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Using DSLR to 'Scan' Colour Slides: learning from the Digitising Jemdet Nasr 1988-1989 ProjectOpen Data

Mónica Palmero Fernández

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

Summary

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.

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  • Keywords: Kodachrome, DSLR digitisation, DSLR scanning, photography, archival research, film digitisation, Jemdet Nasr
  • Accepted: 23 April 2020. Published: 27 October 2020
  • Funding: This publication was fully funded by donations made to the Open Access Archaeology Fund, set up with the specific aim of supporting the publishing and archiving costs of researchers who have no means of institutional support.
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Corresponding author: Mónica Palmero FernándezORCID logo
Monica.PalmeroFernandez@glasgow.ac.uk
University of Glasgow

Full text

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 4a/Figure 4b: Testing DSLR scanning of Kodachrome at the University of Reading using the HP scanner's slide holder and Canon EOS 60D with Tamron macro lens ©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 7a/Figure 7b: Dust on diapositive, before and after cleaning with air blower and lint-free pads ©Mónica Palmero Fernández.

Figure 8a/Figure 8b: Preparing the slide for scanning using an air blower and lint-free wipes ©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 10a/Figure 10b: Labelling of boxes and individual slides ©Mónica Palmero Fernández.

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 13a and close-up: Scan of JN25_06 using Nikon Coolscan IV ED with SilverFast software with applied scratch and dust removal. Note the lack of definition of the facial features and washed out blacks. IT8 calibration was not available in the trial version of the software. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
  • Figure 13b and close-up: Scan of JN25_06 using Nikon Coolscan IV ED with SilverFast software HDR setting. The facial features appear slightly better defined and the blacks are richer, but the sky appears washed out. Scanning time multiplies 3x, plus processing time. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
  • Figure 13c and close-up: Processed SilverFast scan of JN25_06 (13b) using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic 8.3.1 Release; Auto Tone function. Note the white light cast in vertical lines, which hinder the correct adjustment of the image to retain both deep blacks and lift the shadow to reveal the facial features of the man. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
  • Figure 13d and close-up: Scan of JN25_06 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 by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
  • Figure 13e and close-up: Raw (CR2) digital copy of JN25_06 using a Canon EOS Kiss X3 (15MP) and 105mm lens. ISO 3200, 1/2500 sec at f/5.0. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Digitize Media.
  • Figure 13f and close-up: Processed uncompressed (TIFF) digital copy of 13e (JN25_06) using Camera Raw 11.3, Auto Settings. Despite the apparent good balance of the image, note the 'white spots' in the close-up of the image. These are caused by the high ISO 32000 employed, which is likely the result of not using backlighting to illuminate the transparency. The Kodachrome used is ISO 64. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Digitize Media; processed by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
  • Figure 13g and close-up: Raw (CR2) digital copy of JN25_06 with Canon EOS 80D (24MP) camera and TAMRON SP 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 272EE macro lens. ISO 125, AV Mode, 1/125 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 13h and close-up: Processed uncompressed (TIFF) digital copy of 13g (JN25_06) using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic 8.3.1. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned and processed by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
  • Figure 13i: Close-up comparison of Figure 13c (SilverFast HRD with Lightrooom post-processing) and Figure 13h (DLSR with Lightroom post-processing), showing the difference in grain and definition. While SilverFast HDR seems to offer 'softer' definition, the facial features remain obscured, while the DSLR camera picks up these details from the original Kodachrome slide. Colour may be further adjusted to balance the blue tint, but this can be easily done in post-processing. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned and processed by Mónica Palmero Fernández.

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 14a and close-up: Scan of JN25_09 using Nikon Coolscan IV ED with VueScan (dust and scratch function on, which yielded a lot of noise in the foreground salt crusts). Note the blue tint of the Kodachrome scan. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
  • Figure 14b and close-up: Scan of JN25_09 using Nikon Coolscan IV ED with SilverFast software basic settings. Note SilverFast's much better colour calibration for Kodachrome. IT8 calibration was not available in the trial version of the software. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
  • Figure 14c and close-up: Scan of JN25_09 using Nikon Coolscan IV ED with SilverFast software HDR setting. In this case, the HDR setting did not seem to make a huge difference except lifting some of the shadow areas in foreground. Scanning time multiplies 3x, plus processing time. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
  • Figure 14d : Scan of JN25_09 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 by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
  • Figure 14e and close-up: Raw (CR2) digital copy of JN25_09 using a Canon EOS Kiss X3 (15MP) and 105mm lens. ISO 32000, 1/2500 sec at f/5.0. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Digitize Media.
  • Figure 14f and close-up: Processed uncompressed (TIFF) digital copy of 14f (JN25_06) using Camera Raw 11.3. In this case, the blue tint has been probably overcorrected to red, but note also the 'white spots' in the close-up of the image. These are caused by the high ISO 3200 employed, which is likely the result of not using backlighting to illuminate the transparency. The Kodachrome used is ISO 64. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Digitize Media; processed by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
  • Figure 14g and close-up: Raw (CR2) digital copy of JN25_09 with Canon EOS 80D (24MP) camera and TAMRON SP 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 272EE macro lens. ISO 125, AV Mode, 1/8 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 14h and close-up: Processed uncompressed (TIFF) digital copy of 14g (JN25_09) using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic 8.3.1. RAW (.CR2) file retained with sidecar xmp file. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned and processed by Mónica Palmero Fernández.

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 17a: Digital copy of JN26_13 with original settings. Due to the underexposed nature of the original slide, the colours appear forced and the blacks washed out. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
  • Figure 17b: Processed digital copy of JN26_13 with modified settings to obtain a realistic reproduction of the original, underexposed slide. White balance is corrected and blacks appear crisp (modified parameters: Colour Temp. 3,500 Kelvin; -1 EV). ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
  • Figure 17c: Digital copy of JN26_11 with original settings. Due to the underexposed nature of the original slide, the colours appear forced and the blacks completely washed out. ©Roger J. Matthews; scanned by Mónica Palmero Fernández.
  • Figure 17d: Processed digital copy of JN26_13 with modified settings to obtain a realistic reproduction of the original, underexposed slide. White balance is corrected and blacks appear crisper (modified parameters: Colour Temp. 3,450 Kelvin; -2 EV). ©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 18b: -2 EV underexposed and +2 EV overexposed scans of JN09_32. These are used to build the HDR image. ©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.

Table 1: Summary data on the two test scans illustrated in Figure 13 and Figure 14.

Table 2: The final camera settings used for the digitisation process

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