Archive for Saturday, December 1, 2012

Behind the lens: Archiving old slides for the present day? Let’s get digital

December 1, 2012


Photograph by James Yoder. 
To digitize an old medium format color slide of me from my parents’ collection, I found a company online that scans film and slides into a digital file. You can purchase your own film scanners if you want to do the work, but scanning services — both local and overseas — are also available with a little searching.

Photograph by James Yoder. To digitize an old medium format color slide of me from my parents’ collection, I found a company online that scans film and slides into a digital file. You can purchase your own film scanners if you want to do the work, but scanning services — both local and overseas — are also available with a little searching.

Archiving photographs has transitioned from the days of storing pictures in slide carousels and negative sleeves to transmitting digital bytes to online photo sites, or burning to hard drives and discs.

For people under 30, digital is most likely all they have ever known. For baby boomers like myself, you’ve probably experienced photographing with film but now find yourself joining the digital age. The dilemma facing some of us is what to do with our old slides and negatives.

I’m currently sorting through my parents’ photographs and digitizing images. Once digitized, I’ll have the capability of duplicating them, creating books, emailing or printing them. Here are some suggestions if you’re facing a box of family photographs in nondigital formats.

Do it yourself

The do-it-yourself method requires a scanner that can convert old film, slides and prints into digital data. These scanners can cost between $100 to $2,000, and quality will vary considerably.

Some flatbed scanners, the same one you have at home for copying or faxing, can sometimes be used as film scanners. The problem is that 35mm film is small and many of these flatbed devices will not provide a high-resolution scan of such a small format.

A better bet is a dedicated desktop film scanner. Designed to scan one 35mm negative or slide at a time, resolution quality in even inexpensive scanners can produce digital files capable of 8-by-10-inch prints.

To familiarize yourself, I recommend doing some scanner research. If you like to stay local, make a trip to Wolfe’s Camera Shop in Topeka or check out their website,, which provides some info on scanner models they sell.

A valuable online article on scanners is also available to read at


The other route is to let someone else do the work for you. I did this recently because I had some medium-format slides that were too big for my scanner. Online I found ScanCafe, which provides scans large enough to produce high-quality 12-by-12-inch prints at a little over $1.50 a scan with shipping.

The downside is that you are shipping your precious family photographs far away — possibly to a service center in India.

While I was pleased with the service, there may be better options. Keeping local, Wolfe’s also offers scanning services of both 35mm and larger formats.

Wolfe’s website lists 35mm batch scanning of 40 slides for $39.99. These scans create 4-megapixel files, capable of producing a 4-by-6-inch print.

To stay really local, I highly recommend checking out

This Lawrence business, operated by photographer Tim Forcade, offers several scanning and printing options and services.

Now, get into your family’s closet, pull out the old slides and start digitizing.


Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 2 months ago

There is a small error in the above article concerning the price of scanners. What is probably the very best one available today is the Super Coolscan 9000 ED from Nikon, which sells new for a bit over $7,000, not only $2,000. You can buy one on Amazon, and they have a used one available at the moment for $5,199.00.

I'm quite sure that they are usually only used by professionals, and it will deliver quality far beyond what any hobbyist scanner would be capable of. But, if your camera was a box camera to begin with, there would be no point in using a professional scanner.

I have some slides of very high quality, some from 1959, that I want to scan at the full 4,000 dpi (dots per inch) that the Nikon scanner is capable of. And lucky me, I know a man who owns a Nikon scanner, but I don't know which model, there is one, the Super Coolscan 5000 ED, that is slightly less expensive, new: $5,099.00, used $2,320.99.

He's just about finished with it, then he's going to loan/give it to a mutual friend, and damn, then I'll be the lucky one to have one of those to use! Maybe I could start a home hobby digitizing slides for people at the professional level! But again, unless the quality of the slides was originally very high, there would be no point in scanning them at 4,000 dpi.

After the scanning, multiple image manipulations are possible, and are often needed. One problem that comes up very often is that at 4,000 dpi, you're taking pictures of the film grain, especially for films that were higher ASA rating, and that would need to be blurred out. Sometimes super high resolution is not a good thing!

For more information:

Mike Yoder 5 years, 2 months ago

Thanks Ron. I meant to say "to above" $2,000. I have a Nikon 9000 scanner, but when I bought it it was only around $2,000. Didn't know Nikon had inflated them to that high of a price. The problem for me was I couldn't fit the 127 medium format, mounted slides in the scanners film holders and I didn't want to remove the film from the mount. It does allow 2 1/4" film strips, which is great.

indianared 5 years, 2 months ago

Walgreens put my old slides onto cd, it was not expensive.

Mike Yoder 5 years, 2 months ago

With any local photo printing service etc. you need to ask what the output resolution their scans will have. Most of these places will do scans fairly inexpensively put they are not large, or high resolution. I suspect that the Walgreen scans are or about an 1800x1200pixels at 300 pixels per inch. This is comparable to a 6x4-inch print, which is what they assume most people want from their photographs. It's always good to know exactly what the output of the scanned file will be, since this relates directly to how large you can make a print.

jrpigman 5 years, 2 months ago

Remember to keep the slides. Archiving slides onto hard drives is a bit like archiving stone tablets onto paper - sure, it's easier to handle and reproduce, but I have never seen a hard drive last the 30 years those slides have been in the attic. Archival digital storage is an expensive ongoing process.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 2 months ago

"Attic"? I'm cringing! Heat is fatal to the color on your slides, they should be kept at room temperature, and not in high humidity.

Do NOT store them in the refrigerator - the humidity is too high. It sounds plain, but the best storage is probably in a secure shelf or cupboard on the main level of your home, the basement can get damp, and the upper floors can get too warm.

And remember - the TOTAL time that a Kodachrome slide can be projected in a regular projector is only one hour before the color begins to fade.

Yes, digitize them, and then store the slides properly. I wrote about this at some extent in the comments following this article:

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