How to scan with a digital camera
This guide will take you through all the information you need to scan your film using a digital camera.
It is split into sections that you can choose from in the menu below so that if you feel you already know something, you don't have to scroll through the whole guide.
However, we do recommend that you glance over the whole guide, as even experienced scanners could come across something new.
This guide is under constant construction - if you feel something is missing, feel free to reach out to us through the usual channels.
This guide and much of VALOI was in part made possible by generous members of community, particularly Facebook groups such as "Digital Film Scan Tools", "Digitizing film with a digital camera", "Negative Lab Pro Users" and some very knowledgeable members of those. We have checked and verified information from those and other sources to help you learn camera scanning with the best information.
Are you unsure of what camera scanning is, exactly? Click here to find out.
Attaching the camera
Attach the camera securely so that the camera does not move once attached.
If your attachment point uses a quick-release plate, a lot of the cheaper ones are not easy to tighten sufficiently with your hands - use pliers if you must.
Attach the camera as close as possible to parallel with the base of your scanning setup (the table, or the base of the copystand). This first adjustment is just by eye and is not accurate but it makes the levelling process easier later (see Align and Level).
Preparing the Holder
Select the right Holder for your film: refer to the Getting Started Guide if you are unsure.
If you are using the Holder on its own, make sure the rubber stick-on feet are attached. Unless your light source is very well diffused, we also recommend that you use our Diffuser underneath the Holder for more even lighting. When scanning, you want to feed the film into the Holder from the end with the VALOI 360 Logo on it.
If you are using a Holder in the Advancer, make sure the VALOI 360 is placed on the side furthest away from the rollers and ensure that the rollers are set to the correct width for the film you are scanning.
Dimming the Lights
with dimmed lights
with strong light on
Turn off any lights in the room you are scanning in other than the light source under your film. Also, draw your curtains if you're scanning during the daytime.
The weaker your scanning lightsource is, the more important this step.
Failing to turn off lights in the room is one of the most common errors when starting out. It will result in areas of colour cast that is not part of the image on the film. This is caused by reflections from, for example, an over-head room light that the camera sees.
Another alternative is to make a hood between your film and camera lens which blocks out any outside light. The downside is that this blocks your view of the film making it harder to advance accurately.
In the images we can see the same picture scanned twice - once with dimmed lighting and another time with strong light nearby. As you can see in the second one, contrast is reduced and there are two areas of reflections (in the top right corner and the black spot on the left).
Align and level
To create a final scan with perfect 90° corners you will need your camera sensor and film to be perfectly parallel. This means that one plane is not slanted relative to the other. If your camera is not perfectly parallel to your film, not only will your image not be a perfect square but one side of the image will be out of focus.
There are two methods of making your film and camera parallel:
1. Use a level: With a level (bubble or electronic), adjust both the Advancer's levelling feet and camera until they are perfectly level. The downside of this is that if your table is not very level, it will be hard to do, and most levels are not accurate enough for our uses. If you do use this method, an electronic level is recommended.
2. 'The Mirror Trick': You will need a small-ish mirror that is completely flat on the back. A cheap make-up mirror taken out of its frame is usually good, or you can use the VALOI Levelling Mirror, which was designed for this levelling method.
Put together your setup so you are ready to scan, then put the mirror on top of your VALOI Holder. Now, when you turn on your camera, the camera will see itself in the mirror. Focus that image so the front of the lens is sharp.
Now line up the middle of the lens aperture (the little 'hole' in the lens) with the middle of your screen or viewfinder. If your camera can turn on a grid on the screen, turn that on so you don't have to guess where the middle is. Adjust the camera, you may use the rubber feet to help you get it perfectly parallel.
Once the middle of your screen and the middle of your aperture are lined up, you know your camera is pointing straight down.
You can now focus the camera back on the film and continue getting ready to scan.
We recommend checking alignment of your camera and holder for each session of scanning to ensure the best results.
Type 1 framing: Loose
Type 2 framing: Tight
Good framing of your film scan is that which utilises the largest possible area of the sensor and thus maximises the resolution, but at the same time cuts off a minimal amount of the original image.
There are two main approaches:
1. Loose Framing: Frame the image with a solid border so that you can capture the full image. Film photographers are often concerned with getting the full frame, even to the point of leaving a black edge in their final displayed image.
The benefit is of course that you get all of the image.
There are two downsides: firstly, you lose some resolution. If you scan with, for example, a 24MP camera, and you capture with a 10% edge outside the actual frame, the actual image is 'only' 21.6MP
Secondly, and perhaps more important, is that if you desire this 'perfect' framing, either post-processing or scanning will take longer since each frame has to be cropped individually to account for the 1-2mm difference in framing on each image.
2. Tight Framing: Frame with minimal border and auto-crop. This is more in line with what most labs will do with your film: they crop off 5-10% of the captured image to ensure any misalignment of frame is cropped out and you don't get any border in your image.
