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An inexpensive way to digitize your snapshots
There are many ways to turn your treasure-trove of slides, negatives and prints into digital image files. Here’s a scanner that can do it all. For $80, can it deliver the quality you need?
It’s odd: Over the past month or so at least a dozen people have stopped me on the street, sent me an email, or called with the same question: “How can I digitize my massive collection of slides, negatives, and prints without paying a fortune or sending my valuable photos to some lab?” At the same time, Adorama announced the Flashpoint 3-in-1 Slide/Negative/Print scanner. That’s too much of a coincidence to be ignored!
There are, of course, other options, but they’re limited. Minolta and Nikon had excellent 35mm scanners that cost under $1,000. Most film scanners are pro-end and while they produce excellent results, they’re not affordable for a hobbyist who simply wants to make digital copies of their legacy film photos. There are a handful of simpler, 5MP resolution scanners that cost in the $100-150 range. The Flashpoint 3-in-1 is currently on sale for $80.
You could also send your photos to a scanning service. Images can be scanned for as little as 25 cents…but if you have hundreds of slides or negatives that you want scanned, that adds up quickly. Although most scanning services generally take reasonable precautions, you never know for sure if your valuable originals will come back.
The Flashpoint 3-in-1 costs around $80, an amazing deal is it worth it? Let’s find out!
Set-up and operation
The Flashpoint 3-in-1 is unusual because instead of plugging it directly into your computer, you can simply insert an SD card and record your scans on it. I like this, because many low-end scanners are Windows compatible, an are therefore useless for Mac users. With the Flashpoint, simply scan your images onto your card, plug your card into your Mac’s (or Windows PC’s) card reader, and you’re ready to go.
Three are separate holders for slides (holds 3 at a time) and negatives (holds a strip of up to 6), and three separate holders for 3x5, 4x6, and 5x7-inch prints. The negative strip holder has several sprocket hole outdents to help you exactly place the film, and a cover that snaps into place, holding the film flat. Likewise, the slide holder has indents marking where to place the slide. The print holders are a little different: slide the print down through the top and make sure it gets caught in the “teeth” along the top, bottom and sides of the image so it will stay flat.
I found film and slide placement to be easily done, not so much for prints. Some prints would buckle as I’d carefully slide them into the holder, and the sides ate up about 1/8 of an inch of the image, so you lose a bit of information when making copies. Compare this with flatbed scanners, which hold the print flat without forcing any crops.
Insert a memory card into the port, conveniently located in front, and then turn on the unit. Slide in your original in the side slot for film and negatives, or the top slot for prints. Note that you must manually move from one negative or slide to the next; there’s no automatic feed. You will be prompted to choose the kind of original: Print, negative, or slide, color or black and white. You can choose to crop, increase or decrease exposure by up to 2 stops in 1/3-stop increments, flip or rotate an image, or change the resolution. It doesn’t do much else. You can check your image in live-view, 2.4-inch LCD monitor, which is adequate.
The scanner’s native resolution is 5MP, or 360dpi, but you can choose 10MP resolution, which is simply resizing the 5MP image using interpolation. It allows you to make a larger final print. For best image quality, I’d stick to 5MP. (You can probably technically get an 11x14 if you choose the 10MP option but I would not recommend larger than 8x10 prints from scans made with this printer.)
Once you have the image set up the way you like it, hit scan and in an instant, it’s done. Unlike pricier progressive scanners, which move a scanning element across the image field, the Flashpoint 3-in-1 uses a sensor and therefore actually works more like a very specific task-oriented digital camera than a scanner.
While you can plug the scanner directly into a Windows computer, it is very easy (and for snapshooters, perhaps a tad less overwhelming) to simply load the images onto the memory card, which the machine will do by default. When you’re done scanning, remove the card. You can then bring it to a kiosk to order prints, or put it into a card reader that’s plugged into your computer.
It took me about five minutes to become familiar with the 3-in-1’s controls and operation, and was able to scan negatives and slides fairly quickly. I wish there was an auto feed so I didn’t have to babysit the process so much, but at this price did not expect one.
While you can use the Flashpoint 3-in-1 without any computers or software, I found that I needed to make a few software-based changes to the scanned images before I could print them. I recommend Adobe Photoshop Elements 9, which I used for color and contrast corrections and to remove the dust that my compressed air couldn’t get to.
Let’s look at a few sample images that I’d scanned to see how well the 3-in-1 worked under some typical real-world situations.
This unretouched scan is from a 10-year-old photo of my younger daughter, shot on Ilford HP-5 Plus. It shows a good tonal range. There were a few dust particles that my Dust-Off didn’t get.
At a 100% blow-up, the image appears somewhat grainy, and it looks like some noise suppression software was applied. But this is very usable image quality for 4x6, 5x7 and even 8x10-inch prints.
After applying the Specs and Dust filter and the healing brush, then adjusting the levels in Photoshop Elements 5, I got a very usable image, and I was able to make a good-looking 8x10 print.
Shot on Fujifilm 200 color print film in 1995, this unretouched scan of my newborn daughter held by my father-in-law, who has since passed away, shows a dramatic color shift to cyan that needs fixing.
I used Photoshop Elements’ Remove Color Cast tool to fix the colors here. I selected the white in my father-in-law’s shirt to set a new white balance. This isn’t perfect, but it’s close enough for a print that I can share with the family.
This is from a series on New York street performers that I shot in the summer of 1980. I used Agfachrome film and a Canon FTb with a 70-210mm Vivitar Series 1 f/2.8 zoom. Before I scanned, I had to jiggle the slide holder a bit to make sure the ball in mid-air wasn’t cut off. Pretty good, but the scan’s color shift is on the warmish side.
Using Auto Levels in Photoshop I got this, a much closer match to the original slide.
I shot this informal portrait of my friend, co-worker and mentor Peter Moore, when we were both working at Modern Photography magazine in the mid 1980s, with a Leica M3 and 35mm Summaron lens. Peter, who died in 1993, was the Senior Technical Editor and I was just getting started as a photo writer. As you can see, the clamps that are supposed to hold the print in place were included in the image, and the edges, up to 1/8 of an inch all around, are lost. I also notice a reflection off the image’s glossy surface, which you can see going across the bottom of Peter’s chin and jacket. The color balance is a bit warmer and paler than the print.
I cropped out the edges in this fixed-up version. Color cast is more neutral here—in fact, it’s better than in the print, but that’s due to my use of Photoshop Elements 9’s Remove Color Cast tool. The reflection is still there. My flatbed scanner did a better job.
Conclusion and recommendation
If you are a snapshooter or hobbyist who is looking for a low-cost way to digitize your photos, the Flashpoint 3-in-1 is definitely worth your consideration. Operation is simple and straightforward. Actual scan time is a fraction of a second, but you will need to budget time to sit with the scanner and load your slides or negatives.
For prints, I recommend using a flatbed scanner, unless you do not have access to a computer and absolutely must store the images on a memory card.
I strongly recommend investing in Photoshop Elements 9 or similar basic image editor to take care of color corrections and to remove dust and scratches from scanned images before having prints made. If you don’t want to spend more than the price of the scanner, consider downloading the GIMP, a free image editor (but be prepared for a bit of a learning curve).
For $80 (and around $55 for Photoshop Elements 9), the 3-in-1 is a low-risk, worthwhile investment for budget-minded snapshooters who want to digitize their treasure-trove of slides and negatives without spending hundreds of dollars.