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How to Digitize Your Slide Library with a Nikon FX DSLR

Joseph Gamble (JCGamble)

Keywords: film, negative_film, slides, fx, storage, diy, scan, archiving

Chances are that if you picked up a camera pre-2002, you have an archive of film negatives or slides collecting dust in a box or binder. You’ve thought about digitizing them but don’t own a scanner and are reluctant to ship them off to an online scanning service. Using a tripod, or preferably a copy stand, with a light box in combination with a Nikon FX camera, you can easily create a digital archive without the hassle of scanning.

Scanners like the Epson V700/750 or Nikon’s Coolscan 9000 can produce high-resolution results but the time commitment at the desk can be overwhelming, even in the event that you can work with batch scanning. The time restraints coupled with the cost of purchasing a scanner and mastering new software like Silverfast, VueScan or NikonScan make this a difficult option, especially for the working professional photographer.

An online scanning company like Fotobridge, ScanDigital or ScanCafe is a viable solution but it can be costly and take several weeks to process and return your imagery. You are also taking source material that cannot be duplicated and entrusting it to a shipping service. Whether trackable or not, we have all experienced an issue at one time or another with Fedex, UPS or the US Postal Service.

Peter Krogh, author of The Dam Book, the bible of digital asset management and cataloging solutions, has been an advocate for “camera scans” as a low-cost, easy way of incorporating old imagery into your current digital archive. In addition to being an extremely efficient means of bringing old photos back to life, the spatial demands are significantly less than the high resolution TIFF or PSD files that come off a scanner. Shooting in Nikon’s native NEF file format and then converting to DNG when downloading produces 20-30 megabyte image files that take up considerably less space.


To create a studio-based copy set up for making “camera scans,” you’ll need the following tools:


Krogh recommends checking out eBay or camera suppliers specializing in used equipment as Beseler’s Dual Mode Slide Duplicator or Kenro Spectra 1000 can be picked up for a few hundred dollars and are camera-ready solutions. There are also slide duplication solutions like Nikon’s old PS-5 bellows duplicatorm, the Novoflex Castel Digital Slide Copying Attachment or similar rail systems that attach directly to the end of a camera lens and they can be retrofitted to couple with your existing Nikon FX system.

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Mark Hazlitt Sr. (mchazlittSr) on May 18, 2015

$265.00? I would rather get a scanner for film. I've done it before, it is tedious but this Nova system looks more tedious. I have a Spiratone negative holder that I need to get out and set up. I got it at eBay for 2.00 USD, I think it does the same thing but I'll have to check

tomas nilsson (tozzee) on January 16, 2015

Great my scanner has given up and as a I run Linux it´s hard to find scanners thats works. I´ll try this instead Many thanks for this article Joseph

JOHN WILDER (jwilder98) on November 27, 2014

A great solution for those thousands of 35mm slides stored in the attic for years in carousels and the yellow/black Kodak boxes.

Frederic Hore (voyageurfred) on October 2, 2014

I have and continue to use a Nikon Coolscan LS5000 35mm film scanner, using the Vuescan software for my 35mm slides, when Nikon discontinued software support for their product. I also have a Nikon filmstrip loader, which makes multiple images a breeze to copy. All my unmounted slides were cut into strips of six images, sleeved, then placed inside marked up business size envelopes. These were then placed in groups and catagories inside Rubbermaid plexi containers. The digital ice feature of a dedicated film or flatbed scanner makes it a snap to clean up micro dust and scratches which cannot be easily seen, even with an 8x loupe. That said, I can appreciate Joseph's article for a DIY solution to copy large numbers of negs and slides, if you want to merely catalogue and archive what you have for quick visual reference. One can always go back and do a real scan as others have mentioned. FYI Soligor also made a bellows-type slide duplicator that works with Nikon cams. They are hard to find, but worth it if you can't get the original. Cheers, Frederic Hore, Montréal, Canada

Kent Lewis (nkcllewis) on October 1, 2014

Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017

Thanks for the article. Slide copying using a DSLR is an easy way to catalog your slides for importing into a digital management software such as Light Room. I am not convinced, however, that a DSLR copied slide, even with my D610, produces as a good a copy as a pro level slide scanner such as my Coolscan 4000. A couple of years back, I "quickly" copied about 2000 slides with a D200 mounted on a professional slide duplicating rig. At ISO 200, the D200 produced excellent APS-C images but almost without exception, dust and color cast was an issue. If doing this again, I would strongly recommend slowing down to make sure each slide or negative is cleaned of dust and smudges, and secondly keep good records as to which slide corresponds to the digital image (easier said than done, trust me). With the D200 slide copies, I now have a digital record of a slide in LR that are keyworrded, ranked and sorted, that I can quickly reference to an original slide when I want to scan with a Coolscan 4000 for professional quality prints and or publishing. Hope this helps, Kent in VA

Phil Burnside (Twotracker) on September 27, 2014

Forgive me. Should have said I could have SAVED hundreds of dollars by simply buying the scanner I now own.

