How To Convert Film Slides To Digital Pictures - Easy DIY setup for any camera

Saturday, December 14, 2019

How To Convert Film Slides To Digital Pictures - Easy DIY setup for any camera


Want to convert slides to digital images? In this episode of House of Hacks, Harley shows how to convert film slides to digital pictures using the gear you already have. This technique also works for transfer old negatives to digital photos.

Resources (Amazon affiliate links):
Clamp light with aluminum reflector
GE 100 watt equivalent LED lights
Clip on macro lenses

Additional information about camera/lens selection and post processing.

How to shoot to the right (aka ETTR)

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For a written transcript, go to How To Convert Film Slides To Digital Pictures

Music under Creative Commons License By Attribution 4.0 by Kevin MacLeod at
Intro/Exit: "Hot Swing"
Incidental: "Starry," "Touching Moments Two," "Riptide" & "Rocket"


Our memories are more like photos than videos. We remember moments. Snapshots in time.

Photos allow us to share these moments with others.

Some may have been there with us and photos give us a common anchor point.

Some may not have been, separated by distance, time or both, and photos allow us to share our experience with them.

Imagine what it’d be like if you could move those memorable moments captured with physical images into the digital world.

You could have a historical record that doesn’t degrade over time.

You could instantly share them others around the world.

You could compile them into new and different ways.

Stick around and I’ll show you how to move from imagination to reality.

In this episode, I’m going to show an easy DIY build to help you digitize either slides or negatives.

Its primary materials are some cardboard and an inexpensive light you can get at the home improvement store or online for less than ten dollars.

And you can use any camera. An SLR if you have one. Or your phone. Or anything in between.

Welcome to the House of Hacks.

If we’re just meeting, I’m Harley and I show you how to create stuff in the workshop.

Sometimes it's out of wood or metal. Today it’s going to be out of cardboard and duct tape.

Basically, we’re going to make a light filled box. This does two things for us.

It diffuses the light nicely so we don't have any hot spots in our final image and it gives us a place to mount either a slide or negative.

Whatever's mounted here gets lit up nicely and then we can use any camera to make an image of it.

I'll show some samples from my SLR and my phone later in the video.

Let’s get started.

The tools we’re going to need are:
  • a box knife,
  • a straight edge,
  • a right angle,
  • a pen,
  • and a measuring tape.

The materials we’re going to use are:
  • some scrap cardboard, (both corrugated and non-corrugated.),
  • white duct tape, or you can use white paper or paint,
  • shop lamp,
  • daylight balanced LED light bulb,
  • and glue.

I’m going to be using this inexpensive shop light as a light source. They come in various sizes.

This is one of the smaller ones with an 8.5” reflector. You can get them at any home improvement store or online.

They'll take any kind of light bulb, but I'm going to be using an LED. These run cooler and have great color rendition.

I recommend using daylight balanced for the best color in your final images.

And this one happens to be a 100 watt equivalent.

Since the light is going to be bouncing around inside the box quite a bit, I wanted something with a higher wattage in order to be able to keep the ISO in the camera down lower.

I’ll leave Amazon affiliate links to all of this down in the description below.

First, let’s make a box to contain the light and give us a place to mount the slides or negatives.

This needs to be large enough for the light to mount to and also so there’s enough room for the light to disburse nicely.

Too small and you may end up with some shadows or gradients.

I’m going to use an old cardboard box that was used for shipping.

You could also use some foam board from the craft store and cut it to the desired size.

First I mark a circle where I want to put the light.

Now, I’m going to cut a hole in the cardboard above the reflector for the film mounting point.

I have a number of different film sizes I work with, so I’m going to make this a bit larger than the largest negative I’ll want to duplicate.

In my case it’s 120 film and making it a bit larger keeps the thick edges of the cardboard from casting shadows on the film.

This gives me an idea for the size to cut the rest of the box to.

I want the box to be about as deep as the light is round, so, looking from the top, roughly square.

The idea is to have the light shine in one direction, bounce off the back and then into the film mounted on the same plane as the light.

If we put the light on the opposite side of the film so it's shining directly on it, we might get some hot spots or an unevenness of exposure from the middle of the film to the edges.

Bouncing it this way should help eliminate that problem.

