Scanning the past – sixth update

Having spent 2011 scanning slides, negatives, and photographs, last month I discovered I hadn’t completed scanning all my slides after we returned to E2E in New Year 2012! I still had about 1100 Fujifilm transparencies from our 1986 India trip and other miscellaneous boxes of slides making a total of about 1500 still needing to be scanned.

I started scanning again using my Epson V700 Pro flat-bed scanner. With a twelve-slide carrier, it was taking about 45 minutes to complete so I could just leave the scanner to run. One day having already scanned 108 slides I left the scanner processing the next batch and went shopping. When I returned after about 90 minutes I discovered the scanner was making juddering noises and the carriage had stuck. It would not reset using the scanner program and, after finally turning it off to stop it, the scanner failed to reset/restart.

I searched online for possible causes or fault-tracing and contacted local PC repair services without any obvious solutions. The V700 had cost about 400€ in 2011 and second-hand machines are still about that price. There were several broken V700 for sale for spares at 100€ and a “new” motherboard would be about 250€. The current equivalent is the Epson Perfection V850 Pro which costs about 1100€! So I wondered whether there were other options?

I have a Canoscan 8400F in Letchworth. I needed a document scanner in the summer 2023 and the Canonscan appeared on Freecycle! It was in the original packaging and had various film holders which I did not examine as they weren’t of interest at the time. According to the specifications, the 8400F 35mm slide carrier holds four 35mm mounts and probably scans them at a similar speed to the Epson.

Given the resolution of digital cameras has improved significantly in the last 20+years, using a DSLR with a macro lens to photograph slides has now become a common alternative. I already had a Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60 mm f/2.8 Macro for my camera so I did some quick tests, just with the camera on a tripod.

JJC film copier

Those results were good so I bought a JJC film digitiser set for less than 100€ to allow me to continue using my camera with more suitable equipment. The kit has metal spacing adapters for various DSLR brands and macro lenses, a slide/film strip adapter/carrier and a diffused LED light source. I added a rail, for additional rigidity, and the foam damping.

I used the kit to copy the remaining slides using the Olympus high resolution mode and the results (a 67MB ORF + 21MB JPG) are better than those I’d was getting from the scanner (I’ve now yet to decide whether to redigitise some of my older slides!) I developed a routine (checking for dust, putting in slide carrier, taking the photo after a 4 second timer delay to eliminate any slide carrier shaking movement) which allowed me to average 25 mins for a tray of 50 slides – so much quicker than the 4+min per slide scanning time using the Epson, although requiring constant attention.

The only significant differences I’ve found compared to the scanner is the JJC slide carrier does not hold the “fatter” old Agfa, etc. plastic slide holders (which were one of the reasons the prongs on the Epson slide carrier broke (see fifth update), the slides did not “pop” due to the heat from the scanner as the LED light is cool, and there is no software to do automatic scratch correction (the scanner software uses an IR light). All the slides I had were in thinner paper mounts and all had been kept in slide projector trays in boxes so were in very good condition without any scratches. I didn’t need to do any colour corrections for the Fujifilm slides except to adjust for a LED 6500K light source.

As an aside, I have also discovered some 127 film negatives from a junior school trip in 1957(?). I don’t have any prints of those. I will need to make a card carrier to digitise those and make adjustments to the camera to film distance. I assume that was the only film I used in that Agilux Agiflash camera? I only really remember using the Gratispool “free film” service, which had paper negatives, but I think they must all have been discarded?

Scanning the past – fifth update

I’ve continued scanning my slides over the summer but ran into problems with the Epson V700 slide carrier after I’d scanned 3-4000.

The carrier has little spring tabs which hold the mounted transparencies in place. Unfortunately they proved to be rather fragile, especially with slide mounts from the 1960s and 1970s which were a lot thicker than the slide mounts in later years. Slowly the tabs started to break and I finally had one or both sides of four of the twelve slide carrier holes damaged. They could still be used for old, heavy, rigid plastic slide mounts, but the thin paper and plastic mounts tended to be lifted on one side and the slides could move.

