process the colours rather than work on each individual file. In addition, while you're copying an image, you can crop it at the same time, allowing you to alter the composition.

Although it is possible to copy negatives using this method, it is a fiddly process and requires much post-processing to obtain acceptable results.

You will need a tripod (or copy stand if you have one), and a lens that will give you as much magnification as possible – a 1:1 macro lens is ideal, though a standard lens with extension tubes is perfectly acceptable. As for a light source, there are two options – a light box onto which you can place the slide, or a flash gun. If you decide to use flash, you will need to make a mask for the flash and the slide to ensure that only light which has passed through the slide reaches the lens.

1. As with scanning, ensure that your slides are spotlessly clean

2. Using a tripod, fix the camera above the light box. Place the slide onto the light box

3. Work out your exposure and white balance settings (this can be done by trial and error)

4. Compose the picture to fill as much of the frame as possible. If you are using a 1:1 macro lens, you can even crop your image

5. Use a cable release or the self-timer to avoid camera shake

6. Take the picture

Although it takes a while to set up this equipment, it is more than compensated for by the speed with which you can then proceed. If you have an extensive archive to copy, this method is ideal since, once you have set the correct exposure and white balance, there should be nothing more you need to do except place each slide and shoot.

However, the final image quality is limited by the resolution of your digital camera and lens. With some cameras it may be considerably less than you can achieve with a good quality scanner and the digital files may fall short of the requirements of some picture libraries.