[Save Life Photos] Step 4: Retake or Scan Old Photos?

Guest Post from DigiDaddy

When talking about digitizing old photos, there are a few options:

  1. Retake with a smart phone or digital camera
  2. Send it to a photography studio to digitize them for you
  3. Purchase a scanner and scan it yourself from home

Before I began to digitize my old photos, I gathered and studied information quite extensively to compare these three methods. My evaluation included how many photos I will be needing to digitize, the condition of my photos, the cost of each method, and the quality of digital files generated from each method.

Guess what my choice was?

There is no ONE correct answer for all people. Read on to find out. I hope as you read through you will consider your own situation and needs, then afterwards you can conclude which option will be the best for you.

If you and I have the same choice, great, that’s one more. If our choice isn’t the same, I welcome you to share it with me; sharing knowledge and experience was one of the original reasons for starting my blog.

Retake them?

For most people, the first thought coming to mind is to retake the photo with their smartphone or digital camera, but this method has a few limitations.

Firstly, it is more suited for recently taken photos which are kept in good condition. There are photos that someone developed and gave to you, or digital photos that you have taken but accidentally deleted. So you have to retake them from the photo prints you fortunately have.

Secondly, retaking multiple photos is hard to accomplish, unless you have Iron-Man-like hands to maintain the same posture steadily without any discomfort or shaking

Retaken photos are also heavily affected by the light, the camera angle, and the hand stability. From my internet search, one blogger recommended to buy two light sources with the same light color and brightness (flashlights or table lamps) to solve the light and shadow problem. I am starting to have a headache just to think of the nuisance and troubles of repeatedly adjusting the light orientation, the light height, and even the camera angle so as to get rid of reflections or glares in photos. The extra cost of purchasing light sources is an issue too.

Aside from these issues, the image quality of remakes is much poorer than the originals. Editing such poor images with any App is time-consuming and barely effective. Most mobile apps only allow you to do some simple cropping and add some comical touches.

The most important restoration in the Saving Life Photos plan is not your most recent photos. It is your parent’s, grandparent’s and ancestor’s photos. If you are like me an grew up in the 60’s or 70’s, then it is also important for us to relive our younger years. This method of retaking old photos is definitely not sufficient.

Deliver them to a photography studio for scanning?

If you choose to take your photos to a photography studio for someone to scan for you. The pros are that you save yourself some hassle, but there are also quite a few cons.

First off, you need to have enough money. Photography studios charge by the number of photos to scan. Slides are even more expensive. If you send all your parent’s, yours, and family’s old photos to the photography studio, it will be no small fee, that which could be used to buy more than one scanners that you can use at home.

Secondly,  old photos share some common characteristics. That is, they have faded, are yellowing, damaged, and some may have creases or folds. Do you think your old photos will be handled with the same care and delicacy as you would in their commercial batch scan processing? Do you think the photography studio staff would carefully examine each photo to decide individual special treatment for each old photo of yours?

Thirdly, the photography studio will save you the initial scan hassel, but you will still have a lot more processing to do afterwards. A photography studio will save the scanned image files of your photographs onto a DVD or USB, but the digital files will have neutral, meaningless file names like IMG001. Additionally, photos from different times and places will be all mixed together. You will also have to check and examine the photos in each DVD, then mark on the disc what photos it contains; otherwise, how else will you find them later on? If you want to transfer these photos to a computer, you must also go through each photo and review each photo one by one. Once again you will need to reorder and classify the different digital files and save them to different sub-folders on your computer. Even if you have done all these, chances are you are still unable to find the photos you want to see, so you will need to find a software to do batch file name modification to help you search and find files easier.

Fourthly, can you trust a stranger with your photos which contains your private life? Besides, there is only a single copy of these photos. If you are concerned with costs and choose to post them to an online scanning company instead of personally delivering them to a physical photography store, what if the package got misdelivered and they claimed they didn’t receive it? What if they return the package after scanning and you notice one or more of your precious photos is missing or damaged?

