Slides contain a lot of memories from events past: anniversaries, weddings, birthdays, family vacations and more. If you want to preserve those images for generations to come, you need to think about digitizing them. Here's a rundown of the options available and the results you can expect from each.
First, why do you need to convert slides anyway?
Risk of getting lost or destroyed. This is the #1 and most compelling reason to digitize your slides. According to some estimates, the average American moves 12 times in a lifetime. There is always a risk of certain items getting lost during a move and slides stored in small boxes are easily misplaced in the relocation process. They can be accidentally thrown out during a round of decluttering for example. In addition to this, there are other unforeseen events that may wipe out a set of old slides stored in the attic or basement. Faulty electrical wiring may spark a fire in the attic or a toilet may spring a leak and flood the entire basement. While you may not want to dwell on such scenarios, you still have to be prepared for them and take steps to ensure your possessions against destruction. Digitizing slides is one way to preserve these images even if the physical slides are irreparably damaged.
- Slides deteriorate. A slide is nothing more than a very thin piece of film enclosed in a rigid square of paper or cardboard. The film can become a place for mold and mildew to grow in moist conditions. In the heat, the glue holding the film in place can melt and ruin the image.
- The pictures are trapped in an old format. Hardly anyone uses a slide projector anymore, and many of those photos don't exist in any other format. Getting them converted to digital makes these photos accessible and shareable.
The ability to retrieve lost stories. Those photos capture moments in time. However, if you don't know the story behind them, you may not fully appreciate the significance of those moments. Your parents or grandparents are likely to know the details behind these photos. Converting them to digital gives you the chance to ask for and document the stories for future generations to enjoy.
- Simplifying physical storage. For convenience, many slides are held in projector trays, which are bulky and take up a lot of space. When you convert them to digital, you can store them in an archival slide box designed to preserve them. This is more streamlined and space saving than a projector tray.
When it comes to converting those slides to a digital format, you can choose to take the DIY route or use a professional service.
Doing It Yourself
If you decide to tackle the project yourself, you will need to purchase, rent, or borrow one or more pieces of equipment to help you with this process. You will also need decent quality photo software to clean up the digital scans.
Here is some of the equipment to consider for your slide digitization project:
- Slide scanner
- Flatbed scanner
- Slide projector and camera
A slide scanner is designed to scan and digitize individual slides quickly and efficiently. If you have hundreds or thousands of slides to convert rather than just a box or two of them, the cost of a slide scanner may be justifiable. When selecting a slide scanner, you need to consider the quality, speed, and compatibility of the equipment with your laptop or PC. Better quality scanners will give you higher resolution scans but also come with a bigger price tag. Speed is another important consideration. A slower scan rate translates to more time spent digitizing a single slide. You also need to factor in the time spent transferring the scan file from the scanner to the computer.
Lastly, compatibility with your current laptop or PC is a key factor. Some scanners have trouble transferring files to older computers.
A flatbed scanner is a more economical option for scanning slides compared to a slide scanner. However, since they are not entirely designed for slide scanning, the results may be variable.
Flatbed scanners capture images based on how light reflects off a document. In contrast, slides are meant to have light projected through them in order for us to view their images. When using a flatbed scanner for this project, you will have to provide some form of backlighting. The scanned image may still suffer from poor lighting and need tweaking with a photo editing application.
Another consideration with flatbed scanners is their ability to capture the details in a 35mm slide. Higher resolution flatbed scanners are more costly.
Projector and Camera
The last option for converting is the projector and camera method. It involves projecting a slide onto a wall or screen, then using a digital camera to capture the image. The results are not likely to match the quality of either of the other two methods.
Going With a Professional
The best and most hassle-free option for converting old slides to a digital format is to let the professionals do it.
Here are a few reasons to consider a service:
Quality: A slide-scanning service uses professional grade equipment to scan slides. This results in clear scans that capture all the details in the original slides.
Professional editing: Once a slide is scanned, an experienced professional will adjust each scan to correct for the effects of time. They may involve color correction, red-eye removal, scratch removal, and much more. The final image can look as fresh and updated as a recent photo.
Speed: DIY slide scanning can be tedious and aggravating for the non-photo specialist. It takes a minimum of 2-3 minutes to scan a single slide and transfer it to your computer. Then you have to use photo software to tweak and optimize the image. By using a professional service, you can have any number of slides scanned and converted in a short period of time.
- Convenience: Using a scanning service will eliminate the need to spend precious weekend hours on a project that may take a fairly long time to complete, depending on the number of slides you have in your collection. All you have to do is box your slides and ship them to the service, and they will take care of the rest. If you value your time, then using a service is not just more convenient, but may also be more cost-effective in the final analysis.