The days of dragging a projector into the front room to subject family and friends to a slideshow of our holiday snaps are long dead, and many of us may be thankful that is the case. But those of us who still have shoeboxes full of 35mm film slides and want to travel back in time to revisit cherished memories, or are re-discovering a love of shooting on film, want a more practical and portable alternative means of bringing those images to life.
Enter the battery-operated handheld slide viewer; with viewing alternatives also including mains-powered light-boxes, handheld loupes that utilize ambient light, and if we want to digitize said slides, then of course the film scanner too. Nowadays, of course, some very basic level ‘scanning’ can be achieved with simply a lightbox and a smartphone.
Here we’re showcasing a selection of the best and relatively inexpensive slide viewers currently on the market, which might also, on occasion, happen to double as a scanner of sorts. After all, if we’ve gone to the trouble of digging out our old slides, it stands to reason that we might want digital copies of them going forward too.
While many of the viewers showcased here offer the opportunity to use batteries for the ultimate in portability, as well as mains power, for most either the mains adapter and/or the batteries required are optional extras, so we’ve indicated where that is the case. Without further ado then, let's slide our recommendations for the best slide viewers you can currently buy under your nose…
The best slide viewers in 2023
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When most of us think of 35mm slide film we think of Kodachrome – so it makes sense that there exists a Kodak branded slide viewer and negative viewer combined; an angled desktop device that is both battery operated and features a daylight ape-ing backlit LED display, with a 3x magnifying glass provided so we can really pore over the details of our shots. Operation is very straightforward: whereas the slides are slid into the device top-down, a second slot at the side is provided for inserting strips of negative, complete with quick release button for when we’re ready to slide in the next strip. Unsurprisingly, the four AA batteries required to power the device, slotted into the base, are extra, as is a power cable should you want to plug it into the mains, but neither is a deal breaker at this price point. A simple, practical and affordable device from what’s probably still the most recognisable name in old school film photography.
Here’s a slightly more high tech alternative to also bear the familiar yellow and black Kodak branding that, rather than a magnifier, instead features its own built-in 5-inch LCD screen. Thus equipped, the jack-of-all-trades device lets us view, edit and scan film slides and negatives, converting them into handy-to-share JPEG digital files, thanks to built-in 14 megapixel sensor.
While not a professional grade scanner by any means, if operated as a standalone device, either 14MP or interpolated 22MP files can be saved directly to SD card, though we’ll need to provide our own card for that to happen. More usefully, a USB cable for connection to your computer and HMDI cable for hooking it up to a TV set are provided out of the box, as are adapters for differing film formats, including 35mm, 126 and even 110 film, plus a cleaning brush to avoid dust intruding. However, if we want to power the device via the mains rather than utilising our computer’s USB port or USB equipped power bank, then we’ll have to shell out extra for a mains adapter as one isn’t included out of the box.
Kaiser is known for its broad range of photographic accessories, so it’s no surprise that it also offers options when it comes to 35mm slide viewing, including lightboxes. Like the inexpensive Kodak alternative, this compact viewer offers 3x magnification, is powered by a pair of optional yet essential AA batteries and, uniquely, features a fold out prop that allows for a more comfortable viewing angle when set down on a desktop. The viewing area here is a compact, yet sufficiently large, 2x2-inches. Like the old school slide viewer your Dad owned in the 1970s or 80s, the bulb in this device is activated by inserting a 35mm slide in the available top slot, and simply pressing down on it. There’s not much to this device and equally little it seems that can go wrong. An easy to use and affordable solution then; all we’ll have to do is stump up extra for the batteries required.
A lightbox is a traditional way that professionals used to review their slides and negatives - and this slimline version offer an acrylic panel and LED light source for slide and negative viewing; but it also acts as a portable scanner, in conjunction with our smartphone and SlideScan or FilmBox apps – offers practicality, portability and value for money in spades, as long as we’re not expecting professional grade results. Strips of film and slides can be placed side by side or in rows on the device to be viewed or ‘scanned’ simultaneously. Although there is an option for mains power, portability is offered by the fact that six optional AAA’s can also be inserted, though this inevitably adds to the weight. The viewing area is again a very compact 5x4-inches, but on the plus side this has allowed for the set up to stay very portable and lightweight. The lamp life of the LED is said to be a generous 10,000 hours, while a leather effect carry case is provided out of the box.
• See more options in our Best lightbox for photographers & artists guide
An incandescent light is at the heart of this boxy viewer designed for tabletop viewing that allows users to stack and view up to 36 slides, while claiming to offer easy push-pull operation. The square format view screen resembling a standard definition TV set of old goes slightly further than others here in offering 4x magnification, but enthusiast photographers wanting more in the way of detail may prefer a lightbox and a handheld magnifying glass or loupe instead. It’s compatible with both 35mm and all 2x2-inch (5x5cm) slides, but is battery operated only, with no mains power lead provided out of the box. Like the vast majority of its rivals, the batteries required also need to be purchased as an optional extra.
This Photolux branded ‘SV2’ handheld LED illuminated device, also alternatively known as the Zuma Z-SV2 in the States, is another option for viewing 35mm slides that is as simple as they come. Offering a so-so 2x magnification, it’s powered by two AA batteries, we slide our 35mm slide for viewing into a vacant slot at the top, which activates the built-in daylight white LED light source and… that’s essentially it.
Unusually, the 2x AA batteries required for the light are actually included here. Extremely lightweight at just 196g and compact too, with a viewing screen size of 5.5x4.5cm, this basic yet supremely portable viewer would be ideal for casually browsing slides when feet up on the sofa. For the price too it feels like we really can’t go that far wrong.
This is a low-tech, left-field solution to viewing your slides. This is a carboard, collapsible device that is designed to help you digitize your transparencies and negatives using the camera on your smartphone. A free downloadable app helps you with the process. For something that looks like a cardboard box, it seems a bit expensive - but more robust film scanners cost significantly more. It is not a quick way of viewing boxes of old slides mind. Sold under the Kodak brand in the US, but found as the PictoScanner in Europe.
This device features like a low-tech slide projector - allowing you to fill the chute with between 20-40 mounted transparencies (depending on the thickness of each). You manually advance through your images by pushing the bottom slide into the path of the light - viewing it on a 3x3in magnified screen. The light is mains powered, but the image advance is not - and when you have viewed the slides they drop down, so you can't go backward in the slideshow. The whole device tilts upwards, so you can position it at the best angle to view it on a table.