Sunday, May 10, 2009

Photo and Negative Scanning: The ScanCafe Solution

Converting your analog images to digital is a time-consuming process. From first-hand experience, I can tell you how much time and energy it takes. Over the past decade, I have migrated all of my best images from analog to digital, and that process has been completed. It was completed at a huge economic cost in terms of real dollars spent paying in-house people to do it, as well as the economic cost of not having them scanned earlier.

I can't imagine how I would have felt if my images had been damaged in a flood or fire, and not scanned. Several psychology resources we looked at in thinking about the importance of analog conversions for the non-pro photographer, turned up top-of-mind items to take when being evacuated from an unsafe area, items like wedding or family photo albums. On news broadcasts where families are combing through their destroyed homes, time and time again, we see them finding a family photo, or photo album, and being so grateful that it survived.

For the family happy-snapper, and the seasoned professional, the film archives need conversion, and ScanCafe is at the forefront of providing the best service in preserving your memories, or your pro archives.

(Continued after the Jump)

I remember a business like Nancy Scans, about a decade ago, would charge $40+ for scans, and that was a deal. I compared the costs of staffing an in-house position against outsourcing it just a few years ago, and for medium format, outsourcing was the best solution, and in-house, I thought, was the best for 35mm, but I can report that that determination is questionable now that I look back at the end costs.

One of the things that the out-source service I was using, JaincoTech, was doing, was keywording and caption transfer from slide mount to metadata. ScanCafe does not do that, at least not on their website of pro scanning options. But here's the huge difference - I was paying $5 (and up) per scan there, and ScanCafe is doing scans at $0.24, which includes color correction, scratch/dust removal, and even minor damage to the image. Money Magazine said they were the “Best quality and cheapest…The best scanning service.” (article here). Don't have a negative? At $0.27 per print, they'll scan those too. How did I learn about this, and become more comfortable with them? My friend and colleague David Hume Kennerly is on their advisory board, and turned me on to them.

So, imagine you're a wedding photographer right now with 20 rolls of 35mm film from a wedding and you want them scanned for your archives or website. Assuming an average of 35 images per roll, for $168 you can have all of them scanned. Now, here's a great option for revenue generation. Why not contact ALL your past brides, and offer to deliver to them all the images you shot on CD from the film you never turned over, for, say, $300? Not only will you turn a tidy profit, but that gives you the entree to offer family portrait or children's/pets portraits to them during your conversation. Since the bride has likely ordered every print she'd ever hang around the house or give as a gift, there's little extra revenue from that film now.

Whether it's photo scanning, slide scanning, or negative scanning, ScanCafe looks to be a great solution. Further, for those extremely challenging black & white scanning issues, they can handle that too. I will be meeting with their CEO, Sam Allen, this week to ask him more about his service, so if you have questions, or they don't have a service you want, e-mail me or post in the comments below what you'd like to know, and I will put those questions to him.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


Anonymous said...


After you've scanned, BU (3x), then what?
Do you keep and care for the originals?

John Harrington said...

Yes, I can't bring myself to discard all those negatives. They are all stored in a climate-controlled location in the office, but I don't expect to ever have to return to the original scan, and I feel safer now!

-- John

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the resource. A while back I read David Pogue's NYT's review on another co, Couldn't find that link, but did track down this CBS News profile

Walter Rowe said...

Their website says they only scan in "TrueColor" of 24-bit color (8 per channel). Do you know if they will scan in 48-bit (16 per channel) if requested? At what additional fee?

Ian said...


Have you ever detailed your backup process on the blog? Just trying to get an idea what sort of raid array, dvd/cd and offsite/online options people are using.

John Harrington said...

Walter -

I'll ask the CEO when I see him, that's a good question.

Ian -

I wrote something a few years back on Galbraith's forums, which are now owned by ProPhoto Home. I don't have the URL, and the only two differences are the drive sizes we use, and the syncing software we used, zCompare, is no longer available, so we use is Syncronize Pro X to keep everything sync'd.


Patrick Baldwin said...

Were you satisfied with Jainco's keywording on your original scanning adventure?
Regards. Patrick.

John Harrington said...

Yes, Jainco's keywording was great.


Ken Shelton said...

I recently sent slides and negatives dating back to the late 1960s to ScanCafe. They did a very nice job with the scans, are very responsive to emails and have a very slick website that shows your order as it moves through their system.

If there was any complaint, it was that it took about 6-7 weeks to complete the order. The slides & negatives ship to an address near SFO airport and are then picked up and taken to India for scanning. Once scanned they put up a website so you can edit the keepers and choose your delivery method: DVD, portable hard drive, etc. It just seems to take a long time to move up the queue to the actual scanning.

Anonymous said...

I want to find a cheap service that will convert my finished digital files to a film negative. I would feel much better about my archive.

