Happy New Year & Welcome to 2012 !

fireworksHappy new year to one and all.
Hope you and yours have a happy
and healthy one.



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Happy Holidays to you and yours!

This gallery contains 21 photos.

We’re hoping you’ll have a great holiday season and that you’ll make lots of happy memories !

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Cool postcard and genealogy “sweet spot”

The image below is a scan I did of a postcard that I ran across on eBay a couple years ago. I thought it was cool because it had my family name on it–not too often I run across anything with that.

Harrisburg, PA. 1901 Postmark.

Genealogy and the Knisely name

Until I got interested in genealogy a some years ago, I’d  always thought that my family name, Knisely, was uncommon–maybe even rare. It was also pretty frustrating having to spell it every time and having most people get it wrong even then. But once I got started with the genealogy research I discovered that my name is in sort of a “sweet spot” for research.  It turns out that it’s not common but certainly not rare, and if you count the more common spelling variants, it’s pretty easy to find.

The US Census site has some simple spreadsheets available, I’m using the 2000 data here. In that it shows my name at #15,700 out of the over 151,000 surnames in the sheet (which is any surname appearing more than 100 times).  It shows that 1,709 families reported that name–not a lot in all of the US.  Considering the dominance of the top 20 or so names, it’s pretty clear that the name is uncommon, but hardly rare–and both of those turn out to be a good thing for genealogy.

Man reading old book surrounded by more books.I’ve found researching a truly rare name can be extremely frustrating, because there’s not that much information out there and it’s hard to find anyone else who’s also researching that name. That’s the situation with my wife’s family name, Bobbe, which is #80,248 with only 220 reports. But the opposite seems just as bad–there are a couple of Smiths in my ancestry and researching them is equally frustrating to me because I immediately drown in duplicate names.

Anyway, while my name is still going to get spelled wrong everywhere, it does seem to be just about right for the genealogy research.  🙂

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Slide scanning update-getting better results

Image of Canon flat bed scanner

Canon 9000F

A couple posts back I compared 35mm slide scans made with my Nikon Coolscan film scanner and my Canon 9000F flat bed scanner. I mentioned that my normal workflow was 3000ppi scans on the Canon and I concluded that the Canon optics weren’t good enough really compete with the Nikon. But I still thought the Canon scans were just fine for my purposes. After reading Steinhoff’s book I learned some things that seemed to mostly confirm my experience, but also made me wonder if the user (me :() might be part of the problem.

New information
In The VueScan Bible Steinhoff makes these points that prompted me to do another experiment:

  1. “A scanner can scan properly only at its optical resolution (e.g., 4800 spi) or  parts of it (e.g., 2400, 1200, 600, or 300 spi).”
  2. He mentions that a scanner’s effective optical resolution can be dramatically lower than the advertised capability and he specifically mentions the Canon8800F (a direct, close ancestor to mine) saying “The Canon CanoScan 8800F has a nominal optical resolution of 4800 spi. The effective optical resolution is roughly 1600 spi–quite a big difference.”
  3. Using a Nikon similar to mine as an example, he also writes “…for maximum image quality, you should use output size reduction… Configure Input > Scan resolution a 4000 spi and Output > size reduction at factor 2.  This will convert the 4000 spi scan into a 2000spi file-effectively, the file size will shrink from 160 MB to 40 MB! But the main reason for using output size reduction instead of scanning directly at 2000spi reducing image noise. Shrinking a 4000spi scan to a 2000spi output file has a positive effect on image noise–there is simply less of it left. That’s the reason why can be justified to scan 4000 spi, even when your desired output size is only 2000spi.”

Interesting points, and if he’s right on all counts, some of my choices might be contributing to the issues I’ve seen and there might be hope to get better results from my scanners.  So, I devised an experiment to see if I could find out whether it mattered or not.

Bottom line is that it does seem to matter and I’m adjusting what I do because of it.

Comparison experiment

I picked 3 slides and scanned each in both scanners at the scanner’s optical resolution, saving them at full resolution and with output size reduction factor 2 (4000ppi-to-2000ppi or 4800-to-2400ppi). I also repeated my scans at 3000ppi which isn’t a match for optical resolution on either scanner. In all cases the sharpen filter was ‘off’ and the scratch/dust filter set to ‘low.’ The results confirmed his points:

1. The difference between the 3000ppi scans and the optical resolution scans was subtle but real. The difference was much more pronounced with the Canon-both the scan saved at 4800ppi and the one at 2400ppi were better than 3000ppi (ouch!).

