My Experience Learning to Scan Our 1700 Photo Collection
Today, I would like to share something a little different here on “Scan Your Entire Life.” Usually it's just me going on and on about my experience dealing with my photo collection. But not this time.
A couple months ago, Peter Fuller, a fellow reader of this website wrote and shared with me his experience getting started on the project of scanning his entire photo collection.
We wrote back and forth several times discussing the details of his workflow. He had questions for me and I had some questions for him. I became immediately intrigued hearing his story shopping for a particular model of scanner he wished to purchase. Who knew there was “location discrimination” in the scanning world!?
At some point, I received an email from Peter that simply said:
“If I sent you a piece about my experiences/ learning’s scanning photos, would you be prepared to publish it?”
You know, I had never thought about having guest posts on my site so soon—but how could I refuse!
I wasn't sure what he was going to hand over exactly, but I knew if it had the same information we had been talking about, people reading this site would just love it.
It would really do a great job to show how we all start out this huge project in the same place. I think initially we all have a lot of technical questions, financial concerns and various problems that make it so easy to want to put off the project indefinitely. So, here would be a success story of someone who found a way and pushed through all of this!
Anyway, long story shorter, I absolutely loved what he sent me and am very excited to be able to share this with you.
My Experience Learning to Scan Our Photo Collection
My story is very similar to Curtis. My wife and I have around 1700 photos, and about 1300 negatives for those photos. We have become aware that these photos are ephemeral. While we store them in a safe place, if we had a fire they would all be lost. The negatives will degrade over time, and also we have no way to easily record the context of the photos.
And I’m not sure how long conventional photo lab technology will endure with the prevalence of digital photography. It would be so much easier if they were digitised; they can all be placed on a backup hard drive and easily taken somewhere safe, and we can look at them on the big TV.
Our children are grown up now and we have more time, so we decided to scan the photos for archival purposes. As Curtis found, this turned out to be both easier and much more problematic than we expected. It was easier in that the new technology has radically lowered the cost, but harder to find the advice we needed to have a really good outcome.
Scanning Service or Self-Scan?
The first question we faced was: should we use a service or should we scan ourselves? Well, in New Zealand the cheapest rate was 95 cents a scan—which for our volume meant spending over $1600. Compare this to what we paid for the equipment to do it ourselves: NZ$320 for the computer and NZ$431 for the scanner. So all up NZ$780; which we can onsell when we’ve finished the project; so if we sell the items for half of what we paid that’s a cost of $400 versus $1600.
Obviously that’s pricing our time at nil, but that’s OK because we will do a lot of input of the associated information about the picture while we are scanning—which we would need to do anyway even if went to a service. And the other point to note is that services typically scan at rather lower settings than the settings I wanted to use. Services seem to us to be geared towards scanning small number of high-value photos rather than bulk archival scanning of a family’s pictorial record.
Choosing to Buy the Canon CanoScan 9000F
So having decided to scan ourselves, the first thing we needed to do was buy a scanner. At first we thought we would buy an Epson Perfection V600 scanner, which had great online reviews. Then we noticed none of the NZ stores were carrying it so my wife called Epson asking what the story was, since we could see the scanner was available in Australia. They said no it wasn’t going to be provided in NZ because of the small size of the market and referred us onto the previous Perfection V500 model which is available here.
Buying old tech at full price didn’t work for us so we then tried to buy in a Perfection V600 from overseas—and we could not do it! So we went to Canon and purchased a CanoScan 9000F for rather less money and which has just as good a set of technical specifications, and we have been very happy with it.
Canon strongly recommended using a PC with a Hi-Speed USB 2.0 interface and also lots of RAM. So I then purchased a Dell Optiplex 745 running XP Professional, which was upgraded to 4 GB of RAM. This cost remarkably little second-hand off the Internet: around NZ$400. The Dell documentation confirmed that the USB was Hi-Speed 2.0, and I confirmed it as well using the free SandraSoft software when it arrived.
Scan Prints or Original Negatives?
Our next step was to work out the best settings to scan the photos at, and also whether to scan the photos or the negatives, and this is where Curtis’s site was invaluable. There’s a lot of advice out there which is out of date or plain wrong, or just lacks the context in which to make choices. Curtis’s site is accurate and provides exactly the context we were looking for.
The first decision was whether to scan photos or negatives. It soon became clear that it would be an order of magnitude easier and faster to scan photos rather than the negatives, which have to be painstakingly inserted into the special holders.
