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How to Scan Your 3,000 Slide Archive
2005 KenRockwell.com
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NEW: How to get all your old photos out of your archives and into your computer: ScanCafe Scanning Service Review.


Do you really want to do this?


This is a common question from people who haven't done it before.

First let's do some math: it takes at least five to ten minutes for each scan. Scanner makers lie: no scan you or I want really happens in 35 seconds. Even if it did, you still have to find and fumble with jamming each slide in the scanner and then waiting around while it scans, and then formatting and filing each scan as it comes off. At least on Apple's Mac OSX you can be working on the last scan in Photoshop while the next scan is scanning, but it still will take you 10 minutes a slide. Thus it will take you three months working 40 hours a week to do the scanning.

Three months later you'll probably change your opinion of what file format or resolution or color space or whatever you really wanted and have to start over.

Personally my time is too valuable to do this myself for large numbers of slides. I'd pay Chrome the 65 cents a scan just to do it for me. I've seen these scans and they're fine, although resolution is modest for making 4 x 6 prints. You can pay more for higher resolution.

If you insist on doing it yourself you have to get a scanner with a slide feeder so you can load it up and let it run itself all day and night. Few scanners have these available, and when they do the feeder is a rip-off. Unfortunately if you have 3,000 slides to scan you can't afford not to buy it, which is why they cost $500 just for the feeder which is pretty similar to a $60 stack loader for a Carousel projector. If you are a mad scientist you probably can spend $1,000 worth of your time building your own feeder, which will probably jam and destroy all your prized slides the first night you let it run on your own. Sorry, I've thought this all out and this is the way it goes.

Braun Slidescan 4000Try the Braun Multimag Slidescan 4000 scanner, about $1,300 in March 2007.

Nikon 5000ED Scanner I'd get the Nikon 5000 scanner ($1,100) and the $500 slide feeder here. An adapter for scanning long strips of uncut and unmounted film is here. Remember that for 3,000 slides your main concern is speed and automation, not price or image quality. Thank goodness the Nikon has ICE to get rid of the dirt automatically. You can worry about price and image quality if you want to scan 30 slides, not 3,000.

Another cheaper idea which I have not tried personally is the new Pacific Image PowerSlide 3600 for $800, complete. It comes with a 50-slide feeder and is designed for scanning archives. I have not seen the scan quality, however its rated at 3600 DPI. It lacks ICE, which to me is a major flaw since you'll have to touch up all that dirt manually later. The lack of ICE sort of eliminates much of the benefit of the feeder. Then again, if it's a choice between this scanner or no scans at all of your archive then by all means order one and try it out. I'd get it here, since you can return it if you hate it. Read the user comments at Amazon here, you pay half of what the Nikon costs but you may have to deal with stuck slides and software crashes depending on how lucky you are. Even with that the people who own it seem to like it a lot.

So why did you want to do this anyway?

If it's to save space does the effort involved in scanning and storing and cataloging make up for it?

Never throw away your film. You always will want to go back to it with a better scanner 10 years from now if it's important.

If it's in anticipation of doing some digital editing of a few frames it's far easier to scan those frames when you need them.

If it's to distribute these photos to others you're still not done. You'll have to use an automated HTML maker like the one in Photoshop (MAC or PC) to reformat all the big scans into screen size images and galleries so that the normal people to whom you send your family archive can sort through the files. Also since you have to do this anyway you also can throw them up on a website for all to see, since those are the same files. For making a CD you need to get the .INI and .BAT files to put in the root directory of the CD so that they will just open automatically when a normal person pops it into their computer.


Ask yourself just where and how are you going to store all of this data? How are you going to name all the files and folders so you can find everything so you don't have to go back and rescan it anyway, ha ha? Once you have it stored, how are you going to keep it backed up? The ability to backup is the best argument for doing all this scanning.

To store 3,000 35mm slides will take about 150GB as PSD or TIF files, which you can store and archive on one external hard drive. I'd suggest a hard drive; not DVDs or CDs. Why? Simple: it will take another lifetime to burn all the CDs or DVDs . Even worse, DVDs were never designed with the error correction levels of CDs and I've heard people who know warn against them for data archiving. We designed the DVD for MPG video where we can loose data; we realized the CD was overengineered for audio and wasted too much data on redundancy for error correction. We fixed that in the DVD making it less suitable for data files but better for releasing movie rentals.

Instead of TIF or PSD you can save nice JPGs instead and your archive would be about 15 GB. The advantage to this is you could store it all on a good laptop, too. Hint: if you are stuck for space you can save high resolution (3,200 DPI) files at a lower JPG quality setting and see far fewer artifacts than when you save for screen resolution. This is because the artifacts are confined to 8 x 8 pixel blocks which are much smaller and thus less obvious at higher resolutions.

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