Introduction: Slide Digitizing - Super Low Tech

Picture of Slide Digitizing - Super Low Tech

I am possibly the world's worst photographer. Still, I have slides that I would like to have digitized - most taken with a point and shoot camera in the late '70's on a trip with my grandmother. It was dark and rainy, but hey, it was a once in a lifetime trip, so I took lots of dim and more or less black slides.

Professional conversion felt too pricey for low quality slides. So one evening I tried to see what could be done at home with my point and shoot digital camera..

Step 1: Materials Needed

1-A light or light box. I use an unmounted under-cabinet fluorescent unit. It's my "portable light box" for viewing slides.
2- A piece of aluminum foil big enough to cover the light surface
3- A roll of toilet paper and a roll of paper towels
4- Slides
5- A digital camera
6- tape, scissors, and a knife
7- A piece of black paper - optional

Step 2: Cut Enough Foil to Cover the Light

Picture of Cut Enough Foil to Cover the Light

Unless you are comfortable looking into a light, cover the light surface with foil - plan to leave the air vents uncovered.

Step 3: Mark and Cut a Hole Slightly Larger Than the Film Area of the Slide.

Picture of Mark and Cut a Hole Slightly Larger Than the Film Area of the Slide.

Where you put this on your light depends on the shape of your light.   I put mine near the edge because that is the flattest place on my light.

Step 4: Tape the Foil to the Light Frame

Picture of Tape the Foil to the Light Frame

DON'T cover any air vents.

Step 5: Mark the Correct Slide Placement Over the Hole.

Picture of Mark the Correct Slide Placement Over the Hole.

Place a slide on the foil so the image is completely over the light.  Putting  tape around the exact placement of  the slide makes positioning them much faster. 

Step 6: Put It All Together

Picture of Put It All Together

Turn on your light source
Put your slide over it
Put your TP roll over tthe slide so you can see the image in the tube
Put your camera into the tube and see what kind of an image you have.   

This is where you play with focus or any other settings on your camera.   My camera has normal, close up and super close up settings. I use super close up  while in the portrait setting

Depending on your camera, the TP roll may be too short for your focus.  If it is, you need to cut a roll of paper towels to fit instead.  Starting with the TP, figure out how much more height you need to focus.  (you can put paperback books under the TP to try out different heights.)  You probably won't need more than another inch or two. 

Cut the paper towels to the length of the TP PLUS whatever additional height you need.  To cut the paper towels use a carving knife and long slicing strokes. Turn the roll  as you cut toward the tube and finally through it..  Brush off any crumbs

Step 7: Start Shooting.

Picture of Start Shooting.

 By pressing the camera against the roll the camera is held steady.  Now it's just a matter of picking up the roll, replacing the slide, putting the roll and camera back and shooting again.

Step 8: Enjoy Your Digitized Slides

Picture of Enjoy Your Digitized  Slides

I admit that the results are unlikely to be ART quality images.  But the goal here is to convert ordinary snapshots into digital files.  Now I can  improve the jpg's with Photoshop,  use them as screen savers or whatever, and easily enjoy  them anywhere.


robbadooz (author)2014-04-15

Good for you! Now I am sorry I got rid of all my slides. Boohoo.

mole1 (author)robbadooz2014-04-15

Thanks! Now do I have what it takes to actually get rid of the old slides? Maybe not. Feel virtuous for being decisive, robbadooz!

paqrat (author)2014-04-10

I haven't tried this but couldn't you take something like masking tape and tape your toilet paper roll to the camera body? If this worked it would simplify replacing the tp roll and the camera.

mole1 (author)paqrat2014-04-11

That makes sense to me, paqrat. I haven't tried it either, but it seems like a good idea. Thanks!

IdahoErnest (author)2014-04-07

The GIMP is as good as photoshop and can be downloaded free. I have used it for years and get the same results as someone using photoshop. Try it you may like it!! Sure saves money.

ned103 (author)IdahoErnest2014-04-08

I was curious so I looked up GIMP Magazine and they have site(of course LoL) But what I found out and want to share is that you can download previous issues for free. I'm thinking the most current issue is #6 and 1-5 are available for download here.

IdahoErnest (author)ned1032014-04-09

Thank you for the link to GIMP Magazine. Looks like a great source of information and learning opportunities.


ned103 (author)IdahoErnest2014-04-07

I was in Barnes & Noble bookstore they other day and in the computer section of the magazines was a GIMP Magazine. It gave hints and tips on how to use the software and also included a disc with the latest versions for PC, MAC and Linux. I don't recall the exact price but it was under $20. I didn't know this but GIMP can handle RAW photos also. I use Photoshop and have for years, but the price is getting out of my range as a hobby photographer. I've heard a lot of good things about GIMP. I might just give it a try.

mole1 (author)IdahoErnest2014-04-07

Good to know, Ernest12. Thanks!

ned103 (author)2014-04-07

I have a similar idea that uses a light source and a wood tray that slides in and out to adjust for focal length. (I saw it on another website and am going to make it) I shoot a Canon 7D, the TP/Paper Towel roll won't support the weight of the camera. I really like your idea also. Requires a lot less work to make than mine. What I'm wondering though is, have you tried to photograph a negative with this set up and then reverse the negative image into a positive in the photo editor? I have Negatives in the Thousands range. And Like you said, having a pro service do them is quite pricey.

