How to use your iPhone to view old film negatives

Our previous blog post explained how to scan photos in high resolution with iPhone or iPad and Pic Scanner Gold app. But how about film negatives and Kodachrome slides? Well, Pic Scanner Gold is not a negative scanner app, but if you have a box full of film negatives of old photographs, here is a neat trick to view them as positives, using just your iPhone and iPad!

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Use your iPhone or iPad as a film negatives viewer

Do you have boxes or envelopes full of negative film strips lying at home? You might be curious what they contain, or maybe like to select and print a few photos from them.

What do you normally do in this situation? Hold the film against a window or another light source, then try to figure out what those images are? Here is a much better way to do it, and it’s really easy!

You will need an iPad or computer to back-light the negatives. You will also need an iPhone, which will serve as the photo viewer.

STEP 1: Improvise a Lightbox

You will need a light source to uniformly illuminate the negatives from behind. “Uniformly” is important, so unless you are into photography gear and have a proper light box, you need a more commonplace alternative. Well, your computer screen will do the job splendidly. If you have an iPhone as well as an iPad, you could also use the iPad screen to back-light the negatives.

It’s easy to improvise a light box: Use your iPad or laptop computer. Increase screen brightness to maximum (On iPad: Settings > Display & Brightness). Now you need to get a blank white screen. If using a laptop, open a program like Microsoft Word > File > New > Full screen. If using iPad, open the native Notes app > New note. Place your negative strip on it.

Step 2: Invert the Negative Image

On the iPhone or iPad that you are using as viewer, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Display accommodations > Invert colors. It will now display all colors inverted. This might be a bit startling, but don’t worry – this is what you need to view film negatives.

On the viewer device, launch Camera app (or the Scanner screen in Pic Scanner Gold or Pic Scanner). Hold the device above the illuminated film strip, tap to focus, and there you are! You will see the positives of your photographs.

The pictures look bluish?

This is because the white balance is a bit off on inverting color negatives. To remedy this, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > set ‘Color Filters’ to ‘on’, and choose Grayscale. The display will now be B&W, but you’ll still be able to see the photos a lot better.

When done, remember to return the accessibility option changes to their original settings.

Scanning slides or film negatives

The above method will let you preview your film negatives easily, but it’s not suitable for scanning negatives. The resolution won’t be good enough. Scanning film with iPhone or iPad requires special equipment e.g. an appropriate, powerful illumination source to back-light the film, and a stand to hold the iPhone/iPad still. Even then, scan quality won’t be very good. We have tested some slide and film scanner apps, but the results were uniformly disappointing.

We would suggest using a film scanner or a flatbed scanner with a slide adapter. Or a slide scanning service (If you live in North America, try Walgreens or Costco. Some of their outlets offer this service).

Read the complete Petapixel article

For more details, see this Petapixel article and video.

How to scan old photos with iPhone or iPad?

The easiest (and fastest) way to scan photos is to use Pic Scanner Gold app. It turns your iPhone or iPad into a powerful, high resolution photo scanner. Scan scan one or more photos at a time, and the app automatically detects, crops and saves them as separate images. You can enhance and restore fading old photos, convert them into albums, greeting cards or slideshows, add captions (peoples’ names, dates, places etc.), share photos or archive them on your computer in cloud services.

pic scanner gold features

Pic Scanner Gold has an amazing array of built-in features, and it has received praise from Cult of Mac, National Geographic Traveler, the BBC, iPad Insight, Gizmodo and many other respected publications.

For users with older devices (iPhone 5, iPad 3 or older), our classic app Pic Scanner is recommended.

You can download Pic Scanner Gold here, and Pic Scanner Classic here.

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