Revisiting old slides with my D800

By Sunday, July 6, 2014grafphoto

Gary Crabbe wrote a post a bit over a month ago asking if his images shot on slide film are now dead.   If you pixel peep slide scans vs. the digital files available from today’s cameras, slide film certainly leaves a lot to be desired.   It has a very different look in terms of sharpness and “cleanliness” vs. a grainless digital file.  One of my major hangups is that I really hate scanning slides.  It is a very tedious, time-consuming process of scanning time and dust spec cleanup before you even get to the creative part in processing.   To top it off, my old Polaroid Sprintscan 4000 only works with my even older, now ancient, Dell PC, that is more fitting for an archeological dig site than for processing photographs.  Then I would need to import them on my Mac, and so on.     So I have really left a vast number of photographs sitting in a file cabinet.

Bartolomé & Sullivan Bay

Bartolomé & Sullivan Bay, Bartolome Island, Galapagos ca. June 2001 | Nikon F5, Tokina 20-35mm lens, on Fuji Velvia 50, converted to digital using Nikon D800, 200mm macro lens, slide table

Many of those photographs deserve to stay there.  My own changes as a photographer make many of them nostalgic at best.   But there are some that I wish were converted to digital by now that I haven’t scanned yet.    I don’t know why I haven’t done this sooner, but the thought of just photographing them on a slide table with a 36 MP camera certainly would provide a file size beating a slide scanner, and perhaps with more dynamic range as well.   Theoretically – I should get a view that is equivalent to looking at them through a loupe.

I finally set aside some time just to do some trials, and went back to some of my Galapagos images I shot on slide film using my Nikon F5 back in 2001.   I have my D800 with a 200 mm macro lens (1:1 capability) mounted on a copy stand that I use for photographing my rock abstracts.  I put a lightbox underneath it, and lined up the slide in the viewfinder.   I photographed the slide just using the light from the lightbox coming through the film.

The preliminary results – I would say equivalent if not better than the scans I already had from the Sprintscan versions. One of the hassles with the slide scanner was always getting the color profiles to correctly match the slide.   It wasn’t so much of an issue with the photographed version.   The sharpness and detail needed some work, much more than a native D800 photograph.   I still needed to do significant dust spotting, despite blowing off the slides with a air can.

Marine Iguana on Santiago Island, Galapagos ca. June 2001 | Nikon F5 with original Nikon 80-400 zoom - digitized using Nikon D800, 200mm macro, slide table.

Marine Iguana on Santiago Island, Galapagos ca. June 2001 | Nikon F5 with original Nikon 80-400 zoom – digitized using Nikon D800, 200mm macro, slide table.

A lot of other factors have changed as well in the 13 years since these exposures were originally made.   I have better lenses now, hopefully better technique, so it is difficult to really do a side by side vs. photographs I create today.   Not even apples vs. oranges, more like peanuts vs. mangos.   There can be no doubt the bar has been raised from 35mm slide film days, and I still consider the results I obtained good enough for publication and some print enlargements.

I am just happy I at least have a faster method to digitize the photographs this way.   Some photographs don’t need to remain imprisoned in the file cabinet after all.





Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Howard Grill says:

    I was just cleaning out my old storage area and ound my old Polaroid SprintScan 4000 as well. I couldn’t bring myself to toss it as it was something like $1200 new. Don’t think I will ever use it again though. As you point out, ot even sure it could work with my current computer. Hate scanning!

  • Mark says:

    Paul, for the longest time I always thought you needed some type of slide duplicator setup and a flash on the other end,etc. It seems silly to me now because I have always had 1:1 macro capability, and just never thought of using it this way. One of those Doh moments I guess.

    Yeah, the dust cleanup is still a pain. I have been trying to get them as clean as possible with an air can and dust brush, but it isn’t 100% effective.

  • Paul says:

    Like many photographers who started “back in the day”, I have lots of slides too. Some of the 35mm, others 4×5 … all sitting quietly in sleeves, not seeing the light of day. I remember having a slide duplicator that used a macro lens and extension tubes. I did a search and they are still around. However, your method seems better, especially since it didn’t cost you any additional funding. 🙂

    And yes, the spot removal is the tough part … but I remember having to do it manually with Spotone! Talk about tedious!!! Give me digital cleanup any day. 😀

  • Some time back I (actually it was my wife) found some boxes with some slides from trips dating back to the 80’s and 90’s. It was a surprise because I thought we’d gotten rid of them long ago. My kids want me to digitalise them but as you point out it is a time consuming affair. One chap I talked to recommended the Epson V550 Flatbed scanner which, if I recall correctly, scans 4 slides at a time. He showed me some of the scans he’d done and they seemed pretty good but it is a slow process. Your method sounds a little quicker and the results seem rather nice. In any case I suspect they will stay in their boxes for some years yet.

    • Mark says:

      At one time I was tempted to go the flatbed route. I thought some of them could even do more than 4 at a time. After I have done about a dozen now with this method, I would say the real time saver has been just in the process of digitizing them. My slide scanner was a bit slow, and of course the whole PC thing. I still have to do some dust cleanup, but it doesn’t seem nearly as bad as through the slide scanner. Maybe there was just dust in the slide scanner.

  • Richard Wong says:

    Very nice Mark. Glad you found a better method to digitize your slides.

  • I have a bunch of old slides that will never see the light of day, basically because they are bad lol !!

  • I also have few slides I would like to scan but, alas, I have no scanner. Some are images of the kids, vacations and my early experiments in photography. I would like to revisit them. Could be done later this week. 🙂

  • I also have a drawer full of old slides that will remain right where they are….mostly as a result of user error. But it is encouraging to read about your success at photographing them and getting better results than the old scanner. Maybe I’ll pull out a couple.
    On another blog, someone described their new Fuji XT-1 as creating files that might be too sharp. I do think technology may be leaving reality in its dust. Even with my old 5DII I sometimes find the processing easy to take beyond reality. Not the HDR weirdness that many proscribe to but just too much available detail.

Leave a Reply

Recent Posts