How Best to Organize a Lifetime of Photos 2 – Digitise
In Part 1 of this series which focus on ways to manage, store and display your precious photos, I’ve assumed that you’ve got a good library already. But if you are like me, still got heaps of old photo prints and slides yet to be digitised into the library, then you may be interested to read on….
A friend of mine who’s a keen photographer and travels around the world with his heavy photography kit and took thousands of excellent photos each year for many years including pre-digital era. He once told me that his retirement project is to digitise his tens of thousands of photos and slides. Yes, it’s a mammoth and daunting project unless you pay somebody to do it. Even if you do that, you still need to sort them out and group/organise them unless you’re happy with say Shoebox doing it for you. In fact, you may not want to do it after you retire, I’d say you’d do it now before all those lovely memories fade and mould away, especially if you have not been keeping it in dry boxes or environment. Places like Hong Kong with it’s humid weather is the worst with mould attack. So here are the options:-
- you pay someone to do it – several photography shops/labs provide such service and you can search online or call them and enquire. Once you find the shop for you, you have to courier/take the photos and retrieve from them after the work; and of course, privacy may be an issue. As an example, in Hong Kong, it costs around HK$10 or more to digitise one print at medium resolution, higher resolutions would cost more. Of course, if you can also pay them another handsome amount to do some post-scan digital improvements too. Sending them across the border would be cheaper, but with added risks of complications. Or you may be able to get a summer student for several months to do it for you, most youngsters nowadays are technical savvy and should be able to do it, the question is quality and how much.
- you do it yourself – which is what I’m (or more so, my wife is kindly) doing. This is no doubt is a boring task, but if you do it just bit by bit and while doing it, savour the memories of old days, it may not be too bad. Below I’d talk about equipments to help you to do a good job – one better than most shops can offer, and all you’re looking at is an investment of around HK$1,500.
Criteria of my solution, and what I’m using (with notes for alternatives):-
- Acceptably high resolution – 1,200×1,200 dpi, resulting about 1MB per scanned 4R photo. Don’t buy those cheap box like photo scanners which are offered every now and then on group-buy sites, etc., they can only do 600×600 dpi or so- like most consumer grade scanners. What costs most is your time and effort, not the hardware nor the dirt cheap harddisk space nowadays. Your digital cameras are now taking pics at resolutions in the 2000+ dpi range, and you want higher resolutions for your old prints to enable any subsequent digital improvements.
- Easy to use – a scanner which does not involve “too” much work, e.g. assembling several photos a time and then lift the scanner cover each time just to scan 4 photos. I targeted for one which you can just do it semi-automatically while you watch TV. Then by the end of an episode, you can easily scanned say 100 or more photos.
- Now of course, there are scanners with automatic feeders which can swallow stacks of photos, and are fast and fine, but you need not consider the consumer grade ones which cost less than HK$10k, because they jam (may be not when new, but very soon after some useage). If you go for those, get one of the professional Kodak ones which costs around HK$25k upwards. For professional quality, you may want to go for these too –
- Nikon Neat Coolscan V ED-LS50 14 bit per color 3,964-pixel linear CCD image sensor Film 4000x 4000 dpi scanner (around HK$25k)
- Braun MULTIMAG Slide Scanner 6000 which can scan your slides in a magazine like you’re showing them in a slideshow- handy, but at a damage of around HK$15k
- No need to hook up to a computer while you scan.
I had ben searching high and low for at least a decade and below are my chosen solution :
- a high resolution scanner (up to 1,200×1,200 dpi) with a single feeder, single because it works (not easy to jam) and affordable – the Skypix TSN450+A02. It’s current price at Taobao is around RMB450. Not using Taobao yet? Have a look at my blogs starting here. The scanner feeder would swallow your photo when placed at its lip, so you can just feed them one by one while watching TV. The images are scanned and stored in a SD memory card which you can unplug it say after several hundred photos and transfer them to your computer in one go. It’s portable and chargeable via a simple USB cable, so you can bring it to your lounge sofa and do this boring task in front of the TV.
- a slide scanner of acceptable resolution – apart from the expensive Nikon/Braun gear I mentioned above, I went for my affordable solution of having the highest resolution consumer box scanner I could find – the Techgear SC260 14 Megapixel (3,300 dpi) film scanner, now costing around HK$1,000. Unfortunately, unlike the Skypix scanner, you need more manual work to do the slides scanning.
Now, while the above will help greatly your digitalising work; you still have to get on to start doing this task before any achievement. This is probably the most difficult part. But just think about the reward – that you can easily go through your precious memories without digging into books and books of heavy photo albums (or setting up your slide machine and slide magazines), and most important save such from further degradation. Believe it or not, but if you do 100 photos while watching each of the 96 episodes of Empress Wu Zetian (an ongoing popular tv series in Hong Kong), you would have completed nearly 10k of your old photos- probably all of your collection! Well, that’s how you eat an elephant, right?