The Electric Slide... Scanner
April 20, 2007 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a scanner to process hundreds (or more) of 35mm slides as automatically as possible - at decent quality, for a decent price. Suggestions?

My parents have boxes and boxes of old family and vacation slides that I would like to archive digitally. I might find a few gems in there that I'd like to tweak in Photoshop and have printed, but for the most part I think they should just be decent digitizations.

I've searched online and in the archives, but haven't gotten a real sense of what a solution would look like, and for how much. I'm willing to spend a couple hundred dollars if it means I can drop in a batch and walk away. I'm on a Mac G4 Powerbook.

Ever the industrialist, I'm also thinking that if I find a good workflow, I can make some extra dollars converting neighbors' slide collections as well, and perhaps posting my services on Craigslist.

Any advice, suggestions, insights? If you can point me towards specific devices that have served you well, all the better. Let me know if you need more info. Thanks, amigos!
posted by prophetsearcher to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Look to hire a dedicated slide/transparents scanner, rather than buy a flatbed with a converter attachment. To record precious stuff like this, you don't want to play around. If you don't want to post-process (color balance/gamma), a professional-level scanner is what you need.

Also, lots of people offer slide-scanning services, and you'll struggle to undercut them.
posted by humblepigeon at 12:34 PM on April 20, 2007

I've tried various methods of this in the past, none has been as cost efficient as actually taking them someplace to get them done (when you factor in pretty much ANY reasonable rate for my time). In Dallas I always went to B&C, they're a chain that specializes in various photo services, mostly to professionals. It still isn't what I'd call cheap. If I were you I'd do a little pre-processing on the negatives and see which ones you really want, get those scanned to photocds. The others, I don't know. Maybe consider having them printed? Any that you like enough to get digital copies of but not enough to actually get the film scanned, just pop those into a feed-through scanner (so you can scan multiples unattended?)

It's been a few years since I tried, but when I did, film scanners were touchy, slow, and took a lot of manual work to get decent results. I probably could only do 5 scans per hour, and the going rate for photocds at the time was $1 per image (don't know the price today). So it would only be worth my time if I got paid minimum wage or less.
posted by RustyBrooks at 12:53 PM on April 20, 2007

I have a film scanner because I used to shoot on slide film and didn't want to pay an extra buck a frame to get them scanned. I can scan about one roll (36 exposures) per hour.

As I'm not making $36 an hour yet, and can do other things while it's scanning, it makes it a pretty reasonable option for my personal use, but I'd hate to have to do it for anyone else, I'd rather just lend them the scanner. And when I say I can do other things, I mean other things taking into account the fact that I can only do 6 frames in one go. It's pretty painless as long as you're surfing the net or watching tv. Doing anything more involving at the same time would make it too distracting, and doing anything less involving would just bore me to tears.

As for post-processing, you should be able to profile your slides (as long as you can separate them by film-type) and then just apply a batch adjustment to them all. A program like Vuescan will already have profiles for common film types that you can further adjust to make perfect. If you spend the time getting it all set up nicely, it can all work out pretty well.

If you go this route, remember that you don't have to digitize everything. No point spending the time for an image no one will want to see.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:41 PM on April 20, 2007

A couple of hundred will get you a decent flatbed, not a dedicated slide scanner, unless deals on ebay have gotten notably better. Even then you won't get one with a batch feeder.

I have a Canon 8400 I use. While a dedicated scanner would be better I needed something that could handle my old 645 stuff, which one of the dedicated 35MM slide scanners would not. This is all 35MM scan output I think.

The nice thing about the flatbeds, or at least the one I have, is that it'll take several slides in a batch. 5 on mine, if I recall correctly.
posted by phearlez at 2:20 PM on April 20, 2007

Haven’t done a lot of this, but I once spent an afternoon with a friend’s $1500 slide scanner and about 100 10-15 year-old slides that had spent most of their existence hiding in little yellow boxes; it was very tedious, but NOTHING compared to the pain of cleaning the grit and dust off the resulting huge images in PS. I’d cursorily brushed/blown each slide before scanning it, but obviously something more was needed.

Next time, I’m paying a pro shop to do it, after reading up on their cleaning-the-slides-first process and promises.
posted by dpcoffin at 3:02 PM on April 20, 2007

I worked at a photo agency for 6 months or so, and we used these. It's a really sturdy scanner. You can scan 5 slides per batch, it has preset film profiles which might be a real time saver, the interface is decent, and the digital ICE is a real lifesaver....I was scanning slides that were 40 or so years old, some filthy, and undoubtedly saved me countless man hours of tedious work.
posted by nevercalm at 4:02 PM on April 20, 2007

The slides stored in a good environment will be typically have better archival qualities than most digital methods. I'd recommend getting a good storage system for the slides and negatives so that there will be no further degradation. It is still worth it to scan the images to more easily share them with relatives.

