Make old photos new again by digitizing film with this smartphone app

Converting film into digital files is a time-consuming process, but a new prototype program is aiming to do the deed with just a smartphone and a light source. FilmLab, currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, is an app that scans and converts negatives into positive digital files.

Once the film is processed with chemicals and is no longer sensitive to light, the film strip is placed on a light source, such as a light table. The app then accesses the smartphone camera and automatically detects the edges to find each frame. Select a single frame from that negative and the camera will snap several photos, convert the inverted colors of the negative into a positive print and save a digital file.

To get around the resolution limitations of a smartphone, the app shoots multiple RAW files of the same frame, stitching them together to get a higher resolution file. Or, for even more resolution, users can shoot photos of the film on a digital camera, then still use the app to convert the negatives.

Under development by Abe Fettig, a 20-year programmer with previous experience working for Google and Listening Room, the app is designed to easily digitize negatives, including automatic cropping and conversion. The software is under development both to digitize old photos and to allow the growing number of modern film photographers to easily convert and share their photographs. Fettig is planning to make the platform compatible with multiple film types, including 35mm, medium format film and slides, all with both color and black and white support.

Since the app uses RAW files, the program is expected to be compatible with cameras equipped with that capability, including iOS devices from the iPhone 6s and later and Androids running Lollipop 5.0 and later. Fettig is asking the Kickstarter community to help finalize the app’s development, including enhancing the resulting image quality through automatic white balance and color adjustment.

Early backers can gain access to the program’s beta version for an $18 pledge. The app, which will sell for $30, will also be available to backers outside of beta for $5. If the campaign and the development are successful, backers will be able to gain access to the beta version as early as July, with the full version expected to launch later in the summer or early fall.