After much searching, I eventually found a supplier for replacement carrier who sold them at a reasonable price and could deliver to France (one well-known scanner supplier wanted 20€ for the carrier and the same again for delivery from Germany). As I still had an estimated 5000 or more slides to scan, I bought two carriers for 6€ each (and 15€ delivery; again from Germany) as I knew it was always possible I’d damage another carrier before I’d finished all my scanning.

Scanning the past – fourth update

Having scanned all the negatives in the main cardboard boxes where our print photo folders are stored (although I’m sure there are still some others), I had a break from scanning, partly because of the hot weather and partly to concentrate on the building work.

I recently restarted scanning, this time on the transparencies. Initially they were more difficult with the higher contrast and the different film types. The VueScan program has some in-built correction for different colour negative films but only distinguishes between Kodachrome and other colour slide films (Kodachrome uses very different dyes from other films and was purposely biased for projection with a tungsten light). However, having now scanned twenty boxes (so about 700 slides) I think I’ve resolved many of the difficulties (or at least am getting results which I think are satisfactory).

However the scanning seemed to be taking a lot longer at 10-13 minutes for each slide. I was also saving 48-bit TIFF files as well as JPEG files since the images were much more variable and differing in contrast and I thought I might do more editing on them. So it was taking about 2-2½ hours per slide carrier which contains 12 slides. Realistically that means I could leave the scanner to scan one batch of 12 slides between breakfast and lunch, another batch after lunch and early evening (or afternoon tea if I come in),  another two in the early and late evening, and a batch overnight – so often not even two boxes of 36-39 slides a day.

However I decided, as with the negatives, I could always rescan the slides which were of particular interest so have switched to saving 24-bit TIFF and JPEG files (as they are the quality required for prints) which has reduced the time per slide to about 7 minutes.

Scanning the past – third update

I finished the 150th colour negative film yesterday and the 4650th image.

Although I’ve not finished all the negatives, it seemed time to look back and, as a result, I’ve decided to rescan the first fifteen to twenty films as the quality isn’t as good as the later scans. The main problem was the way the film strip was placed in the holder. I started with the negatives in the conventional way, emulsion-side up, as a scan would give an image the correct way round. However there was a problem. The negative strips all have a slight longitudinal curl. Putting the negatives in the holder emulsion-side up meant the centre of the film was lower in the holder due to the curl. The scanner lamps (the scanner has two, a conventional white lamp for the main scan and an infra-red lamp which is used in the image processing to remove effects of dust) generate quite lot of heat as they are on and off for an hour for set of negative strips. This heat seems to have the effect of softening the film slightly and, as a result the film droops a bit more and pulls slightly at the sides out of the film holder. So quite a few of the earlier scans have a strip of the film edge showing on one or both sides. This also has the result the scanner colour and exposure value software calculation was incorrect due to a white or black side strip or perforations showing and the image quality was degraded.

After those first batches of films, I tried a film with the emulsion side down so the film curved upwards and used a setting in the scanner program to mirror the image automatically when it was processed. That setting was a lot better. Any softening of the film only meant the curve became less pronounced and the film strips all remained well-framed in the holder.

The holder has a height adjustment and I originally tried to compensate for the possible different focus between the lower centre and higher edges of the image by raising the holder. With the film the other way round this was no longer necessary.

I have found some of the strips of film are not cut accurately between the images. The processors must have made the original prints from a continuous film and them cut them to fit in the envelopes/folders, clipping the edge of some images. For important images it should be possible to recover the full image by “stitching” two images together and a little editing. Hopefully there won’t be many.

Scanning the past – second update

I scanned the 4000th negative this morning.

Unlike digital camera images, the scanned images do not have any rotation data to allow viewing programs to turn them to the correct landscape or portrait orientation. All the photos in landscape mode on the 35mm negatives need rotating through 90°. Because of the way the film has been cut into strips and the need for a small blank inter-image strip at one end to go under a clip so the whole of the first image is scanned, the negatives might be loaded either way round into the holding frame adding to the possible need to rotate portrait images through 180°. Although Picasa can be used to rotate images in the viewer it does not store the image rotation information so if the image is opened in another program it appears un-rotated (even re-saving in Picasa does not seem to work unless you also edit the individual images in some way). Having looked at several programs which can rotate an image without loss or change to the JPG file, I have chosen a program called EXIFPro. It allows images to be displayed in a wide range of sizes which can be useful when trying to decide which way an image needs to be rotated. It is easy to rotate multiple images at the same time and has several other useful functions.

I also need to add various information to each of the individual JPG files to aid identification of the photo in the future (how I wish all the photos I’ve inherited or even our photos had something written on the back!) and to allow searching of all the photos e.g. for those containing particular individual or of a place. Again, I could have used Picasa to add a “caption” and tags but it does not use a comprehensive set of fields for the data and the fields it uses are not completely compatible with some other programs. So I have opted to use a program called iTag which allows me to add information (title, description, date, author, copyright, and an unlimited number of text tags) to the IPTC section of the JPG file. iTag has a tag manager so allows better control of the tags and it should be possible to label the images in a more standardised manner than is possible with other programs. At present I’m mainly adding text tags (including date, if I know it); again these can be added to multiple images at the same time using iTag.

Scanning the past

I bought my first 35mm camera when I was about sixteen (a Werra 1C) and used B&W film developed both as negatives and as positives. Colour film was rather a luxury but I did use some slide film at university and for holidays. I switched completely to slide film from B&W in the late 1960s. And I started using 35mm colour negative film for the majority of my general snapshot photography rather than colour slide film in the late 1970s although I continued to use slide film for major trips, e.g. to southern Africa, Peru and India.

We don’t really look at the old prints, except those in albums, as they aren’t really accessible, being stored in boxes with only rudimentary labelling. And the slide projector doesn’t come out very often!

A couple of weeks ago, after experiments a few years ago with my Canoscan 3200F scanner to check the feasibility and after reading many reviews, I finally opted to buy a high-resolution Epson V700 flatbed scanner to scan all our negatives and transparencies (and any prints we have where the negatives no longer exist).

Scan of the 6 x 4 faded print from July 1980

Scan of a 6″ x 4″ faded colour print from July 1980

I’ve no definite idea how many images there are to scan. However,  even if I used only one colour negative film a month between 1980 and 2004 (when I got my first digital camera) there could be about three hundred 24 or 36 exposure films equating to 6000-10,000 negatives. I estimate there are possibly over 8000 transparencies. And then there are also my B&W negatives and positives from the early 1960s onwards together with some colour negatives from our parents (we also seem to have the 110 and 35mm negatives from some films taken by Toby and Leila). So I guess the total could be near to 20,000.

Unfortunately, many of the colour negative prints from the time Toby and Leila were born now have more of an appearance of orange-sepia prints than colour prints. This must be due to poor processing by one particular processor; prints made by other film processors have negligible fading. But fortunately none of the negatives I have looked at have faded or show significant loss of colour.

Epson V700 3200dpi scan from negative

Low resolution Epson V700 scan from the negative

The Epson film holders take four strips of negatives or twelve slides so, since it takes about 4 minutes for each high definition image scan (at 3200dpi – approximately equivalent to a 12MP digital camera image – although some of the earlier colour print film is rather grainy so the quality isn’t really that good), I can just load a set of images and leave it to process for an hour or so.

As it is not very easy to identify which are good or bad images from the negatives it is not really feasible to be selective in the images to scan. So I have decided to scan them all. And, since disk space is cheap I’ll probably scan all the slides as well, even though the quality is more easy to recognise, and then keep all the scanned images since all the images will only use around 100Gb disk space (I’ll also have multiple backups both here and elsewhere). Using other software it will also be possible to label/index the individual images either in bulk or individually to allow searches.

Hopefully we’ll then have a good digital archive. We, the children, and others will be able to relive their past through full sets of images rather than just the few prints that are stuck in albums.

But scanning could take a while ….. given the winter weather there is little incentive to venture outside so I’m currently managing about 80-100 image scans a day.