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How Can I View Old Negatives?

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By Christian Roemer

Old stuff is mostly cool. Think about things like antique furniture, scotch, and wine--the older the better!

Other oldies are assuredly not cool.
Included in that list of annoying and mostly useless old stuff are photographic negatives. Negatives on their own are almost entirely unusable.

 

Photographic negatives have potential, but then again, my third-grade teacher thought I had potential. She was convinced that I was going to be President of the United States one day. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen. I’m not President. Indeed, the potential isn’t worth too much when all you want is to look at a few photos but all you have in your hands are some weird brown rectangles.


So What Are Negatives?

Negatives are strips of film that have been processed and put in a format that can be used to make prints. They’re a weird, brownish color, they have little square holes on each side of them, and they’re pretty much useless on their own. If you have a box of them sitting around, you’ve probably already noticed that there’s not a very convenient way to look at them. If I was a conspiracy theorist, I would say that it was all part of Big Film’s plan to keep us dependent on their film and pharmacy film developing forever.


But that’s not really true, because it’s just how photos used to work.


In reality, negatives get their name from the fact that each color in a photo will be its opposite in a negative. Light areas are dark, dark areas are light, etc. etc. When we take pictures on film, we have to process the film, turn it into negatives, then project that negative on photographic paper. That’s a bunch of work.

 

How Can I Look at Them?

There’s some good news and some bad news. The good news is that there are some ways that you can make your negatives useful again. Some methods are better than others, and I’ll let you know some of the positives and negatives of each.


  1. Hold them up to the light. Full disclosure: I do not recommend this method. Negatives are basically miniature, opaque pictures. That means you can hold them up to a light and see whatever is on them. Of course, negatives are usually only about an inch in size, and if you can’t see very well anyway, the negatives won’t do anything for you. This is not a good method.

  2. Buy one of these things. If you were a fan of the Viewmaster, this is the solution for you. Basically, this giant magnifying glass lights up the negative and blows the picture up so you can see it. I can’t speak to the quality, but the reviews are all over the place. Personally, I don’t want to pull out a strange contraption every time I want to look at some old pics.

  3. Get them reprinted. At this point, this particular solution feels sort of like a throwback, but you can always get your negatives reprinted. After all, that was kind of the point of the negatives in the first place. Personally, I feel like adding a whole bunch of pictures to a closet that already has a bunch of negatives doesn’t really solve much when it comes to cleaning up your place.

  4. Get them digitized with Legacybox. By far the best solution is to send your negatives off to Legacybox to get them digitized. All you do is fill out an order on our website, send us your negatives, and we’ll scan them and digitize them for you. They’ll send back your negatives with digital versions that you can use on basically any device. Load them on your phone, your computer, your smart TV, or digital picture frame. You can share them on social media. It’s amazing!

Negatives are a relic of yesteryear that are mostly useless these days. Most folks forget they exist, and very few people still get pictures printed anyway. If you’re sitting on a treasure trove of negatives that you’d love to see, but you don’t want the extra clutter that comes along with them, get them digitized. Don’t hold your negatives up to the light like a dufus. Don’t get an adult Viewmaster. You can get them printed if you want.


Definitely get those negatives digitized.

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