Copying all those tens of thousands of transparencies and negatives

If like me you have been a working photographer for many years then you are bound to have thousands, maybe tens or even hundreds of thousands of colour transparencies or B&W negatives festering away in a filing cabinet, out in the garage, up in the loft or maybe under the bed.

If you have been a contributing photographer to a photo agency that has now folded and have been inundated with hundreds of sheets of returned trannies and have no idea where to start to make sense of your collection, your work, your pension….then look no further, I may have a solution and with a bit of effort you may even get a fiscal return for your time invested.

impact photos last day 19 jan 2019_l1007585

The Impact Photos photo library being disbanded January 2019

In the first instance forget scanning all this stuff with a desk top scanner…scanning using technology from two decades back is for the birds. I have an old Nikon 5000 Super Coolscan bit of kit tethered to an ancient Mac ibook as it will only work with an old Mac operating system dating from when Noah was a boy…it worked, it still works but boy, oh boy is it slow…chunter, chunter…about 5 minutes for each frame, after scanning  a dozen pictures you start to loose the will to live – I’m keeping it though,  just in case !

No, my new all singing and dancing wizz bang super fast way of scanning which uses the latest technology is……

Brian and slide copier small file L1004537

Brian with his ‘wizz bang’ copying set up

…I use my Nikon D810 camera body, an ancient circa 1985 manual focus 55mm Macro lens, a Nikon PK-13  extension ring (27.5mm) and a Nikon ES-1 Slide Copying Adaptor and an old lightbox for the light source seen above.

When I’m organised i can rattle through 50 slides or more in an hour. It helps to keep the picture sets together on the same subject for bulk editing, captioning and keywording later. Depending on how ‘dirty’ your precious images are will determine how much time you spend cleaning  at 200% magnification later using Photoshop. I have a policy that if the picture is really beyond the pale then it has to be quite unique for me to invest more than 10 minutes in cleaning it up and anything that can be re shot today using vastly superior optics and sensors and that isn’t up to scratch goes straight into the bin ( trash in the US ).Sudan Girba refugee camp Sudan, Africa during the famine of 1985Sudan Girba refugee camp Sudan, Africa during the famine of 1985

Girba refugee camp in Sudan 1986-raw scan and file after being cleaned up in Photoshop

I have found that I can make some really quite wonderful files from my B&W negatives using the same set up but with a black card homemade negative holder with the aperture cut 2-3mm over the negative size. This gives you an area of the blank clear film base from which to make your ‘black point’ after inverting the image back to a positive (Cmd-i ) and also allows you to have a fashionable ‘black’ border.


Midsummers Day in the village of Eklången, Sweden, 1990.
Midsummers Day in the village of Eklången, Sweden, 1990. The raw scan top and finished image below

I have to admit that I haven’t mastered copying colour negative material, the orange film base has defeated my photoshop skills but I understand that if you want to shell out the best part of £3.5k on a Nikon D850 then the camera will do the colour negative inversion for you using in camera software…for me, the little work i shot on colour neg stock that has any value will be scanned on my old Nikon scanner.

My method is faster by a million miles, deep colour depth is held and shadows and highlights can be retained. I can now see the end of the tunnel of sheets of trannies and hundreds of yellow Kodachome boxes…one day all my work with be scanned into digital binary … I just hope they will be readable in 50 years time, like some of my early negs and colour transparencies !!!


About brianharrisphotographer

I have been an editorial photographer since 1969. After working for various 'Fleet Street' press agencies and local papers in the east end of London I joined The Times of London where I worked around the world until 1985. I joined The Independent Newspaper in London in 1986 and stayed with them until 1999. I'm still working as a photographer, generating my own story ideas which I sell to the international magazine market. I also contribute generic stock images to various photo libraries. I live near Cambridge in eastern England.
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5 Responses to Copying all those tens of thousands of transparencies and negatives

  1. Or, if you don’t have an old 55mm macro lens lying around…. The 2019 version would be to buy a new/used 60mm micro with AF and the Nikon ES-2. No need for an extension ring then, and no worries about focussing.
    I can confirm that the results are as goos as Brian says,


  2. Michael J Amphlett says:

    I always clean the trannies first Brian (canned air, brush, occasionally remove and wash carefully, into wetting agency, then dry, then remount), nothing worse than spotting all that dust and crud out with PS! 😉


    • I have used the wet method to clean on occasion but normally used a blower and sable brush….I then magnify to 200% in PS to retouch crud and scratches.


      • Michael J. Amphlett says:

        Retouching is just far too time consuming, and hard work on the eyes and hands (a zillion mouse clicks) – I always clean with a cotton bud (cotton, not synthetic fibre) and Zippo lighter fuel – seems to work really well and decreases retouching to almost zero.


  3. alangallery says:

    Mad an adaptor for my Olympus 30mm micro lens that does the job of the ES-1 at a fraction of the price as it is 3D printed on my own printer and am working on an adaptor for a friend’s 60mm L Canon lens. I will release the files when I am happy that they are foolproof or print on demand.


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