Scanning family photos: The Best Way.
November 17, 2010 7:25 PM   Subscribe

What is the best way to digitize old family photos yourself?

I'm planning to scan all my family photos (~200)and digitize all of it this weekend using Canon imageCLASS MF3240 I'm wondering what's best way to accomplish this task.

What software should I use? I've been using Windows XP scanning wizard and I don't like.

What resolution should I store the photos? As high as possible?

What file format should I store the photos as? JPEG or something else?

Is there way to scan multiple pictures at same time and crop them up later?

Finally, what's the best way to share and store the pictures online for long term storage? Picasa, Flickr or something else?
posted by Carius to Technology (12 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Don't even bother doing it yourself. Just have someone do it for you, I did and the quality was excellent.
posted by darkgroove at 8:04 PM on November 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

I've been starting this project myself, but with many more pictures.

I've been scanning to JPEG at 1200 DPI, which is more than plenty to have them printed as 4x6's if I ever desire to.

Since I have all the negatives I've also been pitching the pictures after scanning.

I haven't been taking any particular caution to clean dust off the pictures before scanning but I have been trying to keep most of the cat hair off the scanner bed.

The big thing I've done to make this easier is to setup the scanning software to scan in four separate pictures. All I do is set a picture in each corner of the scanner bed and push scan in the scanner software, a few minutes later I have four picture ready for cropping, rotating if necessary and labeling. Does you machine have some dedicated scanner software, look on their website.

I've been using Irfanview with the JPEG lossless plugins.

200 hundred pictures doesn't seem like very many, I think it could be accomplished in a weekend and I certainly wouldn't pay somebody to do it.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:54 PM on November 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

1. Scanning software: I use Canon's MF Toolbox, which came with my MF4340d. I haven't felt the need to use anything else.

2. Resolution: Use the highest available setting. You are only going to do the scanning once. Quality reduction, if needed, can be done later by software.

3. File format: Not really sure, but JPEG should suffice for most purposes (including printing).

4. Multiple Pictures: Sure, just arrange them in a non-overlapping way and scan. Even the most basic image editors have a cropping function (including MS Paint).

5. Keep a set of high-res copies on a backup drive. Then use a software to batch-edit (Gimp can do it) all the photos to a web-friendly resolution and upload to Picasa.

About 5-6 years ago, I scanned several hundred photos just like this. After a while, you'll get pretty good at arranging 4 photos on the scanner quickly.

One problem that basic image editors can't solve is rotating an image by X degrees. This feature comes in quite handy because many of your photos will be off by just 2-3 degrees and will need to be set straight after a larger crop. I use Gimp, but feel free to look around.
posted by vidur at 9:10 PM on November 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

5. Keep a set of high-res copies on a backup drive. Then use a software to batch-edit (Gimp can do it) all the photos to a web-friendly resolution and upload to Picasa.
One problem that basic image editors can't solve is rotating an image by X degrees. This feature comes in quite handy because many of your photos will be off by just 2-3 degrees and will need to be set straight after a larger crop. I use Gimp, but feel free to look around.

The Picasa desktop app handles all of these tasks with very little fuss.
posted by flabdablet at 4:42 AM on November 18, 2010

Just saw this Atlantic article.
posted by theora55 at 6:57 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not sure how much money you want to spend accomplishing this, but....

That particular scanner is pretty low end. It uses a low-cost CIS element versus the professional CCD elements found in better scanners. I have the $60 Canon Lide scanner, and the image quality is terrible (I just got it to scan some B/W line art stuff, but tried it for photos- the results are pretty dismal). Your results may be better, but I would definitely expect your model to be in the same league, quality wise, at least. Previously I had pretty high end scanners that got lost in the death of Parallel/SCSI. Nowadays, there are many many cheap scanners out there, and the better looking ones are expensive niche products, apparently.

You didn't mention if you have access to the original negatives. If you do, that would be preferable to use as a scanning source, in most cases. You'd need a negative scanner though (cheaper, I believe, than a nice flatbed). Negatives have a much higher resolution than prints, but are susceptible to dust/scratches that are much more apparent when they are enlarged.

