Achieving a quality picture of Mom Nature in action

In some years several readers ask the same question: this past year there were many inquiries for what I could tell them about converting their 35 mm colour transparencies — slides — to digital images.

In some years several readers ask the same question: this past year there were many inquiries for what I could tell them about converting their 35 mm colour transparencies — slides — to digital images.

Coincidentally, I was in the throes myself, so I made a couple of preliminary suggestions about what I was trying, and promised to report my own findings later; here they are.

My slide problem is bigger than most, I suspect. When I first started freelancing to magazines, I found I would have to provide pictures and that they would have to be Kodachrome or Fuji chrome slides (ISO 64, preferably 25), for their vibrant colour saturation and lack of grain. But in the last five years, most magazines have stopped using slides, insisting instead on digital submissions via email.

The result is that I have film cameras and lenses that probably cost $25,000 that are now worth zilch, and probably 10,000 slides, many that are priceless, in non-reactive, archival protective sheets filed in many binders. The reason I have so many slides is that I always took many of the same shot as insurance against the propensity of publishers to lose them. On Christmas Eve day this year I finally received back from Canadian Fly Fisher, which went belly-up a year ago, four valuable slides I had sent them, at their request, more than two years ago.

What got me thinking about my problem was when a professional photographer in Montana made large digital prints of several of my best aquatic insect-wildflower slides for a permanent hatch-matching display down there, and, when he promptly returned the slides, included a CD of the digitized images. The quality is superb, but I expect the cost per slide is very high.

If I were to insist on top quality custom digitizing, I would contact The Lab Works in Edmonton or The Slide Printer in Denver, both of which have made superb print enlargements from slides for me over the years.

What I did recently with only 20 of my most cherished slides, was to try the service provided by London Drugs, where they digitize the slides for 99 cents each and give you a CD of them, plus a photo index for an additional $1.99 for the CD. I was well pleased with the results, and have since published several of the shots on glossy magazine stock, which is the acid test for both colour and absence of grain, or “noise” in digital lingo.

Early in the New Year I have resolved to deliver at least 100 slides to London Drugs for similar treatment, because the cost per slide drops to 65 cents each for 100 or more. Maybe I’ll submit 300, just to check out LD’s estimate that one CD will hold 300 images.

Several of my outdoors writer-photographer colleagues use egregiously expensive scanners that will, among other things, scan slides onto their computer. I rejected that option, but am intrigued by “The Professional’s Image Restoring Digital Slide Converter” advertised for “only” $1,200 recently in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue. This device converts the slide at 18 mega pixels and removes dust and scratches from slides and restores any faded colours. Still, for $1, 200 I could have 1,850 slides done for me at London Drugs prices.

That said, this festive season I have been “playing” with a toy I received for Christmas two years ago, a VuPoint Solutions “Slide and Negative to Digital Picture Converter.” We’ll not get into the terminal digitaphobia that kept me away from this device for two years. A cordless version of this compact converter is offered by Hammacher Schlemmer for $129.95, plus $32.95 for an 8 GB Micro SD memory card about the size of the nail on my ring finger that will store a mind-boggling 10,000 images.

The VuPoint converts at only 5MP, but, despite still fine-tuning the resolution and exposure compensation options, I have been pleased with the results, especially when I need a converted image right now for emailing to a publisher straight from the converter in much the same way as I email images straight from my digital cameras.

At the outset of my embarking on the slide digitizing project, I remembered advice I received many years ago from superb fly caster and outdoors photographer Lefty Kreh: “Bad pictures do not improve in storage; the most valuable “lens” is the garbage can.” That advice has resulted in a slide avalanche into the bin of two for every one I keep, mostly ones that should never have been stored in the first place, but many good ones, now that I need not keep a dozen slides of essentially the same irreplaceable shot as insurance against loss.

Digitally, the same shot is infinitely replaceable, which presents another problem. As insurance against piracy, and to prove I own the copyright on each image, I now keep one separate binder of the digitized slides in their 20-slide protective, non-reactive archival sheets.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.