The Digital Photo Guy

Photographing Old Transparencies (Slides)

by on Sep.07, 2016, under Articles, gear, Monday Morning Tips

Quickly Convert Old Transparencies to Digital

A friend asked me to print a photo from an old Kodachrome transparency. Photographing it was easy but without a light table, getting even light behind it was a bit trickier. After thinking about it, here’s what I came up with. This is a PITA if you need to convert more than a handful of slides but it’s a whole lot cheaper than a scanner. The 3rd image is an old slide I had from Vietnam. It’s hard to imagine I was once that young. I’m the handsome stud behind the camera.

_mg_1249 _mg_1247 transparency_scan

Needed/Recommended Gear

  1. A tripod is always recommended for this sort of exercise. You don’t need an expensive one, a cheap tabletop tripod will do as long as it’s sturdy enough to support your camera and lens.
  2. I used a Canon 7D because it has an APS-C sensor. In other words, the sensor is smaller than full frame so it has a narrower field of view, making it easier to fill the frame but any dSLR will do.
  3. The lens was a Canon 50/1.4 but the 18-55 kit lens is just fine. If you have a Canon 100/2.8 macro lens, that’s even gooder! Don’t worry about aperture because you’ll be stopping down to about f/22.
  4. Manual extension tubes. Don’t worry about auto focus contacts because all focusing will be manual.
  5. A flash with Manual Mode is necessary. If you have a newer Canon Speedlite (600EX, 580EX II or 430EX) you’re good to go. Even older models like the 550EX will work. You have to be able to set the flash power to a very low setting, e.g. 1/128. Third party flashes like a Yongnuo 685 or, even, a LumoPro will also work.
  6. You might have to buy a Stofen Omnibounce. Be sure to buy the correct one for your flash. Smart people can probably devise their own diffuser but for $10 the Stofen is easier for lazy people like me.
  7. If you have an older Canon flash that can’t be triggered remotely, e.g. wirelessly or optically, you’ll need a Canon off-camera TTL cable like THIS. The one in the above photos is a $70 Canon OC-E3. Unless you use it a lot, a cheap one will work just as well.

Setup, Focus and Exposure

  1. Hopefully, your flash came with a foot to hold it upright off-camera. If not, use another camera with a hot shoe to hold the flash or devise some way to hold it upright and level.
  2. Set the flash in Manual Mode and dial in the lowest power setting, usually 1/64 or 1/128.
  3. Attach the Stofen Omnibounce to the flash and tape the slide to be copied onto the front of the SO.
  4. Attach the off-camera TTL cable to the flash and camera with the camera on the tripod.
  5. If your camera has Live View Mode, that will make it easier to focus.
  6. Set exposure to Manual and shutter speed to about 1/100, ISO as low as possible and aperture to about f/16 or f/22.
  7. Unless you plan to make color corrections, set your camera to JPEG. Even RAW will have limited range of color correction so don’t expect miracles.
  8. Make gross focus adjustments by moving the tripod closer or further. A macro rail is useful but you might not want to buy such a specialized device unless you do lots of macros.
  9. Take a test shot and adjust focus and exposure as necessary. If your exposure is too bright and you can’t stop down aperture or reduce ISO anymore, add a sheet or two of tissue between the slide and Stofen.
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