Sunday, June 28, 2009

Simple way to digitize slides

Old Slide Digitized Using A Canon 5DMKII DSLR

Growing up it was always fun when my Dad would break out his big box of old slides and show them when we had company over. Years have passed since the last time that happened and with my parent's 50th wedding anniversary around the corner I starting thinking about digitizing them for a DVD slide show. To my surprise (and horror lol) I found that my father has 1200 slides in total, much too many to scan one at a time in a flatbed scanner. After asking one of the local photo stores about the costs of bulk scanning slides and finding this was relatively costly I decided to try and find an alternative.

The answer, it ended up, was laying in my camera bag. The simplest solution is to just set up the projector and screen and take photos of the screen. The results will not be as high quality as scanning them but for viewing on a TV and making 4x6 prints the quality is acceptable.

*Note: I've since viewed the images on my 46" HDTV using my PS3 and the results don't look that different from watching them on the projector screen itself ;)

What you'll need:
1) Tripod - This is a must
2) Cable Release - While not absolutely necessary it can reduce camera shake and result in a clearer picture
3) A camera capable of long shutter speeds (even most point and shoot cameras allow this now)
4) Projector, Slides, and a Screen
5) A darkened room

Things to keep in mind:
This will be a little advanced so most camera's "auto" or "program" modes aren't going to cut it or will need some tweaking, you're probably going to have to dust off your camera's manual and give it a good read. Because we're shooting in low light you'd normally want to use a high ISO setting, however that degrades the quality of the image, since the subject isn't moving we can use a long shutter speed instead allowing us to keep our ISO low to preserve quality. Also you should try to limit any changes in camera position or projector position shot to shot, this will help you later if you have a means of automating your post production (via Lightroom or Photoshop).

Tips for point and shoot cameras:

  • Set your camera to the lowest ISO setting available (normally 80 or 100)
  • Turn your camera flash OFF
  • Use the self-timer function on your camera if you don't have a cable release, this will ensure your camera doesn't shake when the photo is taken. Some cameras have a 2sec setting as well as a 10sec setting, this is essentially the type of thing that the 2 sec setting is meant for.
  • If your camera allows for exposure adjustment (usually indicated by EV±) you can use this to tweak the exposure brighter or darker, use trial and error to get it right.
  • Limit the amount of zoom you use, the more zoomed in you are the more amplified any camera shake will be.

Tips for DSLR cameras:

  • Set the camera to the lowest ISO
  • Use an aperture that is big enough to let in a decent amount of light but small enough to ensure a depth-of-field wide enough so your image is still sharp and in focus.
  • Use a cable release or self timer to limit camera shake, also if your camera allows mirror lockup you should enable that to further reduce shake.
  • Limit the amount of zoom you use, the more zoomed in you are the more amplified any camera shake will be.
  • Adjust your shutter speed to control overall exposure, again this will probably be trial and error.
Tips for post production work:
The first 100 slides I did manually one at a time, cropping them and then adjusting colour levels to correct for the colour shift over the years. I quickly realized that this was very time consuming and was defeating the point which was to get a "quick and dirty" copy of the slides while maintaining an acceptable level of quality.

A program such as Adobe Lightroom allows you to copy and paste develop settings from one picture to others. Basically you spend the time doing it right on one picture and then you highlight the rest and apply the same settings. You'll have to do this twice though, once for portrait orientation photos and then again for landscape orientation. Instead of spending 2hrs on 100 slides I was able to process 500 slides in 1hr. You'll still have to go in to manually fix a few of them if the colour correction or levels are funky but its a great time saver.

The same (or better) results can also be achieved with photoshop by setting up custom actions and then running them as a batch, this method is more time intensive but will also allow you to correct for perspective distortion (not available in Lightroom) since your camera will be shooting up towards the screen instead of perfectly perpendicular to the screen.

Using this method I was able to capture 300 slides in a little over 1 hour (not including cropping them on the computer and correcting colour etc).

Have fun and good luck

1 comment:

Jay said...

Good article James.

A few years ago the old film projector was broken out for my wife while visiting her grandparents in Calgary. She used our old P&S to video a short clip of the video for me to see when she returned home.

May I add a thought for your readers? Using a normal focal length of a 50mm full frame equivalent will minimize wide angle distortion or squeezing from a long focal length. You'd be pretty safe from the effects of WA or TF lengths anywhere between 30-60mm but a 24mm lens at 4 feet away is going to add apparent width to your slide.

Just a tip.

Thanks for the article!