Digitizing 35mm slides without a slide scanner

Sue has a large collection of 35mm and (I think) medium format slides and we’d been looking around for a way of getting some prints from them without giving them to someone else and hoping they’ll take care of them. We discovered in the end that we had all the equipment we needed just lying around in the house!

Of course the first thing we tried was scanning them using the trusty HP OfficeJet all-in-one, but the results were really quite disappointing. We’d tried the same thing with negatives before, with equally disappointing results. The colours were really bad (far too dark), and the resolution was appallingly low.

Next we tried looking at purpose-built slide scanners. These things are quite pricey, and I actually couldn’t find one that was affordable and had Linux support. I had heard you could get slide holders for scanning slides on a conventional scanner, but couldn’t find out much about where to get them from. I did find a page describing how to make one yourself, so we tried that — it was rubbish. It was fun to make, but gave no better results than just scanning the slides as they were.

It was at this point we discovered that the HP scanner hits some sort of resolution limit at about 400dpi, beyond which the results get markedly worse. When the slide is only an inch and a half wide, 400 dots per inch is quite a lot lower than we were hoping for. The advertised resolution of the scanner is 1200dpi, but never mind.

Somewhere I’d read that another approach would be to take digital pictures of the slides on a lightbox. So, slightly resigned to the whole effort being a failure, and about to give up, I suggested to Sue that she should have a quick go at that. Bingo!

The rigUsing a macro lens, a tripod, a lightbox, a chair and a pillow, Sue managed to get much better results than I had with the scanner. To get the slide as close to the lens as it would focus, she inclined the lightbox to about 30 degrees on top of a chair, holding it there with a pillow. The slide was kept in place with some sellotaped bits of paper! Once it was lined up correctly the photo was taken using the infra-red remote shutter release trigger.

The line upThe slides were not quite full frame in the camera, but not very far from it. The lightbox provided a nice evenly-lit background, and the tripod and remote trigger avoided any shaking while taking the picture. Each slide had to be perfectly square on to the lens to make sure it was all in focus.

Pixie House slideOnce the pictures were all taken it was just a matter of cropping them on the computer. To get prints from these digitized images, we’ll probably take the easy route and send them to PhotoBox. 🙂

Here is a reduced-size version of the finished result, a picture of the Pixie House (Harbour Lights) in Boscastle, taken sometime in the 1960s:

The Pixie House

UPDATE: This building was washed away during flooding in recent years.  Since then, we visited Boscastle and took some pictures.  Here is a picture of the rebuild:

124 Responses to “Digitizing 35mm slides without a slide scanner”

  1. George O says:

    This is a similar idea to Tim’s light box but using a white light source should eliminate the need for colour modification. It is also cool and therefor will not damage / curl the negative/slide.


  2. Dieter says:

    Hi all

    What a lot of lost time. I did my scans in the past (in Germany) like that:

    Put 100 slides in a box, bring them to a good photoshop (one for professional phptographers or reporters) and ask for scanning them onto Kodak Photo CD. Only this Kodak format, not jpeg!!

    They send your slides to a bigger processing company, they have a highspeed slide scanner for this Kodak format.

    You get your CD back and the slides. One picture was so 18 MB big and the resolution so high, that you can see the structure of the film (50 ASA!!!!) or on a PC screen the picture is 1.5 metres wide!

    The price was not so much, the CD contains 100 pictures. (I have 6000 slides and there it can cost something and I do not know where to go here, but Tesco people said they can send it to Kodac. But reconfirm this five times before they finish you with jpeg scans!!)

    Dieter, Andover

  3. Rick Bransby says:

    Hi Tim

    I have read through the comments posted and think collectively, I am now confident of some good results using your original set up….
    One of the questions along the way was regarding a Cable Release for Digital Cameras? Answered by the use of the inbuilt timer Mode (Brilliant)
    However, on searching for items with regard to my attempt at copying to Digital, I came across a cable release for Digital cameras that encompasses the Camera on the side of the Shutter control thus symulating the 35mm screw threaded mount release…
    Obtainable on http://www.hama.co.uk for £12.99

  4. John Beckwith says:

    Re Graham Parks (September 16th 2007) – how are you progressing with the “back” projection idea?
    What projector material is suitable for this – ground glass?

  5. Ron says:

    I’ve read all the posts, and it seems to me that the simplest and most inexpensive solution is a slide duplicator, available for most digital cameras.

    Here’s one for the Canon S2 IS from 47th St. Photo (US) for $59, but I think if you shop around, you can probably find them for less.

    Also liked the idea above about having the slides duplicated at a photo lab. Here in the States, even Walgreens (a drugstore chain) offers slide duplication to CD.

    There are also several services online that do this as well, including:



    Hope this helps.