2. This experiment and all my experience with the flat bed is 100% consistent with what he says–limitations imposed by the Canon’s optics made them less sharp than the Nikon. But…

3. In all three cases, the difference between full resolution saves and the size reduced saves was negligible unless viewed full, pixel-for-pixel on the screen.

In fact, for two of the three slides the best looking scans were Canon scans at 4800ppi saved at 2400ppi. These were a portrait (samples below) and a landscape. Only with a high contrast, close up of a flower, did the 4000ppi Nikon scan look better. Yes, the Nikon scans were consistently sharper, but for normal viewing or printing, the Canon output colors had an edge and the Canon’s infrared dust/scratch removal seemed a bit better.

Image of litte girl, scanned from a slide.

Canon scan 4800-to-2400 with ICE on.

I thought about posting all the slide scans but doing the test created over 2o scans, some are really big files and some of the differences were difficult to see in the post. Instead I decided I post a few examples so you can get a feel for just what the Canon is, and is not, capable of.

This pair is the crucial result, the Canon scan on top and the Nikon scan below. In both cases the scan was done using the VueScan software, at optical resolution with a down-sample of x2, scanned 4800, saved at 2400 in the case of the Canon

Slide of little girl scanned with the NIkon film scanner.

Nikon scan 4000-to-2000ppi, ICE on.

and 4000, saved at 2000 in the case of the Nikon. This pair can be examined full size and I think you’d agree that there are subtle differences but I found both of them to be nice.

Indeed, the differences here are interesting and consistent with what I saw before and during the experiment. The Nikon’s scans are sharper (look at the eyelashes), slightly less saturated in color and a bit cooler in color. Which one is right? I don’t know–looking at the slide with a loupe on the slide sorter I’d say neither is what I see there but both are close. Neither example has had post-scan editing, but with just a little tweaking either could look like the other or how ever I decided was “right.”

Although the scratch/dust processing was on in both examples the experiment included on and off. The two scanners use different technologies for dust/scratch removal and each has its advantages. The VueScan software knows how to get the best out of the Canon’s hardware in that regard and I liked those results better.

Down-sampling pros and cons

Same photo of little girl with no down sampling applied.

Nikon scan 4000ppi, full res, ICE on. (Big file!)

Purists may object to the idea of the x2 down-sampling approach and with some justification–why throw all those pixels away? I thought that way, too, until I’d read Steinhoff’s book and checked him against another author as well. The truth is that you’re not merely throwing them away but using the information in all the pixels to construct a better, and smaller image. The experiment confirmed what they were saying which is that yes, you’re giving up a something in one way, but you’re getting some processing gain which results in less noise in the output–better images. And the reality is that with the Canon I’m losing nothing since its optics can’t actually do 4800ppi anyway. The image above is the full resolution version of the Nikon scan (all 14MB of it) for comparison with the down-sampled version. The other benefit is smaller file size:

Canon 4800-to-2400ppi 3.3MB JPG
Canon 4800ppi 12MB JPG
Canon 4800ppi 26.5 MB TIFF

The JPEG files were saved with the minimum compression setting (highest quality) in VueScan. The results were essentially identical for the Nikon scans: the down-sampled files were just about 25% as big and the TIFFs were 2-4x the size of the higher resolution JPEG file.


Just in terms of effective resolution, the Canon or, I suspect, any flat current bed can’t compete. If I really have to have biggest, sharpest scan I can get, the Nikon at 4000ppi is the way to go. They’re sharper, but they’re more work and give big(!) image files, especially if saved as TIFFs. But I really like the results I get from the Canon now.

So, I expect that for >95% of my future slide scans, the Canon scanned at 4800ppi and saved at 2400ppi will be my choice.  That seems to be the best trade-off of time invested, file size and quality of output. I still wish the flat bed scanner’s optics were better, but by changing the workflow a bit, I think I’ve gotten to the point where I’m getting the most out of the Canon that I can and I’m pretty happy with the results.

If anyone else has similar (or contrary!) experience with film scanning I’d love to hear about it, too.

