Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A tale of three scanners

I've been on a scanning kick lately, converting my thousands of film photos to digital files. It's definitely time to do it: even though I've taken extremely good care of my printed photos, some of them are starting to degrade, especially the really old Kodak Instamatic pics I took in my youth way back in the late 70s.

But getting all of these photos into digital form isn't the easiest task. I've tried it three ways, and all have their plusses and minuses.

My main scanning attempt has been just slapping my printed photos down on my scanner and digitizing them a few at a time. This works pretty well, but it's a slow, laborious process. Scanning at 600 dpi takes several minutes per photo. After that -- since I want the best picture possible -- I spend another 5-15 minutes per photo in Photoshop, removing dust, physical imperfections, etc.

This works, but it's not perfect. Scanning a printed photo is like scanning any piece of paper -- every little imperfection shows up, especially at such high resolution. And of course, it take a hell of a lot of time.

It also costs nothing, so there you go.

But time, as always, is an issue, and I wanted a way to speed things up a bit. A friend of mine recently talked about taking a pile of photos to Target and using the Kodak Rapid Scanner there. This cool device has a sheet feeder that accepts about 20 photos at a time. It scans them pretty darn quickly -- 150 photos took about 45 minutes, maybe less -- and the only cost was minimal: $9.99 to burn all of the photos onto a CD-ROM.

Fast and inexpensive. What could go wrong?

Oh yeah, the scans look like crap. The colors came out faded and distorted and each image is marred by streaks and other electronic noise. Beyond that, the resolution isn't all that great. So this ended up being a terrible, terrible option.

Here's an example of one of the Rapid Scan images:

My third option was, by far, the best, but also the priciest. I have always kept my negatives, so I wondered what it would like to have them scanned directly. I shipped about 200 negs to a company called ScanCafe, which charged (at a sale price) 22 cents per image plus shipping and a few other fees.

The results were astounding. ScanCafe color corrected each scan and the photos look absolutely fantastic. In many cases, they look significantly better than the original, printed photos sitting in my albums.

Here's that same image, as scanned from the negative by ScanCafe.

Granted, this is not the best photo I've ever taken, but it's only one that I scanned through both services, so it's a pretty good comparison.

Again, ScanCafe is not the perfect solution -- it's pricey and it takes a very, very long time. I think it took at least six weeks to get my images back. If I remember correctly, they ship everything overseas for scanning, which isn't ideal. But however they did it, they produced incredible results.

Right now, I'm back to scanning more of my photos by hand, but I'm concentrating on more of the old Kodak Instant images and any pics for which I do not have negatives. I'll definitely try ScanCafe again, as soon as I can scrape up the cash.

What about you? How are you getting your old images into the computer age?


  1. You could always get your own negative scanner. I've been wanting one for ages but just haven't gotten around to buying it yet:

  2. I've thought about that, Brandi! I've looked at a few, but I need to read up on them a bit more. It might be the most cost-effective solution. Although the work ScanCafe did to make my negatives into great-looking photos was worth the price.

  3. This is a project that has been on my mind too. I have thousands of family photosththe that I want to preserve and also share with other family member. The second part of that project is finding software or developing a system to keep all those digital images organized and safe. How do you store your digtal files and do you use any kind of photo organization software?