Got a LOT of negatives and slides taken back during the good old days of film? Actually, film isn't dead -- far from it -- and if you're like me, you're continually adding to your film archives with fresh shots. And have you wondered idly what all will be involved if you ever decide to digitize your collection? The easiest approach is to use a film scanner -- flatbeds are the most popular, but there are other good designs, such as the Plusteks and others. And there are bad designs too, such as ALL of the 5mp scanners you see advertized on eBay. Those things do a lousy job and besides, 5 megapixels isn't enough anyway -- if you ever plan on having more than 4x6 prints done, that is.
Many folks feel, and rightly so, that they need to buy a decent scanner to digitize their photos. I understand this -- I was one. I bought an Epson Perfection 3170 probably about 12 years ago and began digitizing my slides with it. It did a respectable job, but I couldn't help but notice that the digitized images just didn't seem to have the "pop" that the original slides did, and I discovered after examination that indeed much of the detail in the slide hadn't made it into the digital image. So what did I do? Well, I bought a better scanner, of course. I bought the Epson Perfection Photo 4990, which was their top of the line at the time. But sadly I noticed pretty quickly after scanning some slides that the amount of detail it captured wasn't much more than the 3170 had. What to do? Have all my slides drum scanned at a considerable expense? Buy a high-end Nikon Coolscan for thousands of dollars? There had to be a better way. And there was, I was happy to find. One that was fairly inexpensive.
If you go to eBay and type "digital slide copier" into the search panel, you'll get hits. Many of them will be for the 5MP stand-alone units, which you don't want. Instead you want to look for the slide duplicators that attach to the front of a lens, typically 52mm. Some will come with additional adapters, say for 55mm or 58mm. These units are barrel shaped with threads on one end and with a slide mount on the other -- and if you're lucky, it can take negatives or strip film too. This style of slide duplicator has an inner element that allows for close focus when used with a regular camera lens.
I bought one of these -- an Opteka brand, a model which is still apparently available. Here's a link to the duplicator at amazon.co.uk:http://www.amazon.co.uk/Opteka-Digtal-D ... B001NIU5US
I checked on this duplicator at US Amazon's site, and it shows one with the same name, but it has an attachment to which three slides can be loaded, and which slides in and out. This arrangement is better than the one I bought, but it still lacks in some important ways. I did find an Albinar copier, however, which appears to be identical to the Opteka at Amazon UK. Here's a link to it:http://www.amazon.com/Albinar-Digital-C ... duplicator
The biggest drawback to this setup was I was able to shoot slides only. Well, two drawbacks. Another was I couldn't move the slide around in its mount. You can see why that is just by looking at the photo of it. The Opteka I bought was inflexible -- but not all brands of digital slide duplicators are, as I mentioned above. For example, here's a later Opteka model that comes with a slide adapter that holds 3 slides, which can be moved horizontally AND with a film strip adapter.http://www.amazon.com/Opteka-Digital-De ... ive+copier
So if you have a good quality zoom that encompasses a focal length that will provide a full-frame image on the duplicator, then one like that which is described above may be all you need.
The DSLR I first used for this was a 10.1mp APS-C Canon EOS XS, with a 1.6x crop factor. I mounted a Canon EF 28-80mm II lens to the camera, and the Opteka slide duplicator to the front of the lens. After inserting the slide, I zoomed the lens out until the slide filled the duplicator's frame. The main drawback to this arrangement was when I pressed the shutter button, the camera would autofocus on the slide and the slide would rotate because the lens's front element rotated. Fortunately, this duplicator can rotate, so I'd rotate the slide back so that it was horizontal. Taking the pics was a different matter. I developed a variety of ways of doing so. Overcast days worked best because the skies were a universal gray color. I could just point the arrangement at the sky and fire away. On sunny days, I would often use a large white poster board. I'd prop it up somewhere outside and then aim the camera/copier at the poster board. It was reflecting sunlight, so it would be a bright white color. Again an excellent source of light. Only problem with sunny days, however, is the time of day becomes important. Best to do one's shooting between the hours of 10am and 2pm. Any earlier or later than that and there may be too much yellow to the color cast of the photo. The best method is to use an off-camera flash that has a variable power setting. I have two flashes I use for this: an old Canon 540EZ and a Nikon SB24. It's easy to dial in correct distance between the flash and the slide by inspecting your shots afterward. Once you've found that happy distance, shooting becomes a quite rapid sequence. And best of all, I can shoot dupes any time of the day or night.
