Useful Apps for Film Photographers – Part 5: Bridging the Analogue/Digital Gap

When I started listing some mobile apps that are useful for film photographers I did not know that there would actually be such a lot of apps out there.
Some of them don’t require anything but your smartphone (or tablet, or similar mobile device). Others use dedicated hardware that links up to your device. In today’s post I have again a bit of both.
Today we want to look at ways to bridge the analogue/digital gap both ways.

Let’s face it. Even though many of us still shoot film, most of our images ultimately end up digitally. We share them on the internet, send them to friends, or post them on Facebook. So, what are the little helpers out there to turn analogue to digital and, wait for it, digital to analogue?


Analogue In – Digital Out

Scanning photos, both from a print, or from a slide or negative, is not new at all. Traditionally you would use a scanner that you hook up to your computer. Best results are achieved when you scan negatives (unless stated otherwise I will use negatives and slides interchangeably for the remainder of this blog post) by using a backlight unit. However, there also are some film and slide holder around that you can stick in front of your digital camera lens. It’s limited to 35mm most of the time but it works.
Thus, it was only a matter of time before someone would use a mobile phone’s camera to do it.

Hardware options

Lomography Smartphone Scanner: I am bit of two minds when it comes to Lomography. Their original philosophy was (is) great and their dedication to film photography surely is one major factor in keeping it alive. On the other hand their marketing can be very pushy and whilst some of their products are great many others are clearly way over-priced.

The Lomography Smartphone Film Scanner is marketed as an easy way to scan film strips. It’s essentially a bit of plastic to hold your phone’s lens at focusing distance and also features a battery operated light (to imitate a film scanner’s backlight unit). The good thing is that it is built to accomodate different phone models and the app is available for both iOS and Android platforms.
Does it work? I must admit that I have not used it myself, but this review hasn’t got particularly good things to say about the image quality. They praise the lo-fi feel but frankly if you get that from your scanner’s hard- and software, and not from your camera or film combination what’s the difference to using an Instagram filter?

Film Photo Scanner by Nusoft follows a similar approach. Apparently there is a device out there called scanbox that also allows you to scan prints and business cards. The app is free and offers some editing functionality but so far I was unable to find any place to buy the Scanbox. Maybe there is a way to build your own?

Software Options:

Some apps out there promise film scanning without adding or at least buying additional hardware.
Film Scanner (which also has a free “light” version with advertising) that simply scans the negative and allows for some editing and of course inverting it to create a positive. If you are using two device you can use the screen of one if them as a lightbox in order to get the backlight effect. I have tried it by using my girlfriends iPad as a lightbox and some other ways such  as bright computer screen with white background. Maybe it’s just me being thick but I did not manage to get a really usable image out of it either way. .

ILoveFilm is a similar app to Film Scanner and whilst not free it offers a free companion lightbox app for your iPad. The biggest problem with that app is that it just keeps crashing. So far I have not managed to get it to work. One can only hope that the developers are looking into this!

Verdict: Smartphone film scanners – are they worth it?

If you want good quality you can’t avoid buying a decent scanner with a film scanning unit or just have your film strips scanned by a professional lab. Spending 50 to 60 bucks on a bad plastic scanner is not going to get you much closer to having decent scans than just using the software options. The software-only options (which aren’t really software-only because many times they require you having two device with one to use as a lightbox) have not convinced me either. Maybe they can be useful as quick preview of your film strips, which means a glorified substitute for a magnifying glass.

Digital In – Analogue Out:

The Impossible Instant Lab

Some analogue printing techniques have recently become of interest to digital photographers as well. Cynotypes (blueprints) and Vandyke prints for example can be made from a digital images printed onto a transparency. The Impossible Project, a company dedicated to keeping Polaroid instant photography alive, went even further. Their Instant Lab is essentially also a scanner, and yes, you can use it as such. Take a photo of your instant print, crop it, edit it a bit and upload it some online library. It doesn’t stop there, though. The *really* cool thing is that once you hook up the Instant Lab hardware unit it also does it the other way round! Select an image from your phone’s library, put it on the Lab unit and it will print your digital photo on instant film! The device was backed by a Kickstarter campaign and should hopefully hit the market soon. There is no retail price yet but don’t expect it to be cheap. Nevertheless, it’s a simple yet bold idea to bridge the gap between digital and analogue photography. Given the, err, unpredictability of the Impossible film material it will turn a commonplace digital image into an analogue one-of-a-kind print.

As usual, I’d be happy to hear your opinions. If you have any feedback, and what to tell about your experiences with smartphone scanners (both hard- and software) please feel free to comment below!

Also, watch out for the next installment of this series about Useful Apps for Film Photographers when I will be looking at what the film manufacturers are doing in this market.


2 thoughts on “Useful Apps for Film Photographers – Part 5: Bridging the Analogue/Digital Gap

  1. Pingback: Useful Apps for Film Photographers – Part 6: Film Manufacturers | A Kraftwerk Orange

  2. Pingback: Apps for Film Photographers: Useful or Not? | A Kraftwerk Orange

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