This article grew out of techniques I found mostly by trial and error while scanning my collection of 110-format (Pocket Instamatic) Kodachrome slides. Some of those pictures are in the Europe Through the Front Door section of this Web site. While my experience with scanning 110 film is mainly with slides, I do discuss the available options for scanning negatives, along with a few notes about the older 126 (Kodapak or Instamatic) format. The information about scanning Kodachrome applies equally to 35mm slides.
You’ll need a dedicated film scanner, which is unfortunately now an endangered species. A cheap flatbed scanner with a film adapter will yield disappointing results. It not only lacks the necessary resolution, but the tiny slides and negatives will reveal all the optical compromises inherent in scanning film with a device designed for paper “reflection copy.”
110 film demands at least a 4000dpi scanner. And that means real optical resolution, not the “interpolated” figures some marketeers like to claim for flatbed scanners. While the theoretical full frame size of 110 film is 13x17mm, the opening of a Kodak slide mount is 12x16mm. The largest scan my first scanner, a 2400dpi Hewlett-Packard PhotoSmart, could produce from a 110 slide was 1133x1511, equivalent to around 1.7 megapixels. A finished real-life scan will be smaller than that after necessary cropping. I found I could make somewhat acceptable 13x18cm (5x7-inch) prints from those scans, but nothing larger.
My Canon FS4000US scanner (discontinued in 2004) that replaced the Photosmart could produce a full-frame scan of 1890x2520 from a 110 slide at 4000dpi. That’s equivalent to 4.8 megapixels. With a sharp slide scanned at 4000dpi that was digitally processed and sharpened properly, you probably would never know that a 20x25cm (8x10-inch) print came from “110.” I had several of them on my wall.
My current Plustek 7600i scanner, at 7200dpi, can produce a 4535x3042 scan from an uncropped 110 slide. That’s equivalent to 15.4 megapixels, although megapixel counts for scanned film aren’t directly comparable to those for digital cameras. With 16-bit color depth, a scan is around 100 megabytes.
I’m not sure that a 7200dpi scan provides any more real detail than a 4000dpi scan, but the extra pixels make cropping easier. They may also allow deconvolution software (Focus Magic or Topaz In Focus) to restore more apparent detail in capture sharpening. With tiny 110 film, whatever additional detail the higher resolution might reveal could translate into visible image quality.
If your 110 slides are in 30x30mm plastic mounts, you’ll need to locate at least one 50x50mm adapter. After you snap the little slide into the recessed holder in the center of the adapter, it will then fit into a scanner’s slide holder. The Swiss company GEPE lists a “50 x 50 Adapter 110” (Article No. 7500) in their catalog of special format slide mounts, priced at €12 for a box of 50. But when I checked that Web page in January 2017 it said they’re out of stock. (They’ve been out of stock for several years.) In the United States, B&H used to sell this as a special order item, catalog number GEA110. But it disappeared from their Web site years ago, and I can find no other retailer that offers them.
I have no experience with the GEPE adapters because I have been using the apparently-identical “2x2 adapters for 110 slides” that Kodak offered in the 1970s. I found a box of them in a local camera store that had several shelves full of antiquated white elephant items. You might be able to find them on the Web at auction sites, or at vendors that specialize in hard-to-find items. Another place to look is in the back room of a camera store that has been around a while. While these adapters were not meant to be reusable, with careful handling it’s possible to repeatedly snap slides in and out of them for scanning.
I recommend VueScan scanning software. Among its many advantages are a number of features that make scanning Kodachrome slides (in any format) easier. It allows multi-pass and/or multi-exposure scanning on many scanners (such as the Canon FS4000US) whose native software doesn’t support it. Its infrared cleaning is more likely to work with Kodachrome, and it can save cleaned and non-cleaned versions of the same scan without the need to re-scan the slide.
The Non-Pocket Instamatic
Scanning the even older 126 film poses no physical difficulties. The film is 35 millimeters wide, and slides are in standard 50x50mm mounts. That means negative strips as well as slides should fit in standard holders, although a 35mm negative holder will crop the top of the square 28x28mm frame. (See the discussion of adapters and mounts below for information about a film holder that may allow full-frame scans of 126 film.)
