DIY Film Scanner with an iPad and a DSLR Camera

2013-09-13 2

Here’s how to build a scanner for your 120 and 35mm negatives, just with a box and an iPad! Digitalize your shots with less than 10$! – iPad not included ;)

You always need a digital copy of your shots to share them online and maybe because printing in low-cost labs is often a problem because it limits your creativeness in correcting colours with automatic software or printing 35mm shots without the sprocket holes! So scanning your negatives is really important!

The problem is: how do I scan my negatives? You have two ways:

  • the highway
  • the country road

The highway is to get a flatbed scanner. These scanners have a lamp inside the cover to light up the area over which you put the films. So it’s not possible to scan negatives with common scanners.
However, these scanners are quite expensive.

The country road is the do-it-yourself scanner. I chose this way, with less than $10.


  • you save money of the flatbed scanner to buy some new lenses, concert tickets or candies
  • you can decide the scanning format
  • you have something to do in a rainy afternoon
  • it’s a challenge for your crafting ability!


  • it’s a challenge for your crafting ability!
  • it’s more complex than going out and buying a scanner

So here is my recipe for a scanner for 120 (and 135) films.

The idea is simple: you cut a “window” on a side of the box, you put a light source inside the box so that the light will illuminate the film frame. The frame will be photographed and digitalized.


  • DSLR Camera
  • tripod
  • shoebox (or electronic equipment box or a generic cardboard box)
  • iPad (it’s the source light I used, but it’s okay to use any other kind of thing that has a really bright display. Even better if you can use lamps or neon lights to put inside the box)
  • 2 glass sheets (at least 15cm x 10cm)
  • light cardboard
  • scissors / tape / adhesive tape / white paper / wax paper
  • Photoshop



Cut a “window” on the side of the box. The window size must be at least the same size of the frame you want to scan. For example for a 120 film, it’s 6 cm x 6 cm but I suggest to be loose and cut a 6,5 × 6,5 square.

If you use an iPad as light source, you just need to put the iPad inside the box, with the screen oriented towards the window. Don’t forget to set the brightness of the screen at a higher level and to open a completely white image!

If you opt to use a lamp, cut another hole in the box, on the side near the one where you cut the frame window, to insert the lamp in it. Avoid putting the lamp on the opposite side of the window to have a more diffused light.

If the box is not a shoebox, seal all the sides (except the one to put inside the light source) with black tape.
Cover all the inner box’s walls with white paper to reflect the light.

If the light source is too directional or too near to the “window”, put a wax paper sheet inside the box, between the light source and the window, to diffuse light, but consider the brightness loss.

Film stand

You need it to keep the film firm and make it slide.

Cut 2 strips of light cardboard and paste them on the opposite sides of the glass sheet. These strips are made to keep the film steady and create a little space between the 2 glass sheets. Then paste the second glass sheet over the first, in a way that the 2 cardboard strips are between the glass sheets.
Put the film stand right over the frame window and attach it to the box.

An alternative to this “DIY film stand”, is to use the Lomography DigitaLIZA":

Now the scanner is ready!

To scan the film, put the film inside the 2 glass sheets of the film stand and take a picture of the enlightened frame with your DSLR.
To do it, put your camera on the tripod, with Manual Focus (VERY IMPORTANT), choosing the sharpest aperture for the lens you are using and the lowest ISO level.
I use f/8, ISO 100 and i adjust the Time to keep the exposure balanced.

After this, you are ready for post-prod: the main step is to invert the negative!

Then, if you want you can correct color levels. The best result is obtained by manually correcting each level R-G-B.

Note: for b/w films, it’s important to remember to desaturate the digital image before inverting to remove the brown tones of the negative film.

Here are my first results with my DIY-iPad-powered-scanner:

written by simonedeza on 2013-09-13 #gear #tutorials #scanning #film-scanner-ipad-diy-negatives-120mm-35mm-scan #tipster


  1. metobi
    metobi ·

    Nice Idea

  2. twinklecat
    twinklecat ·

    A good alternative to the glass is transparency paper like you would use in an overhead projector, you can get it at stores that have paper or scrapbooking supplies. I would use a frosted sheet closest to the iPad so you don't see pixels in your photos.

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