Documenting your life in photographs

35mm SlidesOur Slides.

Most of us have years of slides stored in slide boxes throughout the house. I confess to having cardboard boxes with many hundreds of slide boxes in them. Many of those slides are of landscapes that were meaning full at the time but now have no meaning except for historical records. Who wants to know what Fraser Island looked like in 1996? However, there are precious gems stored among them too. So my retirement project is to look at each slide, remove the gems for later processing and discard the rest. Fortunately, retirement means I have the time to do something with them.

Step 1

Select the slides you want to process. So you just have to get out that old slide projector and set it up to look at the slides. Then select the ones you want to process and throw the others away!

Processing means transferring them to the computer where you can adjust the exposure and colours in the slides, crop them and generally fix them up. But first you have to get them into your computer. There are a number of ways of doing this.

You could put them in front of a light source and take a picture of them but unless your camera is better at close focus than mine, it won’t produce good results. And don’t even think about taking a picture with your smartphone. It’s a waste of time.

A Flatbed Scanner

You can use a normal flatbed scanner that you use for documents but the results are not very good either. They usually don’t have enough pixels and they are slow and difficult to use. A 1200 dpi scanner will produce a scan of a slide of about 1.7 megapixels.

A Slide Scanner

The easiest way is to buy a slide scanner – eBay has them for about $100. But there are catches. You need one that has as many pixels as you can afford. They say there are around 20 Million pixels in a top quality slide but since most of us used hand held cameras that are not so well focused, there may be as few as 2 megapixels in a slide that looks reasonable. I have two slide scanners – one that’s a 2 Megapixels scanner and another that’s 14 Megapixels. But not too many slides looks better on the 14 Megapixel one. Still, it is possible that I have a slide somewhere that’s in focus, on fine film and where the camera didn’t move, so one day I might find one.

The obvious difference between the two scanners is the file size. The 14 Mpix scanner produces JPEG (compressed) files of around 4 megabytes. The 2 megapixel one produces files of around 1.2 megapixels and hence they take up less hard drive space. However, when you open the bigger files they uncompress the file to as big as 60 megabytes. So you have the potential for much more detail.

If all these numbers don’t make sense to you – don’t worry too much. All I’m saying is when you push the “enhance” or “correct” button in your computer, it will take a whole lot longer to process the biggest files but you will have the opportunity of getting a better result.

Just one more thing about scanners – avoid any slide scanner that uses the word “interpolation”. That means when the pixels don’t exist they make them up. The result will be a picture with the maximum pixels but it won’t look any different.

Step 2

Clean the slides. Do not skip this step! You will need an air brush to get rid of the dirt on the surface of the slides. You can get rid of dirt spots later in an editor but you will be far better off if they are not there in the first place.


Both of the slide scanners I use require the slides to be put into a carriage that holds 4 slides at a time. These are put into the scanner one at a time and scanned. The scan of the slide is stored into internal memory in the scanner. The scanners have to be connected to the computer (or a power pack) to get power to run.  When you have positioned the slide correctly, press the Scan button.

Connecting to the Computer

After you have scanned the slides, put the scanner into the connection mode (USB MSDC) and the scanner will magically appear on the computer as an external drive. Open this hard drive then open the DCIM folder and the 100Coach folder to see the files you have just generated.

Correcting pictures on a Mac

These images will need some correction. If you have a Mac and open the Photos application, and import the images into your computer. The first thing you should do with an open image is to adjust the date and time to approximate the date the slide was taken (under “Image” at the top of the screen. The Photos program will display them in date order so you can scroll back through the years which is handy when you have lots of pictures (I have 19,000)! If you have people in the images, allow Photos to recognise there are faces, then add the names of the people. This step can take a day or so. Photos can then show you all the pictures of Tom or Julie or whoever you have named.

Finally you can then adjust the exposure, brightness, contract, colours etc. and get rig of the dirt spots you didn’t see before. All these adjustments appear on the right hand side the screen if you choose “Edit”. So, have fiddle and see what you can do to make the pictures a whole lot better than they used to be. If you mess up the slide, then you can revert to the original slide any time by selecting “Revert to original” at the top of the Edit screen or if you press “Command Z” you will go back one step.

Using Photoshop Express

If you don’t have a Mac, you probably need Photoshop Express which is a powerful and fairly easy to use editor. You can of course use the full version of Photoshop. Both offer the advantage that you can adjust brightness, contrast exposure etc and can apply any correction to just one part of the picture. You can also get rid of noise spots in all or part of the picture and change facial expressions – like closed eyes.

Photoshop is not the only editor however. If you look here you will see some instructions on using a free editor for the PC. And if you choose the “Photography” category from our home page you will find a few stories about adjusting your images to make them really sparkle.

So, what are you waiting for. Get out your slide projector and begin to choose  the important slides from your life’s history. You can do that without buying a slide scanner and it will take some time. And, the sooner you begin, the sooner you will have a decent image collection to add to your computer. After all you are retired and that means you can’t use the excuse you are too busy anymore.

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  1. Hi Ken,
    Meant to get your advice this morning. I want to purchase a good scanner in Melbourne before we head back to NZ (Duty Free). For a budget of $500 what would you suggest we look at. I understand it is better to have light source on each side of the slide being scanned.

    • Hi Bruce, Office works has a scanner you put the slides into a carriage and it in effect takes a picture of each slide. Mine is a 14 Mega Pixel scanner and it can also scan positives on the top up to 5×7 inches (costs about $180). A good flatbed scanner scanning a 35mm slide will need to be about to reach an optical resolution of 6400 x 9600 dpi to produce about the same image quality. That image quality usually exceeds the slides image quality and I can often see the grain in the slides. However, I’m cautious of some flatbed scanners because they don’t always quote the native resolution of the scanner but rather they interpolate the results. I can also adjust the light colour entering the slide/picture on my slide scanner, so I can correct for some colour issues. I can also adjust the exposure of the slide/ picture. Many of my old slides needed adjustment but you can produce good results with a bit of fiddling.

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