After I'd been using this digital duplicator arrangement for a while, I still questioned whether I was getting the most detail possible out of the slides. My biggest concern was the lens I was using -- the EF 28-80 zoom. I've never felt it to be a first quality optic, sort of "just okay." But because I was using an APS-C camera, a 10.1mp Canon XS, I had to zoom the lens to about 70mm to fill the duplicator's frame. And I owned no other lens at the time that I could mount to my XS that would give me about 70mm. It was about this same time that I began to explore the world of vintage manual focus lenses that could be mounted to a Canon EF body with the appropriate adapter. I still owned both Canon FD and Nikon F outfits. I was disappointed to find that I could not use my FD lenses without a corrective element, but there was no such problem with Nikon lenses. So I bought a Nikon F adapter and began shooting with my old Nikon manual focus lenses. It was fun and all, but I didn't have a 70mm Nikkor (a 70mm Nikkor doesn't exist anyway), plus I didn't even own a Nikkor zoom that contained 70mm. But I did have a Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5, an amazingly sharp lens.
Which got me to thinking. What if I tried the 55mm macro? Well, by itself, there was a thick border all around the slide. No good. But since the lens focuses close, I thought hmmm . . . what if I remove that inner element? Besides, I didn't like having that element in the light path anyway. So I removed the duplicator's inner element and tried the 55mm macro again. Same problem -- it would focus, but there was a thick border all the way around the slide. I did notice an improvement in sharpness, however, which proved to me that the inner Opteka element was actually causing some image resolution loss. So, I know an easy way to increase magnification with a macro lens -- or any lens for that matter -- is to use extension tubes. So I bought a set and tried the various widths. I found that with about 25mm of extension, I got real close to 100% coverage. There was still a narrow border around the image, but to me it was acceptable.
Okay, so I was set. I was able to shoot 10.1mp duplicates of my slides with a super sharp lens and with no other optical elements in the light path. The difference between images I duped with this setup and those I scanned with my Epson 4990 were dramatic. At last, I was capturing a significant level of the slides' detail. I found that I could resolve the grain with emulsions of ISO 100 or faster, but that I could not quite resolve Kodachrome 64 or slower emulsions. 10.1mp wasn't quite enough.
But I wasn't happy with my rig, because of its early design with the fixed slide stage. So I dismantled the front of the duplicator to expose just a bare flange. Then I went out on eBay and bought one of the many zoom-slide duplicators that are offered there, paying maybe $10 for a very clean Cambron brand model -- identical to the Spiratone and probably many others. Now, this is a T-mount duplicator and can be used on a digital camera but if it's APS-C, then all the images will be cropped, and extremely cropped if zoomed. But I just set the duplicator aside. I didn't buy it for the tube; I bought it for the slide stage, which is just held on by the tension of two stainless steel clips. So I slid the stage off the zoom duplicator and slid it onto my stripped down Opteka's front flange. Finally, I was set for slides. With this arrangement, I could move a slide sideways AND up and down. But I still couldn't use it for negatives or unmounted slides. For this I needed a strip or roll film stage, not as common as a slide stage. But I persevered, and found one on eBay for about $8. I was glad to get it for the prices. So I had finally completed my setup and was able to shoot dupes of either slides or negatives or unmounted slides.
Here's a shot of the rig mounted to my 10.1mp Canon XS:
After about a year or so of using this setup, I began to long for a nicer digital camera. But prices for good digitals are so high, I was forced to wait. My goal was a camera with at least 24 megapixels, because 24 megapixels translate into an image of 4000 x 6000 pixels, which is the same resolution as a later technology Nikon Coolscan -- long regarded as the yardstick to which other image digitizing systems are compared. I was also longing for a camera with which I could use my rather large collection of Canon FD and FL mount lenses, which meant that all APS-C DSLRs I knew of were out. But about then Sony released their NEX series and not too long after, Sony released the NEX 7, a 24.3mp mirrorless digital which could accept virtually any lens because of its very narrow register distance. It took me a while, but I finally made it. What was really nice about it for shooting dupes was its optical resolution is 4000 x 6000 -- exactly the same as a Nikon Coolscan. But I found I had to use a different setup. The reason for this is the NEX 7 is a 1.5x crop APS-C camera, whereas the Canon is a 1.6x crop APS-C. This small 0.1x difference was enough to cause a noticeable border with the NEX 7. Fortunately I have a rather large collection of Nikon adapters and rings and things, so I went through my assortment, trying various combinations and finally came up with one that worked. It actually provides an image that is very slightly larger than full frame, so I'm losing a tiny amount from each image, but in most cases I can live with that.
