Turning thousands of photos into billions of bits?
April 16, 2009 9:04 PM   Subscribe

My dad has many thousands of photos in 35mm slide and print form (the output of 40 years as a photography hobbyist). He's looking for an archival-quality photo scanner that can handle both formats, as well as provide some degree of bulk-load automation. What should he get?
posted by killdevil to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I think really the only game in town is the Nikon Coolscan, with a bulk loader. Not cheap, but really quite good.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:07 PM on April 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

The CoolScans offer the best quality (outside of a drum scanner) but can't scan prints and are quite expensive -- and become more so with the bulk feeder. Unless his budget is in the thousands, he might be better served by a high-quality Epson V700 flatbed (~$400) which can handle prints as well as transmissive media.

Everyone will tell you that flatbed scanners can't do slides and negatives well, and they're right, but an exception should be made for extremely-high-quality flatbeds such as the V700. The large scanning area also allows you to bulk-scan a whole bunch of negative strips or slides, and then make a determination later which ones merit re-scanning on a better device. That's probably more time-effective than scanning each and every neg on at excellent quality on a $$$ CoolScan.
posted by squid patrol at 9:15 PM on April 16, 2009

I have a friend who bought a CoolScan off ebay, scanned his photos and then resold it again on ebay. From that perspective, it only costs you the ebay fees plus the few hundred dollars or depreciation while you own it. It's definitely the best quality results for slides & negatives.
posted by GuyZero at 9:18 PM on April 16, 2009

I got myself an Epson V700 flatbed for Christmas and have been steadily scanning negatives (from as far back as the 1930s), slides and prints with extremely satisfactory results. It comes with a slide holder that holds up to 12 slides. I paid $500 Canadian for it.

You can see some of the results of my scanning here. These have been re-sized for the web, the originals are much larger, about 2-3 Mbs each - and that's not the highest quality possible.

It's a beautiful machine. I love it.
posted by Bobby Bittman at 9:28 PM on April 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'll add my voice to the chorus -- I've been very happy with the image quality from my V700. Have been steadily archiving all the family's old negatives, slides, and photos -- even the old silver plate negatives. The available res has been good enough for any enlargements we'd be hoping for, and the price differential to the CoolScan really sold me.
posted by melogranato at 10:34 PM on April 16, 2009

I have a Nikon Super CoolScan 5000 ED. It was not cheap, but it works. The single biggest complaint I have with it is that Nikon refuses to release Windows 64-bit drivers for the thing, either for XP 64 or Vista (there are third party drivers that work fine, but after shelling out that kind of dough, you would expect them to support existing flavors of Microsoft OS).

The scans look incredible, but there is definitely a learning curve (establishing black points, tweaking colors, etc.).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:38 AM on April 17, 2009

If you have access to a digital SLR, apparently you can get excellent quality using one of these slide copiers. The linked example is for Nikon but they exist for other brands as well.

They allow you to "scan" slides very rapidly, probably a couple a minute once you get in the groove, and the price can't be beat. Read through the comments on that Amazon link to get a feel for the thing.

For the really important hero shots, if you want maximum quality, you could pay to have those scanned professionally.
posted by SNACKeR at 4:12 AM on April 17, 2009

I know you are asking about hardware, but is your dad absolutely determined to do it himself? Check out this Cool Tools review of ScanCafe, a scanning service -- it works out to about $250 per 1,000 slides, the quality is found to be very good, and not having to deal with ownership and operation of a scanner might be worth something, too.

One awfully enticing feature when scanning an archive:
"You are allowed to dismiss (and not pay for) up to 50% of the total for that order. You can reject images because you aren't happy with how they look online, or simply because you don't want the image."
posted by alb at 5:59 AM on April 17, 2009

Nikon Coolscan 5000 is probably your best bet. It's expensive. Flatbed scanners are alright, but won't match the quality of the dedicated scanner. (Flatbed's worth a look would be the V500 and V700.) They would be a fair bit cheaper.
posted by chunking express at 6:26 AM on April 17, 2009

For the record, all scanners are archival. When you speak of archival, it is primarily in the ink of a printer and the paper it is printed on.

While there is nothing wrong with backing up a full photography collection, it will take a lot of time and effort. Then there is the fact that the originals, if kept in a cool, dry environment will generally stay archival for much longer then your typical CD/DVD with images in a specialized image format that may or may not be readable in 10 years.

If the slides are in Kodachrome then that is platinum quality and the images will last. Some Ektachrome and lesser slides as well as color negs may fade or shift color so it would be worth scanning them. He should definitely scan anything he wants to print or display on a web page. But again, the idea of archival scanning a huge collection simply to make it "archival" typically doesn't make any sense.
posted by JJ86 at 6:45 AM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you go with the coolscan, there is a simple modification that can be made to turn the stock loader into a bulk loader without having to buy the expensive accessory.
posted by monocyte at 9:33 AM on April 17, 2009

The India-based scanning service is excellent and, as someone who has managed scanning processes and people as well as having scanned hundreds of thousands of images for archival purposes, I heartily recommend that you not attempt a large transparency collection on your own.
posted by bz at 3:32 PM on April 17, 2009

When I write "archival purposes" I mean one of two things:

1. Digitizing for use within digital publishing tools, including the web
2. Profiled and printed to hardcopy with archival quality inks or processes and stored in an archival appropriate manner.
posted by bz at 3:35 PM on April 17, 2009

Nikon Coolscan 5000 for sure. I would not go with a flat bed because they are a lot more finicky in my experience with scanning, a dedicated scanner will be faster (which will be your main concern with the amount of scanning you're going to be doing). I also think most flatbeds are absolutely horrible at scanning 35mm - I own a very nice one and I only scan 120/4x5 on it, the results with smaller formats are dissapointing, especially compared to something like the Coolscan.

Scanning sucks, so if you can afford it outsource it!
posted by bradbane at 4:16 PM on April 17, 2009

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