Getting a good image from a scan of 126 film might not be easy. Color negatives older than the mid-1970s (Kodacolor-X) had a different color balance and a much denser orange mask than the films (Kodacolor II and its descendants) for which scanning software is designed. The old color dyes were also much less stable than those used today, which made them particularly prone to deterioration and fading. Given the likely age of 126 negatives, you’ll probably be doing a lot of color correction.
Ektachrome, Agfachrome, or GAF/Anscochrome slides will be at least 40 years old; they’ll almost certainly suffer from some degree of fading. But unless they’ve been projected a lot, or stored in high humidity that promotes fungus growth, Kodachrome slides weather the decades well; they should pose only the normal challenges of scanning Kodachrome.
The biggest challenge you’re likely to face with any type of 126 film is lack of sharpness. Although there were a few notable exceptions, most cameras that used 126 film were cheap Instamatic-type models that had fixed-focus, single-element plastic lenses. They also had slow fixed shutter speeds, typically 1/90 second in daylight and possibly 1/40 second with flash. These cameras could produce adequate small prints, if you didn’t look at them too closely. But the softness— a complex cocktail of lens blur and chromatic aberration, possibly exacerbated by camera shake and underexposure— becomes very apparent as soon as you view that first scanned file on your monitor. Deconvolution sharpening and motion blur reduction (using the Smart Sharpen tool in recent versions of Photoshop, or the Focus Magic or Topaz InFocus plug-ins) can extract some detail, but they can’t make a fuzzy image from a cheap lens look truly sharp.
About Slides (particlarly Kodachrome)
110 slides start out with two problems that make scanning difficult. The first is the small size of the film, which limits the amount of detail a scanner can extract. (I’m assuming the slides were taken with a decent camera, such as the Pocket Instamatic 60, that could actually put a sharp detailed image on the film.) The second has to do with Kodachrome, which substantially outsold Ektachrome in the 110 format. The unique dyes that give Kodachrome its distinctive palette and archival dark storage stability can greatly complicate getting a good scan and processed image.
Kodachrome was notorious for its narrow exposure latitude. Slides tended to be contrasty and dense even when properly exposed. The high contrast was a “feature, not a bug,” to give images more “snap” when projected on a screen. Shadows often “blocked up,” turning to featureless black on scans. Compensatory curve adjustments will often reveal more noise from the scanner’s sensor and electronics than detail.
Even slight underexposure could mean a very dense slide that requires heroic noise reduction measures. Underexposure was a common occurrence with averaging meters like the Pocket Instamatics had, particularly in overcast light when the bright white sky often tricked the meter. Professional photographers sometimes intentionally underexposed Kodachrome to increase apparent saturation in the days before Fuji Velvia redefined saturated color. Overexposure produces weak and washed-out color, although minor overexposure can be easier to correct than underexposure.
Kodachrome was designed to be projected. In addition to high contrast, it had a bluish color bias intended to compensate for the warm color of a tungsten projection lamp. So even with a correctly exposed slide, Kodachrome dyes often produce scans with pronounced green or cyan color casts. Selecting 16-bit output in the scanning software will help the scan tolerate the large adjustments that may be necessary to get a sparkling image with a neutral balance.
Another characteristic of the unique Kodachrome dyes is that they don’t transmit infrared light consistently. That didn’t matter in the “analog” days, when slides were either projected, printed on reversal paper, or made into color separations for offset printing. But it confuses infrared cleaning software used with today’s desktop scanners, often rendering it useless. The manuals for scanners that use Kodak’s Digital ICE and Canon’s FARE specifically warn that infrared cleaning doesn’t work with Kodachrome. That warning is definitely true with Canon’s FARE.
Ed Hamrick claims the cleaning algorithm he devised for VueScan works with Kodachrome. I have found that it works capriciously at best. The effectiveness of infrared cleaning in general also seems to vary significantly between VueScan versions— if you find one that works well with your scanner, hang on to it!
