(+) Convert 35mm Slides to Digital

The following is a Plus Edition article, written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

slidesI have hundreds of 35-millimeter slides stored in boxes. They might as well be shoeboxes although the boxes I use are a bit different size. I collected them over the past few decades and must admit I never looked at any of them again until recently. I find that storing slides or any photos or home movies in any inconvenient location means that they are rarely viewed again. Why did you or someone else spend all the money for cameras, film, and processing if no one ever looks at the results?

I will suggest the solution is to digitize the films and slides. Once digitized, the images are easy to view at any time and very easy to share with others. Your children, grandchildren, cousins, and other relatives might like to receive digital copies of pictures taken long ago. With today’s technology, that is easy to do.

Another major advantage of digitizing pictures, slides, and movies is for preservation. That is especially true for color images. Color fades over the years. Then add in the dangers of flood, fire, mold, burst water pipes, and other in-home hazards, and you have to wonder if your films and slides will last for years and years. Converting to digital stops all deterioration. Making multiple copies of each image and then storing the images in multiple locations almost eliminates the possibility of loss or damage. Of course, you never want to throw away the originals; but wouldn’t you feel better if you had the originals PLUS four or five more copies with each copy stored in a different location from the others?

Hardware is available at modest prices to digitize photographs. It is easy to go to your local computer store or web store and purchase a scanner made for converting paper documents and photographs to digital images. There are dozens of flatbed scanners to choose from, and I believe most of them do a great job of scanning pictures as well as paper documents and other items you wish to preserve.

Converting 35-millimeter slides to digital images presents a few challenges, however. A few flatbed scanners will produce reasonable digital images from slides. Sadly, the majority of standard scanners will produce mediocre copies of slides at best. With most of the desktop document and picture scanners, you need to place one slide at a time into the scanner, click the mouse on your computer or press a button on the scanner, wait for the scan, then remove the slide and start with the next one. This process is reasonable for scanning a handful of slides, but I probably have 1,000 or more slides in my boxes that I want to convert. I don’t want to do that one slide at a time!

Another problem has to do with resolution. Slides are tiny when compared to photographs. A slide’s cardboard mount is 2 inches by 2 inches, but the bit of film in the center is much smaller than that. The frame size (film area) is usually about 1.3-by-0.9 inches (34mm x 23mm), although the exact size varies a bit, depending upon the manufacturer and when the slide was made.

Many desktop scanners scan at 300 dpi (dots per inch or, more properly, pixels per inch). Most of today’s scanners are capable of 600 dpi, and some will scan at 1200 dpi or more. That’s great for paper documents and normal size photographs, but it is insufficient for tiny slides. Assuming 600 dpi, that means the typical slide is scanned at 780-by-540 pixels. That’s not much if you are looking for a high-resolution image that will provide excellent details when reproduced in an 8-by-10 or larger print!

Many of the digital images I see that were created from 35-millimeter slides look a bit fuzzy, especially when printed at 8-by-10 inches or larger. Yet use of suitable hardware can create far better looking images. Then again, perhaps the best way is to not use any (expensive) hardware of your own.

Scanners designed specifically for converting 35-millimeter slides to digital images usually scan at higher resolutions than do the typical desktop flatbed scanners. Slide scanners typically scan at 2,400 dpi while a few of the more expensive units scan at even higher resolutions. The more expensive slide scanners may scan at 5,400 dpi.

In order to obtain the best results, a scanner made for slides should be used. These vary in price from $100 to $600 or more. Much more expensive scanners are often used by professional photographers and slide conversion services. In most cases, you get what you pay for.

Scanning a slide at a lower resolution on a cheaper scanner may be satisfactory for images to be posted to the web or printed on 3-by-5 inch photo stock. However, if printed on an 8-by-10 inch photo stock, the result may be a bit fuzzy. You might not notice the difference until you place that photo side-by-side with a similar size photo created by scanning on a high-quality scanner made to digitize slides. All in all, scanning at 2,400 dpi is sufficient for most uses although professional photographers may demand higher resolutions.

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