Converting 35mm slides to digital

Scott Merryfield

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As some of you may know, my father passed away back in December. As we were going through all of my parents possessions during the process of moving my mother from northern Michigan to a condo near us in southeastern Michigan, I came across a plethora of old 35mm slides that my father had taken over the years -- the slides are installed in rectangular holders to run through a projector. I filled up three large boxes with these cassettes for the movers to haul downstate.

There is a lot of family history in these slides, so I have decided to start a project to convert them to digital. While I do have a Canon flatbed scanner which I have used to scan small batches of prints (not slides) in the past, that is a very time-consuming process, so I am looking for something more efficient.

So far, it appears the best solution is using one of my camera bodies + a macro lens to photograph each slide. There are quite a few ways to go about doing this. Right now I am leaning towards using a macro focusing rail with a digital slide attachment, and then using my laptop as a backlighting source via an app that will turn it into a light panel. I think once setup, I should be able to photo quite a few slides quickly during a session, and then import them into DxO Photolab to crop and process.

I think my Canon EOS R mirrorless full frame body along with my Sigma 105mm macro lens will be best suited for this task, as well. The macro rail and holder will cost just under $400 from B&H, and the macro rail is something I could probably use for other photography.

There are probably less expensive options out there, so I am open to ideas. I am not really considering a service, as I know I will still have to process the photos that service creates based on past experience (my cousin did this with slides of my grandfather's). Plus, I would have to take the time to sort through all the slides beforehand to decide which to send in order to reduce cost, where if I have a quick, repeatable process of my own I can just sort through the digital versions during processing -- just as I do with my own photos. If I have to correct the photos anyway, I may as well just create the original digital file myself.
 

ManW_TheUncool

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Kinda doubt you'd get significantly better results (at least w/ good consistency and efficiency at volume) that way than one of the better dedicated film scanners... maybe this one?

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/980019-REG/plustek_783064365345_optic_film_8200ise_scanner.html

For one thing, the included firmware/software may well be better suited for the task... although it might feel a bit clunky as such often can be. Of course, you can also buy dedicated software for the task, including that one, but that does increase your cost...

_Man_
 

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Kinda doubt you'd get significantly better results (at least w/ good consistency and efficiency at volume) that way than one of the better dedicated film scanners... maybe this one?

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/980019-REG/plustek_783064365345_optic_film_8200ise_scanner.html

For one thing, the included firmware/software may well be better suited for the task... although it might feel a bit clunky as such often can be. Of course, you can also buy dedicated software for the task, including that one, but that does increase your cost...

_Man_
I am not sure I want to deal with a scanner, as each slide will take around a minute to scan. I was thinking that once the camera was setup properly for focus and exposure via the rail system, I could "shoot" each slide in a few seconds.

Another option is a "scanner" of a different type -- one that actually has a built-in digital camera. Here is one that looks decent, and the price is much more attractive than a true film scanner.
 
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Scott Merryfield

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Well, after more deliberation and research, and considering other issues, I decided to buy an Epson V600 flatbed scanner, so more along @ManW_TheUncool 's suggestion. One thing I lost sight of while trying to figure this out was that my current Canon flatbed scanner has been flaking out on me lately, and I use that scanner quite a bit for documents, so I needed to replace it eventually anyway. The Epson gets great marks as a film print and slide scanner, as well as a document scanner. I ordered from B&H Photo because (1) using their Payboo card, I get my sales tax refunded directly on the purchase, and (2) they will ship immediately, while Amazon is delaying shipments of non-essential items (which I have no issue with). With the statewide lock down both here in Michigan and in South Carolina (postponing our normal spring trip to our condo there), I have the time to work on this project right now.

