Digitizing Old Slides
By Justine Dorton
My father went through a phase in the late 70s. He took all his pictures on
slides. Thousands of them, all told, reside in a box in my basement, patiently
sitting there waiting for attention. I've wanted to rescue all those slides from
certain death for several years, after all, making them all digital would stop
the slow slide of quality erosion they were currently undergoing.
How to do it - that had tripped me up for years. We had once, several years ago,
tried an attachment that fit onto our flat glass scanner, but the image quality
suffered enormously in the conversion, giving me impossibly small files that
could never be enlarged enough to actually print. I had given up on any
re-attempt, waiting for technology to catch up with my need.
It seems to be getting there.
I snagged the
Digital Film Scanner, by VuPoint,
for around $120, and had less
than stellar expectations. I had too many disappointments in my past to hold out
much hope. I found the scanner to be a pleasant surprise - it just took a little
wherewithal to get there.
I popped the scanner out of the box and plugged it straightaway into my Mac. I
quickly learned that it didn't like Mac's. I slowed down a bit and got the manual
out to read the instructions (something I probably should have started with
instead of worked up to). There I read quite clearly, "Requires Windows XP".
So, this being a product test, I went right to the oldest computer we've got in
the house, to see how tough this little black box was going to be.
After installing the driver and software, I plugged the scanner into a USB 1.0
port (the instructions state you need USB 2.0). The software popped onto screen,
and there was a picture of me in plaid pants, plain as day. The USB 1.0
connection definitely slowed down the scanners ability to do real-time scanning
changes, and the scanner ate up every spare inch of RAM on my 6 year old
computer, which made the system jumpy and particularly slow, but I was impressed
with the tenacity of the scanner to work on such an old dinosaur of a PC.
I decided to give the poor scanner a break. I moved onto the newest PC we've got,
installed drivers, installed software, plugged that scanner into a USB 2.0 port,
and we were off and humming.
It is worth noting at this point, that this scanner comes with attachments for
use with both slides or negatives, and as I discuss my experience with these
slides, you can apply all I mention to the use of negatives, as my experience was
similar with both.
The scanner itself is easy and straightforward to use. I opened up the ArcSoft
Photo Impression software and went straight to the large button that said, "Get
Scans". This in turn opened up the scanner itself, which only required me to
understand four simple options: "Snap Shot", "Transfer", "Format", and "Exit".
The first and second options are the ones I obviously utilized the most. "Snap
Shot" captures the image you're looking at, and "Transfer" moves the image into the
Photo Impression software for you.
The scanner works in real time, which just means the camera inside the scanner
works more like a video camera than a still camera. As you slide an image into
the slot, the picture on the screen changes and moves with you until you rest on
the centered image of the slide. Once in position, the scanner makes some
adjustments to the picture's light reading, and comes to rest at a finished scan.
I found that some of the slides I was working on needed to stay lighter than the
scanner was making them, while others seemed to need less light than the scanner
was giving them. However, there was an easy fix for this.
Once you have moved a slide into position, you can click on a "Snap Shot" button
to create your digital image. I experimented with clicking the "Snap Shot" button
while the light readings were still changing. The results were that I ended up
with several digital copies of the picture in various stages of lightness and
darkness. I think this could be particularly helpful if you are interested in
additionally editing your pictures, giving you the ability to modify the light
levels of each picture to your particular needs.
There is no clear way to open the scanner to clean the lens, a problem if there
is dust on the lens. I encountered a few dust specks dotting my pictures, and
after a few attempts to extract all the dust I could from the slides themselves,
re-attempted to scan the picture. There were still some black spots on my
pictures, but for the purposes I was scanning them, I could live with the minor
imperfections. After all, we must remember that the business of digitizing old
slides and negatives will never yield the original quality and luster of the
As I mentioned before, the live action of the scanner's camera does use a lot of
RAM, so the operation was slightly jumpy on even my newest p.c.
Once I had captured the images I wanted, I transferred them into the Photo
Impression software by just clicking on "Transfer" after highlighting each photo
I wanted. The images won't appear in the Photo Impression software until after
you "Exit" the scanner, so after exiting, my images appeared in the Photo
Impression window. At this point, all you have to do is click the "Edit" button,
and whatever photo you've highlighted will open into an editing window.
Within Photo Impression's editing program, you can adjust color levels,
automatically remove red-eye, crop and adjust image size, straighten or adjust
the lay of the photo, and even blur or harden the background and edges of the
photo, which is something that can create a more artistic feel to your image.
Once my images were in the program, I did notice a small amount of vignette
effect on the image. This simply means that the center of the picture was
slightly lighter and brighter than the outer edges. This probably occurred as a
result of the scanner bulb as it was capturing the image. The effect was minimal,
and may only be noticeable to a carefully watchful eye.
I played around in Photo Impression's editing program for a while, and was able
to successfully create the image light quality and style that I wanted. I then
easily moved the photos into my own professional editing software for comparison
purposes. My professional software was, obviously, more powerful, but I found
that for the functions available in the Photo Impression software, the two were
comparable in their ability to manipulate the color and size, etc.
So the good news is you don't need to own a $700 software program to digitally
enhance or touch-up your newly digitized slides. And if you don't like the
functionality of Photo Impression's editing program, there are several free
downloads available that can do red-eye, cropping, color levels, and other
standard edits. Adobe has a smaller version of their popular PhotoShop, Google
has a free photo editing software through Picassa, and there are likely other
excellent choices out there. I found Photo Impression to be comparable in scope
to most, if not all, of those choices.
To give myself some comparison to other products on the market, I tested some
slides with my trusty traditional document scanner that had a slide attachment.
The differences were remarkably stark. The VuPoint scanner out-performed the
traditional scanner by leaps and bounds. The traditional scanner gave me a very
dark grainy image that was, at it's best, only a darker version of the original
slide. The image size was very small, and attempting to enlarge the file to a
traditional 4x6 image made the photo a complete blur. The VuPoint scanner, on the
other hand, automatically enlarged my slide to a reasonable size, and provided me
with a picture I could actually print (and still tell who was in the picture!)
Overall, I was pleased at the ease of use of this product. I was slightly
disappointed in the photo quality. My ideal would have been receiving photos as
crisp and clear as the original photos had been, but that was clearly an
unrealistic expectation, even for the more advanced and pricier scanners on the
market. The jumpy camera operation made for slow going, but at this price, I was
happy to be patient! There are several other high quality scanners on the market
that will set you back close to or over $1,000, so for just over $100, this
product is a great entry product into the market. It provided usable, color rich
digital images that were ready to fiddle with, print, and store!
I guess I'd better get busy on that big box in the basement. After all, those
slides aren't getting any younger!