Thank you for the instructable.

mole1 (author)ned1032014-04-08

Thanks for the word on Gimp magazine, ned103. I didn't know there was one. We've just changed computers and operating systems, and I'm not sure my old Elements will work in Win7. So information about alternatives is very useful.

I have scanned negatives and reversed them in Elements with good results. Haven't tried it yet with this set up. I have some ideas off the top of my head for bulk negatives and will pm you.

ned103 (author)mole12014-04-08

I was curious so I looked up GIMP Magazine and they have site(of course LoL) But what I found out and want to share is that you can download previous issues for free. I'm thinking the most current issue is #6 and 1-5 are available for download here.

mole1 (author)mole12014-04-08

I see that my thought has already been made an ible...

Stand to repropduce 35 mm film and slides with digital camera by impcpro

chuckyd (author)2014-04-06

How did you get 35mm slides from a 110 camera?

It would be easier in photoshop if your light source were closer to 5000 kelvin, also.

mole1 (author)chuckyd2014-04-07

Good eye, chuckyd! One of the steps above does show a 35mm slide (taken by one of the 'real' photographers in the family) on the light. The slides I took are all square. rene1502 points out that my camera was probably a 126 not a 110... although I know I did have a 110 at some point. I plead total brain blur... I had a several in succession in the '70's.

What kind of light would give me closer to 5000 kelvin? I've almost got a projector (with a stack loader- YAY!) ready to use for digitizing and need a less strong light.

jdevries4 (author)2014-04-06

Instructable Folks: where is the PDF button that I'm paying for (and which is so nice)?

The PDF button has sometimes not shown on some instructables...let them know and they'll fix. This one is now fixed.

Some instructables have the PDF button and some don't......don't know why....

mole1 (author)jdevries42014-04-06

Good question. I'm wondering why Pro doesn't show up anymore. Makes it hard to give a membership to non-pros if there's no way to tell who's who.

Thanks for looking at this ible, jdevries4!

umberto0560 (author)2014-04-07

Hello, great post. Several (many, about 20) years ago I bought a RCA film/slide adapter for my camcorder. It was a real bargain. It was listed $99.99 but I paid only $9,99 on a Sears' clearance sale It could be screwed directly to the lenses, just as a very heavy filter. The principle is the same.

After many years I found it could be used on my Fujifilm digital camera, as the lens diameter is the same (52mm). I tried many types of lamps, but daylight is unsurpassed.

I have one advice for users:before taking pictures with this device: fix white balancing on your camera. This will solve many troubles in post-editing.

mole1 (author)umberto05602014-04-07

Thanks for sharing this, umberto0560! I just googled "RCA filmslide adapter" and it looks like they are still available second hand.

umberto0560 (author)mole12014-04-07

Thank you for your replay. i bought it to have a cheap way to make titles on my Video8 movies, but the result was awful. But now it's really useful since I can take a good picture from the slide with better results than any scanner. Fixing the right parameters on my camera helps me to reduce the amount of image manipulations and editing..

cophet (author)2014-04-07

I have 10000 slides to digitize that I took in the 60s and 70s when I first came to Europe. I'm retired now and waiting for better,cheaper and faster slide copiers. I have many 6x6 slides from my old Hasselblad but most are 35mm. Good instructable !

mole1 (author)cophet2014-04-07

Thanks, cophet! I keep hoping someone will make an ible for converting projectors, so the process can be mechanized.

rene1502 (author)2014-04-06

Hi mole1,

Bit off topic. Great instructable. Are you sure that your camera was a 110 and not a 126?. 110 slides are much smaller and not perfect square.

mole1 (author)rene15022014-04-06

You know, I'm not sure at all. I remember that the 110 negatives were about the size of a caps lock key. And thinking about it, that's odd, because you are right these slides are square. So it may indeed have been a 126. I have a vague memory of a camera that had cartridges and was very easy to load, but I may be confusing any number of super simple cameras of the time. Thanks for thinking about it, rene1502!

lastles (author)2014-04-06

Thanks for this, looks to be just what I need. I have 2 banker's boxes of slides that I cleaned out of my parents' , and like to keep some of them, at least. I'm just unsure about where/how the black paper comes in... What a terrific idea though!

mole1 (author)lastles2014-04-06

Thanks for looking, lasties! The black paper was to reduce the reflection from the slide's light areas. (My first tube had a light gray inner surface.) The black paper isn't required.