My next task will be to figure out what to do with the slides after scanning. Currently the slides are in Airequipt magazines used for an Airequipt slide projector, with each slide mounted in a metal frame that slides into the magazine (see photo below). I just brought one box of slides home with me from my mother's condo, and it contained 34 magazines. The other two boxes are bigger, so I am estimating there are probably at least 120 magazines, which can hold up to 36 slides each (but each magazine is not full, and some may be empty). So I am looking at potentially 3,500 - 4,000 slides. I need to take each out of the magazine and metal frame in order to scan it, so it may make sense to put the slides in some other storage instead of back in the frames and magazines. My wife is checking to see if the magazines have any value to sell -- we plan on selling his three Airequipt projectors, as we will never use them after I get the slides in digital format.

Adorama sells a storage box for slides that will hold 2,160 slides for $50. Based on my estimate, I would need two of these. That's a lot of money just to store slides. I am open to any other suggestions.

 
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I am not sure I want to deal with a scanner, as each slide will take around a minute to scan. I was thinking that once the camera was setup properly for focus and exposure via the rail system, I could "shoot" each slide in a few seconds.

Another option is a "scanner" of a different type -- one that actually has a built-in digital camera. Here is one that looks decent, and the price is much more attractive than a true film scanner.
We tried the Wolverine, and ended up returning it. The quality just isn't there. If you have low expectations, you'll like it just fine. We got much better results with our CanoScan 900F Mark II flatbed scanner's transparency lid.

If you're thinking about a Wolverine, you really should watch this YouTube video. After I watched it, I was determined to try my flatbed, and it was no contest.
 
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Scott Merryfield

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We tried the Wolverine, and ended up returning it. The quality just isn't there. If you have low expectations, you'll like it just fine. We got much better results with our CanoScan 900F Mark II flatbed scanner's transparency lid.

If you're thinking about a Wolverine, you really should watch this YouTube video. After I watched it, I was determined to try my flatbed, and it was no contest.
Thanks, Andy -- that's great feedback. Per my last post above, I decided to go with an Epson V600 flatbed scanner, which also has a transparency lid and holders for various sizes of film and slides. So, it should be similar to your Canon 900F. The Epson will hopefully be here on Wednesday, so I can start scanning this week. It will be replacing my CanoScan LiDE 200 flatbed, which has been disconnecting from my PC randomly (the USB cable connection into the actual scanner no longer stays tight). I found a review from a person who just finished scanning over 5,000 slides using the Epson, and he included the settings he found worked well, as well as those that didn't, over the course of his project. That information should be helpful.
 

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While cleaning up my home office today, I came across a large box with prints and negatives, so it looks like I will have even more scanning in my future than I originally thought. This project could take me a year or more. I received a shipping notice from B&H, and the Epson should be here on Wednesday.

As for the Airequipt magazines, it looks like they sell for $5 - $8 online, but we are not sure what kind of demand is out there for the product. If we could get $4 - $5 per magazine and can get rid of all of them, it would make sense to invest in the storage boxes from Adorama and sell the magazines. My wife (the online seller in the family) is going to do a trial run of some empty magazines to see the response before I order any type of replacement storage.
 

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My Epson V600 scanner showed up as promised on Wednesday, and I have spent the past couple of days scanning slides and prints. Size-wise, this thing is a beast compared with my previous Canon scanners -- 18" x 11" x 5" compared with 14" x 9.5" x 1.5". The unit came with two different holders for various types of slides and negatives, as well as several apps. So far, I have only used the holder for 35mm slides and the Epson Scan software.

After establishing a workflow and getting the handle on each aspect, it takes me about 1.5 hours to scan and process one magazine containing 36 slides. That includes removing the slides from the magazine and their metal frame, cleaning the slide with my Giottos Rocket Blower, and returning the slide to the frame and magazine after scanning. The Epson will scan 4 slides at a time, and the scanning software usually will separate the four slides into individual photos -- I had a few that I had to handle manually. I am scanning the slides as 48-bit color depth, 2400 dpi and saving the original as a TIFF format file. The resulting file is around 35MB in size The Epson software has a color restoration option that works well, and a dust removal option that helps, but doesn't get rid of everything. I then perform the final processing and cleanup in DxO PhotoLab (my replacement for Adobe Lightroom), and export to jpeg.

