My Experience Learning to Scan Our 1700 Photo Collection

by | Last updated Apr 21, 2017 | Scanning Photos | 18 comments

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

by Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller at Hahei in Cathedral Cove

Peter Fuller — “Here I am at Hahei in Cathedral Cove. This is where the opening scene to the movie ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'.”

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.

Canon CanoScan 9000F

Canon CanoScan 9000F

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.

Canon CanoScan 900F Workstation for Scanning

“Here is our little scanning workstation. It's a 4-year old Dell Optiplex 745 with 4 gigs of ram sitting on a $20 table.”

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

Scanning Method:

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.

Dpi Settings

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

Canon ScanGear Preferences Scan Tab 48 bit Setting

Setting to get the CanoScan 9000F to output in 48-bit mode.
(Image source: Imaging Resource)

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.

File Sizes

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 Collection 1700 600 4″x6″
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

Summary

The following table provides a summary of the settings I used with the CanoScan.

My Canon CanoScan 9000F Scanner Settings
Setting Value Comment
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.

FARE: (Film Automatic Retouching and Enhancement) – Canon's version of ‘Digital Ice' — infrared channel dust and scratch removal

Cleaning

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.

File Naming

We use Curtis' naming convention except that we put a code at the end which identifies the packet of photos that we have scanned.

Good Links

Here are some useful additional links about the Canon CanoScan 9000F we came across doing our initial research:

That’s it people!

Peter Fuller
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. smile

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!

Related Posts

Aiming for the Stars to Hit a Cowpie — My Enlightening Scanning Journey

Aiming for the Stars to Hit a Cowpie — My Enlightening Scanning Journey

As a Wyoming farm gal, I was raised with the phrase “It’s better to aim for the stars and miss than to aim for a cowpie and hit.” Well, that’s great advice … unless your goal actually is to hit the cowpie.

My scanning goal really was that simple, but for some reason, aiming at the cowpie just wasn’t working. So I changed strategies and aimed for the stars. The result? Read on to find out. And hopefully, by sharing my scanning journey, it will help you on your scanning journey.

Scanning All of Our Family Photos … What’s the Actual Point?

Scanning All of Our Family Photos … What’s the Actual Point?

For anyone with children, or with other family members such as nieces or nephews, the answer to whether or not we should scan our old family prints, slides and negatives may seem quite obvious.

But, when I received this email from Jennie, asking me why she should go through all the trouble of taking on such a big scanning and organizing project when she doesn’t have younger family to pass it on to, I was struck with the thought that many of you might be asking yourselves the same question. Maybe even for some of you who actually do have family to pass your scanned collections on to!

If you don’t have or know anyone that will truly cherish your scanned photo collection once you’ve passed, is there even a single reason to scan any of your old family photos?

A 70-Year-Old Silver Surfer Scans Her Entire Life!

A 70-Year-Old Silver Surfer Scans Her Entire Life!

Being a man of action as well as words, my son Mark bought me a slide scanner and taught me how to use it. I scanned in the slides of the Holy Land without much difficulty. I was delighted to be able to view them on my computer with the same ease as I could view the digital photographs that I had started taking in 1999.

The remainder of the slides came first. Then I started work on the prints in the photograph albums that I had lovingly curated over the decades. The physical albums had started to deteriorate to the extent that some of them were falling apart. Scanning the prints was an ideal way to remedy this. I also scanned in all the prints that had not made the cut for the photograph albums but I had kept nevertheless. I also spent several months scanning in approximately 4,000 negatives. All in all I must have scanned nearly ten thousand photographs in one form or another.

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Will Rudd
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Will Rudd

Curtis- Discovered your site two years ago and have read and re-read all your posts multiple times. I get more out of them each time. I am in the early stages of digitizing old family album analog “prints” of sister, nephews and nieces using an Epson V600 scanner and Vuescan software. I am using your file naming convention and following your suggestion to capture the scanner settings in the image filename. My goal is to create a set of archival quality digital images from my family’s’ past.

My filenames are getting overly long and unwieldy with {year-month-day}-{description (event-people-location)}-{image source}-{scan settings|. I am have begun researching whether it is possible to automatically write the scanner settings (es-600dpi-48b-um-drm) into the image file meta data using the Vuescan software, but have not been able to find a way to do so. I tried to email Ed Hambrick this question, but his email link does not work for me.

Have you looked into using either Vuescan or Epson scanner software to automatically write the scanner settings into the image file meta data? This would create a permanent record of the settings for later comparison with subsequent scans and reduce the amount of detail in the filename.

Thank you for creating this extremely useful web site and helping me get over my fear of starting this important family genealogy project.

P.S. I found another tremendously informative site hosted by Wayne Fulton called scantips.com which is chock-full of technical information on digital images, scanning, re-sizing, saving and printing images.

Raymond Sanders
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Raymond Sanders

Hi Will, Curtis and others,

I realize that this thread is growing a beard – at least in terms of how things progress in technology – but it is still very valuable and interesting to me.

