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I'm right in the middle of scanning 400 or so slides from the 80's discovered up at our family cottage so while the scanner is doing it's thing I thought I'd collect some of the lessons I've learned over the years.

There are three basic Do It Yourself (DIY) techniques for getting analog image media (i.e slides, film or prints) into the computer.

For prints you have two options; a flatbed scanner or using a digital camera on a copy stand. For negatives there are two options; a dedicated film scanner or a flatbed scanner with a Transparency Adapter (a light source in the lid of the scanner). For slides all three options can be used; a dedicated film scanner, a flatbed scanner or a digital camera with a slide adapter.

Which method to use is based on preference, desired quality and, of course, budget.

Film Scanners:
For slides & negatives a dedicated film scanner will produce the highest quality output with the highest resolution and dynamic range of tonal values. At the highest price, of course. These typically only support the 35mm format and, sometimes, medium format (120, 5x7", 4x4cm 4x6cm ..). Maximum optical resolution is usually between 4800 and 9600dpi. Katrin Eismann has a good reference on Scanning & Print Resolution.

A number of the major players in this venue have discontinued their scanners such as the Nikon Coolscan & Konica/Minolta D'image. Used versions of the discontinued models are still available on the net but you should verify that drivers for your operating system are available. There are bulk film & slide adaptors for the Nikons that are harder to find but can greatly speed up scanning up to 50 slides or complete rolls of film (APS & 35mm).

Plustek still makes film scanners and the 7600i was recently favourably reviewed by Mark Segal at The Luminous Landscape.

Flatbed Scanners:
A Flatbed scanner can be used to scan prints and, if it has a Transparency Adapter (a light in the lid), negative and slides as well. There is great variation in the quality, optical resolution, dynamic range and prices of flatbed scanners. However, they are the most versatile option for most people and one that most people may already own. A excellent reference for scanning using a flatbed scanner is Wayne Fulton's www.scantips.com site.

If you are considering a flatbed scanner look for at least 2400dpi or 4800dpi optical resolution. This can be difficult to discern without looking at a detailed specification sheet.

Also of importance is the size of the light source in the lid. A small or narrow light source can limit the number of slides or negatives you can scan at once. Not an issue for casual use but of importance if you are looking at starting a big project.

The dynamic range (Dmax) can also vary greatly between models. Dmax is the range of lightness detail the scanner can discern. The larger the number the more tonal information the scanner can capture. A Dmax between 3.8 and 4.0 is desirable for good image quality. Film Scanners typically have Dmax values between 4 and 4.8.

Most flatbed scanners will support 35mm slides & negatives. If you have negative or slide sizes of other film formats to digitize then verify that the scanner and it's bundled software support them. A common format not supported by lower end units is the 126 "super slide" roll film format popularized by Kodak for use in their Instamatic camera. Higher end units may have holders for medium or large film formats.

To see the current discussion on slide & flatbed scanners see these threads:

Digital Cameras:
Digital cameras can be used to digitize slides or prints. For mounted, large, or prints stuck to glass or badly silvered this may be the only feasible method for digitizing images.

Copy Stands are usually constructed with a fixed, heavy base with a adjustable height column that the camera attaches to. 2 or more lights are mounted to the base on arms angles at 45 degrees to minimize reflections.

There are many DIY projects for converting old film enlargers to copy stands.

A wall, tripod and lights may be used to fashion the equivalent of a copy stand. The print to be copied is attached to the wall. A tripod is used to secure the camera at the same height as the print. Lights are placed at 45 degree angles to evenly illuminate the print.

Slide Copiers are devices that sit on the end of a DSLR lens or replaces the lens and holds a slide or negative. They use ambient light to illuminate the slide (think hand-held slide viewer). Nikon makes the ES-1 and many third party models are available for point and shoot digital cameras.

Software:
The bundled software that comes with a scanner (film or flatbed) can make all the difference in quality and ease of batch scanning. Most more expensive flatbed models also come bundled with Adobe PhotoShop Elements which can offset the investment assuming you have use for the software.

There is also third party software for scanning. A popular title that supports many scanners is Vue Scan. LaserSoft imaging produces SilverFast which can be difficult to use but is highly regarded by fine art photographers.

A feature found in some film and flatbed scanners is Digital ICE support. The light source in these scanners has an additional infrared component that the Digital Ice software uses to automagically remove noise, dirt, dust & scratches. This typically greatly increases the time to scan.

Lessons Learnt:
Determine your naming convention before you begin. As some of the negative & prints I have archived don't have a date but usually can be sorted by decade I use a filename like: Slide_195X_<NN> or Scan_195X_<NNN>. For a roll of slides I use Slide_<Index>_<NN> where NN or NNN is a range of numbers with leading zeros for sorting. This works for me but YMMV the important thing is to develop a naming convention then apply it consistently.

Think about how you are going to archive the images (DVD-R, on-line service, Removable Drives).

Use Tags (MetaData, XMP, EXIF ...) to describe who, what where, when & why for the files.

