Slide Scanning

Two external hard drives above the scanner holding 100,000 images

In another post on 3/31 I had a conversation about slide scanning. To give you some background I started doing photography seriously in the late ‘60’s. My first Nikon Ftn was purchased by my Dad for me when he traveled to Hong Kong in 1971. I started in black and white using Tri-X. I developed it myself in a makeshift darkroom in the family’s basement bathroom. Then I wanted to move up to color slide. Ever on a budget, I bulk loaded my own cartridges from 100 foot rolls. And yes, then I began developing my slides in the bathroom sink and bathtub. The bathtub was essential as a water bath to maintain a constant 100 degree temperature + .1 degree. Yeah it was pretty crazy until I was more successful in life and could actually build a real darkroom.

So the OCD side had me carefully cataloging and storing my slides from the early ‘70’s till digital overtook me in 2004. The last slides were just before my son’s high school graduation. It was a Nikon D70 that began it all. Actually, my wife had gifted me a Canon G3 earlier. But it was the D70, which ended all thought of going back into the darkroom.

More than 100,000 slides sit in custom made drawers. See the 12/26/11 post for my carpentry skills. The first set of drawers were made by a custom cabinet maker and cost a fortune. I didn’t want to do it again and made the second set of drawers with the kids as a summer project. My daughter mentioned her participation recently. The kids were small and they did all the little finishing projects that helped out so much.

About nine roll per partition

I started with a Nikon Coolscan LS 1000. It was expensive and not too reliable. I had a bulk feeder and it didn’t work well. Then SCSI computer ports went and USB came. ICE is a computer software program for scanners that took out 99% of dust and scratches. That has truly made a big difference.

Scanner software Macbook pro and wordpress comment

So I finally bit the bullet and asked for the Nikon Coolscan 5000 for Christmas a few years ago. Santa (wife) delivered and I discovered that the unit had recently been discontinued right before I got mine. I had been waiting years for the price to drop and here it was discontinued forever. Well, I agonized over the bulk slide feeder, which would advance 50 slides at a time unattended. It was expensive and for a time was double the price as it was in scarce supply. There was also the matter of how the previous feeder was not reliable. I finally saw the price drop and ‘snuck’ the SF 210 bulk feeder into the house without mentioning a word. It just looks like it was attached to my scanner from the start. Currently I have seen the scanners sold for thousands above the original retail price. Who would have figured?

It’s been years and I have dabbled at scanning off and on. Over time I did manage to get about 5000 of my selects scanned. But, recently I have been on a ‘mission.’ This drives the family crazy. I start a project and concentrate on it to the exclusion of all else. My daughter has commented that she doesn’t see me anymore. She has take to calling my office/den a ‘man cave.’ My son rolls his eyes. Don’t even ask.

Scanner, sorter, bulk feeder

The bulk feeder requires some care and will jam up. Some nights it will scan 50 slides unattended while I sleep. By my current count I have 3046 rolls of slides stored. There are edited selects from 1238 rolls and counting down. So far there are about 20,000 images scanned.

There were not so many early slides before meeting my wife. The early work was not good. There were technical issues – focus, composition, and exposure. It’s been interesting to see my evolution progress from my early work. Since my kids were born the number of slides increased significantly as I took to documenting every moment in multiple. Hence the large number of slides yet to be scanned. Parenthetically I will add that from 2004 to 2011, I have accumulated more than 110, 000 digital images. I have effectively doubled in less than seven years. The images sit in two external hard drives resting on top of my scanner.

The technical side of scanning follows. I use the bulk feeder, which will load about 50 slides. It is fairly reliable. There is a setting for positive (slide). I do not use any post scan processing for color. I use ICE which masks out dust and scratches. Without this I would be blowing dust off each and every slide… extremely tedious and time consuming. ICE is magic!! Once in a while the scanner hiccups and the autofocus fails to focus. You need to rescan. The scan time per slide is about 1 to 2 minutes with a Macbook Pro and up to 4 to 5 minutes with a slower computer. If you add post processing to the ICE process the scan time will increase and you will never ever be done.

