What to do with my old slides?

Ron Niebrugge Alaska, Ask Ron, Photos, Travel 3 Comments

Sentinel Lighthouse, Southeast Alaska.

Sentinel Lighthouse, Southeast Alaska.

One of our regular magazine clients contacted us earlier this week looking for photos of the Sentinel Lighthouse – they were unable to find one on our website.  So we dug through our old slide files and sure enough found this image which we scanned and sent off.  We have thousands of old slides like this that may have some value, but most just sit and take up valuable room in file cabinets. 

This brings me to a recent Ask Ron question from Valerie McElroy.  Valerie and her husband are serous photographers and backpackers, and Valerie asks what should they do with their old slides?  Buy a scanner, or maybe have a local shop scan them?  Is there a simple solution?

For us the solution was obvious since no one within a 100 miles scanned slides, we bought and have owned a Nikon Coolscan 4000 for many years – this is what we still use.  We actually owned a Coolscan 1000 before that.

Today, it seems much easier to find services that will scan slides, I would start with one of them – preferably a local one so you don’t have to ship your valuable originals.  Begin by giving them a handful of slides and see what the quality is like.  Depending on the equipment used, you may find a big difference between scans in both the cost and quality.

I bet you can find a used Nikon Coolscan 4000 for a reasonable price, and that is a pretty good scanner.  This would be a good fall back option if you can’t find an acceptable scanning service.  A new Coolscan 5000 is probably too expensive for what you are doing.

Let me add one more consideration.  Getting the scan is just half the battle, maybe not even half!  We have found working with scans in Photoshop to be somewhat time consuming and frustrating, and all we are trying to do is get the scan to look like the slide.  It is not uncommon for scans to have color casts and other issues that I just don’t find in digital camera captures.

Because of the time and expense, we have only digitalized our very best slides.  The rest sit in slide cabinets waiting for a request like the one this week so that they can come out and enjoy the light of day.  So to answer your last question, Unfortunately I don’t know of a simple solution.

Comments 3

  1. Very true Ron. Don’t know what it is w the scans but they never look anything like the slide w/o a lot of work

  2. Oh… dudes… (hanging head low, shaking side to side)

    I have the coolscan 5000, a great scanner, as well as the 50 slide bulk feeder. I’ve also got a batch action to processes the images that gets them to 90-95% of the way to the original slide. A couple other one button actions for cropping, sizing, and a bit of warming, and whamo. I figure my average time per scan spent after batch processing is approx 90 sec. / image, which includes spotting and final color corrections. Really difficult scans maybe take 3-5 minutes. That’s the joy of slides, you already know what it’s supposed to look like. No going all over the ballpark like when processing RAW files. I spend way more time on digital images than I do on slide scans.

    If you wanna hire me as a consultant…. I will accept a small percentage of any fee payable in Brew kits. 🙂

  3. Post

    Hi Gary,

    I know there has been a number of times over the years were you have mentioned processing some outrageous number of slides in a ridiculously short period of time. I didn’t know how you did it, but man you have it dialed in! You are smart, those photos don’t make money sitting in a file cabinet. I think I need to modify my approach!

    Thanks Gary,


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