Unlocking Travel Photos from 35 mm Slides

I don’t think my dilemma was uncommon.  I had stacks of 35 mm slides tucked in a closet. Mine only spanned about 8 years, which for many with my problem, is a short time.  None the less, I had close to 2000 travel slides, starting with my 1995 semester in Italy, to our third trip to Italy in 2002. Shortly thereafter I finally purchased a Pentax D*ist digital SLR.  It replaced my Pentax K1000 and subsequent Pentax ZX auto-focus 35 mm.

For years I had wanted to get the slides digitized.  But the equipment to do it was very expensive and slow.  Services are out there to do it, but even at $0.25 each image that would have cost hundreds of dollars.

Some of the 1,725 35 mm slides I have scanned so far.

As a frugal guy, I looked into alternatives.  I read some articles about scanning with a high quality digital camera, which I know owned in my Pentax K50.  So, as you can see below, I set up an LED light table, rigged with a straightedge ledge and black paper mask, along with my camera on a tripod with a remote shutter release.  I also had already in my possession, three macro lens filters that screw on to my standard 18-70 lens.

My scanner without a scanner set up.  Total nerd-shot.

This did just an ok job.  It was also very slow.  It took some time to get the focus right, and honestly, after staring into the light table for a while, my focus went wonky at times because of my eyes.  I also shot in RAW, which took an extreme amount of memory.  Then I would have to crop and fool with the contrast and colors in Photoshop.  But I was able to pull several of my more memorable slides out of the backlog to enjoy anew.

Here are a couple examples from this process:

Trevi at Night.

Uncropped Sistine Chapel

Then I began seeing some alternatives I could afford.  Epson has a slide, negative and photo scanner in the V600 which I was able to pick up for just over $200.00.  It had good reviews along with the on board imaging program.  I fine tuned my process in Professional Mode over time, and ended up using 16,000 resolution.  This produces an image that I couldn’t really make out any imperfections over higher resolutions and each file was in the neighborhood of just 2 MB.  you can do four slides at a time, and make adjustments to color, back lighting, contrast, etc. for each individual slide, then run all four at once.  It takes about 7-10 minutes at this setting for all four jpgs to finalize, and I was saving all the files to a thumb drive.  I have since backed them all out on the cloud storage we have.

Over four months, doing a few sleeves a weekend on average, I was able to scan 1,725 images that previously had been dormant.  Not only the memorable shots that I would pull out from the masses, but the more subtle slides that may not have looked as desirable from just holding the slide up to the light.  Because I scanned all my slides, my efforts revealed some images I may have never really seen again.  And of course, those slides I used my contraption to scan were improved by the use of the Epson.

Improved Trevi at Night Scan.  Much sharper focus.
Improved Sistine Scan.  Much improved color rendering.  I am hoping the new Pope will forgive me for snapping this.

While in Pisa, this is not the typical shot, but I think this one turned out really well.

Not exactly a shot for over the fireplace, but I like it none the less.
It may seem like an obvious statement, but architects tend to take photos of buildings.  And boy did I. But after sorting through all those photos, some of my favorites are of people.  Some I knew, others, like the cobblestone guy, I did not.
Artichoke Man is one of my favorites.
A couple of classmates of ours, resting in front of Santa Croce in Florence.
I had a lot wrapped into my slides.  And as time went on, they became a record of the travels with my wife and our friends.  Though it was a lot of work, I feel extremely accomplished in getting all these into a format that is useful.  It will be a lot easier to do a slide show in PowerPoint than changing out all those slide carousels for a projector show…