DCRP Review: Happenstance Slide Copier for Nikon Coolpix 950
by Andy Baird [DCRP Contributing Editor-at-Large]
Last revised: Thursday, October 28, 1999

Digital cameras are great. Combined with Photoshop and a good printer, they offer a complete "electronic darkroom" that puts real darkrooms to shame when it comes to manipulating images and printing them out. But many of us have collections of 35mm slides or negatives that we'd like to get into the computer. Of course Kodak has long offered Photo CD processing, which transfers images to CD-ROM, but it costs about a dollar an image--and you have to hand over your irreplaceable originals to some stranger in a photolab. SCSI-based film scanners are available if you want to do the scanning on your desktop--but with prices starting at $400 and heading up into the thousands, this is also a costly way to get your old slides into digital form.

Happenstance slide copier

But wait--you already own a high-resolution digital imaging device: your Nikon 950. Why not use that? Most digital cameras can't focus close enough to image a 24 x 36mmm film frame, but Nikon's amazing CoolPix 950 can--in fact, it can go even closer and fill the frame with a 20 x 15mm subject. Capitalizing on this super-macro capability, Happenstance Products has introduced a well-made little slide copier for the Nikon 950. At $39.99 postpaid, this is an accessory any camera owner can afford.

An elegant solution
The Happenstance slide copier is as simple as can be: two rectangles of acrylic plastic separated by four stainless steel posts. The bottom piece has a hole that slips over your camera's lens; the top piece, which serves as a light diffuser, is grooved to accept a 35mm slide in a 2x2" cardboard mount. The device's sole function is to hold a slide about an inch away from your camera's lens; the 950's macro focusing does the rest.

To use the Happenstance slide copier, you set it on top of the camera. (It's a loose fit, so the camera's lens must be pointing straight up so that gravity will hold the copier in place.) Then illuminate it with a light source--Happenstance says that a 20W halogen desk lamp works fine--slip a slide into the groove and fire away. You must, of course, disable the 950's flash (one click of the flash button will do it) and put the camera into macro mode (two clicks of the focus button).

Does it work?
Like a charm! I was able to get excellent copies from a wide variety of Kodachrome, Ektachrome and other slides. The Nikon 950's 1,600 x 1,200 resolution is less than that of a dedicated slide scanner, of course...but it's plenty good enough for prints up to 8x10". In fact, when I printed these digitized images from my Epson Stylus Photo 1200 inkjet printer, I was hard pressed to tell the difference between the digitized versions and custom 8x10" glossies from my color darkroom.

Ektachrome slide-Happenstance
If you like, you can view the full-sized CoolPix 950 image (547K) in a separate window.

Timex vs. Rolex
Just for fun, I ran a completely unfair comparison: I digitized the same slide with the $40 Happenstance copier and with a friend's $1,600 Polaroid slide scanner. The 4,500 x 3,000-pixel Polaroid image did show additional detail, as you'd expect, especially when I zoomed in (see closeups below, both magnified 2x)...but on 8x10 prints, the only obvious difference between the two was the Polaroid image's cooler hue. No question that the $1,600 scanner did a better job...but the combination of the Nikon 950 and the $40 Happenstance copier was amazingly good--plenty good enough for large photo-quality glossies. So...can you get a better image from a desktop slide scanner? Yes. Are you willing to pay between ten and forty times as much to get it? That's up to you. Me, I'm very happy with my Happenstance.

Happenstance closeup
Here's what you get for $40...
Polaroid closeup
...and here's what $1,600 buys.

The Happenstance slide copier is designed for 2x2" cardboard mounts, by far the most common kind. Plastic or glass mounts won't fit in the diffuser's fixed-width grooves. In fact, I found that some of my Kodachromes were a tight fit, but not because of thickness--their mounts seemed to be a little bit wider than the Ektachrome mounts. Happenstance might want to add just a whisker more clearance to the width of their slot.

What about negatives?
Because the Happenstance copier's slot is sized for a 2" wide slide mount, a 35mm negative will fall through. However, I found that by slipping a strip of negatives between the halves of an opened 2x2 cardboard mount I was able to digitize negatives as well. Empty cardboard slide mounts are available at camera stores. Suggestion to Happenstance: provide an empty slide mount or two with the copier and save buyers the trouble of making their own negative adapters. For fifty cents or so, you could double this product's utility...and be able to advertise it as a slide and film copier.

A few quibbles
One minor drawback to the Happenstance slide copier is that it can take a toll on your knees. Because the camera must be in a lens-up position to allow the copier to sit atop it, if you place the camera on a desk (as most people will), you're going to have to kneel in order to see the LCD viewfinder. I soon realized that this could be avoided by feeding the camera's video output to a small TV set, thus allowing me to conveniently preview the image without assuming a prayerful position.

A related criticism is that the loose fit of the copier makes it all too easy to nudge it out of alignment while fiddling with the camera. It's especially tough to keep the thing square--the slightest touch causes it to rotate--with the result that it's all too easy to end up with a slightly cockeyed digital image. (If this happens to you, here's a good Photoshop trick to fix it: use the Measurement tool to define a line on the image that should be vertical. Then pull down the "Image" menu, choose the "Rotate Canvas" submenu and the "Arbitrary..." command. A dialog box will pop up with the correct angle already filled in. Just hit "OK"--and the image will be rotated so that your measured line is exactly vertical!) I would have preferred a snug friction fit on the copier. Making the lens hole a bit smaller (perhaps adding a few expansion slits around its periphery) would have allowed the copier to attach firmly and resist being nudged out of alignment.

Conclusion: it's a winner!
The Happenstance slide copier is an elegant product that performs exactly as advertised, and adds a valuable capability to any Nikon 950 at a very reasonable price. I recommend it to anyone with a collection of photos that have not yet made it into the digital age.

Happenstance Slide Copier
US orders: $39.99 postpaid
International orders: $42.00 postpaid

Happenstance Products
980 Nason Hill Road
Marine, MN 55047


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