Bulk Photo Scanning
April 19, 2005 11:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm a long-time shutterbug. For the past five years, I have used a digital camera, but before that, it was all 35 millimeter. I have a backlog of thousands of photographs I'd like to scan. I'd like to find a scanner that has an automatic feeder so I can batch-scan lots of pictures at once. My photos are mostly the standard 4x6 size you get at the local photo store. For the record, I am more focused on really cataloguing my life, so I have a large quantity of photographs rather than lots of super high quality art shots. Sure, I want a quality scanner, but I don't need top of the line. I'm more interested in a really top rate feeder mechanism. Tell me what you know!
posted by abbyladybug to Technology (14 answers total)
I am really suprised that there isn't an easier way to get this done. My friend and I went back and forth trying to figure out a good business plan to do this, I think that there is a real need for it. The batch scanners I found were either huge or didn't do what I needed.

I'm not answering the question (sorry), but would love to see the responses here.
posted by jonah at 11:35 AM on April 19, 2005

You may be better off batch-scanning the negatives, if you have them. See thread here, for instance.
posted by carter at 11:54 AM on April 19, 2005

Also, regardless of whether you scan print or neg, you may want to sort out the ones you really want, and scan just those. Otherwise, to find one photograph amongst thousands of files, you'll either have to copy the scanner-generated file name to an index, or, relabel each file with an unambiguous name, as it is generated. Both of which could be a pain with a lot of files.
posted by carter at 12:11 PM on April 19, 2005

This is the only scanner with an automatic document feeder for photos that I've seen, but it got crappy reviews.

Scanning prints is kind of an art. There's a lot of subjectivity that goes into it. The colors, the way it's cropped. You could knock a thousand pictures out in a weekend, with some help, and a nice flatbed scanner connected to a fast computer, if you chained yourself to the desk. But then you'd be done with it.

Also, for keeping track of 1000+ photos, I recommend iView MediaPro.
posted by airguitar at 12:22 PM on April 19, 2005

What is the end result of your project?
What DPI do you need to scan at?
Will you be editing these photos in an image editing program?
posted by askmatrix at 12:26 PM on April 19, 2005

I don't have all of the negatives. I have some, but the photographs are in much better order, and they've already been sorted.

Regarding sorting, I probably will sort quite a bit before I start.
posted by abbyladybug at 12:30 PM on April 19, 2005

Thinking about this, I'm starting to think you might be better off investing in (or building your own) copy stand and use a digital camera. With 2 people I'll bet you could pretty readily do a couple hundred an hour.

Just a thought.
posted by aaronh at 12:37 PM on April 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

"Scanning prints is kind of an art. There's a lot of subjectivity that goes into it."

I'm not sure I understand what you're talking about. Sure, scanning part of a print might involve some thinking, but it seems like the question is about scanning an entire set of prints identical in size. As for color, if you have a good scanner, it ought not require adjustment beyond initial calibration. Some scanners do include color adjustment in their little TWAIN-frontend menu, but I've never used this - it's much more sensible to take the real output of the scanner and adjust it later in photo-editing software. So, aside from choosing the DPI (once for the whole batch, in this case), what's subjective about scanning?
posted by odinsdream at 12:38 PM on April 19, 2005

what's subjective about scanning?

The older the print, the more faded it may be, or dirty, and like you said, the way it's cropped can change from picture to picture. It depends on how picky you want to get. Specks of dust, gamma correction. Basically you're taking a second picture. Different hardware gives you different results. I went through four machines before I found one that seemed to take a crisp picture and get the color mostly right. Sometimes, with an older machine, one part of the glass picks up a better picture than another. It's not like feeding twenty pages into the fax machine and letting it go. It can be that easy, but it depends on how picky you want to get. Descreen? Unsharp mask? AutoExposure? Despeckle? Even the DPI is a question of choice...

So, my question to you, is what's not subjective about scanning?

just kidding
posted by airguitar at 12:57 PM on April 19, 2005

Well, I understand what you're getting at, but aside from "one part of the glass picks up a better picture than another" (which I've never experienced with a clean scanner)... all of your suggestions are stuff that happens after you've scanned the picture. Even your scanning software scans a raw image and manipulates it with your "despeckle" before sending a modified copy over to the final destination. You lost that first image because you "adjusted" it. The first image seems to be the thing you'd want to archive... not the "despeckled" version. If you want to despeckle it later, then you do that with high-quality photo software.

You'd never want to crop the picture as you scan it, since you want to store the -whole- picture to have as many options as possible down the road. I don't mean to argue, but this just seems like a more sensible way to do it to me.

You do have a point about DPI, though. In the case of newspaper prints or any other screen-printed image, you'd definitely need to be careful about selecting the right scan DPI in order to reduce or eliminate the Moire-effect. With photos, this wouldn't be an issue.
posted by odinsdream at 1:06 PM on April 19, 2005

That's all part of the process. My initial comment was about the difference between manually scanning each picture and using an automatic feeder. So yeah, some of the subjective stuff comes after the picture has been scanned, but using a crappy scanner because it's faster limits what you end up with. I think that was my point.
posted by airguitar at 1:13 PM on April 19, 2005

Banks use scanning machines for bundles of checks and paperwork. More than a year ago, when my day job had 115,000 citation cards to scan (used in the preparation of a dictionary), we went with Mackin Imaging Systems. They can do a variety of things in terms of size and resolution, but I think the results for your work would be more archival than they would be artistic. I don't think there would be on-the-fly color correction, for example. They did, however, stamp the back of each card with a number and then make sure the digital file was named with that same number. Makes it much easier to find the originals. I don't know how they would handle variable sizes, but it couldn't hurt to ask.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:53 PM on April 19, 2005

Jamie Zawinski asked this same question recently at:

posted by craniac at 2:26 PM on April 19, 2005

Unless you have a high threshold for boredom the best feeder for this kind of stuff is often a week or two of a high school student's time at mininum wage during summer break.
posted by Mitheral at 2:48 PM on April 19, 2005

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