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Scanning Slides

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Flatbed scanners are very cheap nowadays and great for scanning documents and photos of all types. However if you've ever tried to scan slides (transparencies) or negatives you were probably very disappointed with the results.

Flatbed scanners work by reflecting light off printed stuff - much like a photocopier/xerox. However to scan slides you need a scanner that can shine light through the slide. This is the same reason you have to hold slides up to the light to view them by hand.

There are a few ways around this - and this page was originally written a few years back to talk about the SlideScan device we bought. This is a mirror box which reflects the scanner's light up/over and through the slide making it scan with an ordinary scanner.

 (13 Jan 05)
This device is no longer easy to find - but apparently can be bought from:

It is a bit limited in use though so you may be better off buying a scanner with a built in slide/transparency adaptor. However there are some other suggestions for scanning slides after the SlideScan section so read on:



SlideScan is a scanning adaptor which allows flatbed scanners to cope with slides and negatives. This page details some of my early experiences with it. There used to be some more info on the web about it - but it seems to have gone.

Slidescan copes well with 35mm slides. Depending on the scanner, it also copes with 6x4.5cm and 6x6cm slides. All my tests have been with a cheap OpicPro 4830P flatbed scanner and this can't quite seem to do 6x6cm slides, but it gets close. The following details my best attempt so far:

The original picture of the bus was taken with a
Yashica Mat TLR . This picture is a digital photo (taken on a Pratika Mini Digital Camera) just holding the slide strip up to the window. This camera only has a resolution of 160x120 pixels so obviously is not good enough for anything other than "thumbnails". Though as an aside using a better digital camera can produce reasonable slide scans by this method.

Pratika digital camera photo of 120 slide strip

Here is the same strip under the SlideScan unit on the OpicPro 4830P flatbed scanner.
Photo of SlideScan unit in use

This is what the scanner sees. Note I have used an empty 6x6cm slide mount to help keep the slide flat. This in itself crops the picture slightly.
Scanned image of raw picture generated by SlideScan

The finished result. This copy is at 100dpi, but I actually saved it at 300dpi which retains plenty of detail.
Final scanned image


Digital Camera

Here is another attempt at the same picture using our ageing Epson PhotoPC 650. Yet again - natural light was used for illumination. This time reflected off a white window sill. Its much easier to use a lightbox but obviously this adds to the cost unless you already have one.

Epson digital camera photo of 120 slide strip

There is quite a lot to commend this picture - not least because the camera has managed to get the whole picture area without cropping. The resolution achieved is almost exactly the same as with
SlideScan too and there is more range of tones - especially in the sky. Its clear however that keeping the slide parallel to the camera is a bit of a problem. All in all - very promising though.


Flatbed scanner without SlideScan/transparency adaptor

Its a little known fact but you can scan B+W negatives on almost any flatbed scanner - no transparency/negative adaptor needed.

This is really easy, just stick the negative in the scanner and scan as though it was a paper original. The resulting image will lack contrast - though this can be improved by backing the negative with a sheet of clean white paper. Then use an art package to stretch the tones over the complete range. This will make the blacks blacks and the whites white - and everything in-between will fall into place. Next - just use the 'Negative'/'Invert' function of your art package to transform the negative into a positive.

Its been a while since I used this technique (we now have a scanner with a transparency hood) - but here are a couple of pictures I did this way:

Photo of some disused stone steps

Photo of the edge of an old stone pond

These photos were taken using Jessops 200 ISO B+W print film (using a Voigtlander Brilliant). The negatives were then directly scanned using a cheap OpicPro 4830P flatbed scanner into Coral Photo Paint 7 and turned into positives.

Note this only works with B+W negatives. Colour negatives have a thick orange layer which stops them being viewed by reflected light.

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