Digital photography seems perfectly suited for social media since pictures can be near-immediately viewed after taken and then uploaded to Facebook, Instagram, etc. But if you’ve spent years acquiring 35mm slides and negatives, the options for using them online are limited: they need to be scanned. But dedicated scanners either are very expensive or very cheaply made when it comes to the optics used (and flat-bed scanners are too low resolution). A real solution would be to use a system where a digital camera that you already have, one with high-resolution, can turn negatives and slides into digital images. Better yet, how about keeping the price way down by tapping into the features a smartphone offers? That’s exactly what the Lomography SmartPhone Film Scanner is all about.
$99 buys the scanner, but that cheap price expects a Smartphone, in this case an iPhone 5 loaded with the company’s LomoScanner app (while optimized for the 5, it works with iPhones 3G and up and other models that can physically fit). The Smartphone Film Scanner relies on the phone’s camera; there’s 3 “blocks” that assemble, one on top of the other, to create distance between the film slot and the phone’s camera. To make sense of how this is used, I assembled the scanner with my iPhone 5 in mind. First I inserted two “AA” batteries into the base to provide power for the light panel (which I turned on) and then stood it on a table. I then stacked two “blocks” on top of each other on the base (Lomography suggests that two are all that’s needed with an iPhone and my time spent with the scanner confirmed this). I then placed the “camera holding” block on the top, having already squeezed the tab so I could pull the two “clamp” sides apart. I placed the iPhone face down and lined the camera lens with the hole at one end of the block. I then pushed the clamps back together to hold the camera. I then tapped on the Lomography app (free) which I had already loaded in from the iTunes app store.
I inserted a strip of 35mm black and white film into the film slot at the base and rotated a wheel until the full image was visible on the phone. I then selected the 35mm aspect ratio (smaller at sides) and played with the zooming function buttons to see if it would improve the image (it didn’t, plus using the digital zoom can degrade the image so it’s not worth doing). The negative’s image then appeared on the screen. The are options to alter the image in the app and which you can see once selected (such as working with color negative film). However, I decided to go with a “normal” setting where no digital tech was being used in order to get the most “real” digitization of the negative. I “shot” the image and then saved it to the phone’s camera roll before moving on to another image on the strip.
I wanted to digitize a color slide, but the transport mechanism expects a 4-negative strip or longer in order to function. I imagine I could make a “film strip” that I could put a slide (minus the mount) into, but it seemed like too much work and too much of a chance of damaging the slide, so I stayed with digitizing color negative and black and white film instead. After having done about 10 slides, my concern was whether the negatives had stayed flast when in the Lomography SmartPhone Film Scanner’s transport mechanism: there’s nothing holding them down as is the case with some other consumer-based portable scanners. But I didn’t see any loss of detail that would make me think that re-shooting was necessary when I check them, although if the film strip had been badly curved I expect it would have needed some serious efforts at flattening it before use.
Transferring the images I had shot to my Mac, I then used graphic software to convert the color negative and black and white images into positive ones. I used PhotoShop, but there’s a lot of programs out there — some free — that will do the job, with some providing an automatic path for taking care of film that has been digitized. The biggest issue in doing all this, as I see it, is having the patience to deal with the ‘tweaking” that most images require in order to look their best. And being willing to spend the time needed to both digitize and color-correct the images, which in the case of color negatives comes with an orange cast as part of the process (with black and white negs it’s mostly a matter of contrast that must be tweaked, in my opinion).
Bottom line: Scanning 35mm black and white and color negatives is the only way to bring them kicking and screaming into the digital age. The Lomography Smartphone Film Scanner is an inexpensive but quality means for doing this, thanks to its mating with a Smartphone’s imaging and program (app) abilities.
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