Digitizing slides and negatives on the cheap
By Dierk Topp
what is this about?
A fast, easy and cheap solution for digitizing slides and negatives
The main idea is, to use the light of a tablet as a neutral white light source and solve the (my) main problem with the light.
The rest can be done in many different ways.
Many of us have tons of analog photographs in form of slides and/or negatives at home. I think, most of us don’t even look at these pictures any more, as it is just too much effort for showing slides compared to the great show of our digital images, stored on a stick and shown on our large TV screen. Even worse with all the negatives, that where never seen as positive print.
Since many years I was looking for a solution to digitize at least my slides with all the old pictures of the family, vacations and many other events, that I like to remember and give copies to my family. I used my DSLR with macro lenses and my Photo scanner but have been always very disappointed.
The problem with the DSLR was the light and the resolution (at that time 12 MPix) and the problem with the scanner was the boring time per scan, and also the resolution of only 2400 DPI!
Some time ago I noticed, that my tablet can be used as an ideal light source.
The light is very neutral (I checked it with the Colorchecker). And I came up with the following quick and “not so dirty” solution, of course not for professional work.
What do you need?
1. a camera, that gives you 1:1 close up images (the Sony E-mount Macro 30mm does it, many compact cameras as well)
2. your tablet (a smart phone may do it as well) as light source
3. a tripod or better a copy stand to mount the camera
4. clear glass pane (I use the glass of a cheap photo frame)
5. a bubble level to align the base and camera horizontally and/or a small mirror
6. a remote trigger for the camera to avoid vibrations
7. a transparent etched glass pane (or a milky glass pane, but that absorbs much light)
8. a negative holder from a photo scanner
9. a good blower to clean the glass and the slides or film
10. dark paper or card board to protect the lens from direct light from the tablet with a matching whole in it for your picture
11. cotton gloves for the handling of your negatives and slides
The set up:
(sorry for my English, I hope, I can make it clear enough)
* For first tests I used the Sony NEX-6 and the Sony E-mount Macro lens 30mm/3.5 with the IR remote control. After a few test shots I found, that the Sony Macro is very soft in the corners, but it offers AF! This could be very convenient, if you copy different slides with different thickness.
After that I decided to try the excellent Leica Makro-Elmarit-R 2.8/60mm with the Leica Macro-Adapter-R for 1:1 with very good results. BTW you get the used Leica lens for about the same price as the new Sony Macro lens. Plus a Leica-R adapter of course.
* The copy stand (mine is from B.I.G.) for about 30€, for small cameras. I cut a hole into the base plate and put the etched glass pane under it and below this the tablet
* On the base of the copy stand I put the glass of a picture frame
* You have to make sure, that the film and the sensor are parallel! I did it with a mirror, that I put on the glass and aligned the camera till I could see the reflection of the lens exactly in the middle of the screen. A bubble level on the glass (to control, how horizontal the table is) and on the camera display will help as well.
* Before you start, like in the good old days or nights in the darkroom you have to clean the glass and of course the slides or negatives carefully!
* On the tablet you need a neutral white image. I made one by taking a screen shot of an email with very little text and enlarged the screen so much that I had only the white background and then did another screen shot.
Of course there are many other ways for a white screen.
Try to focus on the grain with the focus magnification of the camera, as we used to do in the darkroom. With original lenses you do not have to take care but on adapted lenses like my Leica lens in this case open the aperture and focus with the magnification – and don’t forget to stop down again! I used f/11 to compensate for any misalignment. With the Sony Macro lens the AF worked as well. But with AF you definitely need an etched or milky glass pane, otherwise your camera will focus at the contrast of the LED of your tablet most of the times! This will be the same with other AF cameras.
What resolution do you get?
any, only limited by the grain!!
If you do the whole film with one shot, you get the resolution of your camera. If you need more resolution, you have to get closer and shoot multiple images and stitch. In that case of course with manual exposure.
