Scanning Color Negative Film

I always wanted to write about scanning color negative film. Now I was finally able to put together this site with lots of useful information to get started with scanning color film. The main part of this section is the video tutorial that can be found below.

While positive film seems so much easier to scan, as you can see the positive image already, it seems some kind of a mystery to scan print film. The first thing you hear is, that you cannot get accurate results due to the orange mask. The orange mask and the fact that the image is inverted are of course two complications we have to deal with, but these challenges are not as complicated as you might think. The biggest problem is that we need to accept the fact that there is no accurate or "correct" scan that we retrieve from the scanner. Even during darkroom printing all prints were interpretations. The old Ansel Adams quote about the score and the performance is also true for color film. Once you have accepted this, you are good to go!

Make you own scans, your own interpretations, give the scans your artistic voice. That is what makes home scanning so fascinating.

Matching Epson Scans with Fuji Frontier Scans

I have all my color films developed and scanned at MeinFilmLab in Germany. They do a terrific job and I always get wonderful Noritsu or Frontier scans of my negatives. I use these negatives as a reference and re-scan some of these negatives at home and try to match the quality and appearance of the Frontier scans with my own interpretations of the negative material. Below you see what we will accomplish in the video tutorial. On the left hand side there is a Fuji Frontier scan of the negative and on the right hand side there is the Epson V700 scan I have scanned during the tutorial. There are certainly differences and I don´t think the Epson V700 is able to keep up with the magnificent result of the Frontier scanner, but I am quite happy with the results.

Fuji Frontier scan from the lab

Epson V700 scan with Silverfast 8.5

Video Tutorial

In this tutorial I give you a basic idea of my scanning workflow. It is not very detailed as I want to give you and overview and to show you what you can do with your home scanner and the right software.

I am a novice in video tutorials so please apologize the low sound quality and my clumsy English. I hope I am still getting my points across.

Please check also the following tutorial on how to prepare Silverfast for color scanning: "Scanning Negative Film With Silverfast - Introduction"

Please watch the video before going through the summary. All the information below makes more sense if you have watch the video before.


Two Step Workflow

The reason why I use a two step workflow is mostly convenience. I enjoy the flexibility of Lightroom to do the final adjustments to my files. The tonal control as well as the sharpening algorithms of Lightroom are great and I feel more comfortable using this software for these tasks.


Negafix does several things. By selecting a film profile, a certain tonal response curve and negative inversion for the scanned information will be chosen. This significantly influences the final results. The tonal expansion and orange mask removal are also part of this process. By changing the exposure slider you can compensate for profile variations happening when over or underexposing film. This slider will therefore additionally influence the look of the resulting scan and can be used as an artistically to alter the image according to your needs. Once again there is no right or wrong. What looks good, will be good! Trust your eyes!

The orange mask removal is basically a mathematical process. The histograms of each color channel needs to be normalized as the orange mask comes from different densities of the tonal information in each color layer of the film emulsion. By moving the tolerance slider you will tell Silverfast the amount of clipping that can take place in each channel. You need to have an eye on the histogram to avoid highlight clipping.

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The basic rule for the tolerance slider is, go as far right without significantly clipping the highlights.

This will improve the color of the scan tremendously.

Color Correction

Always do color correction before any contrast changes. I will do a dedicated blog post on color balancing, but I want to give you a short explanation of why you need to color balance a film scan. Color balancing is also required in the color darkroom. By selecting color filters the color balance of the final print will be adjusted. In printing this is where the orange mask will be removed. But why do we need color balancing when the orange mask is already gone. The answer is that color film is daylight balanced. That means it has been designed to deliver good and healthy skin tones as well as neutral grays under daylight conditions. As soon as you shoot in different lighting conditions you need to adjust for this. Another reason for color balancing is to compensate for developing and production variations. Color balancing in Silverfast is quite similar to color balancing in the darkroom. The Global Color Correction panel will allow you to choose the correct filter for your scan, just like a color filter you put into the color enlarger. By choosing a color inside the color circle of the panel you will see how colors are shifting. Removing color casts is bascially as simple as adding the opposite color to an image. Sounds easier than it is, but with some training you will learn how to do this intuitively. Finding the correct settings is sometimes not straight forward, as a color cast is sometimes hard to detect. Try and error are your best friend and once again trust your eyes, but keep in mind that seeing colors correctly incorporates a learning curve. You will get better from time to time. 

Contrast Control

Most color papers have a fixed contrast. During scanning we are not limited to one contrast setting. The inversion routine of Negafix will give you a starting point which needs to be adjusted according to your needs. Contrast and brightness is highly subjective. I like to start with a good contrast curve in Silverfast but I often do all my adjustments in Lightroom. This has the benefit that I can go back and change the settings later again. The biggest problem is that even though film can hold a wide dynamic range we need to bring this dynamic range into the tonal frame of the output space. This means we need to make compromises. Shooting into the sun or other scene with a high dynamic range will give you a very flat looking scan before you do your contrast adjustments. The tonal values of the sky will be fully available but cannot be facilitated without loosing overall contrast. Our human eye is used to a certain contrast level of things that are close to us. Make sure the main subjects in you frame show a believable amount of contrast otherwise the scan will loose its believability. A very important concept in my opinion.


The settings I use in Lightroom are derived from experimentation. I don´t claim these to be the only good solution, but they really work for me. Especially the sharpening and noise reduction values are a good compromise and bring out the details nicely. Dealing with tonal values of a scan can be a bit frustrating. Avoid overdoing the tonal adjustments. Allow the scan to reflect the medium of film. If you manipulate the values heavily you distort these tonal relationships. Have a close eye on contrasts and use the curves in Lightroom to set the contrast if you have not yet done so in Silverfast.

I hope you find this information helpful! Please feel free to ask questions in the comment sections below.