Film scanners aren’t usually at the front of mind since digital cameras have dominated the photography realm, but they still have their uses. Maybe you’ve inherited some old film, experimented with film cameras, or retain some film from the old days. Film scanners are the best and easiest way to digitize your analog images.
No matter the scenario, scanning negatives, slides, or transparencies will provide the best image quality. Scanning photo prints is the quickest and most convenient method, but it’s usually reserved for when a negative or slide is not available. Most common flatbed scanners have the option to scan slides and negatives, but there are also dedicated units specifically for this task.
All the options that we have listed below will happily scan the whole gamut of negatives, from 35mm black and white to color. While some have the option for oversized formats such as 8mm or medium format film. Then there is the question of quality, not just in the final digitized file, but also with the scanner itself.
It’s a given that most of these solutions need to be hooked up to a computer to run. This is not just for the scanner itself, but also for the accompanying software.
With so many options available on the market, we’ve gathered the versions which will give you a good balance between quality, features, and price. Keep in mind that the more material you have to scan, the more cost-effective the film scanner will be in the long run.
1. Plustek OpticFilm 8100 (Overall Winner)
I have to admit that when first going down the film scanner road, the ideal would have been a flatbed scanner that could also scan slides and negatives. However, like most things in life, a dedicated unit usually provides the best results. In this case it’s the Plustek OpticFilm 8100, which provides a great balance between quality and cost.
The maximum scanning resolution is 7,200dpi and being an optical film scanner, it ensures the highest quality results. Supported film types include 35mm negatives of various types as well as 35mm positive slides. Although the unit itself looks more like a web server than a scanner, feeding in film or negatives is a simple, mostly automated process.
High-quality scans aren’t exactly quick to produce, taking a few minutes each. But, this is the norm for high-quality scans. The QuickScan button on the front of the unit is a straightforward way to automate the process, but the included SilverFast software provides far more options to change settings.
At the highest resolution of 7,200dpi, it was surprising how much detail this scanner could pull from an image. Details are the richest in well-lit areas of an image, which only falls down in the very darkest and lightest areas. The full frame is scanned each time, with options to do your own cropping and slight adjustments.
Overall the unit is slow, but the quality can’t be faulted, especially for the price. This unit is the best balance between quality and price point.
There’s nothing like the versatility of a flatbed scanner, which is why the Epson Perfection V550 Photo had to be included. This is the best solution for those who have a small amount of film to scan, while also needing a general-purpose scanner.
The scanner works at a total resolution of 12800dpi and is able to scan 35mm film and slides along with medium format film. For each film type there is a holder that is inserted into the scanner. The whole process is very straightforward.
Each frame is scanned individually and takes roughly a minute for a single 3,200dpi frame to be produced. Dust and scratch removal is available, but it takes slightly longer. The extra wait is more than worth it.
The overall detail of resolution is excellent and while it’s not to the overall levels of the Plustek OpticFilm 8100, it’s still commendable. The only negative here is that cropping is tighter than on the OpticFilm 8100, but considering its cost and versatility, the Perfection V550 Photo is an excellent choice.
If you like the idea of a dedicated film scanner, but don’t want to stretch to the price of the Plustek OpticFilm 8100, then the Plustek OpticFilm 135 is a good option. This scanner has a maximum resolution of 3600 dpi, with the ability to scan 35mm negatives and slides.
One of the standout points of this scanner is the ability to load in six 35mm film negatives or four 35mm slides at a time. The scanner automatically processes each image in less than four minutes at the top resolution. When using the accompanying QuickScan Plus software, basic settings can be put in place with limited options.
While this scanner can pull a good amount of detail from each scan, the color depth and resolution aren’t to the same levels as the options above. However, as a dedicated film scanner for very general use, this option is worth a second look.
The Pacific Image PowerFilm scanner may be one of the most expensive of the bunch, but it also has the ability to scan lots of frames at a time. While not exactly small, coming in at 232 x 157 x 128mm, it’s the quickest way to scan lots of negatives at once.
Available scanning options include 24MP at the highest resolution or 6MP for a quick scan. Supported media types include 35mm mono or color negatives. Negatives can be inserted up to 10 strips at a time, which you can then leave for the scanner to process. The scanner uses a MagicTouch infrared cleaning system to remove dust and small artifacts, producing images that are ready for print.
Color rendition and detail are very good and while it’s costlier than the rest, this scanner is a great solution for batch processing negatives.
5. Kodak SCANZA (Budget Winner)
Convenience is the name of the game with the Kodak SCANZA, being only 20 x 120 x 127mm in size, with a 3.5-inch tilting color monitor to preview images. Scans are saved directly to an SD card. This scanner has the capacity to scan for a range of slides and negatives including 35mm, 126, 110, 8mm, and Super 8 types.
This scanner is technically more a camera, capturing each frame at a 14MP resolution or interpolated up to 22MP. Scanning is extremely straightforward, with just a touch of a button. While it can only load in one frame of 35mm film at a time, the unit is reasonably efficient.
Ease-of-use and convenience are the main selling points here, as images have a good degree of detail but not to the level of the units above. There’s decent detail in very dark and light areas, but images are generally produced with too much smoothing for tack sharp detail.
As a straightforward film scanner that accepts a multitude of film types in a self-contained box, the Kodak Scanza is a convenient solution.
Rounding up the Best Film Scanners
Film scanners are not all made equal. There are different resolutions, features, and prices for each unit. A base resolution of 3,200dpi is a good starting point, but that doesn’t mean that the highest resolution scanners are the best overall. Film can only be resolved so far and with grainy images, there is only so much detail that can be extracted in the first place.
While dedicated film scanners can produce the best quality results, a good quality photo scanner can be more versatile, especially if you only need a few negatives reproduced. Ease-of-use is also a factor, but with the shortlist above, each example will bring you high-quality scans with a good level of convenience.