There are at least a thousand old slides careful stored in drawers all around the house here in Germany. I’m relatively certain that at least a few must contain interesting and early photos of my wife as a child. Since Rita lived all over the world in her early childhood travels with her oil engineer father and socialite German mom, there’s likely to be some good slides of those far flung places mixed in as well. This is the story of how I am going about retrieving those old slides and getting them into a digital format for posterity with the usual Rube Goldberg flair many of you have come to expect from me. I’m fully aware that there are paid professional services that use dedicated slide to digital conversion scanners. For those of you not aware, I am a cheap bastard with a penchant for finding a way around giving other people my money for anything I can possibly DIY. This blog entry is for those with a similar proclivity.
At a minimum, you’ll need an old backlit handheld slide viewer and a digital camera with enough pixels and short enough focus to make it possible to get a picture off the front of slide viewer. If you happen to have an honest to goodness slide projector and screen, by all means use it instead of the small handheld viewer I am currently limited to. In either case, a tripod for your camera is going to make it a lot easier to keep a consistent distance, focus and steadiness to whatever image you are using as a “master”.
My Sony DSC QX10 camera (connected via QX10’s ad-hoc wifi to my iPad mini) is used to collect the photos of the slides as they are taken. I then dump them off of my iPad onto my Mac Mini for post processing in iPhoto, which involves a quick straightening and cropping for the most part. You can do any digital enhancement you like after the slides are digitized. I use a mini tripod to provide stability and support for the Sony QX10 as well as positioning for best focal length for macro shots. Here’s a better overview of the process, and I show the digitization photo. This slide was not in great shape. The quality of the final product is, in large part, dependent on the quality of the original slide. See the sample set at end of this post for a better overview on what to expect.
I’m early into this process, having converted less than a hundred slides. I took the cover off the slide viewer and since the lamp in it was shot, I decided to use an LED flashlight as a backlight for the illuminating the slides. It’s also a bit easier dealing with the insertion and removal of the individual slides without having the case on. Once you’re set-up, each slide can be digitized through to the QX10 about every ten seconds or so. That’s about how long it takes me to physically remove the old slide and insert the next one, so it works out pretty well for the workflow since I’ve got many, many more slides to process.
I keep the QX10 tethered to external power while doing all the digitization so it won’t go dead on me while I am going through a long set of slides. This assures my QX10 is left in a state of charge where it’s ready to “grab and go” without worrying about the QX10 battery going south on me right outside the door. I have decided against a strategy of buying extra proprietary batteries for those devices which can otherwise be recharged via lithium battery portable chargers. They’re now as cheap as the proprietary batteries and can be used on all my USB charged kit. I’ve currently got two 3000ma ports-chargers in my kit bag.