Friday, June 17, 2005

Adventures in Photo Archiving

I decided to digitize our wedding photos, but all we have is the negatives. Now what? I started researching... What do normal people do with their time? I go overboard tryign to figure out how to preserve my photos for generations to come.

I decided that it would be wise to dig out our wedding photos and actually get some prints. Yes, that is correct; Cathy & I have never seen our wedding photos! When we got married, we were quite poor (comparatively) and could not afford a photographer. Friends and family took photos, and that is what we have. About four months after we were married, we managed to set aside enough money to get the film developed, but we did not have the money to get prints. And so the 35 mm film sat in storage for 8 years and 4 months.

Since getting used to digital cameras, I have become spoiled by the ability to take near-perfect shots. I just take 3~5 photos and discard the ones I don't like! Looking at the negatives from our wedding was quite painful, as many had thumbs or other digits covering part of the lenses.

I decided I should convert these 35mm negatives to digital files. Last Thursday, June 9th, Cathy & I ran some errands. On a lark, while we were in Circuit City returning a 802.11b wireless router, I purchased an Epson Perfection 2580 scanner with a built-in, automatic feed film scanner. They didn't have one in stock, so I took the display model as an open box at a discount. I was quite happy with my deal!

I figured that most digital photo printers probably produce 4 x 6 prints at 300 dots per inch (dpi), so surely my Epson could scan that, right? It turns out that desktop scanners with transparency adapters can scan negatives at about 200 dots per inch. I would have kept the scanner, but I realized during the setup Circuit City gave me the wrong accessories bag. I couldn't use the scanner!

So, last Friday, after a long day at work, I drove back to the store and returned my scanner. They offered to let me pick up a new box in Fullerton (bit of a drive), where they had three in stock. I was happy with that, and went to Fullerton. The Fullerton Circuit City was nonplused about my attempt to exchange equipment there, but they did it anyway as customer service. I went home happy.

I needed some film to scan! Saturday was an overcast day and unsuitable for the painting I planned, so I spent 7.5 hours in the garage, doing some much-needed cleanup and organization. When I was done, I could locate my negatives easily enough! That evening, after dinner, I sat down to do some scans! But, to my surprise, the scanner's 35mm feeder wouldn't take the film! I troubleshoot computers for a living; how hard can it be?

I finally concluded that the scanner was defective and drove back to Circuit City (in Fullerton!) with my laptop. I showed the Circuit City guy what it was (not) doing, and they gave me another one. We set that up at the customer service desk, and the replacement didn't work! I was really beginning to wonder about my capacity to scan film. But then a stranger walked up and said he had the exact same scanner, and it works pretty good! He kindly offered to try the scanner and concluded it was not working. After burning through Circuit City's stock of Epson Perfection 2580 scanners... I thought about just getting my money back, but I settled for the HP Scanjet 3970 they had in stock. I set it up that night and scanned a couple photos, but I was not happy with the results.

I decided that scanning film with consumer scanners is for the birds. On Sunday, after church, I took some film to Ritz Camera to see if they could point me in the right direction. It just so happens that Ritz will scan cut negatives at 75 cents each. So, $20 later I got 25 pictures scanned to CD-ROM. The film was from a disposable camera, so the quality was poor, thus the scan was poor! At that rate, though, I could not afford to scan all the film I have!

After doing some searches on the Internet, I found several online photo services that would scan 35mm negatives at high enough resolutions to produce good 4 x 6 photos. Scanning 230 photos would cost be $110, which slightly less than what the scanner cost me (and take a lot less work on my part). However, it is my understanding that Costco will give you photo CDs for a nominal fee when you develop prints. It is very likely that I will return my scanner for store credit (I need to replace that router) and just get my photos developed and digitized at Costco. Whatever I want to scanned at higher resolutions can then be sent off to an online shop.

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