newbie question about 35mm to digital conversion


TPF Noob!
Apr 29, 2006
Reaction score
Fairfield, CT
Here is my dillemma - i'm sure i'm doing something wrong and would like to get an advice.
A bit of history, please bear with me. I've been using my faithful Digital Rebel for last two and a half years and absolutely love it - from Maine to Peru it's been taking great shots (in my newbie's opinion) Not too long ago i was browsing B&H and bumped into a decent deal on Canon ELAN 7N, and a thought came through my mind, "why not take the full advantage of lower end of my 28-135 lense by getting into 35mm cameras?"(i've been deliberatly buying only ef lenses). So, done deal - i've ordered the elan, and as soon as i got it - went out and started playing around with the toy. Viewfinder of Digital Rebel never looked the same again... :)

I never got into photography before i was able to afford digital rebel because of one and only one reason - i would never
have enough patience to develop films.:blushing: Maybe, one day i will get into this, but at this point i do not see myself spending time on the darkroom equipment. I hope i am not insulting anybody in this forum by making such statements, and may cause a shower of critique on my head (perhaps, well-deserved). I have a lot of respect :hail:before people who develop themselves and i believe that is the way to go in film photgraphy, and hope that one day i will do the same, but at this moment of my life, it's just not there. I hope this gives a background to my question.

Today i went to develop the first two rolls i shot (kodak 200 gold and fuji 400) to my local photolab. Knowing that there is simply nothing worth printing, i ordered the files transferred to a CD without prints. when i got the CD and popped it into my laptop, i was really disappointed. :( While i obviously made mistakes while choosing settings, what disappointed me the most was the quality of the pictures. The resolution of the photos was about that of pictures from my 1.3 megapixel Fuji point&shoot camera (about 3 years ago). the JPEG pictures from the scans are no larger than 1 Mb, resolution 1729x1149 pixels. What is the reason for this? Am I missing something? Did i choose a wrong film and the guy decided not to scan full resolution? Or maybe i should have asked the shop to give me the best possible quality? (i can see how regular point&shoot user might be satisfied with the quality of the files - they look fine on the screen, but i seriously doubt i could make a good printout on a photopaper). Again, i'm just getting into the 35mm film photgraphy and I have never used a film scanner, and have very vague idea of its workings, but shouldn't those scanners give a higher resolution? I also do not think that the scanner would produce jpeg as an output. Another thing (relatively minor) is the fact that the numbering in the scans was off - so this truly screwed up my notes on the settings i was using.

What advice could you give me? I really expected to be able to pull something comparable to the results of Digital Rebel or maybe even better. obviously, i expected ome deviation, but what i saw was really off. I was thinking of investing into film scanner, but if this is the quality i should expect - i am much better off (at this point in time) just upgrading my digital camera or getting the prints and scanning them on a flatbed (well, that adds dust, and i'm sure it would be more time/cost-consuming). So, to sum up, is it possible to get a high quality scans from my film in a photolab (it must be, right?) and what did i do wrong? Thank you in advance.
Film can be scanned at different resolutions, and it looks like they had it set pretty low. Most places charge more to scan at higher resolutions. The highest you'll get is about 4000dpi. At a guess yours was scanned at around 1500. They probably scanned it at the size most people want, and just large enought to get a 6x4 print.

Then of course you have the grain inherent in the film, which will always be a different sort of grain to digital.

So, to sum up, yes it's possible, but probably more expensive. If it's a decent lab they may be able to develop and then print you a contact sheet. You can then scan at high res only the images you want.
The scanner didn't do a good job. Film can give much better prints than the Drebel. With a better scanner you'll get better prints.

You get the best quality from film if you print it optically, with a nice lens. Also - the 28-135 isn't too sharp. For film you're better off with primes.
Sounds like you got the fast and cheap scanning deal. It's good enough for most consumers, who are printing from the film, and just using the files for posting online. You need to ask for the highest quality scanning services; you'll probably want to make sure you are using a full service photo lab rather than an econo lab. If you are going to do it often you'll find it cheaper to buy a film scanner and do it yourself.

Most scanners can output to many file formats. Jpeg is the most commonly used, so that's what the labs give people. If you want something else you'll have to ask for it.

Don't hesitate to be specific with what you want. If they won't/can't do it, then you need a different lab.
A flatbed scanner works fine for sampling and posting the web. It has never given satisfactory results for fine prints/output.

A really good negative scanner will cost just as much or more than a digital SLR.

At least in my area, I found it difficult to find a photolab with high end scanning equipment that can deliver high quality results. The few that do provide such service will charge quite a bit per frame. ( actually, I only found one ) For me, it was actually more pricey than the prints themselves. If you walk up to the counter asking about scanning negatives most will assume you are a typical consumer asking for a quick scan at quite a bit less money. This level of service usually includes pictures in JPG and less than what I would consider high quality. You have to specifically explain you want very high quality and the pictures to be delivered in TIFF. Don't be afraid to ask for the equipment used to perform the scans. If they state some consumer based scanner or god forbid a flatbed, walk away look elsewhere.

For me, I still shoot a lot of film. B&W I process at home which is something you should consider as its really not that difficult. If I use the local photolab, I request contact sheet and processing only. I then use my flatbed scanner to examine the negatives and decide which to make enlargements.

Most reactions