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Book review: The VueScan Bible

book cover VueScan BibleThe VueScan Bible: Everything You Need to Know for Perfect Scanning
Sascha Steinhoff, Rocky Nook publishing, (c) 2011

Since I’ve recommended the VueScan software, I thought I’d also mention this book.

Bottom line

While it advertises itself as “…the missing manual for new, experienced, and prospective users of VueScan” it’s really not essential as documentation for the software. However, this book is one of the best resources I’ve found for understanding how to get serious about the business of doing scans of photographic products.

Here’s an example of the many tidbits l found useful:

8.1.22. Input>> Scan dpi

This option pops up whenever you set Input >> Scan resolution to Custom. You can either type in the required scan resolution manually or use the slider for the same purpose. The maximum value is the optical resolution of the scanner. As with Input » Preview dpi, this is not really a useful feature.

A scanner can scan properly only at its optical resolution (e.g., 4800 spi) or parts of it (e.g., 2400, 1200, 600, or 300 spi).  If you choose 297, the scanner will actually scan at 300 spi and scale the image down to 297 spi. Avoid this, as image quality does usually not benefit from rescaling. Its better to choose one of the values that VueScan proposes in the Input > Scan resolution dropdown list.
(Emphasis mine.)

Nowhere else have I seen an explicit statement that says I’m better off scanning at specific resolutions. It makes sense, but it’s nowhere in the documentation for the scanners or even the documentation for VueScan.

Another resource
Before discovering this book, I sent folks to Wayne Fulton’s Scan Tips internet site. Lots of good stuff there and Wayne offers a self-published and printed version of the material on his site which I also bought a few years ago. Despite its age and the fact that Wayne doesn’t update his site very often, the site is still worthwhile and covers some things that Steinhoff doesn’t. But unlike Fulton, Steinhoff can assume you’re using VueScan which lets him focus the examples and he structures his discussion as a thorough walk-through of VueScan.

In any case, if you’re going to launch into a major scanning project, I think you’ll want to know about both this book and Wayne’s site.

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Pardon the dust

I’m in the process of rearranging the posts on this and my other blog. The goal is to refocus both of them and get reinvigorate both of them.

This blog will be everything except stuff related to presentations. That will now include my philosophical ramblings, stuff that interests me on various science topics and photography.

To start I’m moving the photography and imaging posts over here and I’ll be expanding on that material here.

Thanks for the patience!

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Canon 9000F vs. Nikon Coolscan V ED

This is a follow-up to the post where I reported extensively on my experience scanning slides with the Canon scanner and Vuescan software.

As I indicated that I would, I got the Nikon film scanner off the self and scanned some slides that I’d already done with the Canon. I used the Vuescan software again and, to the extent possible, I kept as the scan parameters exactly the same. The result was interesting so I thought I’d share it here.

The bottom line is that even if you can find one (and that’s not easy) you almost certainly don’t want to get the dedicated film scanner. No, it’s not that they don’t work, but it’s not worth the trouble and the large expense if you get a good one.

Image of a Nikon film scanner

Nikon Coolscan V ED

Dedicated Film Scanner Market Dead?

When I bought my Nikon scanner about four years ago I gritted my teeth and paid $500 for it. The same device is now $3000 when you can find one! They’re not being manufactured anymore and the competing ones from Epson and others also appear to be gone. The consumer market for these is gone, replaced it seems by the last couple generations of the flatbeds with prices that are a lot less than this one was originally–remember, both the Canon and the Epson have MSRPs of $225.

I think the demand for the dedicated scanners stopped once the flatbeds could do transparencies at resolutions in the same range.  At the time I got it, the Nikon was near the top of the market for a film scanner.  Now, the software appears dated and the 4000ppi resolution isn’t competitive with the current flatbed scanners. Loading it is a one-at-a-time affair so the time needed goes up some more, just what I don’t need.

The comparison

So, the Nikon is bad? Nope, its scans are good–it beat the Canon scans by quite a bit, I think, in large part due to the focus adjustment it has. My testing shows the problem with the Canon is definitely hardware related–but maybe not just with the focus. Based on the experience of a friend using an Epson, this kind of limitation may be an issue with any flatbed in large part due to not having a variable focus.  So, yes, the Nikon does a better job but read on, because I don’t think the difference is going to justify the huge amount of money required to get one now.