So, this box is a bit larger than I need. I’ll use a box knife to cut it down to size.

I don’t want the inside of the box to be this brownish, cardboard color because that would give us a color cast to the light.

I want it to be as close to a neutral white as possible.

I'm going to line the inside of this box with white duct tape.

But you could also use white paint or glue white paper to the inside. We just need it to be white.

And of course, this step could be skipped if white foam board was used.

Now that the box is white inside, I’m going to tape the box closed.

Next, I’ll tape the light to the box.

To do this, I’m going to first put down a layer of tape on the outside of box.

Then I’m going to tape the light to the tape on the box, making sure to fold over the end of the tape to give me a little pull tab.

By taping to the tape on the box instead of the box itself, it’ll be easy to remove the light without tearing up the box.

We're almost ready to use this, but first we need an easy place to put the film.

In addition to 35mm film cameras, I have a number of cameras that take 120 film and expose it in different aspect ratios.

Some give me square images and some give me wider images.

I’m going to use this thin cardboard to make different holders for the various sizes so I can convert images from any of my cameras.

For each type of film, I cut a large base piece that covers the hole in the box. These can all be the same size.

Then each base gets a smaller hole for a particular film format.

Finally I make holders appropriate for each type of film to hold it in place.

For slides, I cut some cardboard and glued in a U shape around the hole.

Then I glued a small piece of cardboard on the corners to help hold the slide in place.

This will allow the slides to be consistently placed in the same location.

For film, I’ll use cardboard folded to the correct size to make a sleeve and line it with fabric to minimize scratches.

I can then run the film through this sleeve.

Like the area around the opening for the light, I put more tape on the box around the hole where the film holders go and also on the film holders themselves.

Then whatever film holder I need for the project at hand can be taped to the box and removed without tearing anything up.

Now that we have the box constructed, let’s put it to use and get it setup.

I've got a nice stable setup here with the box on the table and the camera on a tripod.

When you set this up, you want to make sure your camera is straight on with the image that you're taking a picture of.

If there's any angle involved at all, one side will be smaller then the other and you'll have distortion that you need to fix in post processing.

They way that I've found easiest to set this up is to level the camera and then raise and lower the tripod until the images were centered between what I was taking the picture of and the camera.

And then I could move the box in and out to change the zoom level until the image completely fills the sensor.

In my case, I have a 35mm camera, full-frame, and a true macro lens and 35mm slides that I'm taking pictures of so I can perfectly fill the image of the slide with the camera.

If you have a different camera, different lens or different film, then the aspect ratios may not perfectly line up and you'll end up with black bars on either the sides or top and bottom in order to see the entire image.

If you're using a zoom lens in your setup, you want to set it to something over 100mm ideally.

This'll give you the least amount of distortion.

If your wider than that, then the edges may get distorted because of the lens optics.

Now that we have the physical setup, we need to setup the settings inside the camera.

There's two things we're concerned with: exposure and white balance.

For exposure, we need to make sure the light's on, set the camera to manual mode and look at just the white light coming out of the box.

We want to set this so that our camera's histogram is as far to the right as possible without actually getting clipped off.

I have a video that talks about this in more detail.

This'll give us the most amount of brightness in our images without glowing out any details.

For white balance, you want to use the custom setting.

How this is setup will vary from one camera to the next, so look in your user's manual to find out how to setup yours.

Now that everything is setup, I'm ready to put a slide in the holder and start making images.

This box will work with any camera.

I just showed an SLR but I've got my phone here and I can use it to just kind of position there and take an image.

It'd be better if I had a tripod for my phone if I was doing a lot of these.

But I don't and hand held works fine enough for demonstration purposes.

I also found that digital zoom works but having a clip on macro lens works even better.

These are inexpensive for cheap ones. They're not perfect lenses but they're satisfactory.

As I mentioned, different cameras, different lenses and different films will give you different aspect ratios and may require some post processing.

Slides of course don't require post processing for color correction but you may need to adjust for crop.

Negatives will need some color correction.

Obviously you need to invert the colors and I go into a lot of details about different camera lenses and the effects that they have and also how to post process negatives in this video over here.

I'll see you over there.

Down here is a video that YouTube thinks you'll enjoy.

And when making things, remember...

Perfection's not required.

Fun is!