Editing Tools and Supplies for Film Shooters


Picture editing is an integral part of the photographic process, and this holds true whether your format is film or digital. Digital shooters typically upload images to their computers, tablets, or phones, edit the files in Lightroom, Photoshop, or comparable editing program, and, with a few keystrokes output wall-size murals or scaled-down Instagram posts.

The tools and workflow of film editing are different. Editing film requires a light table, magnifier or loupe, storage sleeves, and, if you plan on digitizing your film images, a film scanner. With film photography making a healthy comeback, we thought it would be a good time to discuss the tools and supplies needed to edit negatives and transparencies properly.

I use the terms “slides” and “transparencies” interchangeably. The difference between the two is that while all positive color and black-and-white film stocks are transparencies, 35mm transparencies are specifically referred to as slides.

Editing Loupes

Loupes are essentially analog pixel-peeping tools. Just as you zoom in to 100% when editing digital image files on your computer screen, loupes enable you to “zoom in” and eyeball the finer details of your negatives and slides.

Loupes cost anywhere from a bit less than $5 to a bit less than $300, and while the priciest magnifiers might be overkill for your particular needs, you might want to think twice about considering the less-pricey alternatives. Though they are fine for reviewing contact sheets and non-critical film editing, they tend to fall short on resolution, especially toward the edges of the frame. Many acrylic loups also display color refraction and other color aberrations as your eye wanders from the center line. The up side is that if you edit your film in a high-traffic work environment, the cheap ones are less likely to “walk.”

The Carson LL-10 10x LumiLoupe Craft Loupe (left), Kalt AGFA 8x Loupe (center), and Peak PlaLupe 10x are well suited for reviewing contact sheets, slides, and negatives.

Better loupes typically contain one or more coated optical-quality glass elements that deliver higher levels of resolving power across the entire viewing field. If the edges of the viewing field appear as sharp and aberration-free as the center of the viewing field with minimal (if any) distortion, that’s the loupe you want to buy.

The Peak 22x Loupe for higher-magnification viewing (left), Peak Stand Loupe 8x with Neck String for full-frame viewing of 35mm slides (center), and the Peak 8-16x Pro Zoom Loupe (right), offering 8 to 16x magnification options.

Most loupes are format-specific. To view all four corners of a 35mm slide or negative, you’ll want a loupe with about a 4x-5x magnification. Higher-magnification loupes will get you in closer, but you’ll have to “scroll” the loupe around to see the image in its entirety. At B&H, we sell loupes with magnifications of 2x through 45x, including Peak’s 8-16x variable zoom loupe.

Carson’s 5x LumiLoupe Ultra Lighted Magnifier features 5x magnification and a half dozen AAA-powered LEDs for lighting and viewing prints and contact sheets.

Editing 6 x 4.5, 6 x 6, or 6 x 7 negatives requires 3x magnification for full-frame viewing. You can use 35mm loupes to edit larger-format negatives and slides and vice versa, but most loupes perform best when used with their intended formats. As mentioned above, B&H Photo stocks loupes and magnifiers at a variety of magnifications.

The highest magnification available at B&H Photo for loupes is the Peak 22x Loupe. For higher magnification, you would need to purchase a handheld magnifier, available in magnifications up to 40x. The difference between magnifiers and loupes is that magnifiers are handheld while loupes are designed to rest gently on the film surface, which makes for steadier, hands-free image viewing.

Tip: Never drag your loupe across the film surface—you might leave scratches. Always lift it and place loupes down gently on the film surface as you edit your exposures.

Most currently available loupes feature adjustable diopters, which allow you to adjust the eyepiece to compensate for your personal viewing needs. They also feature clear bases, which allow light to pass through and illuminate print surfaces. For editing slides and transparencies, if your loupe doesn’t include or have the option of attaching an opaque black base, which requires backlighting, I recommend wrapping black tape around the clear portion of the base to eliminate unwanted surface reflections.

Lightboxes and Light Tables

Editing transparencies and negatives requires a backlit light source, and to this need B&H sells color-corrected LED and fluorescent lightboxes, light tables, light pads, and light panels.

Lightboxes are available with viewing areas ranging from 8 x 10" through 36 x 48". Most are AC-powered, but a few smaller models can be powered by batteries. Depending on the manufacturer, light boxes have either wood or aluminum frames, translucent Plexiglass™, or white ABS viewing surfaces, and can be as thin as 0.3" or as chunky as 4". Most models are balanced for 5000K (slightly warm daylight), others at 5600K, and several models feature tilt bars for angling the box for optimal viewing. Depending on the model, select light tables, boxes, and panels feature brightness controls.

Kaiser’s Slimlite Plano 5000K Battery/AC Lightbox (left) is daylight-balanced, 0.3" thick, and can run on its built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery or AC. The Porta-Trace Gagne 8 x 10" LED Plastic ABS Lightbox is a basic lightbox.

For those of us who have the need, the room, and the money for one, light tables offer considerably more real estate for viewing and editing larger groups of images across a larger viewing area. Like their desktop counterparts, light tables are typically balanced for 5000K and are available in sizes ranging from 24 to 36" to 45.5 x 85.5".

The Porta-Trace / Gagne 24 x 36" LED Light Table (left) and Just Normlicht Transparency Light Table – LTS/NL ST 5 (28.75 x 45.5" viewing area, fluorescent-lit), among the least expensive light tables sold at B&H, offer large viewing areas.