Final results vary greatly, depending completely on the original photo, of course. So far, the Kodak Ektachrome slides seem to be in the best shape, while the ones my father purchased and had developed through Seattle Film Works are not that great. It appears my dad struggled with getting enough light in some cases, too, as some slides are very grainy or out of focus due to too slow a shutter speed.

Here is an example of an Ektrachrome slide that turned out well, from Christmas 1978.



I have been scanning some prints, too. I follow the same process, except I am scanning at 600dpi. Here is an example:

 
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Todd Erwin

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Very nice! For my birthday this year, my wife gave me the green light to purchase a Super 8 film scanner and a used Super 8 sound projector to transfer all my old movies I made as a teenager. The projector is supposed to arrive later today, but the scanner is stuck in Fulfilled by Amazon non-essential hold for at least another week.
 

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I am a week into this project, with about 1,000 slides and prints scanned, and I am very impressed with this Epson V600 scanner. The scanning software that Epson provides does an impressive job of color correction of slides during the scanning process. It's dust remover option, though, doesn't seem to do much. I have also used a grain reduction option on occasion for a few very noisy slides. For the most part, the software will accurately select and properly crop each of the four slides in the holder -- and it is smart enough to recognize when there are less than four slides. On a few occasions, I have been forced to manually crop individual slides -- usually if the slide is on the dark side. But it works right probably 95% of the time.

The quality of the slides is all over the place, from some Ektrachrome slides so clean and sharp they look like they were taken recently, to some stuff that is almost unviewable (and I have discarded a few slides that are completely unviewable). Using DxO PhotoLab, I am able to clean dust and dirt, adjust exposure if it's off just a little, adjust highlights/shadows, fix slanting horizons (looks like my dad struggled with that at times), and clean up some weird color lines in some batches of shots that must have been either defective film rolls or development errors. What I cannot fix, of course, are focus issues or blurred images due to camera shake or slow shutter speeds.

It's been both fun and sad going through these slides so far. I have not seen any of these in 30 years, and many I am seeing for the first time. It's sad, though, knowing that my dad would love to see these again in their restored form, but he's no longer with us.

I am probably through about 20% of the slides. After that, there are some stacks of prints to go though -- but not nearly as many photos as the slides. Once done with my dad's stuff, I may try to tackle scanning my old 35mm film. I have negatives of some, but just the prints from others. I never did slides.

If anyone is interested, you can browse what I've done here. I am adding new photos every day.
 
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Scott, your 1963 image is incredible!

I also recently started this same project and also picked an Epson V600 for the job, and am very happy with it. I'm actually all done with positive slides at this point, and am scanning negative rolls now. And I can tell you, I'm so glad my mom shot most of our photos on slides because they look so much better. In fact, your '63 image looks far better - richer, deeper, stronger - than our negatives do from the 1990s. It's a remarkable difference.

If it's not too late, I'd recommend a few things from what I've learned in my workflow and approach.

1. It sounds like this won't be a problem, but I'll say it anyway. NEVER throw those slides away. Find a solution for storing them afterwards. We have about 2,000 and my mom kept them in their original boxes, so thankfully we don't need a storage solution.

2. 48-bit, 2400 dpi, TIFF is a strong choice. I'm actually saving at 3200 dpi as that seemed best from my research, and I'm also saving as uncompressed TIFF. So my files are a little larger, about 70-80 MB each, but this approach means there is absolutely no compression to my images. TIFF has different options (it's a more flexible format compared to JPEG or BMP), so you'd need to set it specifically to "uncompressed" on the Epson software.

3. If you have photo editing software like Photoshop, I'd recommend using that to do any cleanup or color correction. I've heard good things about the Epson ICE software, but the archivist in me says to scan the images raw, make a duplicate TIFF, and clean the duplicate. It's good practice, technically, to keep an untouched copy of the original scan so you can go back to it later if need be (same logic with the uncompressed TIFFs).

Have fun! I also have a trove of images that will stretch this out to a year (at least). It's arduous, but hopefully it never needs to be done twice.
 
