Behind the Lens: Preserve old slides by digitization

Scanning collections of old film negatives and slide transparencies can save images for future generations as well as convert them to a digital format, making it easy to duplicate, email or print.

Scanning collections of old film negatives and slide transparencies can save images for future generations as well as convert them to a digital format, making it easy to duplicate, email or print.

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Scanning collections of old film negatives and slide transparencies can save images for future generations as well as convert them to a digital format, making it easy to duplicate, email or print.

My family pulled out the slide projector and old family photographs during the holidays. Some people would consider this torture, but I think it’s fun.

The problem is I wasn’t there. I had already left for home. Maybe there are photos they don’t want me to see or they don’t want a professional photographer critiquing their work. I asked my mom, “Why didn’t you do that when I was there? I asked. “I didn’t even know we had family slides.”

I always believed my parents didn’t take photographs. I don’t recall a single camera in the house. Friends and relatives took the images I know.

“Oh, we’ve got several trays of slides,” responded my mom. I was stunned.

“Mom, I need to take those slides and scan them,” I said. “We need to save those.”

“It looks like they are fading, too,” she added. Oh, jeez. How did I not know about these slides?

I hope that, within the next couple of months, I’ll get my hands on the photos and can start digitizing them. I can probably correct some of the fading issues, and once scanned I can save them to discs and hard drives and maybe later create a book for the whole family.

The point of this story is to encourage everyone to seek out old family photos, especially the original negatives and slide transparencies, and bring them into the digital age.

The best way to get a negative or slide transparency into a digital format is to scan the original piece of film.

If you don’t have the inclination to purchase and learn how to use a film scanner the best course of action is to have a professional lab do the scans for you.

A quick Google search located one such company, ScanCafe, that can provide 7-megapixel scans for 29 cents each. That quality of scan would provide good prints to at least 8 inches by 10 inches. That’s about as cheap as you’re going to get for this tedious task.

Some places charge more but will scan in higher resolutions for larger prints. Once your images have been scanned and are moved to a hard drive or disc, you can easily start duplicating, emailing, printing or creating the modern-day version of a slide show.

If you prefer the do-it-yourself approach, consider purchasing a film scanner. Prices run from $60 to $20,000 depending on what quality and features you require. (I think the expensive ones come with 4-wheel drive.)

In a quick look at film scanners available at BHPhotoVideo.com, most models that cost less than $100 will scan your 35 mm slide or negative with a resolutions good for prints up to 5 inches by 7 inches or 8 inches by 10 inches, at most.

Models approaching the $200-$400 range start to provide faster operation, higher resolution scans and possible batch scanning.

Regardless of what machine you have, it’s not a fun task. Scanning film one frame at a time is tedious and not a creative endeavor. But it will bring old photos back to life and result in digital files that can be shared with the whole family. You might want to check with your mother and see if you missed any family slide shows this year.

Next week I’ll go over options for digitizing prints and hard-copy documents.

— Chief Photographer Mike Yoder can be reached at 832-7141

Comments

coffeegurl 7 years, 10 months ago

I've been doing this with my family's old photos too. A really nice gift to your parents after you get it all done is a photo book. I uploaded my pictures to mpix.com.

peartree 7 years, 10 months ago

Is there anyone local or in KC who does this? I would feel uncomfortable sending off irreplaceable film and slides to someone found in the internet.

Mike Yoder 7 years, 10 months ago

Wolfe's Camera/Photo in Topeka may be the closest. I do not have price information on their scanning services, but I do see on their website that they will scan both prints and negatives/transparencies. http://www.wolfes.com/services/scanning.html I think there is a Wolfe's in Overland Park also. K.C. should have several photo service labs with this service.

Frank A Janzen 7 years, 10 months ago

I was told that the photo shop at Walmart's here in Lawrence will burn transparencies to CD, but I haven't check it out yet.

vpitcher04 7 years, 10 months ago

You can have your negatives and 35mm slides scanned to a cd at almost any Walgreens.

H_Lecter 7 years, 10 months ago

I learned when taking in the old family photos to be digitized, that when the clerk asks if I'm a crime scene photographer, it's just easier to say, "yes."

Mike Yoder 7 years, 10 months ago

Make sure and ask what resolution and size they scan negatives and slides at places like Walgreens, WalMart etc. I believe they have a limited scan size that is approximate to a 4x6-inch print. And if I remember correctly, this is a service they will provide, for an extra fee, only at the time of development of the roll of film or slides. Their assumption is that nobody needs larger file sizes than what is necessary for a 4x6-inch print. It certainly is convenient but it would not enable you to make larger reprints at a later point.

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