With my old Canon FS4000US, some Kodachrome slides cleaned beautifully, with any artifacts visible only under high magnification. Other Kodachromes utterly flummoxed VueScan. The scans looked like modernist paintings, with blurred edges, smeared details, and weird artifacts— but the dust, dirt, and scratches were often crisp and untouched! The effectiveness of infrared cleaning also seemed to vary with different batches of Kodachrome; and successful cleaning seemed more likely with the older Kodachrome-X than with Kodachrome 64.
Unfortunately, VueScan’s infrared cleaning of Kodachrome doesn’t seem to work at all with my current Plustek 7600i. It puts white halos around the most prominent dust and scratches, ignores smaller blemishes, and blurs sharp edges.
It’s sort of a gamble whether VueScan will clean a given Kodachrome slide on a given scanner. Still, it’s worth letting it make that infrared scan pass. If cleaning doesn’t work, you can switch it off without re-scanning the slide. If you scan Kodachrome, be prepared to spend a lot of time manually healing and cloning away dust and scratches.
If you scan Ektachrome, you won’t have those problems. But you won’t be home free either. For most of the time Ektachrome was available in 110, its dyes were much less stable than Kodachrome’s. Even the newest Ektachrome-X (process E-4) slides are at least 40 years old, and are likely to have some degree of fading.
Making It Fit
The 35mm strip film holders included with most scanners can’t reliably accommodate 16mm film. I have experimented with placing a strip of four 110 negatives in a Canon FS4000US film holder. With careful placement of the film strip along the bottom of the holder’s opening for 35mm frame 1, the left edge of the holder and the plastic rib between frames 3 and 4 will keep the strip in place after carefully closing the holder.
Having tried a few scans that way, I found it rather difficult to keep the strip from moving out of alignment when closing the negative holder. I’m also not sure this arrangement holds the negatives flat enough to assure sharp focus. It might be worth trying, but I disclaim all responsibility if your film slips and gets jammed or stuck inside the scanner.
Nikon’s Coolscan 9000 (discontinued in December 2010) was the only scanner I’m aware of whose manufacturer offered a 16mm film holder. (It was also the last film scanner offered by a major camera company. I wonder if the Nikon executives who decided to discontinue it are aware of the astronomical price it now commands on auction sites, not a penny of which goes to their shareholders.) The FH-816 film holder was a rare and very expensive special-order accessory. Based on correspondence from readers who have tried it, it wasn’t a simple solution. The FH-816 appears to have been intended for scanning individual frames of 16mm motion picture film or microfilm. Both VueScan and the Nikon software seem to have problems accommodating the 110 frame, which is larger than a motion picture frame and oriented horizontally rather than vertically.
Judging from the large number of visitors to this page— most of whom get here through search engine queries about “scanning 110 negatives”— the demand for a practical way to scan 110-format negatives clearly is much greater than scanner manufacturers seem to realize. 110 was a very popular and successful format in the 1970s and 1980s. There surely are many potential customers who have shoeboxes filled with precious memories on numerous little negatives.
I suggest contacting the executives of Canon, Epson, and Hewlett-Packard, companies that make make flatbed scanners that can handle film. The 7200dpi film scanners from Pacific Image and Plustek Technology— now the only dedicated film scanners on the market— also don’t offer compatible film holders. You might want to contact them as well. If enough people bring this hidden demand to the attention of scanner manufacturers, they may finally realize it’s a lucrative opportunity they’ve overlooked.
Adapters and Mounts
I know of three companies that are filling the void left by scanner manufacturers. Lomography, a company specializing in “exciting analogue photography and lifestyle products,” offers Digitaliza 110, a $25 110 negative strip holder for “any modern flatbed scanner with a backlight unit.” Negative Solutions, a one-man “craft” operation, makes 110 negative holder adapters for certain Canon and Epson flatbed scanners, and for Plustek and Pacific Image film scanners. There are also versions for 126, Minox, APS, 8mm movie film, and even Disc film. Each adapter costs $16.