Below are small cropped sections from one slide I scanned. The crop is roughly 1/3 of the slide in each dimension, 10% by area, so these are big enlargements. These are JPG files and there are some compression artifacts, but the comparison is still valid because it’s the same slide, same resolution and the same software writing the file.

cropped image of a 2-year old

Nikon scan (click to enlarge)

cropped image of a 2-year old

Canon scan (click to enlarge)








I love the shot, it’s our son at age 2 caught looking at a book one day.  This image is problematic because it’s dark, high in contrast and it’s a “grab shot” so the focus wasn’t perfect to start with.

The issue here isn’t which one looks better, just which one is crisper and that’s clearly the Nikon scan–the lines in the shirt are obviously better. The critical feature is the face and that’s not particularly good in either one, so when the full version is seen, the Canon scan actually ended up looking nicer in part because of the softness.

image of a yellow flower

Resized version of the slide scan

Another comparison is here.

First here’s the basic image scan of the flower.

This is a resized version (50% in each dimension) and it’s a JPG, the original is a TIFF.

closeup of a part of the flower

Closeup of the Nikon scan

Close up of the tip of a flower.

Canon scan closeup

On the left are closeups of the Canon 9000F scan and the same area in the Nikon scan.  Pretty revealing isn’t it–the Nikon scan clearly has crisper edges. Enlarge each of them to see the differences better–they’re even more dramatic on the full-sized, 30MB TIFF saves.

My experiments included various tricks like changing the height of the slide or flipping it over to see if I could improve the focus. Maybe it can be done, but I didn’t get there.  I could make things worse, but after a lot of experiments I still never got something dramatically better.

You ask, “So the Nikon is good and the Canon is bad?”

Maybe and maybe not.  Judged by my experiments, if you want the sharpest scan it won’t come from the Canon. In that regard I’m disappointed in the Canon which is higher resolution than the Nikon (9600 vs. 4000 ppi) but the limitation associated with focus and/or other optics issues mean it can’t benefit from that. On the other hand, the one-slide-at-a-time loading for the Nikon would drive me crazy doing hundreds or thousands of scans. Plus, the Canon software’s dust & scratch removal seemed much better.

For me, I’ll just keep the Nikon handy and use it for that one-in-a-hundred slide that deserves the extra work. For most of you that’s not an option because buying a real film scanner these days is prohibitively expensive. But the good news is that the Canon still does a job that’s good enough for all but the most critical purposes.

One more comparison
In the past, the way we viewed slides was with a projector shining on a screen or the wall. Having done it recently I can tell you the Canon scans will look a lot better than the slides do that way. There are lots of  limitations that way and going back there certainly won’t make our slides look better at all!

Over to you

So, get busy and get scanning all those pictures in the shoe boxes and elsewhere. The current generation scanners will work great for prints and negatives. Slides are a challenge, but you’ll get scans that will look good and make good prints up to at least an 8×10 size.

But if you’ve got experience or ideas on improving the slide scans I’d love to hear about it.

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A few more tips and ‘lessons learned’ for scanning

The post adds a few more ‘lessons learned’ about scanning our family pictures and stuff.

Going through all these things has proved tedious but rewarding.  The weeks of every-spare-moment invested contained a lot of “oh, wow” moments as seeing the pictures and other stuff triggered memories. Here are a few other tidbits you might find useful:

Postcard Falls City (NE) High School circa1939The ‘descreen’ trick.

I mentioned this before but it’s worth a 2nd mention. Seeing a scan with a distinctive pin-cushion pattern in it was a sure sign that the descreen filter was needed. Normally, this is used on things like news paper photos and magazine pages which are actually printed as a pattern of fine dots. But it also turned out to be useful in some other places including:

  • A group of photos that were made on an ink-jet printer.
  • Some non-photo plastic and paper items (example: a set of shiny plastic business cards).
  • Post cards—some very old ones are a photo with the mailing template printed on them but most were printed and needed the filter.
  • Textured paper photo prints often, but not always, were helped with a descreen filter.

Often I couldn’t see the pattern until I’d scanned it but it could be pretty ugly in the scan. Usually the pattern could at least be minimized by changing the Vuescan input type to ‘magazine’ and experimenting with the descreen resolution setting. The trade-off for using it is some loss of contrast and sharpness, but they still looked a lot better than a straight scan.