As has been said, only spend time scanning and fixing the best or most important images. Don't bother going for the ultra high resolution scans either. 4800 dpi scans are a waste of time if you want to only share the images by email. Give some thought to the end product but also realize that if you want to do very high quality mass scanning then you are probably going to spend over a grand for a dedicated batch slide scanner and gold archival disks.
posted by JJ86 at 6:28 PM on April 20, 2007

Best answer: I got my dedicated film scanner on sale for around $300 years ago (BenQ ScanWit 2740S... don't think it's in production anymore) It is SCSI and very slow, but it does the job and I get nice high rez images. I hooked my father up when he went through his old slides. It is going to be slow going unless you have some uber expensive scanner (are drum scanners slow? They sure cost enough).

What I did with his slides was have him clean them (bad storage) and preview them on my lightbox w/loupe. This got rid of at least 50% of his slides. My scanner does 4 mounted slides at a time. Due to poor storage, I couldn't profile. I did a quick preview and had Dad filter out some more. Got rid of a bunch more that way. Then I showed him how to scan & hooked him up with Neat Image to help with the cleaning. I showed him how to quickly use Levels in Photoshop Elements and told him if he had any badly damaged, but had to save it photos, I would work on them. I also touched up his other favorites for him.

He had his slides stored in projector carousels and he had about 10 of these. It took him a long time, but he did it while doing his daily browsing & Ebaying.

With slides, especially older ones, it is good to have a scanner with Digital ICE or equivalent technology. This will get rid of some of the scratches & dust (oh yes, even if you stored them properly & clean them there will be oogy dust marks on your scans). It doesn't work on B&W or Kodachrome though.

Get a good cleaning & noise removal SW or plugin. I like Neat Image.

Batch process as much as possible. Its still slow going, but less mind numbing.

Oh, and unless someone planned on paying me beaucoup bucks for a single scan & clean, I wouldn't do it for a living with the current speed of affordable scanners.

BTW, good scanners can be found slightly used relatively cheep nowadays. I hear good things about the Nikon Coolscan series.
posted by Empyrean_72 at 8:59 PM on April 20, 2007

Buy a nikon 5000ED (or whatever the current model is) and the robot batch attachment. Drop in 50 slides, come back in an hour or two. Repeat. Sell scanner to another family looking to do the same thing.
posted by mmdei at 10:47 PM on April 20, 2007

Best answer: I second the Nikon 5000ED, and be sure to use the Digital ICE to remove dust (but don't use it on Kodachrome or B&W, it won't work).

Also, I'd suggest dumping whatever software it comes with, and getting yourself a copy of either Silverfast (one of the professional versions) or VueScan (the "Pro" version that's $80ish, not the cheap version) and set up a "Raw" workflow. Basically, you set up the scanner to batch-scan a bunch of slides, and just save the raw scanner output to a file.

Then, when you have a whole bunch done, you can just go back and look at each file fairly quickly, and do your density corrections. To get good results (IMO) you can't let the scanner just produce JPEGs on autopilot, you need to set the white and black point, at minimum, manually.

I really wanted to get a Nikon 5000 with the slide autofeeder, but I was too cheap so I ended up getting a Pacific Image Electronics PrimeFilm 3650Pro3 with a built-in 35mm film autofeeder. Negatives only, though: slides need to be inserted one at a time. I work from home, though, so I can be working with the slide-scanning computer behind me, and just reach back and swap slides and click 'scan' every few minutes and do about 100 a day. Then I go and post-process (I use Vuescan, not Silverfast) in the evenings when I can give it my full attention. This works okay for me, YMMV.

(I can't believe that nobody seems to have a slide scanner around that takes Kodak slide carousels as part of the auto-feeder mechanism. It seems unbelievably stupid to me that in order to use most slide batch-feeders, you have to take them OUT of a device specifically designed to feed them sequentially into another machine. It's a solved engineering problem...but nobody seems to do it. Anyway, enough on that rant.)

If you're only going to do slides and 35mm film, no medium format, I'd stick with dedicated film scanners and not a flatbed, but that's just my personal bias.

The key is just to develop some sort of a workflow, which might take some practice (I ended up deleting the first few days' work I did, because I hadn't figured out the right settings that I settled on eventually) and then do a little each day, every night, so that it stays reasonably fun and doesn't become a terrible chore.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:09 AM on April 21, 2007

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