Streamlining the scanning of a bunch of photos
June 14, 2013 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I have a box of several hundred old photos that I would like to scan in relatively high quality and in an efficient manner. What would be the most ideal hardware/software combo for OS X?

I need a good quality and fast flatbed scanner and some software to make it easy. Unless you can convince me otherwise I don't want to outsource it. I don't mind spending the time doing this as long as I can do other things while I wait.

The ideal workflow would be:

1) Place 4-6 photos on the scanner glass, without being too concerned with perfect alignment.
2) Press a button. The fewer the better. Ideally just one. I don't need to preview.
3) Photos get scanned quickly, individual photos get separated and straightened and are placed into a folder or in an Aperture project.
4) Repeat

Once they're in Aperture I can tag and label them like I do any other photo.

At this point I don't care about color correcting, removing spots, fixing cracks, or any other cleanup tasks. I can always do that down the road.

Speed and efficiency are key. I want a fast scanner that will provide quality results. I'm not too concerned with making perfect archival quality photos, I just want them digitized so I can, say, put them on Flickr.

Many of the photos are curled and wrinkled so a photo feeder wouldn't work. This is another reason I can't outsource. Most of them are Polaroid. SX-70 and older. Almost none of them are 35mm. I have few, if any, negatives.

I have a relatively new iMac, Aperture, and Adobe PS Elements, which for some reason you can no longer scan directly into. My Mac has USB 3 and Thunderbolt, if that matters. I have over 3tb of storage.
posted by bondcliff to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I have a canon 8800 which works well - but the workflow is still slow. With the included software, you can scan with a single button on the scanner, but separating the photos, straightening, etc will be a pain. And keeping dust off the glass is a constant chore.

I would seriously consider outsourcing to ScanCafe. They do scans of prints as well as negatives. They are pretty cheap and the quality is very high. I have had several thousand negatives and prints scanned by them and they do a great job. Though the cheapest service is slow (outsourced to India), you can pay a higher price to get them scanned in the US with faster turnaround.
posted by nightwood at 11:54 AM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding Scancafe for such a small number of photos. It'd be easier and less expensive than buying equipment. I sent them about 125 negatives and it came to... around $50? with shipping both ways. (They will quote you a price that doesn't include return shipping, so just watch out for that.) The gift box includes shipping and may be a better value if you have close to the 600 photos and don't think you'd want to reject any photos.
posted by payoto at 12:10 PM on June 14, 2013

As far as scanners are concerned I'd have to +1 Canon. Something like the CanoScan 9000F Mark II which you can get for $165+.

I've got a predecessor model, the CanoScan 9950F, with which I'm very happy.
They're probably not the fastest but certainly not the slowest either. I think to get as good or better quality at higher scan speeds you'd need to spend a lot more money.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:14 PM on June 14, 2013

Response by poster: Not to threadsit, but most of the photos are Polaroids, which Scancafe doesn't list in their FAQ, and a good chunk of them are very curled and wrinkled. I don't know what Scancafe's policy is but the FAQ of some other services I've looked into specifically say they are not able to scan curled and wrinkled photos.

I mean seriously wrinkled and curled. These pictures have been in a shoebox for forty years. None of them are flat. I'm basically going to have to put them on a flatbed and maybe put a heavy book on top of them to uncurl them. This is one of the reasons I won't be able to align them too well.

Also, much like ripping and tagging a few hundred CDs over the span of a few weeks, this is the sort of project I like tackling as long as I can eliminate most of the headaches.
posted by bondcliff at 12:17 PM on June 14, 2013

My dad also used the upside down tripod-camera thing for his oldest family photos, despite having a flatbed scanner. He found it gave him better results on the older and more damaged pictures.
posted by ldthomps at 1:18 PM on June 14, 2013

For speed and efficiency, use a dslr on a copystand. It is incredibly fast. A large part of my job description is digitizing of archival documents and photographs - I shoot, rather than scan, almost everything I can. The only thing I scan on a flatbed at this point are transparencies and slides. I use a canon 5d, a 50mm macro (though any decent lens will work fine), and an old Reprovit copystand, but you can use a tripod that will straddle a table and point straight down. If you set up a jig to hold the photos in the same place underneath the camera, you can crop one, and apply that crop to the rest of the photos. The 5d mk II gives me ~5600 x 3740 pixels per shot, which is pretty much all we'll ever need.

For the curled photo issue, you can shoot them under a piece of plate glass. I put a color checker underneath the glass and shoot that first; you can then balance out any color from the glass and apply that adjustment to the rest of the photos you shot through the glass.

The first question everyone asks is whether the lens distorts the item you are shooting; in most cases it's undetectable. If your lens does display distortion, chances are there is a lens correction profile that you can apply to your raw file that will correct out any barrel distortion or vignetting.
posted by gyusan at 1:55 PM on June 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

If you outsource to one of the services, be sure to only use a service that has a GPS tracker built into the box you ship your pix back and forth in. Great peace of mind.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 6:01 PM on June 14, 2013

I have a Pandigital scanner (which I'm pretty sure I got because of this question!) It doesn't do the highest quality images, but it's great for getting snapshots to the point where you can share them. I expect there are similar things that do higher quality. I actually found older curled photos fed through it more easily than flat ones. (wrinkles would still be a problem.)

It is much, much faster than any workflow I've seen using a flatbed scanner. As a present for a friend, I scanned hundreds of photos in a couple of afternoons.
posted by ansate at 9:06 PM on June 14, 2013

Response by poster: For those curious, I ended up buying an Epson V600 scanner. I didn't even need to install anything under OS X, it detected it and I can use OS X's print/scan utility to do what I need.

I can toss four photos on the glass and it detects the separate shots and creates a file for each one. I sometimes have to adjust the scan area but that's easy enough.

I did try experimenting with an SLR but maybe I don't have the right lens or lighting or whatever because I couldn't focus close enough and every time I took a shot of a picture it looked like, well, like I was taking a picture of a picture. The scans, on the other hand, come out pretty nice.

600dpi is more than enough for those old Polaroids. PSE makes quick work of any dust and scratches and the Auto-fix enhances the colors. When I'm done the scans look 10 times better than the original photographs.

I've done almost 400 so far, dedicating an hour or two most nights for the past week. That includes the time spent in Photoshop fixing them up.
posted by bondcliff at 12:56 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

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