T. C. Knight said...


As I was worried about the safety of some of my slides, I sent some of them out to be scanned on an Imacon scanner. The work was great although a little noisy. The resolution was SO MUCH better than that I achieved with a 2960 dpi slide scanner I had. Once I dealt with the noise, I had great images (you can see the results at at Fine Art>Native Plants). Since the slides were scanned in California, it was fast, yet was expensive.

So, I am intrigued with the very low price scans from ScanCafe. However, on their website they claim that they scan at 3000 ppi since anything higher introduces errors. I don't think I buy that. My scans came in at 5812x3904 ppi and without that resolution I would not have near the detail as I would have otherwise. In addition, I have read engineer's and photographer's claim that great quality slides, taken from tripod, with great glass, etc. can be scanned up to 6,000 ppi before emulsion clumping will show up in the scans.

When you talk to the CEO, would you please ask him to make a comparison between their 3,000 ppi and the 4,000 ppi available from the various slide scanners on the market today?

I know that at these prices, we can't be choosers, but what is the point of having them in two or more places if the copies are not the same quality as the originals?



Ken Shelton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ken Shelton said...

Scan Cafe offers what they call "Pro Resolution" scans - 4000DPI - for an additional $0.09 per slide/negative - $0.38 total.

T. C. Knight said...


Thanks Ken. I didn't see that on their website.


Wade Lagrone (ScanCafe) said...


Ken's absolutely right.

BTW, we have a range of what we call "Pro Options" and they are in our Services section on this page:, as well as on the actual order form when you place an order.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

When ScanCafe scans the negatives do they keep a backup? I guess my concern is someone stealing the images and selling them in another part of the world since they're being sent to India.

Charles King said...

John, you usually make such a fuss over the importance of paying proper rates for quality work. I'm surprised at this article.

ScanCafe offers manual colour correction and retouching at a rate of around 20c an image. Has it not occurred to you that this means they're paying minimum wage or less to the people doing this? A skilled retoucher will take a minute at least to perform basic colour correction and spot removal, and several minutes if the images has a lot of scratches. Do the math.

I suspect they're probably outsourcing the retouching to India. You start huffing and puffing when you hear of an agency going with a photog who's willing to cut his rates to the bone, this smells like a double standard to me.

Xmas said...

Yes,you are right.It takes a lot of time.

Michael said...

I think scancafe is a great service, but I am kind of fearful of sending photos overseas. I wish they would lay that information out straight forwardly on their website.

BriteRoots is another option that is equally affordable and is home grown.

Unknown said...

Sorry to be getting in a little late on this thread. But, I am in the latter stages of having about 2000 old colors negs scanned by ScanCafe. Good and Bad news:

Good news is first the price, and the automated management sytem is also good. Easy to view, edit and discard the unwanted scans online.

One item of bad news is that color correction is a matter of preferences, and the guys in India do not always do what I would do. BUT, good news is they are only color-correcting the JPEGs.

I selected the ProOption, so in addition to the JPEG files, I will also receive ginormous tiff files, which I gather are more or less original scan data, truncated to 8 bits of dynamic range. The tiff files are supposedly not color corrected.

Worst thing I have spotted so far is that the ProOption does not increase the dynamic range. Hard to believe, but 8 bits is all you get, ScanCafe told me. They are not using the very best scanners, but the ones they do use certainly output more than eight bits. Not sure why they truncate, except perhaps to keep file sizes down.

In any event, some scans I have seen online (JPEG versions only of course) do not have as much range as I can see in prints made from the same negatives. Maybe that is range truncation or perhaps film deterioration - I won't know until the film and files return.

Also, not good, I would say is the customer service. On the phone, it is curt and snarky. Very unpleasant. American voices, but bordering on rude. Emails are spotty in whether they respond or not.

Finally, to keep costs low I suppose, the process is very inflexible. No flexibility beyond the stated options you see on line.

BUT, again, the price is right.

By the way, ScanCafe is pretty upfront about sending the work to India. That is easily discovered by reading about their process on the web site.

And, if anyone out there is felling for displaced American workers right now, I am talking about mostly personal negatives, which would never be scanned in America unless I were to do it myself. I am, therefore the only worker displaced.

Unknown said...

Has anybody followed up the question of whether ScanCafe keeps a "back up" of the scans that are made? And if they do, for how long?

I've seen talk of having an "online repository" be a "positive" thing, in case of loss of originals in a fire, or something. But just wondering what kind of safeguards there are against (perhaps just a single) bad employees who might use their position to sell photos that they've scanned.

I assume David Hume Kennerly doesn't have that problem, as his photos are too well known to be "resold" . But what about just a "generic" shot that could end up on Flickr?

I suppose this is a risk anybody runs in this day and age of putting images up on the web. And perhaps it's just an "assumed" risk. Just wondering if there's an official company stance that anybody has run across.

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