Please note that this post is a rough draft (at best), it may have spelling errors and other issues. If I have time to come back and fix it I will, if I don’t at least it’s a good bulk of info some users may find useful.
Disc film was a low-cost photography film format for consumes introduced by Kodak in 1982. Before being developed the film was in a flat plastic disc, similar to a cartridge. Wikipedia has some fascinating facts about this outdated film medium, so I’ll spare you from the geeky details, but in short it was a unique format.
The photos were stored on a single spherical wheel. These wheels were discs, not the type you put in your computer though, of course not. These discs held 15 photos on them, the negatives were very, very – only tiny measuring about 11 x 8 mm in size.
Now if you were born in the eighties or earlier chance has it that your parents have some of these film discs still laying around. Or if you’re old enough you yourself might have these film discs laying around too. Now with most film photography you give the camera or the negatives to the photo store and they give you your selected prints and your negatives back. The negatives are the originals where your prints come from. Sort of like the master copy of your photos. If they were damaged it was impossible to get a new print unless you had a fancy photocopier. This was years before the first version of Photoshop and long before color scanners were the norm around offices and homes.
So if your parents were ‘lucky’ enough to have these film disc cameras, one problem occurs. How do you get the photos off of these discs? Sure you may have some of them printed, but maybe not. Maybe they were ripped or lost or damaged. Maybe all you have left is the negative. Well you have two options, one is you can find a specialized film photo shop and they can do it for you… the Disc Film wikipedia article lists some places that still do this today. But this can get pricey. It may be the best option however if you have a lot of them to do. But if you’re looking a the do it yourself route then stay put and I’ll show you what I figured out. Be warned though, it takes a steady hand and scanning in one film disc took me about an hour. That’s 15 photos in total.
These steps hopefully will work on any flatbed or film scanner with a backlight and enough space for the photo discs to be placed. For my scanner I’m using an All-In-One Canon Pixma MP810. It’s a nice scanner and has the option to scan negatives and slides at up to 4800 dpi. The higher the resolution the better, but also the longer it will take to scan in. However at 4800 dpi I got pretty good results (all things considering) on these negatives. Remember these are teeny tiny at 11 x 8 mm. So the higher the resolution your scanner can handle the better results you’ll get. 2400 dpi was decent, but 4800 was much nicer. Anyway…
Notes before you start: Clean your scanner glass and try to handle the negatives carefully. It may not hurt to use a Q-tip or a soft micro-fiber cloth to clean the negative before putting it in the scanner. Unless you have a medial cleaning room it’s likely you’l get some dust on the negative or scanner flatbed, but it shouldn’t be that big of an issue. With negatives, especially photo discs, since you’re zooming in and scanning so much a tiny object, even a spec of dust or hair, will look big once it’s scanned.
1: So with your scanner software installed (which is needed to properly activate the film/negative backlight on your scanner) you are able to select the type of source you are using. There should be an option for Film or 35mm negative. Something along those lines. In my menu I was given a choice of: Color Negative Film, Positive Negative Film, Grayscale film, etc. So for the Disc Film I found I selected Color Negative Film.
2: Find the best place to lay down the negatives. Since the scanner is not meant to scan in these disc film photos you’ll have to be creative. The Canon scanner I’m using has a small removable plastic guide for placing in 35mm film negatives. With the plastic guide removed there’s space enough for a Disc film negative. However the backlight (which makes it possible for the scanner to scan in the film) is in this case only wide enough for the 35mm film negatives. So instead of being able to scan in the whole disc at once you’ll need to keep rotating it. In my case for the 15 photos on the disc I moved the disc 15 times. Time consuming yes, but if you’re going through all this work to begin with you may as well get it right the first time.
3: Click the “Preview” or “Overview” button in your scanning software. You should see the tiny negatives on the wheel. Now draw a box around one photo on the negative. With my scanner if I selected too much besides the negative the photo would “auto balance” and correct the color. Giving me a bad image. There may have been a way around this, but I dealt with it by carefully selecting my photo. When the color looked fine it was okay to scan. See the attached photo for details.
In my Fujifilm branded wheel of film the photos were nicely labeled 1 through 15. This helped me keep track of things since from far away they all look the same. With the photo selected and the mode set to ‘Color Negative Film’ and with your selected DPI resolution and file format set you’re good to go. I suggest .TIFF files these can be easily opened with Photoshop and are not compressed or blocky like JPEGs can be. Now click “Scan” and wait for your scan to be finished. My negatives took about 4-5 minutes to complete each photo.
Your photo should look pretty good. If not check your settings and try again, you may need to play around with your scanning software to get the right result. If the colors are almost there try using Photoshop, GIMP, iPhoto or another photo editor to play around with things like Levels, Brightness, and Contrast to help your photos look okay. Remember they may not look perfect, but they may not have been taken under the best conditions either.
4: Now it’s time to rotate or flip your photo. Why? Because in my case I managed to scan in all the photos backwards. This is very easy to do with negatives, either the scanner flips them and scans them in backwards, or it’s just hard to tell what side is right. This is fixed by a simple “horizontal” flip in a photo editing program. If you happen to have the Photo Disc upside down the photos will come out flipped, but it’s easy to fix so don’t worry about getting it right the first time. The easiest way to tell if the photo is flipped is finding text in the picture when it’s scanned in. Sometimes there is no hints to help you so you have to use your best judgement. I scanned in the disc with the numbers printed on the plastic piece (not on the negative) facing up and my photos were flipped. But your milage may vary.
5: When you have successfully scanned in 1 photo of the 15 on the negative turn the disc to the next photo and repeat the process. If you have a pretty good looking scan then you’re all done. My father has told me that these cameras didn’t have the best quality, most of the photos were grainy and blurry. I see what he means looking at my results, but considering this photo disc was from 1984 and I was using a standard scanner the results were surprising. I’m happy I was able to at least digitize these photos which were not in the envelope beside the negatives.
I hope these steps and information has helped you learn a bit about these Disc Film negatives and the ability to unlock the secrets from these negatives and view them once again.