If you could scan two hours a day, with two days off each week, 1,000 slides could take you a year or two. Without a vacation.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Scanning your slides can be simple, but it won't be fast if you have a lot of them

January 22, 2012

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, The Post-Standard

I can usually tell what the question will be by the half-raised hand at question time when I'm teaching photography.

"I have these slides, and I'd like to scan them so they'll last a lot longer. They're in terrible shape now."

The answer is simple: Yes, you can scan your slides. No, it's not hard at all.

Sorry, I left out the rest of the answer: It's not hard, but it will take a great deal of time if you have a lot of slides.

Let me explain.

When you're scanning old family slides, you should act as if they're priceless -- because that's exactly what they are. No amount of money can bring them back if they're lost or destroyed. This means you should scan them with a lot of care. You should do a good job.

And doing a good job means taking time with each scan -- cleaning each slide (blow off each one with compressed air from a spray can but don't ever touch the slide), editing it (Picasa does a great job, and it's free from Google) and giving it a meaningful name and date (something like "1985 picnic at Onondaga Lake Park, after dessert" -- and, yes, you can give name your scans anything you want, even if the names are very long).

The math is unforgiving. I figure it usually takes 15 minutes of preparation, scanning and editing for each slide. If you're fast, you can double that. So a speedy scan demon will be able to do 10 scans in 70 minutes, or 100 scans in 700 minutes; the rest of us will take twice as long.

When folks tell me they have a couple of thousand slides, I tell them to set aside 100 or more hours to do each 1,000 slides -- 250 hours if they're being extra careful with each scan.

Ouch! If you could scan two hours a day, with two days off each week, 1,000 slides could take you a year or two. Without a vacation.

So the first thing to do is to pick the best slides for scanning and leave the rest in the box they're sitting in now. Don't toss them out -- maybe you'll be inspired to go at them again another time. But limit the job to just a few hundred at most this time.

Then choose a scanner. I tried two vastly different models for this report.

One is from PrimeFilm, which makes a zillion scanners a year. It's the new PrimeFilm 120, which can scan 35mm film and slides as well as larger film and slides. It's an $1,800 unit that discounts for about $1,500 because of a current rebate from the company that makes it. (Go to http://tinyurl.com/3gpo95s.)

The other is the Canon Canoscan 9000F, which discounts for a little over $200. (Go to http://tinyurl.com/7xhwgyv.)

The PrimeFilm scanner does a great job. So does the Canon. Both were able to enhance faded or off-color slides and get rid of scratches and dust spots. Both were fairly quick, too.

But the Canon is cheaper and has better software -- much better software, I should point out -- and can also scan photos if you snap the slide carrier off its flatbed.

The choice is easy: Save your money and get the Canon, a bargain in these challenging financial times.