I too have a HUGE collection of family photos, some dating back to the beginning of the last century. And, my progress is like many others – slow. I have frequently stopped to read and research to confirm or modify my methods so that I can do my best in the scanning process, the naming the files and organizing prints in a manner that can be found later, if one want’s to access original

I’m using an Epson Perfection V700 Photo scanner, which even today satisfies my expectations and needs. I’m scanning them to TIFF format, and using a naming convention similar to what Curtis was sooo nice to share.

Regarding how to record the scanner settings – not sure if this answers that question, but the TIFF files created on this scanner contain data listing in pixels the dimensions, width, height, horizontal resolution, vertical resolution, bit depth and if it is compressed or not. The date created and modified and “owner” – meaning the name of the computer on which it is stored are all found by Windows. I’m using Windows 10, so can’t speak for earlier versions, but right-clicking on a file listed in Windows’ File Explorer provides a number of choices, one of which is “Properties”. Clicking on that reveals all of the data I described above.

Sure hope this helps in just a fraction of a way that Curtis has helped me.

Susan
Guest
Susan

Great information here. I am researching before I even start with my huge project.

I am using my Brother HL-2280 for scanning.

I did a test using TIFF – 300 DPI – 24 bit for most of the photos. They seem to be very sharp. The images I think the family may want to enlarge will be 600 DPI.

I will been looking at Autosplitter or Irfanvue or Silverfast for enhanced scanning, especially for autocrop. I really didn’t see any big difference other than file size using 24-bit vs. 48-bit.

I am using Windows Live Photo Gallery to set up the details for filing and naming the photos with comments. I hope that is a good way to go. Naming conventions would be of great interest to me!

I probably have around 5000 photos to scan and just want to make sure my initial set up in correct going forward.

In addition, I think I will file the photos by year and go in and add a comment for each photo and Any advice is greatly appreciated.

Thanks!

Chris
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Chris

I am endeavoring on going on a family scanning road trip in about a year or two and want to prepare for it well in advance.
I want to take two high quality scanners. One would be my trusty Epson Perfection 4870.

For the other however, I need a self-fed high speed scanner that I can scan to 600 ppi 48-bit TIFF files that will not do any edits or “enhancements” but give a generous crop (if not exactly to the outer boundaries of the image). It would also need to scan at least 20 to 30 photos up to the 4x6in size (10x15cm) If it could scan 5×7 also it would be a major plus.
Does anyone have experience with such a speedy scanner that is as good as a reliable “prosumer” flatbed?

Chris
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Chris

I’m sorry, I meant to say 20 to 30 photos per minute. @ 600 ppi @ 48-bit TIFF

zka77
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zka77

Very nice article! Last summer I received a big memory box from my mother. Hundreds of old family pictures ranging from 1960 to 1995. I went off to purchase a scanner to scan them. Then came the bad surprise: it is not easy to scan hundreds of photos. Even though the original software for my Canon Lide 110 offered an automatic way to split multiphoto scans, it was useless. It was splitting brides in half, forgetting to split anything, no chance of manual adjustment, etc.
It was so bad that I decided to make my own software to split these photos and the result is AutoSplitter. I recommend you to check it out, hopefully you’ll not be disappointed. Cheers!
http://autosplitter.com/

Roger B Jones
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Roger B Jones

I wish I had read your review before we did our scanning project two years ago. We scanned 2000 photos of family members using the Canoscan 9000F over 10 days! It was an exhausting project but I have to say that our family members really appreciated it. I can’t say enough about how great the machine was. My only regret is that we do not use the TIFF or PNG file format. JPG was good enough for most purposes but I have had requests from publishers for a better format for a few pictures that they were interested in.
Roger in Burnaby BC Canada

Lynn
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Lynn

Hi Curtis,
I am so glad I found your site. I have been wanting to scan my large collection of negatives for several years now. For Christmas I received a Canoscan 9000F, so I’m excited to get started! Your tips have been invaluable. One thing that I’m still debating, though, is TIFF vs. JPG. Not only are the TIFF files huge, but I’m currently working in Windows, and TIFFs can only be seen in Photoshop. Ugh. I am going to reread your section on that, but if I’m scanning negatives, I wonder if TIFF is necessary.
Thanks for all of your information!

paul gallagher
Guest
paul gallagher

Hi,

Have just discovered your review and workflow with the Canoscan 9000F.
I’ve had mine about a year now and scan mainly 35mm and 120 MF film.
I’m now gonna try Polaroid scans to enlarge them for much larger prints. Thnaks for all your hard work, I sure wouldn’t like to have 1700 photos to scan! That’s a lot!
Regards,

Paul

PCRoger
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PCRoger

Wow, what a nice detailed post. I appreciate all of your hard work in detailing your process.

We are currently transferring old family VHS tapes to digital format and hope to detail that on my website.

thanks.

Emily
Guest
Emily

Thanks for your review and tips. I came to this site from your recommendation on your Amazon review of the Canon 9000F. What is the largest size photo/document you can scan with the Canon 9000? The media format dimensions on Amazon say max 6cmx22cm, so I am a little confused but hopeful since you are scanning two 4×6 photos at a time.