Scanning Photos: Negatives or Prints?
When scanning photographs, should you scan the negatives or the prints that came from the negatives?
It's not completely cut-and-dry and opinions vary, but most photographers I've spoken to agree that you should usually use the negatives as they are the highest quality source. However you'll need a high quality negative scanner to do this well—if you don't have access to one then you may be better off scanning the printed photos.
Of course it will also depend on the state of your negatives and/or prints. If your negatives are scratched or degraded, it makes sense to see if you have any prints that are in better condition.
In the end it can't hurt to try both. See what works best for you with the equipment you have.
Whatever you do, scan in the highest possible resolution. Negatives and prints are all analog so the higher your scanning resolution the more detail you'll capture. This makes for a bigger file, but use this as your high-quality master and make lower-resolution copies if necessary for distribution etc.
- Printed photos are often cropped so they lose some of the original photo. If you scan the negative you may reveal quite a bit of extra image around the edges.
- If you need the best quality scans and money is no obstacle, talk to your nearest reprographics company. Reprography is the art of reproducing graphical images and these companies have the best gear to get the most faithful digital copies.
- Scanning isn't the only option. Some people recommend capturing the negatives by using a high-end digital camera with a macro lens. If you have such a setup, try it and see how you go.