How to convert 35mm film & slides to digital images

Updated March 23, 2017

The steps you follow to convert 35mm film negatives and slides to digital files are essentially the same. The only change you need to make between the two media is setting the scanner you are using to either negatives or slides. Before digital cameras became as inexpensive and as popular as they are today, 35mm slides and 35mm colour film were the standard that most individuals used for their photography needs. There are many photographers, both professional and amateur, who have years worth of negative and slides than can be converted to digital images by using film and slide scanner.

Turn on the power to both the negative scanner and your desktop or laptop computer.

Install the scanning software that came bundled with the scanner. Directions will vary based on the scanner you have, so follow the directions from the package.

Set the negative scanner to the type of media you are scanning first, either film or slides. It will depend on the type of scanner and model you are working with, but usually you select the type of media through the scanning software on your computer.

Organise your slides and film negatives. This is the time to decide how you will organise your archive of images. If you are using a photo editing software that contains an image browser, you can set up albums similar to the physical photo albums you used for your pictures.

Create folders on your computer where you will save your scanned images to. Name the folders "slides" and "film negatives" then create sub-folders using the date the images were shot on for the folder names. Using the same process for your film and slides will make it easier to locate the correct folder in the future.

Clean the negatives or slides with the anti-static cloth. Using this cloth will remove as much dust and debris as possible before you scan them to save time editing the images later.

Place the negative strip or slides into the scanner's carrier tray. In most cases, you will place the front of the slide or negative toward the scanner element. The front of the slide or negative is the non-emulsion side, or the shiny side. Insert the tray into the scanner and start the scan.

Save the scanned image to the appropriate folder and save them as TIFF file. Use the file as the original for your future editing and printing. Repeat until you have scanned all the film strips and slides into your computer.


Since the carrier trays accept slides in their mounts and negatives in strips, you have to select the proper setting so the scanner knows where to scan on the carrier tray. A TIFF file retains more information than a JPEG file. Save any editing or changes that you make to the file as a separate JPEG file, and retain the original TIFF file for future use.

Things You'll Need

  • Computer
  • Digital film and slide scanner
  • Scanning software
  • Anti-static cloth
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About the Author

Since 2002 Mark Spowart has been working as a freelance writer and photographer in London, Canada. He has publication credits for writing and/or photography in Canada, The United States, Europe and Norway, with such titles as "The Globe & Mail," "The National Post," Canada News Wire, Sun Media and "Business Edge" magazine.