The first draft of this article appeared online on 23 January 2009.
Many of us faced with boxes full of slides dating back many years will think about converting them into digital images. An obvious way to do this is to place the slide on a light box and then photograph it using a digital SLR and a macro lens. The camera may be mounted on a tripod, and the height adjusted to get the correct reproduction ratio. Alternatively the slide can be placed in a Nikon ES-1 unit which is then attached to the front of the lens, and held in front of a suitable light source, such as a light box. Unlike many slide copiers, the ES-1 has no optical elements hence the image quality is dependent on the camera and lens.
The Nikon ES-1 unit consists of two concentric tubes, one sliding inside the other, with a screw thread at the end of one tube, and a crude slide holder at the end of the other. The sliding tubes allow the length of the unit and hence the reproduction ratio to be adjusted.
Figure 1: A front view of the ES-1 with a slide in the holder.
The ES-1 unit was originally designed to copy a slide using a traditional film camera in combination with either the Nikon 55mm F2.8 AIS micro lens and PN11 or PK13 extension tube, or the Nikon 60mm F2.8 AF(D) lens and a step up ring.
The ES-1 unit is not built to Nikon's usual high standards. The slide holder is crude, and the inner tube slides freely inside the outer one, making it hard to set the reproduction ratio. All in all the unit is not what I would expect from Nikon given their high reputation.
I found the ES-1 rather hard to use. The slide is held in place by two clips, and I found it very difficult to precisely align the slide. Whenever I pushed it slightly, it ended up either not moving, or moving too far. And because the D200 does not have a 100% viewfinder it is impossible to know if the slide frame is correctly aligned with respect to the image rectangle. In practice I usually found that the image of the slide was lopsided and cropped on one or two edges.
I tested the slide copying abiity of the ES-1 using my Nikon D200 camera and Nikon 60mm F2.8 AF micro lens. Because the D200 captures a crop of the 35mm frame, I had to reduce the reproduction ratio by increasing the distance between the slide and the lens, using four spacer rings made by removing the glass from some old filters. The slide was illuminated with a small light box.
Figure 2: A rear view of the ES-1 with extension and step up ring.
The slide is an image of a book shelf, taken on a fine grained slide film, Fuji Velvia 100F. It is the same slide that I used in my digital versus film test.
Figure 3: The scene captured by the slide.
I photographed the above slide using the D200 in RAW mode, and the lens set to F8 with an exposure of 1.3 seconds. The image was converted to TIFF and then processed and sharpened in Adobe Photoshop.
Figure 4: A crop from the centre of the image captured with the D200, 60mm lens and ES-1 enlarged ~200%.
Figure 5: A crop from the centre of the slide viewed with a x2.5 microscope objective.
You can draw your own conclusions from the above images, but in my opinion there is some loss of detail and a slight lowering of contrast. The quality is good enough for creating web images, and even an A4 print. No doubt using a camera with a higher pixel count would improve the results.
If you want to create digital images from slides, and you already own a Nikon digital SLR, a macro lens, and a light box, the ES-1 provides one means to copy slides. However, I found it difficult to use, due to poor design and build. If you have a few slides to copy, then save your money, and simply place the slides on a light box, and support the camera and lens above the slide using a tripod. If you have a lot of slides to copy, then invest in a decent slide scanner.