Election Day, Halloween, ScanCafe

The ScanCafe saga continues...

Hope everyone had a safe & sane Halloween and didn’t suffer too many frights or too much candy induced discomfort! Here in Frederick a few signs of the festivities/mischief remain such as these :
Halloween prank, park fountain Halloween prank, park fountain

Yes, some prankster put soap in the Culler fountain at Baker Park...

We saw the fountain while on the way back from an even scarier event - the dreaded electioneering sign obstacle course which neither pedestrians nor drivers can escape!

Electioneering, election day, candidate signsElectioneering, election day, candidate signs

All jokes aside, if your town is having an election today GET OUT AND VOTE!

As we promised in a previous blog entry here (near the bottom of the page) this will be a general review of using ScanCafe to digitize some 35mm slides. Please note this entry is based solely on our own experiences and contains our personal opinions. Your mileage may vary... The short review - we do recommend ScanCafe with some reservations as listed below.

We originally sent 200 slides (they will also scan negatives and prints) to ScanCafe for processing during the last week of July 2009. We were notified by e-mail that our order was completed by ScanCafe in early September 2009. The completed order of original slides along with the scanned images on a DVD were received by us in late September 2009. The original slides were securely packaged along with the new DVD and arrived in excellent condition. The scanned images on the DVD were copied to our computer and were examined and compared side by side to images from the control group scanned in house for an initial evaluation pending a more thorough look at a later date. This is that look.

ScanCafe provides a preliminary viewing of your scanned images for review and allows you to discard up to 50% if you are not completely satisfied. As noted previously we did have a few concerns but chose to accept all of the images in order to allow an accurate comparison. The major issue was the concern for a large number which had been flipped causing us to wonder if they had been scanned from the correct side of the film. Additionally some images did not appear to have accurate color. Only time would tell if this was ScanCafe’s color adjustment or a minor Internet viewing problem.

After receiving and viewing the images for the first time there were still concerns about the color on some. When we finally found time for a detailed examination it was obvious some of the colors were not accurate, particularly skin tones and bright colors. As previously stated there were a variety of film emulsions used with Fujichrome Velvia™ the most likely to give overly saturated skin tones. It appears there was over compensation for this when the images were processed by ScanCafe as seen in example #2 where the skin tones went from Velvia’s overly red to a pale yellowish cast while yellows leaned towards white and the entire image showed an increase in blue tones rendering the garments inaccurately.

Order of images below is as follows :
Left - The ScanCafe image, Center - the initial fully automatic scan done by us before shipping the slides, and Right - a second scan by us with only the “restore colors” button unchecked in VueScan - all other settings were left on “auto”. The quality of our second scan did exceed all of the ScanCafe images by a slight margin and could have been further refined for even better scans. All scans - ours and ScanCafe’s were done at 4000dpi. Please note the images have been reduced for web viewing and may not clearly show the differences on your computer.

snowy day, winter, people walking, city park snowy day, winter, people walking, city park snowy day, winter, people walking, city park
Example #1 - ScanCafe handled the detail in low contrast images very well but made the color temperature significantly cooler than it actually was. Photos © Phoenix Imagery Press, LLC / Russell C. Poole

Remembrance Day, Civil War re-enactors, Gettysburg, PA Remembrance Day, Civil War re-enactors, Gettysburg, PA Remembrance Day, Civil War re-enactors, Gettysburg, PA
Example #2 - In this case ScanCafe attempted to compensate for the oversaturation of skin tone and other colors created by Fujichrome Velvia™ by changing the color temperature of the image resulting in an overall blue cast and shift in clothing colors while leaving the skin tones rather pallid. Shot on a chilly, rainy November day where ruddy complexions were the norm. Photos © Phoenix Imagery Press, LLC / Russell C. Poole