My Scanning Workflow
The next thing to work out was using a nice feature on the CanoScan (I believe the Epson does the same) where it will automatically break up a single scan into different images and save them as separate images, letting you scan many photos at once. After a good deal of trial and error, I found that you can only scan a maximum of two 4×6 photos at once, with a gap of around 12mm between the photo and the other photo and the edge of the platen (scanner bed). This is described quite well in the user manual.
When I scanned and compared photos between 600, 1200 and 2400 dpi I could not make out the slightest difference no matter how much I blew the photo up. And Curtis has the same experience. So we both recommend 600 dpi scans. They are slightly better than the 300 scans. And the other issue is that the 1200 and 2400 DPI scans take much longer to scan.
File Type to Save As
After some great advice from Curtis, I chose TIFF 48-bit. This is the highest quality colour scanning that the CanoScan supports. TIFF can be saved as lossless, uncompressed and pretty much “raw” data, which minimises any issues around correcting it. I have to say that I could not detect any differentiation even at the highest resolutions between the JPEG, TIFF 24 and TIFF 48 with colour differentiation but the additional effort is nil and the logic is that subtleties should be recorded.
The main issue with TIFF is file size, but who cares? Interestingly enough, using TIFF is actually slightly faster than saving in say JPEG or PNG. I think this is because the scan is native in TIFF and then the software converts from the TIFF to JPEG or PNG.
Setting the 48-bit setting in the CanoScan software was a bit tricky; you need to change a parameter in the preferences and then the setting appears in the “Advanced Scan” menu.
The main impact of choosing TIFF 48-bit was that the file sizes is large. The following table shows the file sizes that could be expected for scanning 1700 4″x6″ photos. It can be seen that, for the same photo, it's a 4 megabyte (MB) file as a JPEG, 24 MB's as a 24-bit TIFF and 50 MB's as a 48-bit TIFF.
The following spreadsheet provides a model—it can be seen that the storage for 1700 photos at 48-bit is around 83 Gigabytes (GB). It’s interesting to note that even 5 years ago this would have been a large amount; today it is all but unnoticeable.
|My Scanning Constants|
|Photo Quantity||DPI||Photo Size|
|My Scanned Images' File Sizes|
|JPEG||TIFF (24-bit)||TIFF (48-bit)|
|Filesize (Megabytes)||4 MB's||24 MB's||50 MB's|
|Total (Megabytes)||6,800 MB's||40,800 MB's||85,000 MB's|
|Total (Gigabytes)||7 GB's||40 GB's||83 GB's|
The following table provides a summary of the settings I used with the CanoScan.
|My Canon CanoScan 9000F Scanner Settings|
|Number of 4″x6″ photos on platen||2||You need to keep an edge of 12 mm around the platen as per the manual|
|DPI Setting||600||Set in Canon's ScanGear scanning software|
Other Settings and Software
Various reviews said that ScanGear which comes with the scanner produced perfectly good scans which are pretty much as good as using VueScan or Silverfast software. So no need to buy expensive additional software. Also, I haven’t used any of the other settings such as unsharp or FARE—it just doesn’t seem to add anything, and FARE seems to be really slow.
When I was researching this, on one of the sites I found this article. It made the point which I’ve since confirmed by talking to a person who does professional scanning that the quickest and easiest way to get a great scan is to be really, really clean. Only use white cotton gloves, the sort that you buy from a pharmacy, hospital grade. And use an electrostatic microfiber cloth every time to remove dust particles.
We use Curtis' naming convention except that we put a code at the end which identifies the packet of photos that we have scanned.
Here are some useful additional links about the Canon CanoScan 9000F we came across doing our initial research:
- A good review of the CanoScan 9000F scanner with Silverfast / Vuescan
- A pretty good general purpose review of the CanoScan 9000F scanner
- An outstanding (consumer) review of the CanoScan 9000F by L.G. Charlot detailing photo scanning settings
- A review of the Canon CanoScan 9000F which basically says that ScanGear is pretty good
- Quite a nice general purpose review of the CanoScan 9000F
That’s it people!
Wellington, New Zealand
So what did you think? Did this inspire you to start scanning your photo collection? I hope so!
I am sure if you had a question for Peter and wrote it below in the comments, he would answer them for you. 🙂
And just maybe, I can coax him into doing a follow-up post for us so we can find out how this workflow is working out for him.
So congrats Peter for an excellent start my friend! Keep up that momentum!