Cite this as: Palmero Fernández, M. 2020 DSLR Digitisation of Colour Slides: The Digitising Jemdet Nasr 1988-1989 Project, Internet Archaeology 55. https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.55.10
This article presents a cost-effective method for digitising photographic film for archival purposes using a DSLR camera, focussing on the widely used colour reversal Kodachrome film produced by Eastman Kodak between 1935 and 2009. It discusses the digitisation of an archive of 787 Kodachrome slides taken between 1988 and 1989 during the excavation of Jemdet Nasr, an archaeological site located in southern Iraq (Project website). Results obtained using a film scanner (Nikon Coolscan IV ED) are compared with two different scanning software solutions (SilverFast and VueScan), a flatbed scanner (HP Scanjet 8300), and two DSLR cameras with macro lens (a Canon EOS KissX3 with 105mm lens and a Canon EOS 80D with 90mm lens). The results demonstrate the cost-effective value of the DSLR method for archives where time and resources are limited, but where digital photography equipment might be readily available, such as an archaeological unit or a university department. The method allows for high quality, fast and economical digitisation of excavation and collection archives that will enhance research. The method also offers superior results in rendering the high dynamic range of photographic film such as Kodachrome.
Corresponding author: Mónica Palmero Fernández
University of Glasgow
Figure 1a/Figure 1b: The Kodachrome slides have been kept in protective cases since the 1980s to prevent UV damage (a). The high dynamic range of the slides make them invaluable archival objects (b). ©Mónica Palmero Fernández.
Figure 2: The two scanners tested for the project: Nikon Coolscan IV ED slide/film scanner (left) and HP Scanjet 8300 flatbed scanner (right). Both offered high resolution (2900 dpi and 4800x4800 dpi hardware, respectively), but seemed to struggle with the complexity of Kodachrome colour reversal film ©Mónica Palmero Fernández.
Figure 3: Workstation set-up with Nikon CoolScan IV ED and iMac computer with macOS High Sierra 10.13.4. This computer was used to test the Nikon scanner using VueScan 9 x64 (9.6.38) and SilverFast 8.8 software ©Mónica Palmero Fernández.
Figure 5a/Figure 5b: Trial scan of JN25_06 using a Canon 60D (18 MP) with TAMRON SP 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 272EE. ISO 200; manual exposure 2.5 sec at f/16; pattern metering; auto WB (5,100 Kelvin). Note the 'washed out' blacks and the light reflections formed by the uneven surface of the diapositive and a scratch from the light table (Figure 5b) ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
Figure 6a/Figure 6b: Final set up for scanning, showing the custom-made black cardboard slide holder attached to the LightPad to block out excess light and the process of levelling the camera to avoid distortion and out-of-focus areas ©Mónica Palmero Fernández.
Figure 9: Understanding depth of field. For the Tamron 90mm macro lens used, with a focus distance of 290 mm and f/8.0, DoF is just 0.74 mm, thus leaving little margin of error for uneven levelling of camera and diapositive (source: Malan 2018).
Figure 11a/Figure 11b: Placing the diapositive in the custom-made slide holder attached to the light pad and manually focusing on the grain of the film using the camera's digital zoom ©Mónica Palmero Fernández.
Figure 12: Info screen on the Canon EOS 80D showing the settings used. ©Mónica Palmero Fernández.
Figure 13: Results of scanning the sample diapositive JN25_06 using a variety of methods with detail of grain and definition of facial features in backlit photography. This slide was not tested using VueScan. Some images have a logo across them. This is because they were created using the trial versions of the software tested.
Figure 14: Results of scanning the sample diapositive JN25_09 using a variety of methods with detail of grain and definition of in backlit photography. Some images have a logo across them. This is because they were created using the trial versions of the software tested.
Figure 15a: Scan of JN25_05 using HP Scanjet 8300. It is unclear why the flatbed scanner was not picking up any detail of the slides. Both I and Sarah Lambert-Gates tried a variety of settings with this scanner, but the results were very poor compared with the other methods. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned and processed by Sarah Lambert-Gates.
Figure 15b: Processed digital copy of JN25_03 using Adobe Photoshop Classic 8.3.1. The original raw (CR2) digital copy was taken with Canon EOS 80D (24MP) camera and TAMRON SP 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 272EE macro lens. ISO 125, AV Mode, 0.5 sec at f/8; manual WB 6,500 Kelvin; centre-weighted average metering. Note the blue tint typical of Kodachrome scans. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
Figure 16a: Scan of JN25_05 using HP Scanjet 8300. It is unclear why the flatbed scanner was not picking up any detail of the slides. Both I and Sarah Lambert-Gates tried a variety of settings with this scanner, but the results were very poor compared with the other methods. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned and processed by Sarah Lambert-Gates.
Figure 16b: Processed digital copy of JN25_05 using Adobe Photoshop Classic 8.3.1. The original raw (CR2) digital copy was taken with Canon EOS 80D (24MP) camera and TAMRON SP 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 272EE macro lens. ISO 125, AV Mode, 0.5 sec at f/8; manual WB 6,500 Kelvin; centre-weighted average metering. Note the blue tint typical of Kodachrome scans. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
Figure 17: Working with underexposed images of objects. While the camera tries to balance what it perceives as low light conditions, it is important to achieve a realistic effect, maximising detail without adding unwanted noise from overexposure. Shooting RAW further allows for later post-processing to force details out of images for archaeological analysis in a loss-less manner. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
Figure 18a: Digital copy of JN09_32 with AV mode 1/20 sec at f/8.0 and 0 EV. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
Figure 18c: Processed HDR image of JN09_32 using ±2 bracket (auto tone settings) using Lightroom Classic. The resulting HDR image balances the dark zone of the trench against the bright ground in the foreground, revealing details of the brickwork illustrated. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
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