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World of scanning: Part 3 scanning transparencies.

IDMi delve into the world of scanning in this multi-part article. This issue looks at the scanning of transparencies.


When I began my long association with photography in the 1950's, it was monochrome prints that were the most popular and affordable. Available as a 2/3day service, it was not until the 1960's that colour became much more affordable and popular, thanks to Kodak and the increase in mass production of affordable Instamatic cameras. Come the 1970's, and colour developing and printing was booming. 2/3 days was now a typical turnaround, and by that time, you had to wait a week before going back to the photographic shop, (or chemist,) to get your monochrome masterpieces.

During all this time, and way before my own involvement in the hobby, the humble transparency was taking a foot-hold, and the delightful and reliable tones of Kodachrome film had been around since way back in 1935. Many film manufacturers had followed suit. (Orwo, Ferraniacolour, Technicolor - yes, THAT Technicolor, Fuji, to name but a very few.) I recall buying a 'really fast' film called GAF Ansochrome 500. At 500 ASA, (or 500 ISO, as it is to you kids out there,) it was way slower than the ridiculously high ISOs available to digital photographers today, but for working in dodgy light, there was no equivalent without pushing, (e.g. Kodak Ektachrome could be pushed several stops but you then had to remember to tell the lab, otherwise all you got back was a pile of useless 'slides'.) With Kodachrome only coming in 25 or 64* ASA versions, GAF were way ahead. Sadly, the digital revolution killed it.

* I often wondered if the Kodachrome film speeds were in any way related to Chicago's pop song, '25 or 6 to 4', which never really made lyrical sense, but had a good vibe. (Man!) Much in the same way Jimi Hendrix never actually sang "Scuse me, while I kiss this guy'. (Actually, 'Kiss the sky'.)

The term 'chrome' became synonymous with transparency film, and persists today. Kodak announced earlier in the year that due to a resurgence of interest and sales in conventional film, they are to reintroduce 'Ektachrome' film stock. Loved by many, hated by some, (I recall a blue cast was dominant,) it comes out in late 2017.

Preparation for Scanning

Like most projects, the balance should be 95% preparation and 5% perspiration and not the other way around. Most scanning jobs of any reasonable size will often feel as if you are taking 3 steps forward, and then 2 back. Transparency scanning is no different. As with print scanning, it pays to take the time to assess the overall collection of transparencies to be scanned, segregate them into different formats, (if dealing with more than one,) and devise a method of indexing the filenames.

Job Assessment

Watch for huge variations in the initial capture image quality, and, (dependent on how they have been stored,) look for signs of dust, fragments of perished foam from old slide storage boxes, misaligned film frames, and crucially--frames mounted facing the wrong way. (A common mistake.) Usually, lab-mounted transparencies are oriented correctly, but hand-mounted collections tend to have multiple errors.

Film Formats

When I digitised my own collection of mostly 35mm full-frame transparencies, I unearthed some oddities I had totally forgotten about.

There were:

--half-frame slides shot on an Olympus Pen EE

--4x4cm shots taken on a Yashica TLR

--6x6cm slides from various sources, (Hasselblad, Kiev 88 (a.k.a. the 'Hasselbladski', YashicaMat etc.)

--a very few from a short-term loan I had of a Mamiya RB67

--and curiously, 5" x 4" transparencies, which must have been made for me when I worked for Aberdeen University Kings College Library in the 1970's. All in all, an eclectic collection.


Aside from the pictorial quality, which will likely range from underexposed to overexposed, (particularly if you are like me, and never throw any originals away,) watch for storage conditions and/or containers contaminating the slides. As an example, I recently bought a collection of transparencies along with a mountain of cameras and other photographic paraphernalia. An old method of storing slides, probably dating back to when rotary projector 'roundels' were too expensive to house your entire collection, was to by a slide storage box.

