A giant box was delivered via FedEx on Friday, containing a kit with everything I’d need to digitize slides. I ordered the baseline gear required: a Nikon D500, a 40mm macro lens, and the slide carrier kit, and set it up in the den on Friday night to start fooling around with it.
In about five minutes I was oriented with the camera and set up live view with the viewfinder, but on the first night I stuck with autofocus to see how good it would be. The results were OK; I’d say about one half of what I shot was in clear focus, but the other half was not. The color varies from slide to slide, mostly because Dad was switching film stock pretty regularly—the Kodachrome stuff is rich and clear, some of the Fuji is washed out or shifts to yellow/green on the color wheel, and there are other nonbranded film stocks that veer towards muddy grays and blues.
This makes processing it challenging, because my intent is to always bring each photo back to a normal white balance and exposure—and with Dad shooting a manual camera, the exposure could be all over the place. It’s amazing what kinds of detail I can pull out of a dark slide transfer when it’s shot in RAW format; I’ve been able to resurrect some shots that would ordinarily be past saving. In the 80’s, before he bought a newer Minolta, he was having problems with the light meter on his Konica, and I remember him grumbling about some of the slides we got back before he got it fixed. And, his insistence on either using a giant blinding light bar or facing subjects directly into the sun messed up some otherwise good pictures.
Sharpness is also a challenge, so last night I switched to shooting using manual focus and Live View on the camera to zoom in and correct the shot before hitting the shutter. This resulted in better, clearer pictures, and they were much sharper that was I was getting applying software fixes in post processing. The shots are all 20MP in size, which gives me plenty of data to clean up dust and scratches—and some of these are in rough shape.
I’ve made it through four carousels and a binder so far. I’d estimate that’s about 600 slides of an estimated 4,000, and I’m going to redo half of the 600 now that I’ve got a better focusing system in place. I have to adjust the lighting as well—I’ve got a better, brighter photo bulb I can use to bring out more detail.
Seen on the way to snowboarding last week: Darth Maul really wants me to pray on the subject of facial tattoos and long-haul trucking, apparently.
Thus begins Day Three of self-imposed quarantine at home. Normally I would pooh-pooh the hand waving and sensationalist headlines and continue on with life as normal, but because my blood cell counts are still below normal we’re not taking any chances. We’re stocked up on perishable goods and supplies for a two-week shut in, but we’ll wait and see how long this thing drags on. WRI has been awesome in supporting our individual decisions on remote work, and I’ve been making ample use of teleconferencing software to join meetings. I’m also trying to get the Annual Report laid out between meetings, which is much easier to do when I’m not at my desk and being pulled away for this or that.
PetaPixel just ran an article about digitizing slides and film with the Nikon adapter I’ve been looking at, and it got me to thinking: I’m trapped at home, what better time to try this out? I’m not going to shoot all 4,000 of the slides we’ve got, but I know 1 in 4 are probably worth digitizing. So I set up a rental for a 7-day span starting over the weekend to get to work.
Two Wednesdays ago, the day I was rushing around trying to focus on work and also get organized for Ohio, I got a giant, heavy package via UPS delivered to the door. I opened it up to reveal a carefully wrapped group of antique cameras and a lovely note from my cousin Margaret (who, I believe, lurks here but has not commented). These were her father’s film cameras, and as they were gathering dust at her house, she thought she would send them along to me.
They are all beautiful cameras but by far my favorite is this one: a Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex, a twin-lens reflex model manufactured by Zeiss sometime between 1934 and 1939, according to this website (the shutter lens assembly is from an earlier model and the body is from a slightly later model, so my guess is that someone fixed this one by combining parts from both). It’s both a long way away from my Rolleicord/Yashica TLRs and very similar; the focus wheel is actually a lever mounted on the side, but all of the wind/shutter/aperture controls are exactly where I expect them. I cleaned up the optics with a damp cloth, dusted out the inside, and made sure the mechanicals all work.
