Take My Kodachrome Away!

“Gives us the nice bright colors,  Gives us the greens of summers, Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day.” -Paul Simon from the song Kodachrome

Unfortunately, when I started scanning my Dad’s Kodachrome slides from our trip to California in 1967,  I discovered Kodachrome’s dirty little secret.  At first I thought the slides had been kept in a filthy environment, but no, it turns out that when Kodak processed them, they put  a final coating of shellac on the slides to protect them, and that over the past 40 years, that thin layer has shrunk into clumps that look like dirt.

Clumps of shellac on Kodachrome slides look like dirt
Clumps of shellac on Kodachrome slides look like dirt

The Minolta Quick-Scan 35 slide scanner I used does a pretty good job, but it turns out that the newer slide scanners have a special Infrared detector that can help automatically get rid of the clumpy shellac, dirt, scratches, etc.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to a fancier scanner, so I ended up using PhotoShop’s “heal” brush waaaay more than I ever expected to.   Nevertheless, 300 slides later, I ended up with a pretty good little slide show of our family vacation.  As you can see above and below, the results were worth it!

The color-corrected clump-removed final image
The color-corrected clump-removed final image

5 thoughts on “Take My Kodachrome Away!”

  1. In October 1973, I came out to Denver from Boston for three days and worked with the Scanimate genius team to create a two and a half minute animated commercial for THE STORE 24. We built a giant lazy susan and a cardboard model of a city, which we videotaped and integrated with flat sectioned drawings of running figures. You guys first showed me your road runner cartoon tracings. Anyone there that remembers?

  2. Thanks for the comment Will! If I had a scanner that had the extra IR channel and the software that works with it, I would have saved myself a lot of time and effort! I think next time I will just send my slides off to one of the companies that specializes in scanning kodachrome. I think even at 50 cents/slide it would have been worth it!

  3. “Photoshop has an automatic “reduce dust and scratches” feature that will get rid of them but at the expense of a tremendous loss of fine detail.”

    Try using SilverFast for scanning Kodachromes. The iSRD dust and scratch removal feature is suited for Kodachromes, is manually adjustable and does not reduce details.

    The SilverFast Kodachrome film profiles or scanner calibration would also remove the bluish color cast on that scan above.


  4. Glad your scanner knows how to compensate for all these “analog artifacts”. Who knows, in the future people may consider them proof of genuine vintage-ness, like people who enjoy the crackle-pop of vinyl records or the way the smooth varnish on my grandmother’s piano has clumped and now resembles elephant skin.
    Photoshop has an automatic “reduce dust and scratches” feature that will get rid of them but at the expense of a tremendous loss of fine detail.
    I ended up using the “lasso” to define large areas where fine detail didn’t matter (skies mostly) and using that selectively, but using the “heal” brush where I didn’t want to lose detail.
    I use a pen/tablet with PhotoShop (can’t stand trying to paint or draw with a mouse!) and I got where I could zap clumps rapidly.
    It all depends on how much value you place on preserving your past for those mysterious people in the future.

  5. Interesting. I pulled a Kodachrome slide I took around 1965 in Germany and scanned it with my HP Scanjet G3110 using normal settings and got the same clumping as you did. However, on this scanner there’s a “reduce dust and scratches” and an “optimize for Kodachrome” setting, which I activated. Surprisingly (for an inexpensive scanner), it reduced the clumping considerably.

Leave a Reply