A History of 35mm Slides: Everything You Need to Know

A History of 35mm Slides: Everything You Need to Know

Do you still have boxes of 35mm slides tucked away in a closet somewhere? If so, you’re not alone. Although digital photography has almost entirely replaced the practice of shooting film, there’s still a lot to love about 35mm slides, including their rich history and unique aesthetic.

When you consider the massive impact of photography on our society over the last century or so, it becomes apparent that the humble 35mm slide is one of the most significant innovations in its history. Slides were both an excellent method of storing and sharing photographic images, as well as playing a significant role in popularizing photography in its early days when mass media was just beginning to gain influence.

If you still have a collection of old slides lurking around and want to find out how to turn them into digital copies, or just want to know more about this unique film format, continue reading for our ultimate guide to everything there is to know about this retro format.

What Is 35mm Film?

35mm film is a film gauge (film gauge refers to the width of the film, which is 35 millimeters) that was first introduced in the year 1889. 

In the beginning, 35mm film was used primarily to shoot motion pictures. A few years later, tiny still cameras were produced to utilize this new format. With this innovation, 35mm would go on to become the most popular film format of all time and continues to be popular with filmmakers and photographers today. 

There are many different kinds of film in existence, but 35mm is the most common type of film. It’s the format that most people will have experienced shooting with at some point in their lives, whether it was in a high school photography class, or documenting a family vacation.

The Introduction of 35mm Slides

Kodachrome was a popular color slide film introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1935. It is often referred to as the "first real" consumer color film and was one of the most widely used slide films for still photography amongst consumers following WWII, and up until the introduction of digital technology. 

Kodachrome 35mm Slide

35mm slides are also known as photo transparencies because they allow viewers to see through them like a window into a physical object. The photographic industry quickly adopted Kodachrome slides as both a cost-effective production method and an efficient way to present images on slide projectors for public consumption. 

The Rise of 35mm Slides

35mm slides were the dominant consumer film format for decades for a reason. Due to their high quality, ease of use, and versatility, they were the ideal choice for everything from documenting family holidays to professional photo shoots. Many people will remember viewing these slides as slideshows in their school classrooms, or at home projected onto walls enjoying snapshots with friends and family.

Kodachrome 35mm slides are typically mounted on 2x2 cardboard with a clear plastic cover that protects the image from damage and oxidation. Its vivid color and high durability made it a favorite among photographers, filmmakers, and photojournalists. These qualities also made 35mm slides an attractive choice for preserving personal memories.

However, like most technologies, changes occur over time and as Kodachrome became more popular, it began to face increasing competition as other technologies developed and improved.

The Digital Revolution

In 1975, digital photography finally arrived on the scene. It was this year that the first portable digital camera was created, although it wouldn’t be until the early to mid-1990s that these cameras would become available to the general public.

Digital photography provided far more flexibility than 35mm slides ever could: you could view images on a computer screen or cellphone camera, they didn't degrade over time, and you could store an unlimited number of images in your hard drive (although this did require a fair amount of storage space). 

In short, digital photography offered greater portability, versatility, and convenience than 35mm slides. Not surprisingly, this new technology quickly overtook its older cousin.

Digitizing 35mm Slides

When digital cameras first came out, many of us upgraded from film almost immediately. The ease with which you could store photos online or on your computer made digital cameras a no-brainer for anyone who took a lot of photos.

Digital is here to stay. It has become the standard for storing, sharing, and even creating new content. Most of everything we own, use, and consume is in the digital sphere. But that leaves the question, what can you do to bring your slides into the digital age?

Luckily, digitizing 35mm slides is surprisingly easy and preserves them for future generations to cherish and enjoy. Unless you have lots of space in your home—and even then—you can’t just leave your slides to deteriorate and allow your memories to be lost to time.

Whether it’s your vacation photos or images of your loved ones, professional slide scanning services can help you digitize your 35mm slides to keep them safe for years to come.