digitizing old photos
January 14, 2005 11:46 PM   Subscribe

I have a boatload of 35mm and ASP photos that I'd like to digitize. The options I've found are either expensive or insanely tedious... [M.I.]

My HP ScanJet3400C flatbed does a decent job for web use, but gadzooks I'll go insane scanning, & especially cropping to actual size, hundreds of photos. I wish I could find something like a sheet-feeder scanner that would automatically size the scan result to the borders of the photo.

I know there's the negative-scanning alternative. I tried a friend's high-end scanner with negative adapter once, but it scanned tiny dust and lint particles so effectively that it required much manual touch-up, and the cropping was still neccessary. And ASP would require yet more hardware.

Then there's scanning services which charge huge (likely justified) fees to digitize negatives to disk.

Am I missing any options? Is there a magic piece of hardware or software that would make this a feasible DIY project?
posted by Tubes to Technology (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There is no good way really. Here is what I do:
1) Go out and rent a high-end firewire scanner (Nikon CoolScan 4). This runs me $40 for a weekend.
2) Use the motorized film strip adapter to scan a whole strip at a time (4 or 5 negs depending on who cut them).
3) Use the digital ICE software to get rid of dust and scratches automatically. It's very good because it's not a pure software solution - it relies on an infrared light in the scanner to tell it where dust particles are by essentially measuring scanned surface thickness.

The results aren't half bad for a semi-automated process. At max quality setting, this gives me a 120 mb file scan size, but I usually scan at lower-res, and then the good stuff gets rescanned.

Here is an idea for you: if you can find a place that will rent a scanner to you (hell, they are like $800 new and carry decent resale value), get the process down and then hire a neighborhood computer-savvy high school kid to do the work. Your sanity and weekend time is probably worth more than this.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 1:14 AM on January 15, 2005

The options I've found are either expensive or insanely tedious...

Yes, they are. Pick one. There's no escape. At least, not with current technology and if you want printable results.

One way to save time/money is, of course, to ruthlessly edit prior to scanning.
posted by normy at 1:41 AM on January 15, 2005

I second the high-school student line, or even art school. I know of at least two people who have paid people to get their proof sheets up to date.

There are acceptable scanners to be had for $200, but they probably won't have scratch removal options. Some of that stuff can be done via photoshop actions, which you might be able to download pre-recorded from various sites. Polaroid has a free utility. (never used it)

For batch processing, I record a photoshop action: a fixed crop, a levels and/or curves step, image size/dpi (if not set from scanner output), and save as.. If you have PS, the help section should fill you in on all of the twiddly bits.

You will go crazy, and you will get very fast. And you might stop halfway through and throw out 1/2 of the photos in the "in" box.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 2:50 AM on January 15, 2005

By "ASP", I presume you mean "APS". Wouldn't be practical to scan on a flatbed, as the film size is so much smaller than 35mm. You might need to get those rolls scanned at your local Fuji Frontier lab.
posted by neckro23 at 4:04 AM on January 15, 2005

Yes, they are. Pick one. There's no escape.

This is 100% accurate.

Instead of a technical solution (which is going to fall under one of these categories) I will instead offer you two practical solutions.
  • #1. EDIT RUTHLESSLY Have a bunch of shots from that European vacation, but some of them are underexposed shots inside the Vatican, some are shots with half your friend's head in the picture, some have absolutely no story to go along with them, or some are duplicates where you took more than one shot of the same thing? Don't scan them. Even with a high-end film scanner, it's going to take you a couple of minutes to scan and adjust the levels/edit each photograph, so choose where you'd like to spend your time wisely. Pretend you're the editor of a travel/fashion/whatever magazine, that your photographer on assignment just got back with 200 pictures of his trip to the Mediterranean, and you've got to cull the herd down to the best twenty shots. For example.
  • #2. ORGANIZE WHAT YOU'VE GOT Just because you've scanned something in, that doesn't mean you're going to toss the originals, right? Photos can last for decades, negatives for centuries. Find a solution to your storage and categorizational problems (if any), label everything well, organize shots sequentially by group (or whatever way makes most sense to you), then keep a list of your real-media. This can be as complicated as a database of labeled folders, or a bunch of stacked and numbered shoeboxes with a corresponding list to what the numbers mean. I've still got two European trips (relatively) unscanned. The one Asian trip that I have about halfway finished--and the reason it's that far along is because I was ruthless in choosing to spend my time only on the shots that were already properly exposed, already helped tell a story, and already had something visually interesting in them. I think I got perhaps 100 scans out of 700 shots. That's 100 x 1 minute (for the scan) x ~5 minutes (for the post-correction that's inevitable for scanned negs/photos). That's all scanning with a multi-neg adapter. If I had to do it on a flatbed scanner, I'd probably only have 70 shots. And people tell me film ain't dead. It's precisely this inconvenience that should have you switching over to digital if you aren't already there. Oh, and one additional piece of advice: if/when you do go digital, you will need to kick your organizational skills up to eleven. It's when there's no extra time-disadvantage to photos that you start justifying keeping every last one of them, no matter how terrible they are. Resist! Good luck to you.

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:38 AM on January 15, 2005

I have a Nikon Cool Scan 4000ED with automatic slide adapter. The built in algorithms do a good job of filtering out dust and such. If you can rent one of these with the automatic negative attachment I'd do it. I also agree with everything Civil_Disobedient says.

I've done several hundred slides in a few hours this way.
posted by substrate at 6:24 AM on January 15, 2005

I second and third what other folks have said re. editing beforehand. If you just have negs, or want to see what things look like digitised anyway, I would recommend using the flatbed you already have to make galleries of low quality index images of reasonable size. Then you can pick the ones you want to go for with a film scanner. Remember, every increase in scan resoution, and every filter you apply at the point of scan (e.g. ICE), significantly bumps up the time of scan per image on a high-end scanner. While batch holders help, it can still take forever.
posted by carter at 10:02 AM on January 15, 2005

Kodak Photo CD scans are fairly cheap, decent quality and you get multiple resolutions. The DIY option isn't fun, even with great hardware and experience. (Former Scitex scanner operator)
posted by spaghetti at 10:49 AM on January 15, 2005

Response by poster: By "ASP", I presume you mean "APS"
Yup, that's what I meant. I guess I've been doing to much web work lately -- getting my acronyms mixed up.

Yes, they are. Pick one. There's no escape.

digital ICE software to get rid of dust and scratches automatically... relies on an infrared light in the scanner...
Ooo, this sounds very cool. I wasn't sure what ICE was all about.

It's precisely this inconvenience that should have you switching over to digital if you aren't already there.
Yeah, I'm finally doing that. I resisted for a long time, thinking film was still the best quality option for the money, but the convenience of digital has finally won me over.

re. editing beforehand
Looks like I'll definately be doing this.

Thanks for the thoughtful responses, gang!
posted by Tubes at 1:18 PM on January 15, 2005

nekro23 mentions taking your APS film to a place with a Fuji Frontier Minilab. They'll also scan 35MM negs and slides. This page mentions that Costco will do scans for 59 cents each; not bad really. The page also mentions that they have a digital ICE-like infrared dust/scratch removal system. I haven't scanned anything myself, but from some of the scans I've seen on PhotoSIG the results are great. It'd be worth going and getting a couple negs scanned to see if you like it.
posted by zsazsa at 6:15 PM on January 15, 2005

Remember that Digital ICE does not work with b&w negatives.
posted by plemeljr at 1:44 PM on January 16, 2005

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