I post process in Photoshop and edit in Lightroom. This workflow works for me. Keeping track of the slides was done when I first shot and developed them. Each roll is numbered consecutively in chronological order. Each slide is numbered within the roll. I keep a separate database, which lists all the rolls, date, subject, place, and people.

The images are about 68mb tif in size and cut down to jpg of about 2mb. At my current rate of scanning it will only take about … And, I still have frozen slide film in the refrigerator. I do have to say that storing 100,000 images in a hard drive the size of a brick is pretty nifty technology. Does it work? So far so good.

The cost to commercially scan 10,000 slides runs about $1895. Scanning yourself… priceless.

8 thoughts on “Slide Scanning

  1. Surprisingly efficent, but pricy. My scanner accepts slides with the attachment, and I never used it. You gave me some incentive to try. I can see why you purchased it (well, Santa delivered it) because documenting your children really is priceless.

    • I have edited and scanned from about half the collection. There are thousands of pictures of the kids getting scanned. My family is fascinated by slides that they have not seen in over twenty years. Some images have never been viewed. Digital scanning makes it easy to view and edit. It’s just a lot of time. On average an image that took 1/30 second to expose is translating to 2-3 minutes of scanning.

  2. Hi, I got into photography back in the 60’s. Together with a mate I set up a photography and film company Saturn Films (1969). The scanning element began in the mid 90’s and we used flat beds and then the various Nikons up to the 5000s. I use Epson V750’s and a Canon flat bed as a competent but slow, backup. I love scanning other peoples work as I feel I am helping to preserve their memories. The funny side of this story is that I have 50,000 of my own photos and slides that I havn’t scanned !!!

    • Well, with a Nikon 5000, I have gone through 50,000 slides so far. I did a quick edit. And of course all the shots with my kids were scanned. So far over somewhere between 20 to 30 thousand slides are scanned. It’s been nearly 4 months of continuous scanning. The hardest part was to start the project.

      • I’m with you there. When I’m scanning work for customers there is a pressure to get the job done. With my own stuff I look at it and think ‘When I have a free scanner I’ll do that’. Then when a scanner is free I need a rest!
        Which software do you prefer for your scans? I am very happy with Hamrick software which provides excellent results and although I have silverfast I don’t tend to use it.

      • You’re ahead of me because scanning is your business. I use the original Nikon 4 scan program. It’s ICE that saves the day. The software functions with a Macbook pro. As with all things computer, if it works, don’t mess with it. I’m afraid to change combinations. The newest Mac OS X version is said to not work with the Nikon software. The bulk loader is a pain and requires monitoring. If I sit here, it works in the background. If I’m somewhere else, about 10 slides are automatically scanned before an error occurs. It requires a lot of patience. But, hey, I’m an amateur. Are you still using Nikons now? I imagine slide scanning is less because film has dropped off so much these past few years. I’ve been converting old 8mm video tape to DVD. The Sony players and camcorders don’t work if you haven’t used them for a while. That’s been a real challenge. Three video camcorders and and two video players later and I barely was able to convert to DVD.

      • Hi Victor,
        Have a look at There is a free download to try their scanning software. It works with Apples and PCs and means you can keep running the 5000 happily on modern computers. They also run a bit quicker. I use my 5000’s for most of our slide and negative scanning work with the Hamrick software. Vuescan – the Hamrick product – in my opinion is brilliant but do trial the software before you buy (its pretty low priced too). The dust and scratch removal is excellent.

      • David
        Thank you so much for the tip. Come to think of it, your 50k of slides must be quite a load to store. I hope you have organized them well. Luckily, I stored mine by roll number and slide number so I an index of the slide. Then I created a database in Filemaker to keep track of subject, date, and place. But it’s so much more visual to view the collection in Lightroom. All the best to you. I’ll try Vuescan shortly.

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