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I started into the second box of slides yesterday. This box contains the oldest photos, dating back to 1963. I am amazed at how well some of these have held up. This one is over 56 years old:
Wow Barbie got an Austin Healey 3000 back then.
 
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Well, after more deliberation and research, and considering other issues, I decided to buy an Epson V600 flatbed scanner,
The product description says "Achieve greater productivity : energy efficient Ready Scan LED light source means no warm up time, faster scans and lower power consumption "

This is important. My old Canon 5600F had LED for full-size scanning but a fluorescent tube for 35mm slides. You had to wait quite a few seconds for the bulb to turn on and then warm up so your colors would be correct. This took FOREVER to scan slides.
 
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Scott Merryfield

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Scott, your 1963 image is incredible!

I also recently started this same project and also picked an Epson V600 for the job, and am very happy with it. I'm actually all done with positive slides at this point, and am scanning negative rolls now. And I can tell you, I'm so glad my mom shot most of our photos on slides because they look so much better. In fact, your '63 image looks far better - richer, deeper, stronger - than our negatives do from the 1990s. It's a remarkable difference.

If it's not too late, I'd recommend a few things from what I've learned in my workflow and approach.

1. It sounds like this won't be a problem, but I'll say it anyway. NEVER throw those slides away. Find a solution for storing them afterwards. We have about 2,000 and my mom kept them in their original boxes, so thankfully we don't need a storage solution.

2. 48-bit, 2400 dpi, TIFF is a strong choice. I'm actually saving at 3200 dpi as that seemed best from my research, and I'm also saving as uncompressed TIFF. So my files are a little larger, about 70-80 MB each, but this approach means there is absolutely no compression to my images. TIFF has different options (it's a more flexible format compared to JPEG or BMP), so you'd need to set it specifically to "uncompressed" on the Epson software.

3. If you have photo editing software like Photoshop, I'd recommend using that to do any cleanup or color correction. I've heard good things about the Epson ICE software, but the archivist in me says to scan the images raw, make a duplicate TIFF, and clean the duplicate. It's good practice, technically, to keep an untouched copy of the original scan so you can go back to it later if need be (same logic with the uncompressed TIFFs).

Have fun! I also have a trove of images that will stretch this out to a year (at least). It's arduous, but hopefully it never needs to be done twice.
Matt,

Thanks for the feedback. I have not started scanning any negatives yet, so it's disappointing to hear you are not getting as good of results as with the slides. I am not sure how many negatives I saved from my prints, though, as I have been focusing on my dad's slides for now.

Thanks for the pointers, too. I'll response to each point:

1. My dad had all the slides stored in Airequipt or Argus magazines that hold 36 slides (see post #5 of this thread), with each stored in its original box. I decided to just put the slides back in those magazines after scanning, as they are labeled and seem to have kept the slides safe and relatively clean for all these years. I did find several boxes of empty magazines, though, which my wife is trying to sell -- they seem to go for around $5 each on eBay, but she hasn't received any bites yet.

2. I considered scanning at a higher dpi than the 2400 I settled on, but it takes longer and I don't think I will achieve any greater quality. At 2400dpi, it takes about 2.5 minutes to scan four slides. The cleanup work takes additional time, of course, as does taking the slides out of the magazine, blowing the dust off with my Giottos Rocket Blower, and putting the slides back in the magazine after scanning. I am at about 1 hour per 36 slide magazine now for total time spent. I am saving as uncompressed, so thanks for checking on that. The final jpeg images turn out around 7MB - 10MB. I think 2400dpi works well for my use -- of course, a higher dpi won't hurt if you want to spend the extra time, and storage space is cheap.

3. I am using DxO PhotoLab for the cleanup of the original TIFF scans, and creating jpegs at its highest quality setting from that software. PhotoLab is similar to Lightroom in that it is a "non destructive" application -- i.e. it does not alter the original file, but instead saves your edits separately from the original. I moved from Lightroom to PhotoLab for processing the RAW files from my cameras when Adobe went to a subscription model. I tried the ICE option within the Epson software for the heck of it, but the results were all over the place, so I just ignore that option. The color restoration option of the Epson software works great, though, so I do use that option during the original scan.

