If you don’t know how to properly load your slides or negatives into your scanner, you will be wasting your time.. Here are three simple tips to quickly determine which side is what:
1. Slides and negatives are two-sided
Did you know that a 35mm slide or 35mm negative film strip has a positive and a negative side? When the film was developed, one side was coated with what is called “emulsion matte”. This side with the matte emulsion is the negative side, the other side is positive. I know, a negative strip also has a negative side. But don’t worry about terminology, just know that slides and negatives are two-sided. What you need to determine is which side is the positive side.
2. How to determine the “positive” side of a slide or the negative
I want you to take out a slide and take it to a light source, like a lamp or a window. Move the slide back and forth and you will notice a subtle difference. One side will have little groves, you will see lines that draw a shape, and it will be a bit dull or opaque. The other side will be shiny, smooth, and there will be no lines.
The smooth and shiny side is the positive side. The other side, the rough side, is where the matte emulsion was coated. This side is the negative. If your dad got cheaper in the past and bought lower quality slides, he will have a hard time determining which side is positive or negative. But keep moving the slide back and forth, and you will eventually see a smooth side versus a rough side. Remember, soft equals positive, rough equals negative.
Finding the positive / negative side of the negative film is much easier. You can use the same technique or you can look closely at the numbers and letters printed on the negative. If the letters and numbers are backwards, that is the negative side. If the letters and numbers are in front of you correctly, that’s the bright side.
One more quick tip: After scanning over 500,000 slides and negatives, I know in an instant which side is which. The negative side of a negative slide or film will be concave, which means that it will be placed in a similar container. The positive side will be convex, which means it will gush out. But be careful with this method, sometimes the cheapest film will be the other way around. And you see, maybe after 100 scans, you master it.
3. How to correctly load slides and negatives into your scanner
Now that you know a little more about the positive and negative side of the film, now I can tell you which side is going and where.
If you have a flatbed scanner, you want the positive side DOWN, facing the window. So when you load your slides, you need to make sure the rough side is towards you and the transparent side is towards the glass. It’s the same with your negatives – make sure the letters / numbers on the negative are upside down when you face them. Just think, “shiny down, dirty up.”
For film scanners, such as the Nikon Coolscan, the method is the other way around. Load your slides smooth side up, rough side down. With negative film, make sure the letters / numbers are upside down.
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