Slightly OT: Film scanner

Bob Greaves wrote on 4/15/2008, 1:18 PM
My father is asking me to recommend a film scanner. He has 13,000 slides that he would like to convert to jpeg or other digital format. He is just shy of 90 and this represents his personal photographs that he would like to pass on to his 6 living children.

The scanner should be of sufficient quality that an 8 x 10 would be a great on a bookshelf. If we ever needed to make posters of anything we could always rescan the original slide.

He saw one for just over $100.00 but it looked to me like it was not up to the task. Any recommendations in the lower than $500.00 range would be greatly appreciated.


Former user wrote on 4/15/2008, 1:33 PM
With that many slides, you would want an autoloader. I don't think you will find anything of good enough quality with an autoloader for under $1,000.

If you figure you could do 60 slides an hour (one a minute, and that is not really possible), you are looking at over 200 hours of time ( I hope my math is correct).

In my area, some of the photo places will create a high quality photo disk with up to 80 pics for around $5. I would consider this route.

Dave T2
AtomicGreymon wrote on 4/15/2008, 1:40 PM
Nikon makes a few specialized negative scanners, I think... not sure if they also do slides.

If he is going to undertake this project, though, I'd recommend you work out, prior to starting, a standardization by which to scan. I ended up having to rescan nearly all of the [many] pictures my grandfather scanned using his computer a few years ago. He's quite competent with computers generally, however at his age he's gotten a bit lax and focuses more on convenience rather than a balance between efficiency and functionality.

He has a tendancy to resize all the pictures he scanned so that when they opened in whatever application on his computer, the whole picture was visible (and since his desktop is only 1024x768, the pictures were usually made ridiculously small). I tried to explain about the "fit to screen" options within programs, and the fact that down the road a larger version might be necessary... but at that age, once people get into the habit of something, it's hard to break them of it.

1024x786 may sound large enough for a computer (though I can't stand it, being used to 2048x1536), however I've recently been making slideshows of our family photos... and while I'm sticking to DVD for the moment, I wanted it to be easy to make an HD version later on when I get a Blu-Ray burner. For that purpose, I wanted the pictures to be at least 1920x1080, to give me something decent to work with.
farss wrote on 4/15/2008, 1:44 PM
We have a Nikon Super Coolscan 5000ED with SF-210 autofeeder.
That'll let you load 50 slides per batch, under 1 minute per slide.
Cost us a few years back $3,000 I think. For any quantity of slides the only way to get the job done and stay sane.

wwaag wrote on 4/15/2008, 1:55 PM
I purchased the 5000ED and SF-210 last year for about $1350 new. I scanned over 11,000 (slides and film) last year. Scan-quality is top-notch--I would definitely recommend it. Moreover, if you only want to use it for this one job, you can re-sell it on e-bay for about what you've paid for it.


AKA the HappyOtter at System 1: Intel i7-8700k with HD 630 graphics plus an Nvidia 1050ti graphics card. System 2: Intel i7-3770k with HD 4000 graphics plus an AMD RX550 graphics card. Current cameras include Panasonic FZ2500, GoPro Hero5 Black plus a myriad of smartPhone, pocket cameras, video cameras and film cameras going back to the original Nikon S.

johnmeyer wrote on 4/15/2008, 2:02 PM
I have scanned over 70,000 slides, prints, and negatives. I use a Nikon Coolscan 4000. It is the scanner I would recommend. However, this is a BIG expense (more than $1,000) and it is a SLOW way to scan slides and negatives. If you use it for slides, you have to get the slide attachment which is another $300, even on eBay. Without this, you have to insert each slide, one at a time, wait one minute for it to scan, and then go on to the next one.

Before undertaking a project like this, you really do need to go through the math. After my parents died, I scanned all of my father's slides, which was virtually the identical number you are facing. It took several years to finish. You have to allow one minute per scan, plus the time it takes to load the automatic feeder, so figure 1.5 minutes per scan. Also, when scanning Kodachrome, you usually have to touch up each photo by hand (in a photo editing program) because it is very difficult to get the color balance and contrast correct when doing batch scanning (and, oh, by the way, you should definitely use Vuescan rather than the NikonScan that comes with the scanner, because the Nikon software's batch capabilities are poor, as is its ability to deal with dust on Kodachrome slides.

So, for 13,000 slides, at 1.5 minutes per slide for scanning and setup, but neglecting the post-acquisition editing, that comes to 19,500 minutes, which is 325 hours. Based on eight hour days, that is forty days of scanning. You can see why it took me several years to find that much spare time.

Now there is an alternative, and I know several people with similar 10,000+ slides to scan that have done it this way. What you do is simply project the slide and then take a picture of the screen. There are many variations on this approach, such as whether you simply capture to the memory card and then switch cards when they get full, or whether you capture directly to the computer via USB (which some cameras allow). What do you do about the portrait vs. landscape issue? The people I've talked to actually put all the slides into a slide tray in landscape and then do it that way. If your slides are already in trays or are in some order that you don't want to change, you could use two cameras, one mounted for portrait and the other for landscape.