Newspaper clippings

Newspaper yellows very quickly. For an all text clipping I selected black & white photo and made sure the ‘restore fading’ and ‘restore colors’ options were off. I found I could improve the readability of the text by shifting both the black and white point toward the middle—this narrows the grey scale so dark bits go black and light bits go white. If there was a picture in the article, I found that I usually needed to scan it again with ‘newspaper’ selected as the input type to get the descreen filter for the photo(s).


In the stuff I sorted through were dozens of postcards, some as far back as 1910. The very oldest were just photos with the postcard template printed on the back. More recent ones

Scan of 1930's era postcard, Falls City, NE

Postcard. 1930's. Falls City, NE. (Click to enlarge)


had printed pictures and needed the descreen filter, but the density of the dots seems to have varied from printer-to-printer and changed over time as well. Scanning these is where the variable ‘descreen’ filter was especially good and with a little fiddling I was able to get nice scans from these.

When I started, I thought the postcards wouldn’t be of interest but I changed my mind. I found the postcards sometimes filled gaps or gave context to the pictures I had. For example, I had a few people-picture shots of my parents’ wedding but none of the church or surroundings. However, I discovered several picture postcards of the church and around the town in the same time period—context for the story.

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Some Lessons Learned for Film Scans

I’m going to put off the post with old photo examples.

picture of Kodak slide projector and a stack of carousel traysI’ve completed going through all the prints. I’ve now also done about 900 film scans, mostly 35mm Kodachrome slides, with some Ektachrome as well. Some were stored in boxes, but most came out of Kodak Carousels with 140 slides each.

Workflow and setup

  • I set up my old Kodak slide projector and a screen to do a quick preview before taking the slides out of the carousels. This turned out to be a just a ‘nice to have’ and you could skip it as long as you’ve got the sorter below.
  • I also set up my old slide viewer/sorter. As I took the slides out of the carousels I put them on the sorter to find the ones to be scanned and group them into sets of four (that’s what the adapter holds). Without the sorter, the job would be much harder—if you don’t have one and are going to be scanning more than just a few dozen slides I’d recommend getting one.
  • Getting slides out of boxes or the carousels is a lot easier and faster than dealing with albums. But the extra care with handling and time for cleaning ate up some of the time savings.
  • I decided to not put them back in the carousels, instead I bought some more slide files and put them in those, preserving the order from the carousels.
  • A soft photo brush and the compressed air spray are crucial here—you really don’t want to have to turn the infrared cleaning  filter on if you don’t have to and a careful cleaning helped a lot.
  • I found it better to ignore how the picture was taken and loaded the holder with the slides all oriented the same way (portrait or landscape). The software is supposed to be able to detect the orientation and rotate the crop but it often got it wrong—I think it got fooled by slides with dark areas along the edges. You can also explicitly tell it which frame (slide) to rotate and how but it was quicker to do that afterward.

photo of a set of slides on the sorterFilm scanning is all about trade offs

  • The big trade off is quality of the scan vs. the time it takes. I found I had to compromise to get it done this decade (slight exaggeration).
  • 2400 pixels per inch (ppi) is enough to get images roughly like a good digital camera in the 8-12Mpixel range. That’s plenty for viewing on a monitor or making prints up to at least 8×12, but more would be very desirable.
  • Most sources say >20Mpixels are needed to extract everything from a 35mm slide or negative, and that’s at least 4000ppi. The scanner can do up to 9600ppi, but with the quantity facing me, the time required for 4800ppi scans is simply impractical for 100% use.
  • Multi-pass scanning for higher dynamic range can make a difference, especially for slightly underexposed slides, but it more than doubles the scan time.
  • Infrared cleaning (Digital ICE or similar) for dust and scratch removal works, but it adds multi-pass scan time and processing time—at least double the basic time.

I settled on 3000-3600ppi scans, single pass, no ICE, stored as JPG files as my ‘normal’ setup. That gets me images of at least 10Mpixel size with JPG file sizes in the 5-6MB ranges. When saved as a TIFF they’re 2-3 times that for file size.

  • Exceptionally nice images (one in a hundred maybe) got the full treatment: 4800ppi (more if I cropped during the scan), infrared scan if needed, dynamic range pass if needed, dual output to TIFF and JPG.
  • Images with big areas of no detail and no texture (usually that was sky) got ICE turned on in the basic scan. No matter how well I cleaned things the dust specks were always lurking.
  • Dark images that I really wanted to get the most from got the 2-pass, dynamic range function turned on and the output saved as a TIFF for future edits.