Then there was a box in perfect shape that held a Kodak Senior Six-20, a medium-format bellows camera from the late 1930’s. All of the original sales material is included, and the camera looks like it was just pulled off the shelf of a Woolworth’s or Sears & Roebuck by a guy in a bowtie and shop apron; the leatherette is unmarked, the bellows is pristine, and the mechanicals are flawless. When I look at the packaging and design of this piece I think of modern-day Apple: the design is excellent and of its age, there isn’t anything on the package that doesn’t need to be, the craftsmanship of the package and camera is exquisite, and it feels like an event to open the box. I could put this next to an iPhone box from the modern day and they would be father and son.
The next is a Minolta A.2 35mm rangefinder from somewhere in the late 1950’s, an absolute beast of a camera that probably weighs 35 lbs. It’s also in excellent shape and the mechanicals check out as far as I can tell. It’s enclosed in a leatherette case that probably adds another 10 lbs. to the whole package. How did people travel with stuff like this back in the day? My neck would snap like wet twigs if I had to haul this thing around Disneyland for a weekend.
There was a Revere Ranger 8mm winding cine camera, which is actually heavier than the Minolta. I think this thing was chiseled out of pig iron. It’s finished with that marbleldy texturing that was popular in the 1950’s for things like movie projectors and electronic equipment, and it feels solid as a brick in my hands. It’s actually the second of these that I’ve got: My Dad had one of these in the stash I bought back in 2002, and I’m curious to put them side by side to see if there are any differences. This one has a set of interchangeable lenses, which is kind of cool for its day.
Finally, there’s a General Electric exposure meter in a small velvet pouch. The pictures make it look really cool, like it’s an instrument that was pulled from the control panel of a DC-3. Unfortunately it’s jammed into its case, a half-box made out of bakelite, I’d guess, and I can’t seem to get it out. I’ve got to do some research on how to extract it without ruining the material.
Margaret, these are all wonderful timepieces, and I really appreciate your gift. I’m going to put them in a place of honor here on the Photography Wall, and I’m definitely going to put some film through the Zeiss—as soon as I finish the roll in the Yashica.
This is a shot from the top of the Vessel at Hudson Yards, taken with a 16mm wide-angle lens on a full-frame camera body. it looks wild but it doesn’t really capture how big or how high this thing is. I do know that after having climbed it with a 60-lb. camera bag on my back, my calf and glute muscles were singing. More on that experience later.
One of the things I put aside in the Great Cleanout was my Dad’s camera bag, a big poofy faux-leather monstrosity that was more zippers than usable space. Inside, I walked back through his digital camera history, which included the following:
- A Nikon Coolpix 995, their millenial attempt at a consumer-friendly point-and-shoot hobbled by an inane menu system and a confusing button layout. Maddeningly, though, in a world where two of my newer-vintage Nikon prosumer DSLRs have died from mechanical failures, this camera from 2001 still boots up and takes pictures. Dad bought a couple of specialty screw-on lenses for it at some point, which are mostly fun for novelty value, and also a slide digitizing attachment. There are also about 10 aftermarket batteries of varying age and quality available. I think this might be Finn’s beater digital camera after I get it cleaned up.
- A Nikon D80 I’d just given him a year and a half ago to have fun with. On the card inside were several pictures of his dining room table, the kitchen, and the front walk, when he was getting used to the features and controls. He’d bought a handful of new batteries for this camera as well. I wish I’d given it to him much earlier, because I don’t think he was comfortable with it yet. This will replace the aforementioned DSLRs I’ve got laying about the house.
- A Canon Vixia HF R300, a tiny HD-quality video camera he’d bought last year at some point, and about six new off-brand batteries. It’s the kind of camera I would have killed for about 15 years ago but I don’t entirely know what I’ll do with it just yet; Finn can certainly have fun with it, and we may use it for things like school events or maybe I can bring it in for work events. This also came with a handful of batteries.
- Finally, I inherited his Konica Auto S2, the camera he used to shoot most of our family photos up until the early 1980’s. After examining the outside of the case I realized it’s a lot different than the other 35mm rangefinders I’ve used in the past. This article goes into some good detail about the design and setup of the camera, and mentions that the lens (a 45mm f/1.8) is both excellent quality and fixed to the camera body, so my dad was shooting a fixed prime before all the hipsters were. I will need to scare up a new battery for it, as well as give the whole case a good cleaning, but I’m excited to put some film through this body and see how it turns out.