The beauty of this approach is that it is fast, and it also is a lot easier to get the density and contrast correct. The problem with scanning Kodachrome slides with a slide scanner is that these slides are very dense in the shadows, because they are designed to be projected with a high-wattage bulb and if they weren't dense in the shadows, the projected image would look washed out. However, when illuminated with a dinky little LED light source, very little light makes it through, and the sensors -- even in an expensive slide scanner -- cannot read much light, and therefore you end up with either black, instead of the shadow detail, or at the very least end up with a lot of noise in the image. If you project the image in a standard projector and then photograph the result, the shadows are quite bright and therefore easily captured.

Other things to consider with this approach is how to do the white balance; how to keep the camera from "melting down" under the stress of taking so many pictures (they can get pretty warm, and if it is an SLR, that's a lot of up/down on the mirror -- although some SLRs let you lock the mirror and still take photos).

With this approach, you advance the projector to the next slide, and then press the button on the remote for your digital still camera (I would try to use a camera that has a wireless remote). You then repeat. Thus, you can easily take 10-30 pictures per minute, rather than 1.5 minutes per picture. If you use 20 photos per minute as the assumption for the calculation of how long it will take, that is three seconds per photo. That in turn is 39,000 seconds or 650 minutes, or just under eleven hours. Beats forty days, eh?

The one big downside to this approach is dust, although most scanners do such a poor job removing dust from Kodachromes that this may not be a big deal. Also, as already mentioned, it is a lot of stress on a digital camera, but you can purchase pretty much any digital camera and have it do this job and then throw it out when you are finished, and you'll still spend way less than the price of the Nikon scanner.

So, my strong recommendation is that you use a digital camera rather than a scanner, because the goal is to get the job done. You can easily set this up and see how well you like the results.

Oh, and the biggest issue will be deciding on what screen to use. A beaded screen with lots of light gain can break up the detail. If I were to do this, I would get a telephoto lens for my projector, and then replace the bulb with a low-wattage drop in replacement. I'd then point the camera directly at the projector and take the picture directly from the projected image. You may have to add some frosted glass if the image has a hot spot in the center. Also, the image will be backwards, but you can use the batch feature in your photo editing program to invert and flip the image.

nolonemo wrote on 4/15/2008, 2:04 PM
With that many slides, he should just send them out. I have never used these guys, but I'm about to send them a box to try out. Base price of 24 cents per slide includes some dust removal and color correcting. That' s just over $3,000 for all of the slides, but surely not all 13,000 are keepers (or have they already been culled).
JJKizak wrote on 4/15/2008, 4:34 PM
One thing that hasn't been touched on is removal of the blue decay marks/fingerprints/dust marks/old coffee stains/light burns in the centers in the old slides in your Photoshop/Corel graphics application. This can take up to 15 minutes per slide assuming you are proficient with these apps. (and Virtual Dub pluggins)
JackW wrote on 4/15/2008, 5:15 PM
To add to what John Meyer said: try using a sheet of white foam core rather than a screen. Be careful not to make any marks on it, as they will show. We have done thousands of slide transfers for clients shooting from a slide projector onto foam core.

One advantage of this system is that by using the iris on the camera you can often enhance the image quality of the slide, and by using the camera's zoom you can often crop to turn an awkward composition into something acceptable.

johnmeyer wrote on 4/15/2008, 5:54 PM
One thing that hasn't been touched on is removal of the blue decay marks/fingerprints/dust marks/old coffee stains/light burns in the centers in the old slides in your Photoshop/Corel graphics application.If you do touchup by hand, the sky's the limit as to how much time it will take. However, as I mentioned before, while the IR channel in the Coolscan scanners doesn't work very well with Kodachrome emulsion (or with B&W), Vuescan has an adaptation of the dust removal algorithm that works reasonably well with Kodachromes. However, you can only used the lightest settings, and even then it will remove some actual detail from photo, under certain circumstances (very small, high contrast, white spots). However, this is usually not noticable and the results are far more viewable than if you left the dust and fingerprints.

If anyone needs my basic Vuescan settings for scanning Kodachrome, I'd be happy to provide them (although you will have to tweak depending on which Kodachrome emulsion you are scanning, and on how well-exposed your photos may be). Kodachrome from the 1940s is different from the 1950s and it changed again in the 1960s and then changed radically in the 1970s.

Bob Greaves wrote on 4/15/2008, 7:06 PM
Great answers I'll check back for more later. Thanks for all the suggestions.
willlisub wrote on 4/15/2008, 7:47 PM

We have a Nikon Super Coolscan 5000ED with SF-210 autofeeder also. Only way to go.

Use it, finish the job and then ebay the scanner and autofeeder. You will get a lot of your $$ back.

Google the feeder to get ideas how to fix the autoloader, it's very frustrating, but it can be fixed.