Sometimes plastic, but often made of stout card or wood, they often had a layer of foam stuck to the inside of the lid to stop the little beasts from moving. Over time, this foam can harden and then disintegrate, and the resulting effect when the particles 'snow' down on to the slides --makes for some time-intensive and tricky cleaning before scanning.

Scanner Settings

These will vary depending on the scanner make and type you are using. Personally, over the years I have used at various times, an Epson Photo flat-bed scanner, a dedicated Minolta slide scanner, and a commercial service. The latter is not that expensive, and the quality usually good, but there is a postal/courier risk-of-loss, and ultimately, it does take ALL the fun out of sorting a whole set of slides in the evening, and then dropping them on the carpet the next morning. (Isn't static a wonderful way of adhering dust to film?)

My go-to transparency scanner is the Epson. I can lay out multiple slides in the special carrier, set up for high-res scanning, do a pre-scan check to ensure alignment and other settings are all OK, then hit Scan and go do other work for an hour, while the software handles each transparency individually.

Options such as Digital ICE, (used to detect scratches and dust during transparent film scanning,) are OK some but not all - the time. ICE needs careful consideration and can be a slippery customer. (Pun intended.) The scan output format is important too. I find it is best to opt for TIFF, and then derive JPG's from that, but it does depend on what you are going to use the scans for.


I usually pre-segregate my slides and then use a simple ID method in the file name to do the initial indexing. In this way I don't have to see the image to know what category it comes under.

For example: JWB-135-TRN-FAM-0001.tif

Means ....
IWB    John William Baker's slides (Moi)
135    Film size (35mm)
TRN    Film type (Transparency)
FAM    Category (Family)
0001   The sequence number

Options for film size could be 4x4, 6x6, 6x7, 5x4 etc. For film type options you could use, NEG, or CNG for colour neg, MNG for mono neg, LTH for lith. For category, keep it simple and broad, LND for Landscapes, FST for figure study, (is that REALLY Aunt Ethel?,) POR for portraits, ABS for Abstract, HOL for Holidays, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

TIP: If including a date in the file name, consider using the date format at the START of the filename.

e.g. YYYY-MMM-DD-thentherest.tif

Not only is it clear, but the PC will actually sort into the correct order. (By date of course.)

Bulk Scanning

Aside from using a commercial enterprise to scan your piles, (of slides,) you could manage all of the scanning yourself. A word of warning though. Keep the batches small, and once scanned, finish off the indexing and get the files into your PC backup regime. 100 items is the maximum I would scan without doing any additional work. This will likely vary with your circumstances, and possibly your temperament!

John Baker is Deputy Editor of IDMi with experience of scanning and copying transparencies going back more decades than he cares to recall. At the time he started in photography, there were no scanners and everything was copied on to film.

If you have any questions or would like a particular aspect of scanning included in the series, please email:

Caption: Below: Typical 1970's street scene (Aberdeen, Scotland) The shot also shows the colour cast so typical of Ektachrome film. /\s with Kodachrome, (below right) both films came from the movie world. Perhaps that is why we refer to Blue Movies? Above: [C] JWB Collection

Caption: Above Left: What NOT to do. Some images will be more readily identifiable as 'correct'. Landscapes can be problematic, so keep the film emulsion facing the scanner.

Caption: [C]JWBCollection(Regardlessoforientation)

Caption: Above Right: Kodachrome transparency from a 1970's photoshoot.

Caption: From the JWB Collection. [C] Not known at this time

Caption: Another 'Portrait of the Author as a Young Man'? No, surely not! Above is a 0% transparency segment of the background image used for this page. The image is from an 1800's printing of the book Dante's Inferno, illustrated by Gustav Dore. [C] intelligen Ltd. (Originally shot on Agfa mono positive film, then scanned on a Fujitsu Frontier commercial scanner.)
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Copyright 2017 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Baker, John
Publication:IDMi (Information & Document Management International)
Date:Jul 27, 2017
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