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Scanning for Sprockets

Kid On A Chair - BBF no maskSo you’ve got yourself a new BBF, or you’ve loaded 35mm into your Medium Format Toy Camera after I showed you how (or not, *heh*) or you may have bought a 35mm back for your Diana + camera or for your Holga. You have finished your first roll of film that you opted (in the case of BBF or dedicated 35mm back) to use in a way that will expose the image over the sprockets, and of course now you would like to see those cool sprocket holes in your resultant photos! – But SHOCK, Horror, Much Gnashing of Teeth! To your dismay the prints you pick up from the lab don’t show your sexy sprockets! Unfortunately most labs just aren’t geared up for those kind of exposures, they have set frame sizes for their prints and their machines won’t recognise non-standard frame sizes (the definition of which includes the full negative width ‘sprocket look’). They could probably find a work around to do it, but it would take time and effort, which of course equates to money in business. I get my film developed only (no prints) which is less expensive than develop and print. I just scan all my negatives these days, printing those I like. I take so many non-standard photographic shots such as panoramic, or exposures all the way to the film edge (sprockets) or square format (which isn’t really that non standard but try telling anyHome made mask for scanning sprockets in Canoscan 8400f modern lab that!) it is far easier for me to do this than put up with prints that don’t really reflect what I shot in the first place! So, you will need to scan your own negatives in, on a scanner capable of taking negatives. Remember, to get the sprockets in your scan, you will need a scanner that scans outside of the usual 35mm margins, which usually means one that can scan medium format film. There are many different scanners that will scan medium format negatives. Notably Canon & Epson make good models like the Canon 8800f, the Epson v500, v700 or if you look at the second hand market there are superseded models that will scan negatives well for a cheaper price.but it doesn’t stop there!

It can be a tricky thing scanning in the sprocket holes. Most scanners I know of have a special mask, or cartridge like thang that you have to place your cut negatives in. Most likely these were not designed for the cool sprocket effects you can get with the bbf, so these masks often will cover the sprockets area.
Image Selection Area within the sprockets to 'set' tonal value
One user has modified his 35mm negative mask (on his Canoscan 8400F – same as mine) as seen here to enable it to scan in the sprockets, but I didn’t want to physically modify my mask, so used the 120 mask and placed the negatives in that, stopping the negative from touching the flatbed by using rubber bands across the body of the mask to hold the negative above the surface of the glass. Or if you like you can get out the hobby knife and stiff cardboard and fashion your own mask like this one I made (as illustrated) …

But wait! There’s even more!! It still doesn’t end there!

If you select the whole area of the negative including the sprockets to scan, those extra black areas can drive the scanners ‘auto’ settings a bit crazy! I know they do with mine…

I have a Canoscan 8400F and I have to ‘trick’ it into not auto-adjusting the levels to some weird blue cast by (in preview mode) selecting an area on my negative just inside the sprocket holes (see example image). Once that is done I use the ‘set’ option on the Canoscan 8400f to set tonal values for the selected area, the tones will stay the same when you re-size the selection area…. then you can readjust your selection margins for scanning to include the sprocket holes and scan. These particular options when using the Canoscan software are only available in the advanced mode of the scanner. I hope (if you have a scanner other than the Canon model referred to here) these options translate to whatever scanner/software combination you are using.

Note – You have to ‘set’ again after any ‘reset’ however, as the scanner will reset anytime you move your selection boundaries unless you specifically set it. Does that make sense?
**UPDATE! Finally (and with the help of the new Quicktime X screen recording capabilities) I have made a video tutorial on using the scanner interface to scan in your sprockets (and also avoid that weird blueness that can afflict your scanned negatives)


  1. HenryNo Gravatar wrote:

    Hello, I was thinking of buying a canoscan 8400f off the internet, but the ones I’m looking at does not seem to come with 35mm masks OR 120 film masks.

    and I want to scan 35mm film with sprockets on it. is there anyway i could fashion or make a mask to scan my 35mm film to have it showing the sprockets too?
    please help!

    thank you!

    Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 19:13 | Permalink
  2. CameronNo Gravatar wrote:

    Hi Henry. If you are buying from a site such as ebay, I suggest you message/email the seller and ask if the masks are included. They should be! You can fashion a custom mask similar to the one I have made out of cardboard (illustrated in this post) but the 120 mask is also suitable for scanning in the sprockets. Good luck!

    Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 19:25 | Permalink
  3. Wonderful Photographs!

    I was curious when you scan your sprocket negatives, do you scan them as a negative or as film (refelctive)?

    I tried to scan a negative, but it came out with all sorts of weird colors.

    Sunday, March 8, 2009 at 01:14 | Permalink
  4. anneNo Gravatar wrote:

    Thanks for the info. I was definitely thrown when I got my prints back from my first roll of film off the BBF.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 02:43 | Permalink
  5. ChrisNo Gravatar wrote:

    I was with you until the note about setting and resetting

    Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 15:30 | Permalink
  6. CameronNo Gravatar wrote:

    Tony – hopefully the video will explain how to prevent the weird colour shifts you have been getting. In answer to your question, I scan them as a negative.
    Anee, glad to be of help!
    Chris, sorry about that – hopefully the video will explain better, but really all I meant was if the reset button is used at anytime, you have to use ‘set‘ once more to ‘lock in’ a particular exposure/tone setting – otherwise the machine will reset tones every time you move the boundaries of your scanning area.

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 10:26 | Permalink
  7. matjazNo Gravatar wrote:

    i can see nothing on the video. it’s going on but all i see is black screeen

    Saturday, October 31, 2009 at 21:38 | Permalink
  8. matjazNo Gravatar wrote:

    …sorry. i’ve resolved the problem.

    Saturday, October 31, 2009 at 21:39 | Permalink
  9. ShazuanNo Gravatar wrote:

    is there any other kind of scanner i can use to produce these effects?

    Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 15:01 | Permalink
  10. SteveNo Gravatar wrote:

    hey man,
    thanks for giving me the opportunity to mak my pictures more beautiful. I bought a canoscan 8800f and first got very angry cause i couldn’t scan the sprockets. your guide made it happen !!!

    Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 01:11 | Permalink
  11. CameronNo Gravatar wrote:

    Hi people, I’m glad this little guide continues to help.
    @ Shazuan – you will need a scanner that scans outside of the usual 35mm margins, which means one that can scan medium format film. There are many different scanners that will scan medium format negatives. Notably Canon & Epson make good models like the Canon 8800f, the Epson v500, v700 or if you look at the second hand market there are superseded models that will scan negatives well for a cheaper price.

    Friday, February 19, 2010 at 09:39 | Permalink
  12. RussellNo Gravatar wrote:

    Great article, Cameron. Thanks so much for the information. I just got my hands on a Lomography spinner 360, and I need to scan the long 35mm negatives with sprocket holes. The included 120 mask for my Epson V500 isn’t quite long enough, and most cardboard masks need some support in the middle, which interrupts the continuous panorama. I’ve looked at the holders with ANR glass, but $80 seems a little steep. Any thoughts for a DIY solution?

    Thursday, June 24, 2010 at 14:22 | Permalink
  13. CKNo Gravatar wrote:

    Hi Cameron, thank you for this wonderful guide and the video!
    @RUSSELL, im using a DigitaLIZA mask to scan my spinner films. costed around usd$40. maybe you can consider getting one. :)

    Saturday, October 23, 2010 at 12:11 | Permalink
  14. BrigitteNo Gravatar wrote:

    I would love it if someone could tell me how to “set” the tone with the Epson 4490. As soon as I drag the marque into the sprockets the tone is changed and its AWFUL. There do not seem to be an option to set the tone as the canoscan and its VERY frustrating and I cannot find any information on it.

    I would appreciate some suggestions.

    Thank you

    Monday, June 20, 2011 at 11:12 | Permalink
  15. GephaudioNo Gravatar wrote:

    Thanks for the advice, worked really well. Have designed a template by scanning the scanner lid and printing onto card. Cutting out the area for 35mm negatives and using that to place the negatives in the right area on the platten

    Monday, June 24, 2013 at 07:05 | Permalink
  16. CameronNo Gravatar wrote:

    Great idea to scan the scanner lid for a template!

    Monday, June 24, 2013 at 09:15 | Permalink

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