Phil Burnside (Twotracker) on September 27, 2014

Good luck with all that. I searched for months for a rail system of any kind and, in the end, paid by the hour, I could have spent hundreds of dollars bypassing all that and simply purchasing the Plustek OpticFilm 7600i I now own to start with. No good for my 4x5s, but those are few enough to send away if I choose. With about 10,000 transparencies and just as many negatives, I'm going to be very, very selective about what I duplicate over the next few years, but that's really a good thing.

Willard C Kennedy (Bill Kennedy) on September 26, 2014

I have a V750 that I intended to use for scanning slides, negatives and photos. After playing around with it for a few weeks I started sending the stuff off to Scan Cafe in batches of about 1,000 images at a time. I had calculated that to do all the images I wanted to scan (over 25,000) it would take me more than 30 weeks at 40 hours per week. Scan Cafe did a good job, with the work done over a two year span. This method May or may not be faster, but it would still amount to an unacceptable amount of time to accomplish what I had Scan Cafe do for me. Expensive--yes, worth it--to me, yes.

Larry McNiff (luckyphoto) on September 25, 2014

Hi Joseph. You're correct that it takes less time to press the shutter release than scan a negative, but that's not the entire workflow. It takes time to individually mount each 35mm, 2-1/4x3-1/4, 4x5 negative or 35mm slide and then transfer those files from the camera to the computer. It also takes time to locate and buy the various parts, assemble them, test them for proper alignment, set up the lighting, test the lighting, adjust the lighting for different negative types, etc. I bought the scanner and began scanning (12) 35mm slides at a time or (6) 35mm negatives on a strip within an hour of receiving the scanner. Granted, scanning at 6400dpi took time, however, not all negatives required 6400dpi. A lot of what I scanned was at 2400dpi, which was sufficient. I couldn't justify scanning everything at 6400dpi. While the scanner was digitizing, I could stage the next 12 or sort other negative sizes or other tasks. I was hardly tied to my computer. The software provided was intuitive, easy to use and I could easily set the parameters for each scan, if necessary. The software also was able to do some processing that would have to be done in post by your method. In short, both systems have limitations. What you wrote omitted some relevant points not only about the workflow, but about cost as well. The idea was not to bash the article, but to bring it to your attention that the article could be improved by a more complete comparison of the two methods. I'm more than happy to continue the discussion via email if you wish, but I think at this point we both have differing experiences and can leave it at that. I do appreciate the time and energy you put into the article and believe it provides a lot of value for those interested in high resolution scanning. Thanks, Larry

Joseph Gamble (JCGamble) on September 25, 2014

Larry, I own a V750 and I have used a NikonScan and used Silverfast, VueScan and NikonScan so I speak from experience with this article. I'm not bashing any of those technologies as I still use them but the time it takes to get a high resolution scan of one negative is far greater than the time it takes to make camera scans.

Larry McNiff (luckyphoto) on September 25, 2014

"Scanners like the Epson V700/750 or Nikon’s Coolscan 9000 can produce high-resolution results but the time commitment at the desk can be overwhelming, even in the event that you can work with batch scanning. The time restraints coupled with the cost of purchasing a scanner and mastering new software like Silverfast, VueScan or NikonScan make this a difficult option, especially for the working professional photographer." I appreciate the effort to provide a DIY approach to scanning old negatives, prints and slides, however, the author provides a biased comparison between the various scanning methods. I purchased a flatbed scanner, scanned about 8,000 slides, negatives and prints. The process and workflow was efficient and the software was easy to use. The batch processing features were a lifesaver. I was impressed with the results and wouldn't hesitate to do it the same way again. Once I was done scanning, I sold the scanner for about $200 less than the purchase price. I would highly recommend the author re-write the article to provide a more realistic comparison of the various methods. I think some individuals would love a DYI project like this, but it should be presented in a fair and balanced article.