iPhone and iPad

5 Ways You Can Bring Your Old Photographic Slides Into The Digital Era

Christian Cawley 01-09-2014

Converting old photographic images to digital formats that can be easily shared is a time consuming process. It is also potentially expensive if you rely on photographic shops to carry out the conversion.


This is also true of photographic slides, and if you have an old collection or have come into possession of such images, you may well be wondering just how to convert them to that they can be cleaned up, printed perhaps or even shared on social networks.

We’ve come up with five methods for you to try, using devices and materials you may already have, or might be prepared to invest in.

Clean Up Your Slides

Before you start scanning your slides, remember that you may need to clean them first. Any dust and dirt that has collected on your slide will also be scanned, so it is best to clean up first rather than spend ages in your image editor cleaning-up the scanned slide (such as adjusting the white balance A Beginner's Guide to Understanding White Balance We explain everything you need to know for understanding white balance and the difference it can make to your photos. Read More ).


This is best achieved with a standard microfiber cloth or in some cases an anti-static microfiber cleaning cloth, both of which can be easily bought online or in photographic stores. Liquid film cleaners are generally advised against, but if you want to use this approach, do no use water-based chemicals, sticking instead to Naphtha or pure alcohol and applying the cleaner in a well-ventilated area – if possible, test your chosen cleaning method on an unwanted slide first to gauge its effectiveness.


With your slides cleaned up, you’ll be ready to start scanning!

Employ Your Flatbed Scanner

Perhaps the most obvious tool for scanning a photographic slide is, well, a scanner. Unfortunately, you can’t just stick your slide on the flatbed and press scan (well you can, but the results will almost certainly be unsatisfactory).


Instead, you’ll need some sort of device that makes scanning the slide possible. Because of the speed of the scanning light and the size of the slide, you need some form of diffuser, which ensures an even spread if light, thereby enabling a quality capture of the slide.


So, where can you find one of these diffuser devices? Fortunately, we’ve already shown you right here on MakeUseOf, and following the steps in our guide to capturing your old slides with a flatbed scanner The Easiest Way To Scan Old Slides With A Flatbed Scanner Everyone enjoys a good photograph, but over the last few years, images have migrated from paper to screen as portable electronic devices have become more popular. It is now quite unusual to find anyone viewing... Read More  will have you scanning your slides with good results within 30 minutes.

Use A Slide Projector

Probably the most obvious method of digitising slides is to employ a slide projector. It doesn’t have to be brand new – it might be comparatively ancient, like mine! – but it does have to be able to project a clear image of the slide. Best results can be achieved by blacking out windows, switching off lights and using a digital camera to snap the projected image.


You may also be able to get your hands on an old compact converter box. This requires you to project the slide into one side, while a camera is used to capture the image, reflected to a 90 degree angle.


These devices can be found at flea markets and on eBay quite cheaply, and can also be used for capturing old 8mm and 16mm cine film.

Use a Dedicated Slide Scanner

You may have tried the suggestions above and decided that what you really need is some dedicated hardware. For around $100 you can get yourself a dedicated slide scanner, capable of scanning both slides and negatives and other suitably-sized transparencies.


Several types of slide scanners are on the market, such as this device that enables you to mount your smartphone as the scanner, as well as a range of slide and negatives scanners currently listed on Amazon, such as the one pictured above.


DSLR Slide Duplicator Mount

These lens-mounted devices can be attached to a DSLR and used to photograph slides. As you can imagine, this gives certain advantages for digital post-production on the device itself, and in some cases it is possible to blow-up and examine small sections of a slide.


You don’t even need to take a photo. If your DSLR has a video out feed, it is possible to use the device as a slide viewer through your computer or digital TV.

Prices for some of these duplicators are quite high, but you should find an option to suit your budget on Amazon.

Turn Your iPad Into A White Screen & Take A Photo!

If splashing out on expensive hardware isn’t your idea of an effective way of digitising your slides, a team up between your iPad and iPhone could be the way forward for you.

There’s no reason why you should have to use Apple devices for this. Any smartphone with a large enough screen could be used as a light source, with a second, high-quality smartphone camera positioned to take the snap, digitising your slide. However if you are using an iPad be sure to enable Guided Access under Settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access so you can disable touchscreen input and view your slides unhindered.

Keeping the second phone steady might be a challenge, so consider using a secure tripod or perhaps even a DIY cardboard photocopier, as explained previously on MakeUseOf How To Build Your Own Smartphone Document Scanner Have you ever tried to take a photo of a document with your smartphone camera, hoping to convert it using OCR software into a PDF or Word document later on? Perhaps you’ve attempted to take... Read More .

Conclusion: Get Those Old Slides Freshened Up And Share Them!

While you might not want to throw the slides away, digitising them so that they are easily shared with friends and family is a great way to find previously unseen photos. You might even include them in some family tree research.

Have you used any of these tools and methods to scan old slides? Do you plan to? Share your thoughts below.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Mrs. Sinnarkar
    June 4, 2018 at 7:39 am

    Can I get it done in Pune?

