Genealogy: Photographing slides and film

Photographing slides and films and filmBy Barry J. Ewell

For over 40 years I have used the camera to capture the lives of my family and friends.  The camera has been a very important tool in my professional career in public relations and advertising.  I first started with a film camera and spent hundreds of wonderful/fun hours in a dark room developing and printing my on prints.

Since the late 90’s I have used the digital camera extensively in to aid in my genealogical research in places such as local courthouses, libraries, genealogical societies, family cemeteries, and long-ago home sites and the homes of those who have a portion of the family record.

The following is the process I use with my digital camera to photograph slides and film.

Copying slides and film with your digital camera is possible and can be a great way to convert your files to digital images without noticeable loss of clarity from the originals.

First you will need to find an adaptor—which usually fits on front of your camera.  Check out This company manufactures adapters for copying slides with a digital camera.  When you speak with the company, they will ask you questions that will help them find the right attachments for you.

If you are able to secure the adaptor, try the following:

  1. For best results, mount your camera on a tripod.
  2. Mount your adaptor to the camera.
  3. Place the camera in front of a light source that will provide consistent steady light.  Examples of such light that can be used include the slide projector (light is cooled by the projector fan) or the light stand from Photo-studio-in-a-box from American Recorder
  4. Insert memory card.  I suggest 256 meg or higher. This will allow you to take more photos before needing to download them to the computer.
  5. Insert the first slide/film and click the shutter button.
    1. Note:  When you take pictures of the first few slides, download them to your computer and review them to make sure you are getting the quality you desire.  Quality variations can be due to the intensity of the light.  If you are not getting the desired image quality, try adjusting the distance of the light or changing light sources.
  6. Insert the next slide and continue the process.If you are unable to secure an adaptor for your camera, I strongly suggest using scanners equipped for slides and film.

The following is graphic depiction of how I set up the tools I discussed above to digitize slides, film, and microfilm.

Photographing slides and film 2