3. Archiving and sharing family and historic images with a computer

With the help of your computer and a scanner, you can digitize your photo collection, or, if you aren’t a computer person, convince someone else in the family to do it for you. If worse comes to worse, you can pay someone like me to do it for you. There are many bonus points to be had by getting your photos into the computer, archiving, sharing and restoration of damaged and faded images are just a few of the things that suddenly become practical.

Generally speaking, you need a flatbed scanner, not one of the all in one type scanner, printer, fax machines. If you will be scanning slides or negatives, as well as prints, you’ll want to make sure you get one that will do this as well. They come with holders for various size negatives and slides, most models will handle 35mm, instamatic (126), and 120 sizes of film/slides. There’s a lighting unit in the lid, so the light can shine through these materials, in addition to the regular light for scanning prints.
I’ve only worked with Epson scanners, so these tips will lean that way. I have an Epson V500 which does both 35mm and medium format film/slides and prints up to about 8 ½ x 11. It works very well and is pretty inexpensive at around $150. The Epson V330 only does 35mm film/slides and prints up to about 8 ½ x 11. It is only $80 at Amazon.

Scanning is really pretty easy, although if you are doing a big pile of slides or negatives, you will spend quite a bit of time! The first thing is to make sure the glass in the scanner is clean and carefully clean your images before scanning. With film or slides, it’s best to use a soft brush like an artists camel hair type and a good small blower to get dust off. With prints, a soft cloth and gentle wiping usually works.

Personally, I like the scanning software that comes with the Epson photo scanners, I’ve heard of problems with it, when using with a Mac, but I’m a PC person! It has several modes, Full auto, Home, Office and Professional, which is the only one useful in scanning photos. It allows the user to set several critical things including, scanning resolution, Digital Ice and Color Restoration.

Scanning resolution is a bit tricky to understand, but what you’re trying to do is capture all the detail in the original. In basic terms, when scanning 35mm slides and negatives, which are pretty small, a resolution of 2400 to 3200 ppi (pixels per inch) is about right. This will give a good, crisp 8×10 or slightly larger print. When scanning prints, it depends on the size of the original and if you wish to view or print it larger than the original. With a 4” x 5” print, 300 ppi will let you make a print the same size as the original. 600 ppi allows a print twice as big (8” x 10”). 1200 ppi takes it to 16” x 20”, which works fine if the original is a very clear photo.

Digital Ice, what is it? It’s an automated feature that fixes dust, scratches and small tears on prints, negatives and slides, so the digital file on your computer magically looks restored. With the more expensive scanners, such as my Epson photo 4990, it will do print restoration, sort of. The reality is, it is OK for non critical use, on prints no larger than the original, they certainly look better in most cases. It isn’t very smart and fills in the bad spots with data from the surrounding area. So you often end up with blurred or smeared areas. Personally, I almost never use it on prints.

2400 ppi scan with Digital Ice

Ektachrome slide scanned using Digital Ice

The Epson V500 has Digital Ice, but it will not do prints (no loss), only some slides and color negatives. On slides, it does a good job of removing dust from Ektachrome, Agfachrome, Anscochrome and possibly others, but does not work with Kodachrome. On color negatives it also works well for removing dust. It does not work on black and white negatives.

Color Restoration, the button in the lower left grouping on the Epson Scanner software is a marvel! It works extremely well, not perfect, but almost always a huge improvement. Slides and old color photos especially, have a tendency to fade and the colors can change, getting a strange color cast. After previewing the image with the scanner, you outline the area to be scanned, by dragging the mouse across it. Then click on Color Restoration and magically the color and contrast come to life. Even with very faded images, black and white or color, it really works wonders.

Ektachrome slide from 1957 as it looks, no color restoration

Ektachrome slide from 1957 as it looks, no color restoration

Ektachrome slide with Color Restore selected on Epson scanning software

Once scanned, make sure you save the file to a location on your computer hard drive where you can find it again! Put some thought into how to organize these scans.


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