  2. Mrs. Sinnarkar
    June 4, 2018 at 7:38 am

    Where can I get it done in Pune?

  3. Christopher Finke
    August 1, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    I used a Canon DSLR to digitize about 700 slides, and I was pretty happy with the results. I wrote up my process here: https://www.chrisfinke.com/2017/07/30/scanning-kodachrome-slides-with-a-camera/

    • Ana Silva
      January 27, 2018 at 11:24 pm

      Woa!! Thanks so much for doing this, for publicizing and explaining how you did it!

    November 16, 2016 at 7:15 am

    I am surprised that this process is so involved. SOmetimes I wonder if some technology has gotten lost during the computer revolution.
    I have used and purchased Apple computers since the SE30 came out with a whopping 30 mb hard drive. MY first printer was an Apple 600 Laser printer. then I bought a desktop scanner with OCR capability, but it wasn't useful for photographs.
    so I purchased an 11 x 17 scanner....now I kept this scanner in storage until my house fire destroyed everything....the point is - this scanner came with slide and negative cartridges to SCAN slides and negatives. I still have most of my slides and a bag full of negatives but when the power cord got lost, I never tried to use it....I'm sure I purchased this scanner in te early 1990s....I didn't spend extra for this feature....it just happened to be a feature of the scanner....SO are we finding that scanners just stopped offering this feature? it seems to me that there should be nominal priced scanners that STILL offer this option.
    THe trick is to lift the negative or slide off the scanner bed so it is not sitting flat on the scanner......if you tried to scan a negative, you will only get a black image if light is not passing through the slide. SO what ever happened to these scanners? I'm sur I could find the documents or operating manual to this scanner.....I wonder if it would be compatible. I am surprised that all scanners don't include this feature.....it has been 20 year - isn't technology improving? has anyone else owned this type of scanner?

  5. rich
    September 3, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    There is one problem. Slides come mounted in cardboard mounts. These have various effects. First, the sides of the slide, sometimes containing meaningful information, are covered. The slide is held at a distance from the holder and copying surface, sometimes not as exactly parallel to the scanning surface as needed for ultimate quality. In fact slides commercially developed and mounted in the usual cardboard frames may even be warped to the point that they cannot be held in focus across the whole surface at all. Given the quality of the average amateur phone camera result a recognizable blur may satisfy the user but for exhibition purposes - even as wallpaper or background for a Facebook page - it may well be too chintzy for use.

    Serious amateur film photographers have two partial solutions for this. There are really skinny plastic mounts available that mitigate the edge problem slightly and greatly improve flatness, though that millimetre or so gap to the copying surface still has consequences for ultimate sharpness. There also exist glass slide mounts, plastic frames with special glass inserts that hold the slide rigidly flat and may enable high-quality results with the proper copying device set. But these things are expensive, extremely fiddly and time-consumptive to use. If you want to make an exhibition-quality print or preserve that one best image of your lifetime, spend the effort and the money - but let's not pretend tehre is a cheap, easy or quality way to preserve your vacatio snapshots.

    • Mary McFarren
      March 14, 2017 at 1:18 pm

      How does one go about getting to that meaningful information contained underneath the cardboard mounts on slides? Are there people or companies that would be able to do that or is it something I would be able to do? I have some slides from 1970 and I would like to discover the name of the photographer or photography company so I can possible get some missing slides.
      Thank you!!!

      • Rich
        March 18, 2017 at 3:38 am

        Mary - talked your questions over with a semi-professional photography friend today. Here's the essence of what he had to say. In terms of EXIM informatioon to the level you are hoping for, that simply wasn't recorded in the 1970s. Some at a more primitive level might (or more usually might not) be recoded by a high-end professional camera such as the top Nikon or Leica, but mostly you'd get just the information a processor needed on the tongue or tail of the spool. What you are apparently seeking never existed.
        He's a fanatic who buys and freezes supplies of the rarest, most exotic, technically proficient film, and exposes, processes, develops and prints it himself. Thus even though he's a professional software engineer, with a Ph.D and paid to match, he makes a nice piece of pocket change from people who come to him for specialty work. It's his profitable hobby.
        He suggests you go to askbobrankin.com and see what he has to say about photo archiving. It's one of Rankin's side obsessions. Basically it seems folks are already finding out that the best resolution from a digital camera cannot remotely compare with the tonal range and resolution of everyday colour film. And the digital recording media are proving disappointingly fragile, with bit rot setting in on optical discs in a little as ten years, and solid state and external hard disks painfully prove fragile, as every BSOD or Error:Ox8nnnnnnn prove to our despair too very often.
        Gordon Campbell has self-interested reason for the advice he gives, but my call is that it's the best word from a guy who knows, and should be heeded.

        • Mary McFarren
          March 18, 2017 at 9:03 am

          Thank you so much for your response!

        • Toni Hayward
          February 2, 2020 at 9:05 pm

          Well here it is 2020 & I have several carousels of slides from the 1970s that my mother took. I’d like to convert them to digital format, but I’m afraid it would cost me well over $1000 to take it to someone. Back in the mid 90s I did some graphic design work using Photoshop on Macintosh computers. I haven’t stayed as up To date with the process & hardware/software as I should have. I’m a little concerned about doing this myself. I want to know what the best scanner to buy for this would be, if I attempt to do this myself.
          I have a 27 inch iMac that is approximately 2 - 3 years old.

          My mom actually was an excellent photographer. She had been quite an artist in her day, so she had a keen eye.

          I believe I have at least 8 carousels of slides. I was also wondering after I get them scanned about taking those that might have commercial value and putting them on a site such as Shutterstock. I would have to protect them with some kind of watermark or something wouldn’t I?

          Thank you for any information that you were anyone else can provide me.

    • Ana Silva
      January 27, 2018 at 11:08 pm

      Why don't you simply remove the slides from the crappy cardboard frames which cover part of the image (not that I ever saw that happen, but OK) and simply scan them directly (if the problem is to lay them flat, flat bed scanners do have a structure meant to flat down whatever you are trying to scan, you know?). Or use the garden variety frames with glass which are meant specifically for this and cost nothing?
      Whatever of the above methods you'd use, I can guarantee that it will have more than enough exhibition-quality for facebook and even perhaps to remember that unforgetful vacation you took in the 80s.

  6. George Campbell
    September 2, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Please take note that scanning slides is a slow process. There is no quick solution. A professional process takes 2-3 minuted per slide. Yes this means a small collection of 500 slides can take 1500 minutes or 25 hours for a pro.

    Also, slides had an inherent high resolution. Why lose that? Scanning at 600 DPI does not do a slide justice. I high resolution scanner is not cheap and is something you will use once and put in the closet next to your old slides.

    Consider using a professional to get great results. But if you do, consider the following suggestions:

    Organize your collection into chronological or event order.
    Label each group so the technician can create folders with a date or event name.
    Orient all the slides the same. Each slide has a top/bottom and a gloss/emulsion side. Doing this will insure your slides are not upside down or mirrored. Also, if the slide is portrait vs. landscape ignore it. Slide scanners are framed for landscape only. Portrait orientation will crop your image.
    If possible, remove slides from carousels. batch them together with a rubber band.
    Stay local!! Don't let your slides ship long distance or overseas. If something happens you may never get them back or they may be misused by others.

    These are just some of the suggestions I give my customers. Yes, I own a small business in media conversion. I am not soliciting your business as I am a local resource, but I would so much rather people get the best product they can rather than end up disappointed. You can check out http://oldetymephotorevival.com/deepfreeze to see how great your slides can convert. This is a personal family collection from 1955 and they are stunning!

    Enjoy your memories!!

    • Mary McFarren
      March 13, 2017 at 4:05 pm

      You sound very knowledgeable about the photo industry. Hoping I can impose on you for some information. I have some pictures on slides that were taken/made in November 1970. I understand there may be meaningful information under the cardboard sides that might point me to finding the photographer or shop where I might be able to get copies of the pictures? Is this true? How would I go about retrieving the information?

      Hope I'm being clear about what I'm asking. I don't know enough about it to be able to ask an intelligent question! :D

      Thank you!!!

      • Ana Silva
        January 27, 2018 at 10:50 pm

        Mary, since George Campbell above did't reply yet, i suppose this is lost in cyberspace (ah. I probably hadn't used that expression since 1999), but might still be useful for someone someday...
        I guess what you are talking about are these old commercially made slides that were used for teaching or anyway sold in collections of specific subjects (art works, monuments, touristic places,...). I reckon any info on the company or shop in those would be in the cardboard frame or in packaging, but if you feel like something is underneath the frame, just unglue one of them, perhaps one you care a little less about. If it is too difficult, use water or steam (from a far). If you want to be extra careful, destillated water. Although it seems alcohol is the standard recommendation for film cleaning, I would not use alcohol in any sort of vintage item, or anything prone to chemical/moist sensibility. I did try a number of such substances on film, but my purpose was to destroy it, to let any sort of corrosion start eating away into the layers of coating and colour, and for that effect 96% alcohol was of no use.
        In any case, if the slides are of personal nature there won't be copies anywhere, and if they were commercially produced in the 70s, it would be extremely lucky if there was still someone who could answer for those replacements. Your best chance if you really want to have the missing ones is to look in flea markets and collectors shops.
        (I did buy some old style, peharps 70s, slides at the Knossos site in Greece, if I'm not mistaken. But they also already had more recent ones and that was almost 10years ago.)
        Good luck and do let know if you happen to return here and have any news on these!

        • Mary McFarren
          February 1, 2018 at 2:54 pm

          Thank you for the response!!! Haven't had courage to open one up yet & see if I can find anything but I promise I will & I promise I will let you know what I find!


  7. Trev
    September 1, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    You can also use your Android smartphone. Google Play store has an application called Helmut.