What's the deal with slides?

May 11, 2020

Long before there was PowerPoint® or the personal computer (PC), families would gather in a darkened room to experience the magic of an old time photo slide show.  Using slides, photography images were projected onto a wall or screen for friends to enjoy together.  Perhaps these photos were captured weeks prior using the family camera during summer vacation?  The thrill of enjoying these photos together is a pastime largely unknown to younger generations.

If you were around in the 1960s or 1970s, maybe you remember how this worked?  Photographic film could be developed into prints, negatives, or slides.  For 35mm slides, each image would be returned as a plastic transparency mounted inside a cardboard or plastic frame.  Some were black & white photography, but most were in color.  When held up to the light, your eye could just barely make out the photo.  However, pass a powerful light through the slide and project onto a distant screen and WOW!


There was nothing quite like the family slide show.  It seemed everyone had a role to play.  Typically, dad would setup the screen or get assistance placing a white bedsheet across a flat wall.  Then, the projector would need to be readied.  The high powered bulb would take a while to reach full brightness while the projector fan would cool the bulb.  Perhaps you remember the nostalgic smell of dust burning on the old equipment?  Or popcorn?

Mom would typically make popcorn or prepare some other snacks to enjoy during the slide show.  These after dinner treats would flavor the time, as the sun would set and better prepare the room for the show.  With many trays of slides to watch, these events could last for hours, especially with the laughter and unending commentary from each person appearing in each of the photos.

You can almost still hear the clunking noise as each photo slide was dropped into a slide tray or carousel.  These trays would hold a few dozen slides, and the trays would be loaded into the projector to facilitate switching from one image to another.  One family member might have had the distinctive role of loading the slide trays, sometimes while images from another tray were being projected.  

slide projector

Aaahhh... the tray loader put the slide in upside down!  Now everyone would crane their heads to better see the image.  Sometimes the slide was put in the tray backwards.  Now your brother, who was standing on your left when the picture was taken, is standing on your right on the slide show display.  These analog foibles were but a minor inconvenience to the joy of experiencing life together.

Kodak stopped producing film for slides in the early 2000s, but slides are still popular among photography enthusiasts with a taste for the vintage.  If you or your family still have old slides, there is little to stop you from setting up an old time slide show in your home.  A screen is helpful, but a bedsheet on the wall will work just as fine.  It's also critical to have an old slide projector with a working bulb.  Look on eBay or your local thrift store if you don't have one now.  Most importantly, go locate those old photo slides!

The 35mm is the most popular type of photo slide.  It's a transparent piece of film housed in a 2" by 2" plastic or cardboard mount.  So too are the 110, 126, and 127 photo slides.  However, miniature 100 photo slides are mounted in a 1" x 1" frame that requires a special adapter for viewing in a traditional projector.

Miniature Slides at Heirloom

Photo slides are easily damaged, so it's critical that you make digital copies of these images.  A professional scanning service will digitize your slides with amazing quality, but you could even do this at home if you purchase the right equipment.  Be sure to get your slides scanned with at least 3000 dots per inch (dpi) quality to JPG, PNG, or TIFF so they look good when they're enlarged.

Once your slides are digital, it's real easy to share the images with anyone over the internet.  How cool will it be to see that 50-year old image posted to Facebook!  Brighten an old friend's day by sending them a photo they may have never even seen?  For a taste of nostalgia across the time zones, arrange a Zoom® meeting with distant relatives.  Then, share these memories in an interactive slide show.  Relive the good old days (but be sure to bring tissues.)

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Forever enjoy with friends and family.