I've always scanned directly into Photoshop, but you're at the mercy of the utility/driver provided by the scanner manufacturer. Some are better than others, but most of the time, it's clunky-ass software to say the least. I wouldn't try to do anything besides set the resolution within that utility, and save all editing for Photoshop (or whatever. I'd recommend the beginner Photoshop... Elements or LE or whatever it is these days).

You should not save to a JPEG only! JPEGs use file compression which are great online but not so much for archival use and especially not for printing. You'll lose information (detail, colors) in the photos each time you edit and save. You can't gain resolution or detail after the fact. Hard drives, DVD-Rs are both really cheap. I'd scan at the highest resolution your scanner will support and save it as a non-compressed file, such as a PSD or TIFF, THEN make JPGs and upload them to Flickr for sharing etc. I'd back all this stuff up to DVDs and/or external hard drives.

You can scan as many prints as your scanner surface will allow. Maybe four or so at once, and then chop them up and save them individually if you like. However, if you set a scan area (in the utility) that's just the size of a single print (after preview) it will save time, and might be easier than chopping.
posted by tremspeed at 8:31 AM on November 18, 2010

Best answer: Seconding tremspeed. I've done work like this professionally, and would never, ever consider using JPEGs. Scan then as TIFs at the highest setting possible, keep the TIFs as master copies, then convert and do any processing you need to create the final JPEGs (for online use, printing, or whatever). GIMP or Irfanview are both free and will do a fine job.

But if these are really meaningful to you, you should pay someone to do it for you. A professional will not only use very good equipment, they'll ensure clean masters, proper cropping, and -- most importantly -- proper color correction (something most amateurs mangle).

If you're set on doing it yourself, there are many technical manuals online, like those found here from the Library of Congress.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:41 AM on November 18, 2010

I use VueScan. I know nothing about scanning, but I couldn't get the manufacturer's drivers working on my Mac. It lets me do all sorts of useful things like rotating in small quanta and making multiple passes.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:18 PM on November 18, 2010

Okay, I checked my own backup originals, and turns out that I'd scanned my photos as TIFF, not JPEG. Cropping and converting happened later. So, I'll echo what tremspeed and coolguymichael said on the format.
posted by vidur at 2:27 PM on November 18, 2010

Tip from the Smithsonian: Q: If I am going to scan items in order to preserve them, what resolution should I scan them at, and what file format do you recommend?

A: Lynda says, "For images we use no less than 600 ppi to yield a minimum of 6,000 pixels along the long axis, as part of our best practices. For example, images more than 10 inches in length should have the resolution set to 600 ppi. Color is saved as 24-bit TIFF and grayscale is saved as 8-bit TIFF. TIFF is a lossless format, while JPEG uses lossy compression, meaning a loss in quality when edited. These TIFFs will create large files and depending on your needs, a minimum of 300 ppi could work. Documents can be saved as PDF/A (A for Archival) or PDF. Again, 300 ppi should result in a good quality file." You can also find some great tips from the SIA digitization standards.

posted by bardophile at 3:35 AM on November 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You should probably use a tool like GeoSetter or Microsoft Pro Photo Tools to embed metadata (description, location, photographer, etc.) into the image files themselves. That info will then usually be picked up automatically by whatever gallery software you use.
posted by XMLicious at 12:38 PM on November 20, 2010

This is probably too late since you mentioned wanting to scan the photos over the weekend, but your question reminded me of this previous AskMe thread: "Digitizing family photos while balancing time investment and quality."

The question there discusses an alternative route to a similar goal -- it asks for advice on using a camera instead of a scanner to digitize print photographs. The initial comments talk about scanning vs. using a camera, but many answers go into detail about setting up and using a camera for this purpose.

For a couple of hundred photos, some of the setups described in that thread (particularly the links mentioned in this comment from fake and this comment from telophase) might be more involved than what you were looking for. However, the info may be helpful if you ever need to digitize a higher number of photos in the future and are interested in the DIY aspect.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 12:07 AM on November 22, 2010

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