Several readers have written to me about the specialized film holders made by FilmScan-USA. Holders for 110 film are available for Plustek and (discontinued) Nikon film scanners, as well as for certain Epson and Canon flatbed models. There are also holders for 126, APS, Minox, and 8mm movie film. These are touted as “industrial product[s] primarily intended for commercial film labs, film professionals, professional photographers, university and government labs, university science and photography departments, museums, archivists, and preservationists.” That presumably is what justifies their industrial-strength price: $186 for Plustek scanners, $123 for others (quantity discounts available). One reader who has used a Nikon holder told me it works as advertised, but complained that the strip of negatives has to be carefully slid into it lengthwise, a painstaking process that risks scratching the film.
Please note that I have not ordered or tried the Lomography, Negative Solutions, or FilmScan-USA products myself, so I can’t vouch for either them or their manufacturer. But I would be most interested in information and comments from readers who have tried them.
For film scanners, the only other option I know of is to put individual negative frames into slide mounts. In the 1970s, 50x50mm cardboard mounts were available for 110 slides. I haven’t been able to find anyone who still sells these, but they could possibly turn up on a Web auction site or as a “white elephant” in camera stores. GEPE lists glass “13 x 17 Pocket-Instamatic Anti-Newton” mounts (Article No. 6502) in their special format slide mounts catalog. Like the slide adapters, they were out of stock when I checked in January 2017, and have been out of stock for several years. In the United States, B&H sold them as a special-order item, but when I checked in January 2017 that Web page showed it as “no longer available.” (The B&H catalog number is GESM6502, in case they do become available again.) While these mounts aren’t horribly expensive (€9.10 for a box of 20), they probably won’t be practical if you’ve got a large number of negatives to scan. The glass in the mounts will confuse a scanner’s automatic focus and interfere with infrared cleaning; so you’ll have to carefully pry off the glass from both sides of each mount with a small screwdriver before inserting the film. If your scanner’s native software doesn’t support color negatives in slide mounts, VueScan does.
Wolverine’s F2D Super Film to Digital Converter is one of the growing number of stand-alone scanners that can conveniently create finished JPEG files on an SD memory card without the need for a computer. Its film holders are for 35mm negatives and slides; but the scanner includes adapters that can accommodate 126 and 110 film, and even frames from super-8 movies. Wolverine claims that 35mm scans are 20 megapixels; scans from smaller formats are correspondingly smaller. The limits of the built-in adjustments and the 24-bit JPEG files may produce less than satisfactory results from Kodachrome slides or faded negatives. But if you’re mainly looking to share your snapshot memories from the 1970s on Facebook, this may be the easiest way to do it. And at a discounted price of $120, it could be worth trying even if it isn’t a perfect solution.
Again, I haven’t tried this scanner myself, so I can’t vouch for it or for its manufacturer. But I do hope they took more care with the design and manufacture of the scanner than with the Web page. This user review with sample images largely confirms what I suspected.
Now That You’ve Scanned the Negative....
Regardless of how you get 110 negatives through your scanner, be prepared to do some extensive color restoration. In addition to its other failings, the early Kodacolor II negative film wasn’t very stable and has probably faded significantly. The 30-year-old negatives I experimented with benefited from VueScan’s “Restore Fading” option, but the scans were still very grainy and disappointing.
Specialized noise-reduction software, such as NeatImage or Noise Ninja, is essential for reducing the prominent grain. But those tools use a “noise profile” for subtracting grain, created by analyzing a uniform section of the image (such as a blue sky or a blank wall). A scan of a small negative may lack a uniform area large enough to create an adequate profile. In that situation Imagenomic’s Noiseware or Google’s Dfine (part of their excellent free Nik Collection), which do not rely on a profile, may be more effective.
Pictographics’ iCorrect EditLab Pro can simplify the task of restoring the faded or shifted color of old negatives; but sometimes the restoration will require painstaking manual adjustment of curves for each color channel. If possible, use 16-bit color depth to provide the greatest latitude for color corrections.
If you have prints in reasonable shape, scanning them with a flatbed scanner (and making whatever corrections are necessary to compensate for fading) might be the easiest way to preserve 110-format memories for the digital age.
