Sunday, 17 February 2013

Scanning Old 4 x 4 Super Slides

A Superslide, projected in a run of 35 mm transparencies, could make a 1950s or 1960s audience gasp. Square at 40 x 40 mm, rather than 24 x 36, a good superslide showed better gradation, sharpness and vibrancy than its counterpart from a 35 mm film camera. Compared with a 6 x 6 transparency from what is now called a medium format camera using 120 film (then along with 35 mm classified as ‘miniature’) the superslide offered one great advantage: it could be shown in the same projectors as 35 mm 24 x 36 mm transparencies rather than the extremely expensive machines made for the larger film size.

But then, as now, a good big one (whether film size or sensor) beats a good little one.

Superslides were from 127 size rollfilm, each spool producing 12 transparencies. The major camera producing superslides was the Rolleiflex 4 x 4 — the grey baby. Its f3.5 Xenar lens produced excellent results.

There were disadvantages. Kodachrome was not made in 127 size (with hindsight a major disadvantage) and films had to be changed more frequently, a nuisance when travelling.

A disadvantage certainly not apparent at the time is scanning. Although the superslide mount is the same size as the standard 35 mm mount, conventional 35 mm slide scanners, like my Nikon Coolscan IV, only cover an aperture of 24 x 36 mm. One can scan the central part of the superslide in either direction but it is not possible to cover the 40 x 40 mm.

The Epson V500 seemed to offer the best chance of getting a good scan from superslides at a modest cost.

I had used three sorts of slide mount. Firstly, ones made from the basic components (two glass plates, a cardboard mask and tape); secondly, commercial plastic mounts with anti-newton ring glass on both sides; thirdly I had some in plastic mounts without glass.

My 4 x 4 transparencies were in glass sealed mounts (left), plastic unglazed
mounts (right) or plastic mounts with glass (see below)

The glassless mounts were easy to scan. However, a number of transparencies in them had wrinkled especially round the edges so they were no longer flat and straight walls, for example, were no longer straight.

Plastic slide mount without glass (as received from the processor)
showing the wrinkling

When trying to scan some equally old Minox transparencies I had damaged two by removing them from their mounts. The emulsion had stuck to the glass and remained there. Therefore, I was very reluctant to risk the superslides and scanned them in the V500 through the anti-newton rings glass. The results were good but not so good as with slides scanned without glass.

Since scanning them a few years ago, it has irked me that they had not been scanned to their full potential. So, a few weeks ago, I took the bull by the horns and decided to remove all the other superslides from their mounts and scan them again.

At this stage I hit a problem. I could remount those in plastic mounts with glass easily enough, but those in the bound-edged glass I could not. Easy, I thought, I will buy some new superslide mounts for those bound fully in glass. Not so easy, as it turned out because superslide mounts are no longer in production by the likes of Gepe. So I had to find a stop-gap measure and a long-term solution to storing those re-scanned transparencies.

I opened the glass-bound slides by slitting the tape along the edge of three sides and removing the inner mask and transparency. After scanning, the slide was reassembled and closed along the bottom edge only using a piece of self-adhesive black tape of the same width as the old tape over the old tape. The slide was no longer flat because of the extra thickness so this was a stop-gap measure. The only reliable source of Superslide mounts is eBay and when they appear they are not cheap. However, I have been able to obtain sufficient to remount all my superslides originally mounted in glass and not plastic.

The transparencies from the edge-bound glass mounts are now in GEPE
glazed mounts (left). Others were returned to their 1960s F&P colour
glazed mounts (right)

Before going on to how I scanned these slides, I should say that they were either Agfacolor CT18 (not Agfachrome — Agfa did not then use chrome to denote a reversal film) or Ektachrome X.

How I scanned these Superslides will be the subject of my next post.