Scanning them yourself

I myself choose this method after lots of evaluation: purchase a scanner and scan at home. To this day, I am very satisfied with the results.

Compared with the photo retaking method, a scanner can retain much more minute details from the original photos, nor do you need to bother with getting the lighting perfect, and not to mention the hand shaking issue associated with the photo retaking method.  The best thing about the scanned files is that they turn out more beautiful (*∩_∩*). My wife also agrees, as I already converted her school day photos (have faded in colors) into beautiful digital files.

Like I said in my “WBS Photo Organizing Tips” article, converting photos at home is much better than giving them to a photography studio, as it can serve as a great activity for the family, to enjoy the journey (scanning, reliving moments while the family chats, mocks and playfully tease each other), and even saving money.

How to choose the right scanner?

After you have chosen to scan your family photos yourself, will you want to buy a scanner or a multi-function printer?

After comparing a few of the options, I bought the Plustek ePhoto scanner. Initially, I was drawn to its appearance, as the design of the scanner has a lot of style (It also won the well renowned Germany Design Award). I found it while shopping online, and then ventured over to Plustek website to get some further information on the product. I watched a video and read the product description. It seemed simple to use and fast at scanning, so I decided to buy it. I have been using this product until this day, and can confidently say I made the right choice.

The Plustek ePhoto feels just like a point-and-shoot (compact) camera. Just place a photo inside the scanner and a beautiful picture will appear on the computer screen. This process actually took up less time than I originally expected, allowing me to focus my efforts on editing the scanned files of old photos, and on planning file naming rules to make searching these digital files easier later on. I also divided the family photo digitization project and sent a small packet of my wife’s own photos for her to scan. Because the scanner is really easy to use. My wife can’t find any excuse for not scanning (those are her own photos!), and I also didn’t need to worry if my wife will be garrulous to me on how to scan.

With the pretty good experience in Plustek ePhoto scanner, I trust the design and manufacturing quality of this company, so I also bought their film scanner “OpticFilm 8100” to digitize my collection of old slides and filmstrips. If you’re like me who keep both filmstrips and photos, I recommend scanning the film first to get a less distorted image. Before I bought this film scanner, my search criteria was to find one that was easy to use and had fast scanning; after all, besides my own filmstrips, I also help my siblings preserve and digitize their filmstrips and slides. (That’s because we share the memories of growing up together, and it is an integral part of my life photos too).

From gathering information to decide the right scanner to purchase, to actually scanning the family photos to save as digital files and share with other family members, I have accrued quite a few tips, which I will share with you all here.

  • The scanner needs to be smart and automatic, just like a point-and-shoot camera. When you place a photo down, it should automatically scan and produce beautiful images to save both time and effort.
  • Don’t select a scanner that must scan with a TWAIN interface. Unless you’re an imaging expert, you don’t want to spend too much time learning about professional imaging terms in order to understand what settings to adjust in a TWAIN interface. Buying a scanner like this will not only cost you money but also drive you to more trouble.
  • Don’t use a scanner with an attached automatic document feeder (ADF) to scan photos especially old photos, as they might not be able to withstand the friction of the scanner rollers when the photos pass through the scanner.
  • Don’t buy a budget or poor quality scanner just to save some money. Cheap scanners can’t restore the details of your old photos. Computer’s display quality are becoming better and better. You don’t want to regret using a poor quality scanner when you view the photos later on.
  • Your scanner must be able to scan at least 10″ photos, that is, A4/Letter size photos.

You don’t have to buy the same scanner as I.

I wrote this article simply to hope to help people finding a suitable photo digitization tool that satisfies one’s own needs for their budget.

This guest post was originally written in Chinese by DigiDaddy and localized into English by Plustek Connect digitization expert team with the author’s permission.

3 Comments on “[Save Life Photos] Step 4: Retake or Scan Old Photos?

  1. Pingback: Digitize Old Paper Photos and Let Family Memories Continue

  2. Pingback: Google PhotoScan: Experience Retaking Old Photos

  3. Pingback: [Save Life Photos] Step 3: Prepare Your Tools

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