Save your images as TIFFs. You can always resize and save the images as JPEG for display later. The JPEG file format is lossy and every time you open the file for editing you lose detail.

Pixels can always be thrown away but once gone they can not be replaced. Scan at the highest resolution you might need and make sure it is a integer fraction of the maximum resolution. I usually scan slides & 35mm negatives at 2400dpi though my scanner is natively 4800dpi. My printer is 240dpi which will give me a 8x10" print or a 4"x6" print with lots of detail I can crop if I choose.

I always use the histogram to set the white, black & midtones when scanning (see "A Simple Way to Get Better Scans") so I scan using a 8-bit-per-pixel bit depth (i.e. 256 gray shades or 24-bit colour). If, however, you need to adjust the image to correct colour balance (whites are coloured) then you should scan using 16 bits per pixel (65,536 shades of grey or 48-bit colour).

If money were no object and I had unlimited storage and RAM for PhotoShop I would always scan at 16 bits per pixel and the maximum resolution of the scanner.

Turn off the built in "noise reduction", "dust & scratches filter" and other "auto" corrections in the scanning software. These types of functions are better done by your image editing software.

Buy lots of cotton gloves and "Dust Off" to keep the slides clean & minimize the dust you scan. It's easier to clean the dust off the slides and negatives before scanning than to spend time using PhotoShop or digital ice later.

Think about how to store the old media (archival file folders, archival negative & slide holders) and how you will relate the indexes on the storage to the naming convention used for the digital files. This way when Great Aunt Betty wants a copy of that picture of Great Grand Uncle Fester you can find it easily.
 

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Some post

That was one heck of a first post in a thread. Lots of good information.

I have read the other threads on scanning and have a general question.

I have been scanning slides for the past few years using a HP S20 scanner. I have done at least 3000 left by my father and several hundred from other sources. I am happy with the results to date. I probably have about 2000 more to scan.

However, the HP is getting old and there are no drivers for Windows 7 or Vista.

So my question is, how would the S20 compare with the Plustek or the Epson V700.

Any thoughts?
 

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Discussion Starter #4
That was one heck of a first post in a thread. Lots of good information. ...
Thanks - I'm still scanning slides but I intended that this post could answer some basic questions and maybe turn into a Howto.
I have read the other threads on scanning and have a general question.

I have been scanning slides for the past few years using a HP S20 scanner. I have done at least 3000 left by my father and several hundred from other sources. I am happy with the results to date. I probably have about 2000 more to scan.

However, the HP is getting old and there are no drivers for Windows 7 or Vista.

So my question is, how would the S20 compare with the Plustek or the Epson V700.

Any thoughts?
The HP S20 Specifications state that it is a 2400dpi optical scanner that supports up to 36-bit color depth. It will only scan 1 slide or a strip of 5 negatives at a time.

The Epson V700 Specifications[/b][/u] has an optical resolution of 4800dpi and 48-bit color. It will scan 4 6-negative film strips or 12 slides at once. It retails for $650 but can be found refurbished occasionally from Epson for about 1/3 less with the full warranty.

The Plustek 7600i SE Specifications has a resolution of 7600dpi and up to 48-bit color and will scan 4 slides at once or one 6-image filmstrip. It retails for around $675 in Canada

36bit color means 12bits per pixel, 48bit color is 16bits per pixel. Every additional bit per pixel is a doubling of the tonal range.

The PlusTek advertises a Dynamic Range (Dmax) of 3.5 wheras the Epson advertises 4.0. More is better but the manufacturer's values are sometime exaggerated.

The Epson can scan medium format negatives and reflective documents (prints & papers).

Being able to scan multiple slides at once is a huge productivity boost (I scanned 24 slides while writing this)
 

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Thanks for the fast reply.

I just did some searching for old reviews of the S20 and found a dymax of 3.0 (HP did not seem to state one). Looks like either would be a nice step up.

Also, the S20 uses USB 1 and the newer ones use 2.0 so I should see a speed increase.

Re vuescan, it won't help with Win 7 as it uses HP's libraries.


PS: I have been reading this forum (mostly video and media PC stuff) for some time and did not realize that there were scanner people and threads around.

Also, since I have a media PC connected to my 40" LCD TV, I find it is a great way to look at the results of my scanning.

PS: again... I was thinking about your last comment - "Being able to scan multiple slides at once is a huge productivity boost (I scanned 24 slides while writing this)", does this mean that you can select 12 slides, clean them up, put them in the scanner, and then wonder off to feed the cat, make a coffee, etc, while the scanner does the work. If so, what happens if you want to make a colour or other adjustment before saving each one?
 

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...PS: again... I was thinking about your last comment - "Being able to scan multiple slides at once is a huge productivity boost (I scanned 24 slides while writing this)", does this mean that you can select 12 slides, clean them up, put them in the scanner, and then wonder off to feed the cat, make a coffee, etc, while the scanner does the work. If so, what happens if you want to make a colour or other adjustment before saving each one?
Yes, I've been surfing, taking out the trash, setting up my PVR and loading slides 8 at a time. With the Epson software it produces thumbnails of the slides and I can adjust each one individually to adjust the color levels, balance, backlight correction ... then just hit scan and it goes off and does it's thing for 10 - 15 minutes. When it's done I load another 8 and repeat until I've finished a box of 24 or 36. Then I hit done and it imports them all into the TWAIN application I started it from.
 

