Good question. In terms of cost, it is quicker and therefore cheaper to scan photographs than negatives. The scanners we use are batch scanners but photos, for us, are a lot quicker and simpler to scan. It’s easy to see which way up they should be when they are photos and we can scan both sides which is important if the reverse has dates, names and location on. Negatives need much more careful handling (we use air blowers, gloves and plastic tweezers – it sounds like a surgical operation doesn’t it?) and they need to be inserted into jigs the right way up so that the emulsion and dull sides are in the jig properly.
Negatives are scanned at a much higher definition than photographs as well and hence there is a difference in the price we charge starting at 25p per photograph and negatives are 35p each. Larger quantities reduce the price significantly. Our prices and services are shown on the photo scanning page of our web site.
In many ways we have found that negative scanning is superior to photograph scanning except where the negatives are damaged. We see much better quality and there are advantages in terms of sharpness which may be lost in photographs when they are developed. Generally negatives show sharpness and true colour in greater quality than photographs which can be faded and washed out over time.
Here is an article I came across that describes this in greater detail and thanks must go for a nicely written and laid out article with plenty of comparison photographs to look at. One of the big differences is shown here and that is that often photographs are cropped where negatives still hold the full detail of what was captured by the photographer.
As in many things in life it comes down to a case of budget versus quality and what you are looking for from digitising your collection. Photographs provide the greater return on investment and generally you can sort out which ones you want to scan and those you may prefer not to. It is a bit more difficult with negatives. They are by definition negatives of what you would see on a finished photograph and it isn’t always obvious what you are looking at or what the final result may be. Often there are far more negatives than the photos that were produced from them so there may well be many “hidden” masterpieces or photographs you just didn’t know you had.
We would recommend negatives as they are less bulky, give good results and often present you with hidden gems and surprises you just never knew you had. Prints are faster to scan but bulkier in terms of posting and packing but in terms of digitising a collection and speed of turnaround as well as you being able to choose what you actually want scanned work out a little cheaper overall.