Negative scanning with ScanCafe

After a bunch of failed attempts with my ancient el cheapo scanner, I’ve decided to have a bunch of old medium format negatives (120/220) scanned professionally. I’ve all but decided on ScanCafe—haven’t pulled the trigger yet. Great prices… $0.99 each for medium format negatives. But even better, they’ll scan all 200 negatives, let me review them, and then I only have to pay for the ones I actually want—with the caveat that I have to buy at least half.

Interesting twist: they send the photos to a facility they’ve built in India. That’s how they can get a technician to scan and personally inspect/retouch each negative at such low prices. Downside: looks like it might be around 8 weeks before I see my scans (and get back my originals). But, these negatives have been sitting around since 97 so it’s not like I’m in a hurry.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Have you used ScanCafe or any other professional negative/print scanning service?

ScanCafe – Photo Scanning, Negative Scanning, Slide Scanning, Photo Restoration

By John Watson

John Watson is the original founder of Photodoto. If you're interested in what John has been up to, you can browse his personal blog.


  1. Never tried them myself… but $1/frame seems high to me. If you have 200 frames and you have to buy at least half, that’s $100. For another $50 or $60, you could just buy a new CanoScan 8800F (or some other film scanner) and have it at your house in 3 or 4 days. Plus you can keep all 200 scans at no extra cost. Of course, that would mean doing the work yourself, and scanning/retouch burns a lot of time. I can usually get through 3 or 4 rolls of medium format in an evening without rushing and while doing other things on the computer.

    1. Other services charge over $5 per frame. I spent about an hour just trying to get one decent scan on my current scanner. Seems like I need to have a dust-free room and wear a spacesuit to get clean scans.

      I’ll never use it again so I’m probably going to go with the service. Out of curiosity, how does the CanoScan compare to the Nikon 9000 ED they use at ScanCafe?

      1. WOW! $5/frame!? That’s robbery.

        Dust can be a problem with scanning, but you can usually get 99% of it by wearing white lint-free gloves and running the film between 2 fingers. Then hit each side with a rocket blaster and close the lid before the dust and fuzz rush back in. Even so, I have to spot just about every image by hand. Not any different than keeping dust out of optical prints in the darkroom.

        That Nikon scanner is far more expensive, though I’m not entirely sure why. The Canon has the same optical resolution and bit depth capability. But for that much money on the Nikon, I’d assume that the results would be better on some level of pixel-peeping.

  2. My father sent 2 batches of old family slides, the first as a test batch. They all came back, and came back looking *really* good. Really no color corrections or anything like that needs to be done. (And we fuss with LR and PS a lot.) Yes 10,000 miles and 8 weeks is scary, but we are happy with them.

  3. I sent a couple hundred 35mm slides to ScanCafe, and was very pleased with the resulting scans and with their service. It took a long time – around 8 weeks, but knowing it was going to take this long up-front, I was prepared for it. And you can check the status of your order online, for that warm fuzzy feeling.

    I would recommend them without hesitation.

  4. Haven’t used ScanCafe myself, but I’ve heard it mentioned all the time on Scott Bourne’s Photofocus podcast. From the way he and Rick tell it from their own experiences, they do excellent work, for what it’s worth.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *