Friday, February 19, 2010

A weekend of time travel, 40 years into the past

Back in the 1970s, it was apparently considered a good thing to store camera pictures as slides instead of photos. So I did that, and through that decade managed to accumulate many many slides.

The problem with slides though is that you can't keep them in photo albums or even shoe boxes to haul out and look at whenever you want.

Slides usually end up in stacks of little plastic boxes that never see the light of day unless you have a projector, screen, and captive audience.

Mine did at any rate.

A couple of winters ago Isaac and I started talking about scanning my slides. A couple of years before that I had bought a scanner with an attachment that allowed you to scan slides, but never got around to trying it out, because I found the software that went with that scanner quite user-unfriendly, so I only used the scanner when I absolutely had to. Isaac tried it and found it completely inadequate.

However, he played around with different techniques, finally settling on projecting the slides onto a large screen and then photographing the projected images. So we did quite a few slides that way.

The images were recognizable, but not very good quality. We didn't know whether that was because of the technique, or because the slides had just deteriorated that much. They are mostly 35-40 years old. So we discussed it off and on, and thought about other methods of digitizing the slides. Last winter we were going to project them again and be more careful about focussing the camera on the images, but we never got around to it.

Several weeks ago we picked up the conversation again, this time looking at getting the job done professionally. But the cost was prohibitive. I have around 350 slides, and the cost of scanning them is anywhere from $0.50 to $0.90 per slide, plus taxes and delivery costs. Finally, Isaac suggested renting a bulk slide scanner.

We looked into that and it turned out we could rent fairly good equipment for $125 per day, and the rental company considered a weekend, even a long weekend, a single day. Last weekend was a long weekend here, the Family Day weekend. So on Friday afternoon I drove to the rental place (Vistek) and picked up a Nikon ls-5000 slide scanner and Nikon fs-210 bulk slide feeder (that's what you're seeing in the above photos).

Vistek is on Queen St East, in an older building. It's easy to drive right by it without seeing it because although the building is quite large, the store entrance is off an inner courtyard that you can only get to by a coach entry. Out on the street it just looks like an old office building.

The store is huge inside, and apparently well known among photography professionals. Every kind of photographic equipment imaginable is available there for rent. And for those in the know, the Friday before a long weekend is an excellent time to rent equipment: you get three days for the price of one. So when I went there it was very busy.

There is a long rental counter on one side of the store, with several cash registers devoted just to the rental business. Behind the counter was a huge stack of equipment in various padded bags and cases. In order to rent my equipment I had to make a $650 security deposit and hand over my passport and credit card for scanning. They also took a picture of me.

Before renting this equipment I did a bit of research about it on the internet. I found out that although it is considered very good, there are definite problems with it, particularly with the sf-210 bulk slide feeder. Apparently it is very prone to jamming, and when it jams you have to shut down the entire scanner and software and restart it all. Also, there are problems running it in Windows Vista, which is what my desktop computer is running.

The alternative is, well, nothing. There is no alternative, or none that I can afford. I decided to go ahead anyway and just steel myself for a long frustrating weekend of feeding 350 slides into a recalcitrant scanner. Fortunately it was not as bad as it could have been.

The scanner itself can be made to work in Windows Vista (Nikon has a driver for that), but the bulk feeder cannot. My netbook (Dora) runs Windows XP and both the scanner and the bulk feeder were fine with that.

About half of my slides have plastic frames and the other half have cardboard frames. The bulk feeder had no problem with the plastic frames so I could scan up to 50 at a time of them with no problem at all. However for logistical reasons I did them in smaller batches.

The software is quite sophisticated, it can clean up dirty slides, and adjust for fading and other problems. However I was slow to pick up on what it could do, the manual didn't really explain it all, so I ended up spending all day Saturday scanning and rescanning the plastic-framed slides as I figured out the settings.

That was OK, after all the reading I had done about how frustrating this job was going to be, I had mentally planned on spending all day Saturday just working out the bugs; so the fact that I actually got half of my slides scanned in the process was a bonus.

The cardboard-framed slides were another matter. Essentially, I had to feed them into the scanner one at a time. However, I figured out a way to use the bulk feeder to do two at a time without jamming, and since each slide took two minutes to go through the entire scan and post-processing routine, that meant that I could actually leave the scanner alone for up to 4 minutes at a time, allowing for such things as doing laundry and making tea and sandwiches as needed.

By Monday afternoon all the slides were done. I also found a box full of old negatives, and since the scanner also had an attachment for processing 35mm negatives, I thought I'd try that as well. Going through the box I found a few "rolls" of negatives that I never got printed (back in the day when I was playing around with a darkroom and thought that I would print them myself). So I scanned in about 50 negatives as well. The software processes the negatives into positive images.

I put all of the processed images up on our home network and Isaac downloaded them onto his computer and tried his hand at enhancing the images with his Mac iPhoto program. He did some impressive work! iPhoto is way better than anything I have on my PC. However I do have a program that does batch conversions of TIFF files to JPEGs, so I did that for all of the images that Isaac enhanced.

So now all of my slides are digitized. The images are way better than the ones we did a couple of years ago using a projector and camera, but they do show their age. It was a massive job but now it's done!

Returning the equipment to Vistek was almost harder than renting it from them in the first place. I arrived at the store on Tuesday morning shortly before the deadline, and the store was full of people returning equipment. There was a long line-up of people with large boxes and bags of stuff. The rental staff checked everything quite thoroughly when it was returned, and it took over half an hour for me to go through the line-up and the check-in procedure.

But it was a productive weekend and definitely a learning experience! I suppose if you put a dollar figure on my time then it was not cost-effective, I really only saved about $75 over the cost of having it done professionally. But I ended up spending three days poring over slides and negatives I had not looked at in many years, it was quite an experience. Not to mention learning about ICE, GEM and ROC technology for enhancing digital images. Not that I plan to use that new-found knowledge any time soon!

Here's a little taste of what was in all those slide boxes:

Visiting Everdale

Lindsay butcher boy

Fooling around in the grocery store

Fooling around in a Toronto office waiting room

My mother

My parents walking their dog Cinnamon

Eli having his very curly hair brushed
Erecting a teepee
Wenegans gardening

Our campsite while building Nimrodell
Nimrodell half built
RL getting her hair hennaed


Barbara Anne said...

Impressive as usual. You'll try and master just about anything and have been wonderfully intrepid for most of your life, it seems!

How marvelous to have this accomplished and even more to revisit times and people long gone. It seems like just yesterday...!

I need to do this, too.


Wisewebwoman said...

Oh well done you!
Wonderful to have everything digitized.
You can master (mistress?) just about anything!
Love the old photos!

20th Century Woman said...

This gives me a lot of food for thought. I have been storing literally thousands of slides that my step-father took in his travels with my mother around the world. Your plan may solve the problem of what to do with them. But I hate fooling with technical stuff.

Annie said...

20CW, if you have thousands of slides, think seriously about getting someone else to do it! My 350 slides took three days. But if all your slides are plastic-framed, then it might be do-able. The plastic framed slides were easy, the cardboard ones not so much.