Old School Film Hack

Old image recovery


Cindy’s brother, Roy, has been diligently trying to recover very old family images from the cache that their recently passed father had stashed away.  Sadly though, the images — a very wide assortment of prints, slides, negatives, and 8mm movies — were kept in a garage, with no regard to protection from temperature or humidity extremes.  As a result, most of them are suffering from some sort of degradation, whether it’s fungus, ground-in dirt and/or fingerprints from careless handling, scratches, cracks in the emulsion, color fading, or all of them combined.

Above is a typical example of what we have to work with.  Roy wanted to use this image for the upcoming memorial service, as the two people seated in the foreground are his father, Mel, and his mother, Marge.

The source image is a 35mm slide, captured on Anscochrome, a color reversal film made by Agfa-Anso after World War II that was a direct competitor to Kodak‘s Kodachrome, only Anscochrome had a much faster ASA rating of 135, versus the slower ASA 25 being marketed for Kodachrome at the time.

What is the occasion of the image?  I’m not sure, as nothing was written on the slide.  I hazard a guess, though, that it may be their engagement announcement or post-wedding meal, as everyone is dressed in their Sunday finest.  If it’s the post-wedding meal, then the date would be in early September of 1951.  And if that’s correct, then the slide is 62 years old.

The top image is what Roy was able to capture using an inexpensive, low-resolution slide scanner.  He had sent the JPG to me hoping I could clean it up.  Sadly, the image was too far gone for me to recover.  However, if I had the original slide image, I could capture it with my high-end film scanner, which has the ability to remove surface dirt from the final image via infrared scan.  Below is the result, after much tinkering and tweaking.

I like the tonal range of the top image better, but I can’t duplicate it without the higher resolution image revealing extensive cracking in the film emulsion.  But the surface dirt has all been nicely removed and the color shift of the fungus has been minimized, as well as color correction and contrast adjustments.


10 thoughts on “Old image recovery

  1. Vicki (from Victoria A Photography)

    Why not just remove the brown spots one by one with a ‘brush’ tool. With my very limited skills I have done just that with some of my 86 yr old Father’s school photos with a reasonable result.
    My editing skills are very limited and basic, but it’s surprising what one can do with a bit of patience.
    I would imagine this one image could be improved enough for the memorial service.


  2. rposton

    What is the scanner that you used?
    Can you do batch scans or is it more like looking at a specimen under a microscope?
    Check my e-mail for details surrounding the event in the picture.
    I really appreciate the information on the Anscochrome film. He also used Kodachrome, and there is a difference in which film resists mold and dust more.
    When did Ecktachrome come along? I remember that slide film was the thing back then, because color print film just wasn’t that good.
    I like your work.


    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Hey Roy — The device used is an older 4,000 dpi Nikon LS-4000 ED 35mm scanner (http://imaging.nikon.com/lineup/scanner/scoolscan_4000/) that I bought new many years ago when I was still shooting film. Today they can be found used on eBay for $250 and up. They can do batch scans of up to 40 frames with film that hasn’t been cut, or up to 50 frames with mounted images — both routes requiring the use of optional adapters. Individual slides can be scanned, as can strips of negatives. The dust cleaning technology is called Digital ICE, and you can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_ICE.

      I expect that the Kodachrome shots will survive the years best out of all the emulsions he used, as Kodachrome is renown for its archival qualities.

      Ektachrome got its start in the early 1940s, but didn’t really take off until 1977 with the introduction of the sixth version (E-6). As time went on, there was always a battle between the supporters of print film and slide film. Slides were ready to view as soon as they were processed and mounted. Print film had to be processed, then prints made from the film frames. Slides were the preferred route of the pros because they had so little latitude — you either nailed the exposure, or you didn’t. Print film had much greater latitude and could tolerate a lot more slop, which made it preferable to consumers. By the time the digital era came on the scene, it was a toss-up between slide and print film — both were so good that the only real difference was the look you wanted the final image to take.


  3. Bill Larsen

    I shot a lot of Agfachrome (same film, I believe) in the late ’60s. They all have the same color degreradation as in this image. I bought the film because I was in Europe and it was available with processing only took three days, or so, and I needed to have results ASAP. I learned my lesson about dye based films 😉


    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Dye-based films have some appeal, but must be handled very carefully when they are being archived. These were not, so most of them are pretty far gone — a painful lesson learned, on all accounts.


Join the conversation!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: