Equipment Review: Digitization Solution for Lantern Slides and Glass Plate Negatives

During my site visit to the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen (GSMT), in preparation for on site work there, the Archivist presented some lantern slides and glass plate negatives that they were keen to have digitized. Our scanner, the Epson V600, has the capability to scan transparencies but is limited in scope in terms of size of transparencies it can deal with and I knew looking at the material, they were too large for our scanner.

Epson V600 transparency capabilities:
Transparency size:

Supported film size:
35mm mounted slides
35mm film strips
Medium format strips 6x22cm

GSMT lantern slide size: 8.5x10cm
GSMT glass plate negative size: 35x28cm

Lantern slides and glass plate negatives abound in archives everywhere. They’re easy to digitize (if they’re in robust condition); you just need the right equipment in order to do so. Knowing our scanner could not accommodate them and knowing that I wanted to digitize them during my time on site at GSMT, I spent some time researching additional equipment to add to our kit.

I quickly settled on the solution of camera, light box and Photoshop . We technically didn’t need Photoshop for the lantern slides (aside from some cropping) but we did need Photoshop for the glass plate negatives as it enabled us to turn the negative into a positive.

We already had the camera, tripod and Photoshop; we just needed to add a light box to our kit. However, in this instance we also purchased a new camera lens. We already had a lens that came with our Canon Rebel T5; an 18-35mm lens. We’ve had some issues with lens curvature that’s purely due to the construction of the lens; the curve has been noticeable in some items I’ve digitized and so I’ve been thinking for some time about adding another lens to our kit. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so and I spent time researching different types of lenses, settling on the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens for the job. This lens has a flat field of focus and so does not reproduce the curvature our original lens does. This will not only help with types of material such as transparencies but with other formats that are unsuitable for scanning. However, it does have a limitation in terms of the size of item we can photograph because it is a short macro lens, but overall, it’s addition to our kit really helps with our copy-stand digitization solution.    

Our new Canon Macro Lens

Our new Canon EF-S 60mm Macro Lens

We’ve used B&H a lot during the compilation of our mobile digitization kits and they’ve also given us good advice on a few occasions when we’ve had questions, so it was my first port of call in search of a light box. As with everything in our kits, I needed it to be portable – as lightweight as possible and small enough to fit in my backpack. This need definitely scaled down my available options but I was able to find a product that suited our needs.

Our light box and camera solution for digitizing lantern slides.

Our light box and camera solution for digitizing lantern slides.

I opted for the Porta Trace 10”x12” – it was large enough to accommodate the lantern slides that needed digitizing but small enough to be able to fit in my backpack for easy transportation. The lightsource is LED which gives a more even distribution of light and does not heat up as quickly as other light sources. Purchasing this particular light box discounted our ability to digitize the glass plate negatives as they were too large but luckily, GSMT had a light box that was big enough to accommodate them, enabling their digitization as well – a bonus!

The light box and macro lens worked extremely well for the lantern slides and all 78 were digitized successfully. We are glad of the opportunity we had to work with GSMT and are happy that not only were we able to expand our kit enabling us to accommodate the digitization of different formats but also that we were able to digitize GSMT’s material successfully and allow access of them to wider audiences.

One of the lantern slides digitized with our light box and camera.

One of the lantern slides digitized with our light box and camera.