At a pinch you might be able to digitise your slides by photographing them with a digital camera although the results won’t be as good as with a dedicated scanner. If you don’t already have a scanner, you could try this method first before deciding whether to buy one. Ideally you’ll need to use a camera with a good macro capability otherwise the slide probably won’t fill the entire field of view. You’d then have to crop the resulting image, losing resolution and detail.
Scanning slides requires a suitably equipped scanner
Attach your slide to a sheet of frosted glass or Perspex with a light source behind it – ideally a bright overcast sky. You should put your camera on a tripod too. Also, make sure your slides are meticulously clean – we'll come to this in a minute.
For most people the technology of choice will be a scanner, however there are a couple of things to look out for in choosing a suitable model. First you must choose a scanner that has a film capability (i.e. slides and negatives) otherwise you’ll only be able to scan traditional printed photos.
Just as important in providing a good-quality result is the overall build quality and the optics. These are hard to quantify so make your buying decision only after reading our reviews of scanners in your price range.
A speck of dust represents a larger proportion of the area of a small slide than of a large print so cleanliness is essential. Before scanning do all you can to remove dust and hairs. You can use one of the soft brushes with a built-in blower that are available from photographic shops but compressed air aerosols, as available from electronic component suppliers, are even better.
Scanners will cope with most slides but the automatic exposure could be fooled with scenes containing lots of white (e.g. a snowy scene) or lots of black. If, as a result, your whites or blacks come out as grey you’ll need to override the automatic exposure. Having got your scan, take a good look at it on-screen to make sure it’s not marred by dirt that you hadn’t been able to remove from the slide. If you’re not happy with it in this respect you’ll have to remove the dust spots or hairs using your photo editor.
For a step-by-step guide to retouching your scans using Photoshop, see Restoring your photos.
An alternative to DIY scanning is to use the services of a company offering a professional scanning service. Not only will you get better results but you’ll save yourself quite some time too. Prices start at about 50p per slide although it gets cheaper if you have lots of slides to scan.