These scanning tips assume the use of VueScan. Your scanner’s native software may or may not have the same capability. You’ll need to choose Advanced options.
Final note: Although 110 Kodachrome slides taken with a high-end camera can yield amazingly good images with proper selection, scanning, processing, and sharpening, the subminiature format imposes unavoidable limits. I’ve made 20x25cm (8x10-inch) prints from specially-selected sharp slides that would be difficult if not impossible to identify as originating with a Pocket Instamatic camera, even on close examination. But if that’s the standard you’re using, I think 20x25cm is the practical limit to enlargement. I’ve made 28x36cm (11x14-inch) prints that look quite nice at a normal viewing distance; but as you view it closer it will become clear that the detail you’d get from 35mm film or a modern digital camera just isn’t there.
Kodak introduced the 16mm 110 film format in April 1972, along with five Pocket Instamatic cameras. I still have a copy of the original full-page newspaper advertisement that announced “the little camera that takes big pictures.” In an attempt to get acceptable prints from 13x17mm negatives, Kodak replaced the notoriously grainy Kodacolor-X and its C-22 process with Kodacolor II and new C-41 processing chemistry. (GAF, and perhaps other competitors, continued to sell their C-22 film in 110 cartridges.) Kodacolor II was the ancestor of every color negative film that exists today. The very same C-41 process from 1972— with some minor tweaking for the once-ubiquitous “one hour” mini-labs— remains the standard chemistry for all color negative films intended for still photography. (Color negative film intended for movie cameras uses a different and incompatible process.)
Notwithstanding Kodak’s hype, the quality of prints from 110 Kodacolor II left much to be desired. Those “big pictures” (9x13cm, or 3.5x5 inches) had very noticeable grain, far worse than the older 35mm 126 film. And labs too often failed to deliver clean, sharp prints from 16mm negatives. Still, as measured by sales numbers, 110 was a very successful format. Most users valued the cameras’ small size more than print quality. 110 declined rapidly in the early 1980s with the arrival of compact, convenient auto-focus 35mm point-and-shoot cameras. They weren’t much larger than the Pocket Instamatic, but they provided much better print quality.
Despite the inadequate color negative film, someone at Kodak clearly envisioned the Pocket Instamatic as a “system” for serious photography. The top-of-the-line Pocket Instamatic 60 had a very sharp 4-element 26mm (“normal”) f/2.7 lens, with a coupled coincidence-type rangefinder for accurate focusing. It also had screw-in sockets for a tripod and a cable release. Kodak’s marketeers cleverly stamped a Plimsoll mark on the camera’s top metal plate. The symbol— a circle with a horizontal line through its center— was commonly found on many 35mm and larger cameras to indicate the focal plane, the exact position of the film within the camera. Professional photographers sometimes used the focal plane to determine critical focus. Although it served no practical purpose, the Plimsoll mark suggested that the Pocket Instamatic 60 was a precision instrument.
The exposure system was fully automatic with shutter priority, and unfortunately allowed the photographer no control. (The 60 was apparently intended to compete with small 35mm cameras from the likes of Canon, Konica, and Minolta that also had fixed “normal” focal-length lenses, rangefinder focusing, and fully-automatic exposure.) The meter was fixed at ASA 80, the original speed of Kodacolor II film. The instruction booklet included the warning, “Do not use film with a speed higher than ASA 125.” Kodak labs reportedly push-processed ASA 64 slide films slightly to compensate for the 1/3-stop underexposure. (The old ASA film speed rating system was effectively identical to today’s ISO system.)
The 60 uniquely employed an analog computer chip to drive servomotors that adjusted two aperture blades over both the lens and the meter cell. It supposedly yielded better battery life than the usual galvanometer aperture, and better image quality due to a nearly circular aperture at all settings.
The Pocket Instamatic 50— the least popular of the original five Pocket Instamatics— was a 60 without a rangefinder. The 40 had a three-element (two plastic, one glass) 25mm f/8 lens with two focusing zones, and an electronic shutter. The 20 and 30 models both had a 3-element f/9.5 plastic lens that was surprisingly sharp, particularly at its fixed-focus distance of 3.6 meters. The 30 had an exposure meter and electronic shutter; the 20 had a fixed-speed mechanical shutter.