At a guess, I’d say doing the slides took me 2-3 times as long as the prints. Time invested in cleaning them and scanning time was much longer and there’s more fuss selecting the ones I wanted. For me, it’s worth it–at least for these family shots. More on that below.

Kodachrome: the good news, and the bad news

Picture of a Kodachrome film box.On the one hand, the slides turned out to be in superb condition and virtually no fading showed up. For the Kodachrome that should be the case, they’re famous for longevity and even my 40-year old ones are still young.  A very few showed a bit of color shift that was corrected easily and it may have been white balance errors and not fading. Kodachrome (and slide film in general) is also famous for the fact that exposure latitude is almost nil and underexposed or overexposed is hard to recover from. Mine were rarely over, but often under and some by as much as a stop—getting something ranged from difficult to impossible. I settled on leaving it somewhat dark to preserve the highlights and saved them as a TIFF to work on them in PhotoShop later. But when the exposure was good, they were gorgeous seen with the projector and in the scans.

All is not perfect.
Nearly every scan I looked at closely was a bit softer than I thought it should be. They look fine until expanded to full (pixel-for-pixel) size. I can tell that some of the softness is camera shake, subject motion or a lack of precision in the focus in the first place. However, some of it seems to be in the scan, but not the slide. It is possible that the scanner isn’t focusing correctly, but that seems unlikely since prints looked sharp, as did the b&w negatives. I think it’s probably coming from curvature in the mounted slide film. That’s normal and the Kodak projector has special lens designed to correct for that curvature, but the scanner doesn’t have any ability to correct for that (so far as I know). If present, that should show up as part of the slide sharp and part soft and I’m not 100% positive I was seeing that. In any case, there’s not much to be done about because flatbed scanners don’t have the focus correction ability and like most consumer scanners, the Canon lacks any no manual focus adjustment. This is the one spot that the $500 Nikon film scanner can push the flatbeds out of the way—it has does have an adjustable focus and can compensate for the film curvature. Nice, and enough to use it for the occasional very special image, but not enough to make up for being slow and having clumsy software.

Bottom line: slides hold up well, scan well and produce nice images. But they take a lot of time.
Despite my concern above, the fact remains that these film scans are very nice, in fact it’s a rare print that produced a scan even close to this good.  An interesting comparison turned up as a I did these. In some cases, I’d had prints made from the slides and many of those got scanned in the earlier parts of the project. Although I thought those prints had held up pretty well and made good scans, once I had the slide scanned, it was clear just how much better the slide scan was compared to the print. Better color and far better detail–even with that bit of softness.

Sound like too much effort? Maybe–there are alternatives.
Scanning slides will consume a lot of time no matter what you do. Figure at least a full day to do a 140-slide tray–but go all out, and you’ll spend an hour on one slide!  Once I’m through the ‘family and friends’ group I’m working on, I’ve just gotten a good start, because I’ve got >5,000 more waiting for me that are our vacation and travel pictures (yeah, I shot a lot of film!). I’ve been investigating several on-line services that scan negatives and slides. They range in price and exactly what they do to create the scans. But all should produce scans as good as my ‘normal’ setup does. Shipping my slides somewhere is a little scary although places like Wal-Mart and some photo stores offer scanning as a service–but taking it to a local store doesn’t mean they won’t get shipped somewhere. The tradeoff now changes from time vs. quality to my time vs. my money. One of the cheaper places I found sounds good and does slides at $.39 each. But multiply by 5,000 and that’s not a small investment. None-the-less I’m going to try one or two with a few slides that I’ve already scanned so I can compare results and then decide.

Over to you
Once I’ve got some experience with the services, I’ll add something here. If any of you have actually used any of the services I’d love to hear about your experience with it.

Next:   A few more tips for scanning.
Related: Slide scanning update–getting better results.


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A tale of scanners, pictures and software (oh my!). Lessons learned.

Part 4. Project notes and ‘lessons learned’

At this point I’ve completed the first part of this project. I’ve gone through all the pictures in our family albums and all those I inherited via my Mom and Dad. I’ve gotten 1400+ scans, about half black & white and half color prints. I’ve done a handful of b&w negatives

Very old portrait of boy and girl in costume.

1893 Picture. Grandmother and her brother.

when I ran across compelling images and I could easily find the negative.

