Friday, November 9, 2007

Digitizing Negatives

One of the problems that I have been trying to solve lately is what to do with my rather sizable collection of negatives. I won't call it "large" but it is big enough that I need to get everything sorted, labeled, and archived somehow. My wife is also anxious to throw away boxes of old prints that we will almost certainly never use.

In this digital age the obvious choice is to digitize all the negatives. This preserves them and makes generating backup copies easy. My first attempt at tackling this was to purchase a MicroTek 4000tf negative scanner. I used it to digitize around 30 rolls from the 90's. But it has its drawbacks. First, I cannot adequately control the dust in my office environment, so the resultant scans would not be adequate for making prints and certainly not for making enlargements (should I ever choose to do such things). Second, the process takes time. A roll of 24 exposures typically takes about an hour. And this isn't "set it all up and go away for an hour", this is an hour that requires action every 5 minutes. So it is time consuming and labor intensive. I'm also not entirely satisfied with the 4000tf. Since it only has one gear to move the negative cartridge, the cartridge does not always stay aligned correctly and as a result the scans tend to be slightly crooked. It's hard to notice after cropping, but in order to crop away the crookedness I end up losing more of the frame than I would like.

Recently a friend suggested I try one of the many digitizing services. I initially dismissed them as too expensive but on second glance I think the savings in time and the better quality may be enough to justify the expense (and some of them are priced reasonably). So as I experiment with each of these labs I intend to post the results here to benefit anyone else that may stumble across this blog.

So far I have found the following labs that advertise they will digitize strips of 35mm negatives:
  • Imagers
  • ScanCafe
  • BritePix
  • Image Preserve
  • PixMonix
  • Larsen
  • DigMyPix
  • White Glove
Prices vary widely but generally range from $11 to $24 for a roll of 25 digitized at either 2000 or 3000 dpi. The big exception is ScanCafe which charges an amazing 19 cents per frame for 3000 dpi, what works out to about $5 per roll. Why are they so cheap? Well the 36-day turnaround ought to give you a hint: they send everything to India for digitizing and processing.

When I have time I will post a price comparison of the shops I've found, and I will try to take in to account all the hidden costs (such as disks and shipping).

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