In addition to Kodacolor II in 12 and 20 exposures, Kodak’s original line-up of 110 films included ASA 125 Verichrome Pan for black-and-white negatives (12 exposures only), along with 20-exposure cartridges of Kodachrome-X and Ektachrome-X for slides. Kodak updated the slide films to Kodachrome 64 in 1974 and Ektachrome 64 in 1975.
The slide films, particularly Kodachrome, had fine enough grain and resolution to take full advantage of the cameras’ lenses. Photography magazines at the time ran articles with headlines like “Will the Kodak Pocket Instamatic Kill 35mm?” They included full-page enlargements and double-page spreads taken with the Pocket Instamatic 60. These pictures— accompanying rave reviews that surely owed at least some of their enthusiasm to Kodak’s generous advertising budget— showcased the cameras’ performance with slide film. When they showed enlargements from Kodacolor II, the results were grainy and disappointing.
Kodak labs mounted 110 slides in plastic 30x30mm mounts that had little cut-out windows to show the frame number pre-printed on the film. (Negative film also had pre-printed frame numbers, which Kodak labs printed in black on the white borders of standard 9x13cm prints.) They slipped the 20 mounted slides from a cartridge of film onto two thin white plastic bars, 150mm long to hold five slides in a recessed groove on each side. You could hold the bar between thumb and forefinger and view ten slides at a time— preferably with a strong magnifier— without getting fingerprints on the film. Each bar then snapped into one side of a yellow plastic “wallet” that folded and snapped shut to protect the slides. Kodak abandoned the “wallet” around 1978, in favor of a cheaper plastic clip that stacked ten slides on each side and fit into a little (roughly 30x60mm) yellow box made of thin cardboard.
The mounted slides were intended for diminutive Pocket Carousel slide trays that held 120 slides, for use with special Pocket Carousel projectors. The slides and projectors could produce impressive results. I regularly projected slides on a 1.25-meter screen!
To accommodate 35mm users who didn’t want to buy a special projector, Kodak sold boxes of 20 plastic adapters, enough for one film cartridge. After snapping a little slide into an adapter, you could then put it into a full-sized Carousel slide tray and projector. The little 110 slides didn’t look anywhere near as impressive that way. With halogen bulbs not yet commonplace, the Pocket Carousels used a special very bright (and rather short-lived) bulb that focused intense light on the small piece of film, along with a lens optimized for the 110 format. Combined with the distinctive sharp-edged grain of the original Kodachrome-X, projected slides had amazing “snap” and apparent sharpness. (Kodachrome 64, with its slightly finer and smoother grain, looked even better.) Projectors and lenses intended for 35mm slides gave a disappointingly dim and flat image when moved far enough from the screen to get a comparable viewing size.
Despite their impressive quality, 110-format slides were a marketing failure. Snapshooters who bought Pocket Instamatics for their small size and convenience weren’t interested in slides. Advanced photographers who shot slides wanted more control and versatility than the fully-automatic, fixed-lens Pocket Instamatics provided. They probably also didn’t want a new non-standard slide mount. Having reached bifocal age, I can also appreciate how difficult it really is to view and sort such tiny slides on a light box. Kodak discontinued the Pocket Carousel projectors in 1980, and 110 slide film in 1982. It’s amazing how long they kept those money-losing products on the market.
As for my own involvement with “110,” the new Pocket Instamatic seemed a perfect choice for the trip to Europe my parents and I were planning in 1972. While I had a black-and-white darkroom (to go with an Instamatic 174 camera that used the older 126 cartridges), I didn’t know enough to question Kodak’s claims. Fortunately, we opted for slide film because we were so impressed with the (35mm) slides of a friend’s trip to Europe. Another consideration was that slide film and processing then cost much less than a set of prints. Choosing the Pocket Instamatic may have been a mistake in hindsight, but the choice of Kodachrome slides at least maximized the available image quality and preserved the pictures for digital scanning.
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