The benefits of this are maximum resolution and speed: set up your camera to capture just a tiny bit of the frame around the film, scan quickly through the roll. Then apply a crop in your post-processing software, and sync that same crop across all your frames. most software like Adobe Lightroom are able to batch-process your images like this. The process is quick and skips the tedious nature of cropping each image individually, at the cost of losing a tiny bit of your image.
Note: If you use software like Negative Lab Pro or Grain2Pixel to convert negatives, these will require a small edge to be present that it can use as a reference for white balance and black-point. Keep this in mind when you frame.
Well framed but out of focus
In focus but poorly framed
Generally you only need to set your focus once for each scanning session.
With an auto-focus lens, simply frame and then hit focus on your lens. Check focus manually by using the zoom magnifiying function on your camera, if it has it.
Focusing a manual lens on such close objects is a bit more tricky. Firstly, you need to make sure you have a lens that can focus close enough - refer to the VALOI Gear Guide if you're not sure about your lens.
When focusing a manual lens on close objects you will run into a phenomenon called focus breathing - in short, this is where focusing your lens closer leads to bringing it closer to the object, which in turn means you have to focus even closer. It also means that you can frame your image perfectly, then adjust focus and suddenly your framing is wrong.
Before you start focusing, set your aperture to as open as it will go (this is the smallest possible number) - this will give you the most accurate focusing. However, remember to 'stop down' your lens to the 'working aperture'. (Click here to see how to find the optimal aperture of your camera.)
To get the best results with both good framing and crisp focus, start by framing your image roughly, then focus roughly to the right distance. You will see your framing has changed - now adjust the framing again. Now your focusing has changed - refocus. You will have to repeat this 3-5 times, depending on how accurate and careful you are - that is fine and normal.
To check if your image is in focus, enable focus magnification on your camera, if it has it (if it does not, do your best by looking at a sharp edge on the negative). You will find that there is a fine grain structure that you can use to focus on - if you cannot see this you are either out of focus, your lens is unsharp or your camera does not allow enough focus magnification. If this is the case, then find an area of sharp contrast, such as the edge of the frame, to focus on.
What settings should you use on your camera?
This is a common question, and one that depends a lot on your camera. The way you find these settings on each brand of camera also varies quite a bit. Below you will find some general instructions on how to adjust your settings for the best results:
ISO: Set the ISO on your camera as low as possible (without going into the 'pull' ISO settings, sometimes indicated by a line underneath the numbers - you can find the lowest 'base' ISO on your camera by googling the model. Ensure that your camera is not set to Auto ISO.
Aperture: The best aperture for your lens will vary, however, it is never either at the top or bottom of the scale. A good rule-of-thumb is taking the widest aperture (smallest number) and going up two stops, so if the widest aperture is f/2.8 you go: f/2.8 -> f/4 -> f/5.6.
To find the true best aperture of your lens, you can do tests: find a good, sharp negative, and scan it several times with different apertures - then observe the results and pick the best one.
Note: If you are using a normal lens (not macro-lens) with extension tubes, it is generally better to stop down the lens to f/16 or lower: it will result in less sharpness in the centre of the image but give you much better sharpness in the corners as the deeper depth of field counteracts the focus-field-curvature that these lenses have.
Manual vs Aperture Priority: You will get good results by leaving your camera in AP (Aperture Priority) mode, which is also nice and easy. However, you can get more 'true' results from your film by scanning the whole roll using the Manual setting and a constant exposure. Ignore 'Program' mode or 'Auto' - they are not suitable for scanning.
Note: some negative conversion software, like Grain2Pixel, will give better results more quickly if you scan using consistent settings because it has to do less analysing. Using the Manual setting is therefore sometimes beneficial.
Exposure: For negatives, you want to expose slightly brighter than 'proper' exposure (as metered by your digital camera) to counteract the orange mask.
If you are using AP mode, simply dial in +0.7EV (two thirds of a stop) of exposure compensation.
If you are using Manual mode, find a well exposed frame and frame and focus on it - then change your shutter speed until your meter reads +0.7EV - +1.0EV. Leave that setting when scanning. This will also give you a good impression of what frame are over exposed and which are under exposed - potentially showing you something about your technique or the proper operation of your camera.
Shutter speed: Either let your camera select the appropriate shutter speed (after dialing in +0.7EV EV exposure compensation as descirbed above) or choose it manually. If you need to change the exposure (the brightness of the image), then you do that by adjusting the shutter speed . Never adjust the ISO or Aperture if you need your image brighter or darker - use the shutter speed instead.
Focusing and composition aids: To help make in-focus scans with proper framing, some specific camera settings are useful. Some of these features are only available on mirrorless cameras or newer DSLR cameras:
Turn on focus peaking, if your camera has it. This will colour in the areas that are sharply in focus.
Turn on focus magnification. This lets you zoom in to your picture and see the focus more finely.
Turn on a square grid. This makes it easier to position the film where it should be, and helps you find the middle of the frame if you use the mirror technique for levelling your camera.
Below are some tips for the scanning process.
Find solutions to bad scanning results.