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.
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.
A lot of other factors have changed as well in the 13 years since these exposures were originally made.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.