Unlike light boxes, which are available in a near 50-50 mix between LED and fluorescent light sources, with the exception of the Porta-Trace / Gagne 36 x 48" and 24 x 36" LED light tables, all of the light tables sold at B&H are fluorescent based. From a workflow perspective, as long as the color temperatures of the lamps are at (or very close to) 5000K, the type light source shouldn’t be a big consideration when choosing a table.

Slide Viewers and Sorters

If you shoot 35mm, you have the option of editing and viewing your slides and negatives using a slide viewer. The most basic slide viewers require external light sources or available light ample enough to illuminate the slide from behind translucent white back panel (Another reason you need a lightbox or light panel.)

The Pana-Vue Slide Viewer #3 is the most basic available light slide viewer at B&H.

Archival Negative and Transparency Pages, Sleeves, Rolls, and Boxes

One of the greater attributes of analog photography is that you have an image file that’s physically tangible. It’s real—it’s not a cacophony of excited light particles that come and go. Slides and negatives are things you can pick up and hold between your fingers… assuming, of course, your fingers are clean. To keep your slides and negatives as clean and scratch-free as the day they emerged from the film dryer, we strongly recommend you store them in archival storage sleeves, pages, rolls, or boxes.

Print File archival storage pages for negatives (left), Print File archival storage page for negatives, 4 x 5" (center), and Print File archival storage page for slides, 35mm (2 x 2") holds 20 slides.

The widest selection of storage options can be found among 8.5 x 11" storage pages, which are designed for 3-hole loose-leaf binders and available for virtually all roll and sheet film formats up to 8x10". Depending on the film size and format, pages designed for slides and transparencies feature up to 20 slots for slides or larger transparencies. Film storage pages are typically available in packs of 25 and/or 100.

Storage boxes are available for mounted 35mm slides in a variety of sizes ranging from cube-shaped plastic boxes that hold up to 40 slides to longer archival fiber-board boxes that can hold up to 100 glass, plastic, or cardboard-mounted slides.

Print storage boxes range in size and style from the itty-bitty Lineco Mini Box with Tassel Kit to the Lineco Archival Slide Storage Master Box, and the (center), and the the Archival Methods 01-531 Drop Front Archival Storage Box.

For storing sheet film negatives, transparencies, and prints there are a number of archival storage boxes available in sizes ranging from the quirky Lineco Mini Box with Tassel Kit (2.75 x 2.75 x 1.75") all the way up to 30 x 40" print/film storage boxes. In addition to a choice of lengths and widths, these storage boxes are also available in depths ranging from 1.1 to 5", depending on your needs.

For safely storing and archiving uncut processed film stocks, clear sleeves are available in 1000' rolls that can be cut to size as needed.

Non-archival storage materials are also available, but not recommended because they are not designed for safe, long-term storage. Depending on the materials used, films and prints are susceptible to staining, fading, and other forms of harmful damage due to gassing and chemical leaching. If you value your negatives, transparencies, and prints, stick to the acid-free neutral pH, and chemically-neutral archival options.

Storage sleeves are another option and they are available for 35mm and 120-format roll films, as well as sheet films ranging from 4 x 5" to 17 x 22".

Film Cleaners and Gloves

Maintaining dust and smudge-free negatives and transparencies is an on-going process one must go through each time you handle negatives and slides. The more fastidious you are about keeping your slides and negatives clean when handling them, the less time you’ll have to spend tidying things up down the line in Photoshop.

Before handling film, I always wash my hands with soap and water to get them clean and oil-free. Once dry, I put on a pair of disposable cotton gloves. These thin, ambidextrous cotton gloves, which are available in small, medium, and large, and typically come in packs of 12, enable you to handle your negatives and slides safely. Though they are disposable, they can be washed and air-dried for extended use.

Inexpensive disposable cotton gloves are a must for handling slides and negatives.

Dust, fingerprints, and smudgy stuff inevitably find their way to film surfaces regardless of how many precautions you take. The best way to remove dust is by giving the film strip a few gentle bursts of compressed air from a foot away from the film surface, using a back-and-forth motion while depressing and releasing the air trigger at the start and end of each sweep across the film. By doing so you lessen the chance of blowing residues from inside the can onto the film surface.

Stubborn dust particles, fingerprints, and smudges require liquid film cleaner and soft, non-abrasive wipes. Simply lay the film strip on the counter, dampen the wipe or swab with a bit of film cleaner, and gently clean the negative in a gentle circular motion until the surface is clean. Allow any residual cleaner a few moments to dry and you’re good to go.

In a pinch, you can also use pure alcohol and cotton swabs to remove fingerprints and smudges from film surfaces. Make sure the swabs are pure cotton and do not contain synthetic fibers, which are fine for cleaning your ears but can scratch film surfaces.

There are shipping restrictions on select liquid film cleaners and compressed air products. See the product pages for any sales restrictions.

Film Scanners

Finally, if you wish to digitize your negatives and transparencies you’ll need a film scanner. There are two types of scanners you can use for scanning film. Many flatbed desktop scanners can be used for scanning 35mm and even medium-format slides and negatives. For best results, you should use a scanner designed specifically for digitizing film.

Film scanners can be purchased for less than $100, but these scanners are best used for low-res digitizing. If your quality needs go beyond posting cat and foodie pix on Instagram, you’ll want to get a better scanner. For more information about film scanners check out Scanning Film: A Buying Guide. If you are a DIY-type you should also take a look at my Franken-Scanner Slide & Negative Digitizer, which is my personal solution for digitizing slides and negatives. (In case you’re wondering… it does a terrific job digitizing film images.)