Two banker boxes is a LOT of slides! You could do this for some favorites. Then if you decide use a more mechanized method later, with better quality, you could do your favorites again.

lastles (author)mole12014-04-06

Thanks! That makes sense. Yes, it is a lot of slides, and I have no idea what most of them are. My mom chucked them in boxes and stuffed the lot in their shed. Both mom and dad died in 2012, so I can't ask them what's there. Fortunately they left a projector too, and I'll choose my favorites. Thanks again.

Abacus12 (author)2014-04-06

Great idea! I have been waiting to discover a cost effective way to this. This is definitely my evening project tonight. I bought a gadget designed for this , but the results were poor at best.

mole1 (author)Abacus122014-04-06

Thank you, Abacus12! Please let me know how it goes.

Tetsuo k (author)2014-04-06

I just happened to find a box of old slides that my dad took when I was a small kid, and wanted to digitize them. This is a great idea, but there is no proper light source, so I tried this on a window of my room. It was a little hard to fix things on the vertical window glass but it worked. Thank you!

mole1 (author)Tetsuo k2014-04-06

Great, Tetsuo! I was wondering if that would work, but didn't think there was enough light here to try it. Thanks for running the experiment and sharing your results!

iUSol (author)2014-04-06

Hi mole1, great challenge, great DIY solution. However I read about slides and image editors and I assume your device will be helpfull to save photo negatives too, that later, can be successfully edited.
I agree that fluorescent bulbs might not be the best.
Blessings from BCN!

mole1 (author)iUSol2014-04-06

Thanks for looking, iUSol! I haven't tried this method for negatives, but years ago came across some negative strips that had some pictures at the very end of the film that didn't get printed. I scanned them, and 'reversed' the color. They turned out to be pictures of my then deceased father-in-law. It worked great, and mom-in-law was especially pleased.

scrimpo (author)2014-04-06

Great idea, going to try it.

mole1 (author)scrimpo2014-04-06

Thanks for looking, scrimpo!

snayl (author)2014-04-06

This was brilliant. Wish I had seen your Instructable before I'd purchased my Nikon SF-210 way back when. Of course, that was several years ago, but still, all of your materials were around then too!

mole1 (author)snayl2014-04-06

Thanks, snayl!

joeyaustria (author)2014-04-06

I'm gonna try this. Thanks!

mole1 (author)joeyaustria2014-04-06

Thanks for looking, joeyaustria!

danzo321 (author)2014-04-06

Wow, that was easy! I'd just add, take time to clean each slide of dust with a good brush, plus breath puffs.. a long instructable could be done on cleaning slides but that'll handle 90% of the shmutz you have.

chuckyd (author)danzo3212014-04-06

About the only safe thing to clean slides with is air- usually from a can. Just about anything else will scratch the slides.

mole1 (author)danzo3212014-04-06

Excellent point, danzo321. Thank you! Luckily, I was starting with clean slides. The bits of crud visible were part of my 110 camera.

collilly (author)2014-04-06

LOVE THIS - anything with toilet paper rolls is a plan.

I quilt. Have a clear 4 legged table (3 inches high) for drawing patterns and tuck an Ott(tm) table top light under it for tracing. The Ott light promises "real" light and is available at JoAnn Fabrics, Sears Outlet, etc. for less than 50 bucks. Doesn't need to be the brand name one, those are less. My non-brand name one was $15. Helps with paint, thread matching, taking slivers out. Very bright, clean daylight. (They also make floor lamps $$$$$$$ but worth it if you need good, focused light.

mole1 (author)collilly2014-04-06

Thank you, collilly! Have to smile "anything with toilet paper rolls is a plan" The eye rolling going on when I was putting this together was severe. TP, point and shoot camera....impossible! I admit it's primitive and imperfect..... BUT it got done. :)

Good thought on the Ott light. And how nice to have a truly level surface to work on!

johnfixesstuff (author)2014-04-06

If you have more than a few slides to convert it becomes a bit cumbersome. I had over 3,000 slides that I first tried converting with a flat-bed scanner but it took way too long. I ended up purchasing a used automatic scanner on ebay and doing them in batches. It wasn't that easy though but I shared the process on my blog: After I was done I a was able to turn around and sell the scanner again and get about what I payed for it.

mole1 (author)johnfixesstuff2014-04-06

Thank you, johnmueller! I didn't have many of my slides. But serious photographers in the family have taken thousands of 35 mm slides over the years (and generations). Flatbed scanning attempts have been a nightmare. I've seen some projector/ camera set ups online and found an $8 projector and stack loader in hopes of working out something similar. I'll definitely check out your blog.

Wantashi Na (author)2014-04-06

What a clever Idea add all your work to picasa and you can have an editor for free, you can then control , edit, and email your pictures... USAjohnny

mole1 (author)Wantashi Na2014-04-06

Thanks, Wantashi Na! Slides in a box really aren't much fun... and fewer and fewer people have slide projectors today

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