  6. Andrew Edgley says:

    Not much mention on this otherwise thought-provoking forum, about software for converting colour negs to true colour positives, once scanned. Does anyone know whether this is easy? Is there any software out there that will batch this sort of job, rather than having to do each one individually? Lastly – does the whole backlight and re-photograph idea work OK for colour negs, or just for slides?

  7. bobo says:

    This was just what I was looking for as I have 1 slide to do. Don’t want to spend ANY money and already had a sweet scanner. Thanks for the post.

  8. David E. Casteel says:

    I recently purchased one of the VuPoint FS-C1-VP slide scanners from the airline Sky Mall (Hammaker-Schemmler), which is probably the unit some have reported for about 100USD. One definitely gets what one pays for–the slide holders are plastic and don’t align the slides quite right, requiring some fiddling. I’m not sure the focus is absolutely correct, and the unit includes software that “fixes” the exposure, color, etc. for you–that is not a real problem for normal slides, but it sure messes up night shots. There does not appear to be any way to disable that feature, either. I am using a makeshift neutral-density filter atop the slide to improve the performance on night shots (it helps), but the unit definitely is not high quality. I am seeking a better alternative, preferably something that does not cost an arm and a leg and an ability to work with slides in Carousel trays would be highly desirable.

    I wish there were an attachment that would couple a Carousel projector Ektanar lens directly to a digital SLR–that would provide a predictable light source and tray-handling in one package; in addition, the speed of image capture with the camera (I have a Nikon D50) is very fast, compared to the many seconds using the VuPoint device.

    The VuPoint unit comes with software that can do some editing of the images. My Dell computer came with JASC software and that is what I have been using. Photoshop (R) it’s not, but it does a pretty good job. There are 2 products in the JASC suite: Jasc Paint Shop Pro 8 and Paint Shop Photo Album. The former has the larger set of editing functions and the latter has some multiple image functions to apply to a whole album (or selected images) in parallel.

    If anyone has any idea of a set of hardware fixtures that could directly couple a Carousel projector to a digital camera, I would be very interested in learning about it. Thanks.

  9. Philip Lindop says:

    I have not read all the replies to your problem so you may already have had a similar reply but I use a Epson Perfection 1650 which has a frame to hold the transparences or negatives,the software will take care of the difference in the colour and Paint shop Pro does the rest.I am doing some negs and transparencies which I took 50 years ago and the prints come out as good as the original,you are not going to get higher quality pictures than the original that will depend on the transparency.It is worth it in the end and can bring back a lot of good memories.

  10. We now use a good German magazine slide scanner to produce good quality scans at a reasonable speed and cost, and consistent quality. 1200 dpi is fine for normal use (viewing and manipulating the family photos), but our scanner will go up to 3600 dpi if required. Of course that is much slower, and produces much larger jpg files. ICE dust and scratch removal is also available, but in our experience is only worth using if the slides are in bad condition. More details at http://www.slidesoncd.co.uk

  11. Peter Revell says:

    Thank you Tim for initiating this valuable and informative thread! I don’t think Mog was being unkind, he was being objective but if he had been around for 75 years and had used all the chromes that were available in the 60s he might have had a different perspective. I have a solution which might satisfy both of you.

    I have the same problem as most other posters – thousands of Kodachromes to be digitised. Mine are of wild flowers, especially orchids, to be transmitted to websites. I can’t afford several thousands of pounds for a decent slide scanner.

    My cameras are all Nikons but none are digital. However, I have several lenses and I have a 55mm f2.8 Micro-Nikkor for which Nikon still make a dedicated slide copying adapter. This is the ES-1 which also fits the AF Micro-Nikkor 60mm f2.8D lens. I recently discovered this adapter on an American website. Over there it costs an arm and a leg for two plastic tubes and two slide clips and a diffuser just as it does over here. The lowest price I could find was £42.72 delivered, from Amazon.co.uk.

    Fortunately all Nikon bodies with the Nikon F lens mount are backward compatible with lenses so the D40 DSLR (NOT the D40X!) which is receiving rave reviews at a bargain basement price (£260) should make the perfect slide copier. I don’t think the metering will work accurately first time out of the box but since film is not being used experiments with manual settings should soon quickly establish perfect exposure with electronic flash.

  12. janieford says:

    most helpful ideas re slides to digital.

    I am having reasonable results with a slide viewer (hand-held) and a digital camera set on macro.
    also projected onto screen gives quite good results.
    neither very sharp but at least its a good image that I can remember.
    slides are 40 years old.

    Please can someone clever!! answer a question.
    Can I use old roll film SLR lenses on a digital camera? screw fitting.


  13. Peter Revell says:

    Hello Janie,

    I am clever but not that clever! I would have to be psychic to answer your question without facts.