Fringed Gentian, endangered flower, fall Fringed Gentian, endangered flower, fall Fringed Gentian, endangered flower, fall
Example #3 - Fringed Gentian, an increasingly rare plant and a late (October - November) bloomer considered the bluest of the native American wildflowers. The original (center) was shot pre dawn on a November morning using a reflector to bounce some of what little light there was in an attempt to open up the shadows. The white flower in the foreground was ignored in metering as the picture was composed with the intent to crop the final image. ScanCafe personnel took the approach the image was too cold and the white flower was blown out. By warming up the color and reducing the exposure to retain the whites the color accuracy of both the Fringed Gentian and the white flowers was lost while creating an overall “muddy” ScanCafe image. Photos © Phoenix Imagery Press, LLC / Russell C. Poole

So what is our final verdict on the ScanCafe Service?
We found their service to be as advertised. Images were handled carefully and returned with no damage, the scans were acceptable for archive or print purposes and overall reasonably exposed and color corrected. Upon comparing ScanCafe scans to our own at 100% image size we did notice that their scans, despite being done at the same 4000 dpi were not quite as sharp as either our initial scans or the second run we did. The paperwork accompanying our returned scans indicated they were done on a Nikon Super Coolscan 5000ED dedicated film scanner only one generation newer than our own scanner. We would attribute the softer focus to either failure to calibrate the scanner or choosing to manually focus each scan which could introduce numerous variables including operator eyesight, monitor resolution or work place lighting.

We purposely mixed up film emulsions and subjects to test the “each image hand corrected” claims of the company. Images were returned in the same groupings we had sent. Our initial thoughts on the differences (or lack of) seen in the scans would imply the operator doing the color corrections had adjusted each to their personal ideal or had merely done the first slide in each group by hand and run the rest of the group by applying the same settings and adjustments in a batch. We did send one group of slides as suggested by the ScanCafe website. This group was made up solely of similar subjects and lighting conditions and contained all slides of the same film speed, type, and brand. This group alone was well done and consistent in color, etc. from scan to scan further lending credence to the above observations.

If you choose to use the service we would suggest carefully following ScanCafe’s guidelines and grouping slides/prints/negatives by similar subject matter and, where possible, film type for the best results. All of the “problem” scans we received were easily corrected with a few seconds time in PhotoShop, PhotoShop Elements, or Paint Shop Pro and none would be reason enough not to use ScanCafe. Scans were good enough to produce a reasonable quality 11”X14” test print though again we would have preferred sharper scans to start from. What about the handful of slides we thought might have been scanned from the wrong side of the film? Apparently that did happen as each of them had a duller, less focused look and each had obviously had the contrast increased during post processing in order to make them look more like the other images. Additionally we noticed a small dot on a corner of each slide mount which is apparently used to keep track of which image scans have been completed. On the slides in question the dot was on the back of the mount opposite the bulk of the slides...

Do we recommend this service? Absolutely. Keep in mind there is approximately a two month turn around from shipment to return receipt though the company has a very good on-line tracking tool and we found them to be quite responsive to e-mail or telephone inquiries. Would we use them again? Also yes, though probably only for large numbers of slides we wish to archive since the turn around time would likely present a problem for any time sensitive submissions. For that purpose or for very unique or valuable slides we would continue to spend the time necessary to scan them in house.

For those of you concerned about out sourcing labor (ScanCafe sends items from their California distribution center to a facility they operate in India for scanning) there are a number of comparable services in the United States that will do the same job in a shorter time and they do all scans in house. The biggest difference will be in the cost of the scans which could be a factor if you have thousands of images to scan. We have not tried any of the other services yet so this is not a recommendation for any of them, only information to assist you. Someone has created a chart
here which could help in your search. Now go to the closet or basement and dig out that box of dusty slides, negatives or prints shot by your parents or grandparents, look through them and sort out the memories, select a service and ship them off for scanning. When you get them back you can put the images on your computer or other CDs and share history with family or friends as it was meant to be.

We are professional photographers & publishers but the true reality is this : No matter your skill level or the equipment you use the most important photographs you will ever create are those of your family, friends, and the times you live in. Save those memories!