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Couple of Comments

I tried scanning slides back in the 1990's. I can't even remember the brand of the flatbed scanner, but it had a sliding drawer with various holders for different transparancy sizes. The quality was mediocre and eventually I'm going to have to re-scan all those slides at higher resolution and greater dynamic range.

In terms of resolution, slides should be much better than negatives or prints. That's why I have 100k + slides filed away. Some slide scanners will allow a multipass scanning which results in greater dynamic range. David Brooks threw out a comment that prints and slides only have a dynamic range of 3.4 and hence you don't need a scanner with greater dynamic range.

I'm not certain about this claim. I am certain that prints have a lower dynamic range than slides. Kodachrome might be different than Ektachrome in dynamic range. In fact, it might be lower.

I am a little fuzzy on bits of colour. My understanding for digital cameras is that (except for Foveon) light passes through filters to gain colour information and, based upon brightness, the processor assigns a value for each colour. Most DSLRs now manifest 14-bit colour. Hence, using 14 bits, the camera can assign 16,384 different levels of brightness for each primary colour. Hence, 16,384 cubed is the total number of available digital colours for such a camera. That is, the processor is an analogue-to-digital converter.

However, most people scan into JPEGs. By definition, these are 24-bit colour for each pixel. So you might start with "billions and billions" of colours and get down to 16.7 million if you store as a JPEG.

Note that there are 8 bits to a byte. Hence a 24-bit JPEG has 3 bytes to a pixel. That is, a 12 Megapixel sensor will yield photos of 36 Megabytes when opened (decompressed). (The number will be smaller because of the confusion between marketing and scientists. Scientists defined a Kilobyte as 1,024 bytes. Hence, the open file will show as a smaller number of Megabytes than 36. Marketers like Big numbers and hence your external hard drive, marketed as 1 TB will show up as 931 GB in Windows.)

So if you want to retain all the data, don't store as a JPEG. Store as a 16-bit per channel TIFF or a PNG. I am uncertain what the lossless JPEG2000 bit depth is.

Also, note that film has "grain". The higher the ISO, the greater the size of the grains. The only film for which I could not see the grain via a scope is Panatomic X Black & White film. For colour, Kodachrome had the finest grain and slide films in general had smaller sized grain than did negative film.

I recall reading a long time ago that the grain size of the film was the limiting factor in scanning, not the scanner's DPI. I believe that today's scanners exceed that necessary to obtain everything available in a piece of film.

I believe that the companies doing the digital conversions of old movies scan 4,000 lines per frame. If a frame were 2 inches high, then the scanning is 2,000 DPI. So I believe that the Plustek 7600 is overkill for scanning resolution.

I have a Nikon 9000 scanner nowadays (and a flatbed). I too am concerned about the availability of drivers for the future. I know it's possible to run XP inside of Windows7 if you have the right version of Windows 7. Hence you should be able to run the scanner on current PCs. Also companies like Silverfast offer software for the scanners. I am not certain, but suspect that their software will operate a scanner directly under Windows 7.
 

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gordonb, great post and thank-you. One of our family projects this winter is to digitize a lot of old slides and photos. I will have to read your post in coming weeks for advice!
 

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"In terms of resolution, slides should be much better than negatives or prints. That's why I have 100k + slides filed away. Some slide scanners will allow a multipass scanning which results in greater dynamic range. David Brooks threw out a comment that prints and slides only have a dynamic range of 3.4 and hence you don't need a scanner with greater dynamic range."

I have never heard the same number applied to both prints amd slides before (3.4), can you point me at David Brooks's comment?

I am curious what else he might have said?
 

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Dynamic Range

My recollection is that my Nikon 9000 slide scanner is supposed to have a dynamic range of 4.8. However, I cannot find that number after a quick glance at the Specifications in the manual.

In his review of the Plustek 7600i, David Brooks wrote (in SHUTTERBUG), "The Plustek OpticFilm 7600i has a dynamic range of 3.5. This is a greater range than the density of any slide film that is, at maximum, not more than 3.2 or 3.3."

He seems to be justifying the relatively low dynamic range specification of the Plustek with his comment. I think most older dedicated slide scanners have a dynamic range greater than 4.0. Flat bed scanners generally have lower dynamic range specifications than dedicated scanners.

Based upon experience, I would expect that if one photographed a scene in dappled lighting with both slide film and print film, that one could perceive greater shadow detail in the slide film. I don't know how much might be lost in printing, however, but note that colour film has an extra layer or two in it and I expect that the dynamic range of print film is less than that of slide film.

Hence, if Brooks' comment is true for slide film, then it must be true for print film.

Secondly, the dedicated film scanners can obtain improved dynamic range by performing multiple passes over the same image. Multiple passes also decrease noise in the scan (which is more likely to appear in shadowy areas of an image).
 
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