The oldest image I scanned was from about 1890 and it turned out great, far better than many that are half that old. I scanned lots other old (pre-1920, example above) items and got good results for almost all of them.

It seems the age of a b&w print is uncorrelated with getting a successful scan except that older means it had more time to get damaged. I’ve successfully scanned images from the biggest thing scanner will do (about 8.5”x11”) down to tiny prints barely 1”x1” in size. I’ve seen some near-miracles in rescuing severely faded images and some nearly complete failures with apparently better ones. I’ve learned I can’t predict the outcome, so if I like the picture I try it. And that’s a persistent theme:  variability. I did an 8×10 from around 1905 that looks so good I could believe it was made a week ago.  But some color prints from the 1960’s were so bad the only thing I could do was to scan to a black & white image just to get something. Yet I also found a some 50’s and 60’s color shots that came back to as good as the day they were printed. Vuescan’s option for automated ‘restore fading’ and ‘restore colors’

1926 portrait. My Mom at 3 years.

sometimes did nearly miraculous things and sometimes they proved useless. With all the options in Vuescan, for at least 95% of the prints I got scans that looked better than the print did and 2/3rds of the time I needed to do only minor tweaks to the settings the software created for itself.

I rate this phase of the project a success—I got the prints scanned and virtually all the scans look a lot better than the prints did. I’m happy with both the hardware and software.  Here’s some of what I learned about scanning my photos that you might find useful–someday when I have enough experience, I’ll add some notes about negatives and slides:

Lessons learned


  • Cleaning everything frequently is crucial to good scans.
  • Assume nothing looking at the photo, horrible looking prints sometimes had “miraculous” recoveries, not always but worth trying.
  • Scans of enlargements on canvas or canvas-like paper tended be troublesome because the scanner can exaggerate the texture. Sometimes selecting ‘magazine’ vice ‘photo’ as the input helped, because it turned on a descreen filter–no, that shouldn’t work, but it did. The scan may be ‘soft’ but I found it best to turn off the sharpening filter in the scanner software, it almost always made things worse.  Instead, save it as a TIFF and try sharpening in an editor.
  • Damaged prints, or others you want to work on in an editor, should be scanned and saved as a TIFF files to avoid adding JPG compression artifacts.
  • For prints, there’s no need to go crazy with resolution; I settled on 300ppi JPG files for almost everything.
  • Use the highest quality (lowest compression level) JPG setting, you’ll get good images but without monster file sizes. (Notice the exceptions here when TIFFs are needed).
  • I found it saved time and work to group photos so I could do several with the same ‘date taken’ and file name template.
  • Copy the backside of the image if there’s much info there, it needs preserving too and a scan is often quicker than typing.
  • Color curves and histograms are the scanner’s best friend, learn to use them and love them.

B&W prints

  • Good, glossy b&w prints, regardless of era, usually scan beautifully.
  • Higher resolution (600ppi, even 1200ppi) scans of little b&w prints often made marvelous details visible I couldn’t see on the print—worth trying.
  • Cleaning everything frequently is crucial to good scans.

"Hopelessly" faded shot from 1959.

Color prints

  • Even the best color prints don’t benefit from scan resolutions above 300ppi and some actually looked better at 150-200ppi, counter-intuitive but worth trying for problem prints.
  • Cleaning everything frequently is crucial to good scans.
  • Color prints on textured paper don’t scan as well as glossy paper and be sure to turn off the ‘sharpening’ filter for those.
  • Color prints that are too far gone to get a color scan often look good with a grey scale scan and something is a lot better than nothing.

photo brush and compressed air can Oh, and did I mention the need for cleaning?  😉  Much conflicting advice is out there on cleaning fluids for the scanner glass—use what makes sense to you, but avoid spraying anything on the glass. Find a soft cloth (as lint free as possible) to carefully wipe the prints. Compressed air is good to get the dust & lint off the glass and there will be some no matter what you did to avoid it. But use nothing on a transparency or negative other than some air (don’t blow on it though) or a soft photo brush.

It’s your turn. You know all those shoe boxes and albums of pictures are waiting in the closet. I put it off for years and you probably have, too. If I can tackle this, so can you. Invest the time, it’s actually kind of fun–okay, at least satisfying. You, your family and your descendants will thank you!

Next:Film scanning lessons learned.

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