With 35mm film this does not make much sense, as you may get beyond the resolution of the film grain.
With larger formats is makes a lot of sense.
I have 24×56 negatives from my Horizon 202 panorama camera and shoot two images (left and right) and stitch.
With 6×6 negatives I did 4 shots (2×2) with the NEX-6 and stitch. After I tried the Sony A7R with 36 MPix I decided to do only one shot and crop the sides to the 1:1 format. If I need higher resolution for a really good photograph, I always can do it again later with multiple shots and get higher resolution.
With my 4×5 negatives I did 6 shots (2×3) and stitched. Again I can do one shot now and do multiple shots for more resolution later, if I want.
How long does it take?
If everything is aligned and cleaned, I shoot 10 negatives in 15 minutes or even faster.
For comparison: I scanned a 6×6 negative with my old Epson 2450 Photo with 2400 dpi resolution and it took 10 minutes and I got less resolution!
I import the RAW files into Light Room and use Photoshop for the conversion from negative to positive and do basic exposure and contrast corrections. Back in Lightroom on color images I try to find a more or less white or gray spot as a reference for the white balance and do the final processing.
A picture is better than many words, here is my set up:
The Sony Macro 30mm in 1:1 position for slides and 35mm negatives
a dark paper mask protects the lens from the light source, the paper on the left protects against the light from the window or you shoot in a dark room you see the mate glass pane and under it the tablet with the white image on the display.
you see the whole in the copy stand for the light from the tablet
the NEX-6 with the Leica Makro-Elmarit-R 60mm with 1:1 Macro-Adapter-R on a Metabones adapter
a 6×6 negative, I used the negative holder of my scanner
The alignment with a mirror
see the image of the mirror in the center of the display of the camera!
And here are first results :-)
the color images are here on my flickr
I don’t remember the film, but it was a high speed film with Vaseline on the filter for the soft focus
focus on the grain was a must on this one
This example is very special, I made it 1970 in New York City
you see the World Trade Towers during construction with my at that time new 17mm/4 Fish-Eye-Takumar
the quality of the slides is very poor
These are stitched images from 24x56mm negatives of the Russian Horizon 202
images on flickr are here:
6×6 images made with the DDR made Pentacon Six
are here on flickr:
6×6 color negative Agfa Ultra 100
color negative is not easy, you would need a profile to compensate the color mask of the film
and B&W from Agfa APX 100
this one is from a 4×5″ B&W negative, made with Gandolfi Variant II
6 stitched image parts (2×3)
Last but not least panorama images from a time, when stitching images was not jet invented.
My plan for these images has been, to mount the printed images together as a panorama – but it never came out good enough.
Now with the simple to use software it worked great to my surprise :-)
4 images 6×6 from the Pentacon Six on Agfa Ultra color negative film (1992), stitched with PTGui
the image with this resolution is about 17.000 pixel wide. Compared to the possibilities from today this does not sound much. I just did a panorama with 7 images from the Sony A7R hand held, resulting in 37.000 pixel – o.k. just in case I want to print it 5m wide :-))
A last one, I made with the Gandolfi Variant 4×5″ field camera
This is the most complicated panorama, I ever made :-)
It is made out of two 4×5″ shots from Gandolfi Variant.
First image with shifted front standard to one side and back standard to the opposite and the second image with shifts the other way around.
Lens was Rodenstock Sironar-N 150mm/5.6 MC
and the usual darkroom chemistry ….
digitized both images with Sony A7R and Leica Makro-Elmarit-R 60mm
each image with 4 shots (2×2)
each image processed with LR5 and exported as TIFF
stitched with PTGui 9
the negative converted with CS6 and base contrast alignments
final processing with Nik Silver Efex Pro2
the result is about 7.600×17.200 pixel = 130 Mpix.
La Palma, Canary Islands, view from El Time
this is a crop of this image
I hope, you got the idea and start checking all your slides and negatives and wake them alive again
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