    1. Roll film – do you mean size 120 or 35mm?

    2. Digital camera – is it a DSLR – what make therefore what lens mount?

    3. Screw fitting – do you mean the Pentax M42 mount? I don’t remember any M42 mount lenses that were outstanding in their era which was then dominated by Minolta and Nikon lenses plus Canon later on. M42 mount lenses would not justify the expense of an adaptor to a bayonet mount. There were rumours of fantastic Russian M42 lenses for peanuts but quality control was so poor that I never saw a glowing review. Three Russian 35mm cameras which I bought only delivered average results.

    I would pension off your M42 lenses, there are much better lenses available now.

  14. sunnyjim says:

    Did Batesey 20/7/07 resolve his problem. I too wish to scan old newspapers on 35mm microfiche rolls and then use some text recognition software so that I can research by keywords

  15. janieford says:

    hallo peter r

    thanks for reply.it was 35mm. various makes of lenses.

    only thought to use them for the sake of sentiment ( presents)

    will pursue idea of new system when funds allow!!


  16. alan bray says:

    Hi all, For any of you not wishing to do slide transfers yourself,Asda do them at 20p each-cheapest I could find.Fuji process ,no postage ,good result(though I have not compared with professional transfer).If I had some special slides I would pay the difference for a pro job but Asdas seem ok for average holiday pics.Did my half frame slides too.

  17. DAVID TASSELL says:

    Hi All,

    They used to call me MOG but I am not the one who posted the comments about that super photo in Cornwall. MOG, in my case, stood for Miserable Old Git!

    Back to the pics. Recently bought a Photofix Copier for scanning my 35mm slides which cost £99. OK to begin with then Ouch! Transfer times went from 5 seconds to way out. Went on the web to see if I could get some advice but the pro sites said OK for strip 35mm but not for slides. If anyone should know how I can get this thing to transfer at a decent rate please let me know.

    Great idea Tim. I’ll give it a shot.

    David – AKA Mog (2).

  18. chris l says:

    “I would pension off your M42 lenses, there are much better lenses available now.”


    I must take issue with the staement that 42mm lenses are obsolete.

    The 1.8 50mm Pentacon was judged by Photo Technique in 1976 to be the best standard lens available. Against Leica, Nikon, Rolleis Planar, the lot!
    It remains a superb piece of glass.

    In addition the new range of Zeiss 42mm lenses have bought current world class designs to those of us who still rate film.

    I’ll back my super Takumars, Flektogons and Pentacon against any digital.

    Check out how many 42mm/Eos adaptors are selling on eBay.


  19. Clive Wright says:

    Hello Tim
    Like many older people I had a vast accumulation of 35mm slides and wanted to digitize them. The cost of having them processed by a commercial firm would have proved very costly and the few I submitted for test copying gave very poor results, pronounced streaking.
    Having recently purchased a new camera, a Fuji Finepix S8000fd with 8Mpixels & a SuperMacro facility focusing down to 1cm (0.4″). I placed a slide on a small lightbox and held the camera approximately this disance in front of the lens and produced a fair digitized copy. Even the facial detection system works in this copy mode!
    To eliminated camera shake and make the copying easier I then designed and manufactured a simple rig to attach the camera to and position the slide to be copied at the correct distance cover the entire film area, negating any need to crop the digitized image as the camera has a 3:2 quality setting. I have used this rig with both a lightbox and with a white diffuser positioned behind the slide using either the sun or a 60watt lamp as the light source.
    The beauty of this rig is that it doesn’t require a steady hand (older people again) or the use of a tripod.
    If you are interested I can supply photographs of the rig and drawings for producing the rig. No great skill is required as all components are produced from easily available alluminium sheet and assembled using super Glue.
    If you are interested supply e-mail address.
    Clive Wright (Paaaaa)

  20. Duncan Davies says:

    Hello Tim
    I’m afraid I’m a latecomer to your site. I likewise have tried a quite expensive Nikon scanner (belonged to my son) – which worked well for B&W negatives – and recently a new Epson V100 scanner with an attachment – neither could get quality enough or answer the pressure of 3000+ slides.
    Having seen a letter in PCW mag suggesting a DSLR plus a projector, I have managed so far 71 boxes of slides – without further expenditure – using a Kodak Carousel S and my new Nikon D80. The latter has a nice cable release. Quality varies and the curvature of the slides can be annoying but I have got a reasonable average. A big problem seems to be that my best colour slides were if anything underexposed: Kodachrome 25 and the 64. Digital cameras prefer slight overexposure!
    Taking the pictures is fast – at first I used a jpeg setting but have now had to fall back on Raw processing. Doing this in Photoshop is great but is driving me mad (I even dream in matadata).
    What is good is that I am arriving at ‘new’ solutions for many slides and have been able to correct things which have been wrong for many years! -The flexibility all this gives is amazing. It can even deal with PINK ektachromes…
    Keep working
    Duncan Davies