Here's a pic of the rig I cobbled together for use with my NEX 7:
You'll need to look closely to see the difference. Essentially, I've added a Nikon K-5 ring to the front of the lens to provide a bit more extension for the image, and I've replaced the extension tubes at the rear with a Nikkor 1.4x teleconverter and the BR2/BR3 rings. These rings can be substituted with just regular extension tubes -- probably the thinnest one because it will have to have the camera and lens mounts attached.
Here's a shot of the duplicator with the Nikon adapter attached as I used with my Canon XS, plus the slide stage (to the left) and the roll film stage (to the right):
But what if you have a full-frame camera? Well, lucky you, you don't need to cobble together any of this funny stuff that I did. All you need is a regular old bellows unit with a slide duplicator (get one that also has a roll film stage, too). Here's a shot of my NEX 7 (pretend it's a Sony A7-series
) connected to my Nikon PB-4 with PS-4 slide duplicator and roll film stage. Also shown is an off--camera flash to be used with the setup:
Incidentally, if you shoot Canon or Sony FF DSLRs, I recommend you buy a Nikon adapter, if you haven't already done so, and then pick up a Nikon brand bellows and slide copier. They are relatively common on eBay, whereas the Canon and Minolta -- and just about any other brand you want to name -- are not nearly as common. Whichever one you decide on, I recommend you buy a bellows with matching slide duplicator and roll film stage and that the slide duplicator has movements. That is, it can be moved vertically and horizontally. Usually a slide stage will just have vertical movements but it allows the slide to be slid back and forth.
Okay, you say, but how well do these dupe rigs work? Well, it's time to show the proof. Recently, I've been going through my slide archive and, since it's alphabetized, I've started with the "A"s, which for my archive means the first slides I've begun to digitize are on the subject "Aircraft." I have hundreds of slides from attending air shows on and off over the past 30-some-odd years. The following pics were shot in 1985 at a single airshow, shot with Canon 35mm cameras and a couple of different lenses. The dupes were shot with the NEX 7. They've been reduced from 4000 x 6000 down to 950 pixels on the horizontal for view here (the forum limit). But if you want to see the full size images, I'll also provide links to them.
Something you need to keep in mind is these are film-based images and all film images have grain. At 4000 x 6000 resolution, even the very fine grain sizes of Kodachrome 25 and Fuji Velvia can be resolved. In the case of the following images, the emulsions were either Kodachrome 64 or Ektachrome 100, so grain was fairly evident.
A North American P-51 Mustang at sunset. Kodachrome 64. Taken with a Canon A-1 and a Vivitar Series 1 28-90mm f/2.8-3.5 lens -- one of the sharpest lenses ever made in that focal range.
A link to a full-sized copy of this image: http://michaelmcbroom.com/images/aircra ... nset_6.jpg
A Vought F4U Corsair at sunset. Kodachrome 64. Taken with the same Canon A-1 and Vivitar Series 1 28-90mm zoom.
And a link to a full-sized copy of this image: http://michaelmcbroom.com/images/aircra ... t_v2_4.jpg
And here's a shot of the famous B-17 Sentimental Journey's nose art. And, yes, that is
Betty Grable. Ektachrome 100. Canon F-1, Vivitar Series 1 28-90mm zoom.
And here's the full-sized image: http://michaelmcbroom.com/images/aircra ... olio_3.jpg
When I look at my slides, it's easy to recognize those that I took with a Sigma 600mm f/8 mirror I used to own because of the pronounced hot spot it exhibited. It's plain to see on the following photo, but one thing that you should also note is this lens's outstanding sharpness. I wish I never would have sold it. Kodachrome 64, Canon FTb.
Here's a link to the full size image: http://michaelmcbroom.com/images/aircra ... _600_1.jpg
The world-renowned Bob Hoover and his Rockwell International P-51 Mustang. This photo was taken with the same Sigma mirror lens. It is a crop of the original, however, which is the reason why no hot spot is evident. Because it's a crop, the link is smaller than the other images here. Kodachrome 64. Canon F-1.
And the link to the full size image: http://michaelmcbroom.com/images/aircra ... lyby_2.jpg