Q&A: What’s the Best DPI or Resolution to Scan Your Film Negatives?

by | Last updated Apr 21, 2017 | Scanning Photos | 25 comments

“Hi there. Since you have and use an Epson Perfection V600 I wanted to ask you what is the optimal scan settings for scanning film negatives?

Right now I use 12800 dpi, but I have a feeling it's overkill and all my indoor night time pictures have a lot of grain. I certainly appreciate whatever advice you have to offer.”

Walter Ho

Best DPI to Scan Film Negatives graphicWalter, thanks for writing me. Let me see if I can help you out with this one.

First off, you're right — I am currently scanning all of my photos with the Epson Perfection V600 Photo Scanner. I have been listing all of my favorite hardware, software and products on my Photo Scanning Resources page. I started this page to let you all know about all of my favorite “scanning things” I have discovered and use.

I would say your gut feeling is right on — 12800 dpi is going to be overkill for negatives (film and slides). Hopefully you haven't scanned too many of them already in case you now want to do them over.

12800 dpi is the “maximum interpolated resolution” that our Epson V600 scanners will scan. But, this is interpolated, which is a fancy way of saying “digital.” The scanner actually only scans up to 9600 dpi (the optical resolution). But using some technical “magic”, the software takes the 9600 dpi image and creates a higher resolution scan out of it.

Epson v600 Scanner dpi ratings on outside of box

Epson V600 specifications on the outside of the box.

If you've used some of the point and shoot digital cameras that have come out in the last 10 years, you know many of them have an “optical” zoom rating. Once you have zoomed in all the way, the actual glass lens no longer comes out any further. But, many still zoom in even tighter and that's because it's digitally pushing into the pixels to make the image “look” closer.

That's basically what the scanner is doing as well when it's using this digital (Interpolated) resolution. All it's really doing is blowing up the pixels and cropping the image around it. The image quality doesn't get better — really only worse.

So, my suggestion to anyone is never to go beyond the optical resolution of your scanner. So at the highest, with the Epson V600 don't scan your prints, slides or negatives above 9600 dpi.

But, even that is overkill and you will see not only a massively huge file size, but also too much grain when scanning film. Computers these days are fast enough to handle the file size, but the additional grain isn't so good.

What's Is the Best DPI to Scan your Film Negatives and Slides?

I like to keep it simple and break people down into 2 categories. Those with basic goals, and those with advanced goals.

If you are scanning your negatives to just have some nice pictures, but you don't really care about getting them perfect, or your computer is fairly old and you don't want large file sizes for example, then 2000 dpi is just fine. This will make average people happy.

If however, you really want to do it the right way — you really want to archive the best quality of the image that you possibly can so you can pass them down to your family someday, then I would recommend going with a dpi between 3000 dpi – 4000 dpi.

If you try 4000 dpi and you feel there is too much grain, work your way down to 3000 dpi. But, I wouldn't go any lower than 3000 if you really want to archive a high quality film scan.

And if even 4000 dpi seems to low for you, and you really want to try going a little higher — if it will make you sleep at night going a bit more — maybe try up to 5000 dpi and see if it introduces much more grain in your images.

Now Walter, I suggested dpi's exceeding 4000 dpi going up to 5000 dpi for you because you seem to be fairly aggressive in the amount of DPI you are willing to work with. (Just know that those dpi's will produce considerably large file sizes)

However, I feel most people with “advanced goals” should stick between the 3000 dpi – 4000 dpi range with their film negatives and slides.

Personally, I have chosen to scan my slides at 3200 dpi, a “preset number” that is easy to select in my scanning software. And with this setting, my slides end up being around 70-80 MB's (megabytes) a piece.


Scanning Negative vs Print - both side by side

Scanning Your Film Negatives vs. Prints: An Interesting Comparison

It's not specifically about negatives — it's really mainly on prints — but I wrote a long post on my site about the best DPI to scan paper photographs that you might like to read if you want more information. Right in the middle of the article is the section on Optical DPI vs Digital with our scanner that you might find interesting. Here's the link:

And, coincidentally, I recently wrote “Scanning Your Film Negatives vs. Prints: An Interesting Comparison” about a photo I had scanned at a scanning service recently. I had the print and the negative of the same photo scanned at the same time and I found some really interesting differences.

Thanks again for writing me. Please let me know how this works out for you. Seriously.

Thanks Walter! Cheers!
Curtis Bisel

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