Best practices for photo archive scanning?
September 3, 2005 9:51 AM   Subscribe

I'm embarking on the task of archiving my family's collection of several thousand images, from prints, negatives of all sizes, slides and the odd tinplate. I've got what I feel is a good film/slide scanner (Nikon SuperCoolscan 9000 ED) and a half-decent flatbed scanner (Epson Perfection 1650 Photo), and I'm using VueScan on Mac OS X. I've read some of the other AskMeFi posts on similar projects, and I still have three questions about advice for making these the best digital archives they can be, specifically on colorspace, calibration and large negatives (and any other advice welcome):

1.) What colorspace (Adobe1998, Apple, ColorMatch, sRGB?) and file format (I'm thinking TIFF) would be best for archiving these images, that will give me the widest gamut and contrast? ...and should I be saving these as 48-bit images instead of 24 (I like the idea of additional information, but is the extra info worth the size it takes up)?

2.) I've been able to calibrate my flatbed scanner with a target, and creating a profile. Is it worth it to do that with the film scanner as well? I've heard that the difference in film stocks and age of the film makes it such a crapshoot that I'd be just as well off letting the scanner do its best guess and sort it out in Photoshop later.

3.)What's the best way for me to scan negs larger than 120 size? The Nikon will only really do up to 120, and I have some that are just a tiny bit larger (about 2.75"x4.5") and will not fit in the holder for 120 film (and no, I'm not going to trim the negatives to fit). Would it be worth upgrading the flatbed to something like the Epson 4990 to scan these?

Let me say, I will be keeping the old prints and negs, but I do need to get these digital so relatives across the country can share. Basically I want to archive them in such a way that I can get good prints made from the scans, and have them readable for a good long time to come. I understand the pitfalls in digital archiving, and plan to refresh the archive discs and formats every few years once the project is complete, but for now, I need to get these into the computer at the very best quality I can, given my resources.
posted by mboszko to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You seem a bit unfocused as to whether you're trying to archive these photos permanently, or just make them available digitally. I don't think you have the equipment or the expertise to do the former successfully, so I'd focus on the latter. You can get good looking prints from just the automatic settings and medium resolution 24-bit TIFFs and adjusting the colour balance of scanned negatives by eye. Forget about everything else for now.
posted by cillit bang at 1:33 PM on September 3, 2005

Best answer: 1. Adobe1998. PSD file format (might as well... it'll be smaller than TIFFs)

2. You're probably right. There are so many things that can influence the scanning process (ambient light, where you place it on the scanner, etc., etc. ad. infinitum). Since you're going to be correcting the files afterwords, anyway, don't sweat the small stuff.

3. Depends on how many of the negs you've got. If it's a non-trivial amount (say, over 50), then yeah, upgrade.

Remember, before you go printing anything (or sending copies to gramma and grandpa), convert the copy you're going to send to sRGB... otherwise the colors will be all washed out (most printers use sRGB, just about everyone's monitor is sRGB, etc.) Only do this to copies... naturally.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:20 PM on September 3, 2005

Scanning the negatives and storing them on cd is not the best archival solution for posterity. The negatives themselves will last longer than going through the whole process of digital transfer. Considering the problems of future format changes, future file compatibility and the necessity to use a storage media that is truly archival, it is a gamble.

Just make sure you store the negatives in a place not prone to flooding, and in a cool, dry place with constant temps and humidity. By all means, scan them to make them more readily available, but I would avoid the ultra high resolution route to make your process simpler and less time intensive.
posted by JJ86 at 2:28 AM on September 4, 2005

As long as the medium is refreshed every 5-10 years (this takes into account not only intrinsic hardware failures, but also obsolescence), you'll be fine.

I wouldn't back them up to CD/DVD, but hard drives would be ideal. It's not just a matter of storage, you must also take into account what medium will allow for the most rapid duplication. Copying hard drives takes no time at all... CD/DVD's take forever if you're dealing with even moderate quantities.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:09 AM on September 4, 2005

Response by poster: In answer to the first comment, these are meant to be permanent archives. The negatives (and prints, for where there are no negatives) will be archived "just in case", but are not meant to be the working copies from here forward.

The aim is not only to share them digitally, but to have master copies in a format that will stand the test of time to some degree, with the expected refresh to new format and/or storage medium every 5 years or so. The upshot being, I don't want to have to replicate the work done in this project before I'm dead.

I understand there's some gamble involved in the whole digital process, and I'm trying to minimize the chances of it all going to hell-- which is where I need help.

Civil_Disobedient, thanks for your answers to the questions I actually asked.
posted by mboszko at 7:12 PM on September 5, 2005

No problem, mboszko. In case you read this, know that you're never going to really achieve "archive" quality with home gear, because ten years down the line a scanner with ten times the resolution will come out, giving you files with (maybe) 10% as much detail and 20 times more noise. The file will, naturally, be ten times larger, require ten times more computing horsepower to load, and take ten times more work to clean up. :)

Store your negs nicely, so if posterity needs/has the means to do what you're doing, they can. But in the meantime, everyone can just use your efforts. Good luck to you.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:39 AM on September 6, 2005

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