I have 14,000 slides and photo's and it's a huge job. Back up your work. I scanned in uncompressed format, photoshopped them till I was happy, then made an image database in JPEG and backed it up. I then put the IPTC data in. I originally made the mistake of putting the data in the uncompressed files but later found out that the data was in a data base, not the image. With JPEG, IPTC data stays in the image and most good programs and databases can use them.

Keeping the slides in order, sorting them, cleaning, is a big job. Once you get them scanned, putting the content in is very time consuming. Hope your dad's memory is good.

If I had to do it over again, I'd probably not scan all the sight seeing slides. Just ones with people. Nobody is real interested in generic sigh seeing slides without people. Obviously, anything real stunning would get scanned, but I'd cut out a lot.

Congrats to your 90 year old dad for undertaking this. You can scan 200-300 a day when working from home and you get the auto loader debugged. Look at everything as it you will have some redo's. No one setting covers everything.

ps. I unlatched the spring on the loader. I then put the scanner at an angle and use a batter and gravity for pressure. A triple A or sometime C type battery depending how much pressure I wanted. I also made a back the size of a slide mount from pine wood which was tapered and sometimes use that without the batteries. You want to put more pressure on the outside of the slide in the feeder.

Setting the gate to be about 1 1/2 the width of the slides is important. I hope your fathers eyesight is good, as it gets changed often as his slide mounts changed.

Also, pay attention to scanning slides with the same film type.

Good Luck...
musicvid10 wrote on 4/15/2008, 8:24 PM
Get some bids from local digital photo shops. At that quantity you should be able to get the scans for about 15 cents each. At least that was the last time I checked in 2003.
johnmeyer wrote on 4/15/2008, 9:19 PM
Someone asked for my Vuescan profile that I use (as a starting point) when scanning Kodachrome. Here it is (the ini file that you then load - link good for seven days):


You'll need to tweak the settings, but most of them are designed to reduce contrast and also eliminate the "blue cast" that seems to plague most Kodachrome scans.

RalphM wrote on 4/16/2008, 8:36 AM
If you still want to use a scanner but don't want to go the auto feed route or the one-at-a-time endurance test, consider one of the upscale flatbed scanners. I bought an Epson 4870 Photo a few years back, and while it will not match the dedicated slide scanners, it comes very, very close. These units sold for $400+ and you can probably get better features for less today.

They use a template to position 8 slides on the scanner glass, then scan the slides sequentially, numbering them automatically with a prefix of your choosing. These scanners use Digital ICE technology although it was one generation behind the DI version used in the Nikon Dedicated slide scanners. They have the advantage of being able to scan transparancies of any size that you can get onto the glass. I used it to great advantage to scan obsolete negatives of my father's. The scans can be initiated and you can walk away while the scans are being done. The process is time consuming. Scanning eight slides at 1200 dpi with Digital ICE running on an old 1.4 GHz Pentium requires about 25 minutes.

While it does not work extremely well, it can also do some minor repair on old cracked prints using DI.
LReavis wrote on 4/16/2008, 12:43 PM
I've read in photography magazines that 35mm film gives a maximum resolution of about 12 MP (about 3000 pixels per inch). While there are 12MP digital cameras available, the pixel-to-pixel bleed, limited-quality lenses, etc., result in images that may have a resolution of no more than, say, 2000 lines. For that reason, a flatbed scanner will get most of the resolution that is available (even though it won't have the dynamic range to capture the data hidden in the dark areas of the image; but, then again, neither will a digital camera - that's why almost all commercials for TV originate as film, as only film allows the image tweaking of the brightest and darkest areas of the image necessary to get a good final image for video; my daughter works as a producer for a post-production house in Santa Monica and the artists she works with hate to work with acquisition even by high-end video cameras).

In any case, after spending too many hours a couple of years ago reading about the options, I settled for a Canon 9950F. One in-depth review compared its 35mm scans with a high-end film scanner, and neither the reviewer nor I could see any significant difference between the two sets of images.

The 9950F accepts 12 slides at a time, and takes the better part of an hour to scan them. My Q6600 doesn't even seem to notice the scanning as I go about my business with other programs (usually Vegas & Photoshop) running in the foreground. So even though it takes a lot of machine time, it doesn't take all that much human time once you clean each slide before putting it in the tray..

I've used it to scan all my Kodachrome slides from the 50s, many shot with a single-lens reflex camera, and I've been satisfied with the results. I've used Digital Ice, and the similar software included with the scanner. But for the best results, I turn off all except the sharpening option, then use Polaroid's free Dust & Scratch Removal software for those images that I really care about. It's tedious, but gives splendid cleaning.

Warning: don't think that you can just pop the slides into the tray and scan. I recently shot a roll of fujifilm 35mm slides, and - fresh out of the box from the developers - I had to clean each slide individually, front and back, with my little brush with a bellows on it; and STILL I had a little dust that had to be eliminated with Polaroid's DSR software. No matter the hardware, digitizing slides is slow business.