I am still less than halfway through the slides, and then will tackle the prints after that. Like you, I estimate this is going to take me over a year, especially once this lockdown is lifted and I have less spare time.
 
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Sounds good! Yes, unfortunately, the negatives just don't have the same quality as positive slides. Though I understand it depends on a variety of factors - type of rolls/format, type of camera, lighting etc. Ours are all 35mm negative rolls, the ubiquitous format for consumer cameras back in the day, and whether it's the late 80s or early 2000s and regardless of camera, they all have roughly the same quality. Not bad, really, but clearly not what the slides can give.

I'd love to know if you get different results somehow. I've barely started on our negatives.
 
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Scott Merryfield

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Today, I ran across a set of slides from 1966 where the color was so faded and off that neither Epson's color restoration option nor any tools or skills I possessed would bring the color back. There was no label on the slides indicating the type of film -- it was probably some off-brand. So, I ended up converting them to black and white. Some of the slides were in pretty bad shape, but some turned out decent. Here is probably the best looking of the bunch:

 
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Today, I ran across a set of slides where the color was so faded and off that neither Epson's color restoration option nor any tools or skills I possessed would bring the color back. There was no label on the slides indicating the type of film -- it was probably some off-brand. So, I ended up converting them to black and white. Some of the slides were in pretty bad shape, but some turned out decent. Here is probably the best looking of the bunch:

I was just about to ask if you had come across any that had severely faded, and sorry to hear that you found some. Black and white is pretty much the only solution when color correction tools can't bring the photo back to its brilliance.

The projector arrived (finally) this week and was able to run a few reeks through it to make sure it was working. I decided to run a few of the old "digest" films I used to collect, and my heart just sank when Jaws and The Black Hole had gone completely red, and began to fear the worst with the short films I made as a teenager. I ran a few of those reels and was relieved to see, other than some dirt, they looked like they had been shot yesterday. Now I'm waiting for the scanner to arrive from Amazon, which they believe will be shipping out this week.
 
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Scott Merryfield

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I was just about to ask if you had come across any that had severely faded, and sorry to hear that you found some. Black and white is pretty much the only solution when color correction tools can't bring the photo back to its brilliance.

The projector arrived (finally) this week and was able to run a few reeks through it to make sure it was working. I decided to run a few of the old "digest" films I used to collect, and my heart just sank when Jaws and The Black Hole had gone completely red, and began to fear the worst with the short films I made as a teenager. I ran a few of those reels and was relieved to see, other than some dirt, they looked like they had been shot yesterday. Now I'm waiting for the scanner to arrive from Amazon, which they believe will be shipping out this week.
Yes, black & white conversion was really my only option. DxO PhotoLab has a B&W preset that I used as a starting point, but still had to make several adjustments from there to get results I liked. I then saved those adjustments as a new B&W preset in case I run into further slides with similar issues -- and it will be useful to have in case I want to convert any of my own camera RAW files from my dSLRs to black and white. That's something I have always wanted to mess around with, but have yet to do seriously.

It sounds like you are getting close to being able to start your project, Todd. That's exciting! My dad owned an 8mm film camera and projector, too, and we did find a few films of his when we were packing the slides to bring down state. I do not recall him shooting a lot of film, though (he did shoot a lot of video much later on, but that has already been digitized and saved to DVDs). There were only a few reels of film, so I wasn't going to invest any money to attempt to digitize them. We did find a few reels he purchased of places like Yellowstone and Yosemite, which my wife was able to sell. The projector is still in the basement of my parents home in northern Michigan (along with three Airequipt slide projectors and two portable projection screens), but I do not know what happened to the camera.

Once this lockdown gets lifted, we plan on having an estate sale or auction to sell those things, along with my dad's woodworking machinery, tools and tractors. My wife has been selling a lot of smaller items we were able to bring down state (she's made my mother over $400 already, plus our realtor up there bought a 10hp wood chipper for $250), but there is just too much stuff up there to bring home and store for sale.
 
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