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Oct 17, 2020

Scanning Film with Borders

Bondi Beach on Ektar 100
35mm frame scanned with the border

A Natural Frame

Including the border in a film scan can be a way to ensure that you are showing the entire frame captured by the camera, without any cropping imposed by the scanning process. It reminds me of the enjoyment of making those first few darkroom prints, where I was able to project the entire image area onto the paper, including some of the border of the negative, which would often have rough edges. 

Scanning 120 film with the border
A 6x7 frame of 120 film scanned with the border

This look may not be for everyone, or work well for every frame. However, it can work for some frames better than others, with much of the matter being down to personal preference.

Close the the edge

There are two distinct looks when it comes to scanning film with the border. Either getting just a thin blank border around the actual image area, or getting the full film border including the film information and sprockets (in the case of 35mm). Below you can see this difference with an identical 35mm frame scanned both ways using the Essential Film Holder

Thin border scanned on Kodak Vision 250D
Full border and sprockets scanned on same frame of Kodak Vision 250D

What is your preference? Would it be different for 35mm vs 120 film? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments at the bottom. Personally I prefer the thin border, especially in the case of 35mm. The sprockets can be a little distracting in my opinion, but I do think they can work well for some shots. When it comes to 120 film, I would still lean towards only a thin black (or no) border. However I find that including the full film edge and information on 120 film is less distracting than with 35mm, making it favourable in more situations. 

Winchester lazing on the couch
Thin border captured on a 6x7 frame
Welcome to the Hillview
6x4.5 frame captured with the full border. Note the data print added by the Pentax 645N

Functionally, the border information can serve as a reminder of the film used, and as potentially useful information for others viewing the scan. Additionally, in the case of my Pentax 645N (which imprints the exposure data as seen above) it can also be an immediate reference to the exposure information and focal length used (However in the case of adapted lenses such as the image above, the focal length and aperture can not be read and imprinted)

Ways to achieve it

Before transitioning completely to using my DSLR to digitise/scan my film, I had first experimented with methods of scanning the full borders using my Epson flatbed scanner. I have now sold that scanner, but the methods I had tried were limited to placing the film directly on the scanner glass. However this is not ideal, even if you tape the film down to combat the lack of flatness which would result from scanning the film without a holder. The reason is that flatbed scanners such as this focus a few mm's above the glass, and the results would be out of focus. Thus, I gave up on this method almost immediately. Effectively, you would need to place an extra piece of glass, ideally in a custom holder, and then tape it down onto that. Alternatively, you could use something like Blu-Tack to "hover" the film a few mm's above the scanner glass, but then you are left again with the issue of alignment and lack of flatness.

A great guide I'd recommend for using a flatbed and anti-newton ring glass to scan film with the borders is available here on Youtube. I'm sure there are many others. But keep in mind, this method can be rather slow and involved, and you ideally wouldn't want to scan every frame of every roll in the this fashion. 

The next thing I had tried was the negative holder from my LPL black and white enlarger. (pictured below), which is only ideal for digitising with a camera as opposed to a flatbed scanner.

An adjustable negative holder from my LPL 7700 Enlarger

This worked well, however would sometimes result in newton rings. Additionally, it was prone to attracting dust (due to the 2 pieces of glass, meaning 4 surfaces to attract particles, as well as the film itself). Something similar to this however can be perfect for the occasional scan, which is great if you already happen to have an enlarger with a similar holder.

Ever since getting and reviewing the Essential Film Holder, I now use that to achieve relatively speedy results to scan film with the borders. This can be either the thinner border or full frame as demonstrated above. The EFH holds negatives in a way that captures a bit of the border/frame edge with the standard masks. There is also an option to buy the "full borders" or "sprockets" masks for 120 or 35mm film. These are a bit slower to use than the standard masks, and don't hold the film quite as flat. On the plus side however there is no additional plastic or glass surface against the film to introduce dust or reduce quality. I enjoy having both options, depending on the results I'm trying to achieve.

Essential Film Holder full borders masks
The 120 and 35mm full borders masks in action

Another great benefit to using the Essential Film Holder is that I can go through entire uncut rolls without having to repeatedly load strips of film or adjust anything as I digitise frames. 

I made a video outlining how I use the EFH to scan film with borders over on the Youtube channel, if you're looking for more information on that!

I hope this article was somewhat helpful if you've been looking into ways to scan film with the borders!

If you wish, you can support my endeavours by checking out some of the links below. Thanks!

My Youtube channel Pushing Film

I use Negative Lab Pro to convert negatives. Get a free trial here

The Essential Film Holder

My personal Instagram page