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


Lawrence Journal-World

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.


Donna Kirk-Swaffar 7 years, 6 months ago

I just started playing with my new standalone scanner ( in hopes of digitizing a lot of slides. I can only load four slides at a time in the holder, so I decided I better get a handheld lightbox viewer and I decide which ones I really want to work with. Wolfe's has them for $25 ( Found the same one online with free shipping for $5 less, but decided I will buy local and have it a week faster. Amazing how tough it is to find a working slide projector anymore!

George_Braziller 7 years, 6 months ago

I've tried using my flat bed scanner for some slides and negatives. It'll work but you have to have back illumination. I used an LED flashlight however I need to find a larger one or figure out a way to raise the one I have and diffuse the light evenly so there isn't a hot spot in the middle.

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