Super High Speed Print Scanning Becomes Affordable

In a previous post entitled Bridging the Generation Gap, I discussed my experiences with 35mm film/slide scanners, and the giant leap in quality and ease of use that has occurred over the past 15 years.  Although the hardware and software that is used to accomplish this task has improved tremendously, the fact remains that the scanning process remains a tedious and time consuming task when a large quantity of images need to be digitized.

This same drawback to image scanning applies to the print world as well.  While flatbed scanning hardware utilized in digitizing photographic prints has made gains in speed and quality over the past decade which parallels the progress made in the film/slide scanning arena, it is still a slow and tedious process to go through a collection of photographs and digitize them on today’s consumer flatbed scanning equipment.  As a result, those of us with a large collection of photographic prints usually end up with the bulk of the images stored away in photo albums or shoeboxes, and only a few of the images actually get digitized,  mostly on an as-needed basis.

One solution to this dilemma is to hire the services of a photo lab to scan our photographs for us.  The problem is, the cost of having a lifetime worth of photographs digitized is very expensive, and most of us beat a hasty retreat from this option once we discover what the total cost will be to digitize our entire collection of photographs.  If only someone would devise a way around this problem, we might all choose to put our entire collection of pictures on a disc.  Well, someone has come up with a solution, and it is worth looking into if you have a sizable number of prints to digitize.

I am refering to the service offered through www.scanmyphotos.com.  Using high-speed scanning equipment produced by Kodak and originally marketed to government entities for scanning large quantities of documents, the photo lab has cut the price of digitizing prints to a mere fraction of that offered by traditional photo labs.

To begin the process, you contact the company via their web site (www.scanmyphotos.com) and complete an order form.  The company will then send you a postage pre-paid box that you fill with photographs and return to them for scanning.  The company will scan your photographs and return them to you, along with the digital files on a disc.  Additionally, they will upload your photo files to a web site that you can then use to share the pictures with friends and family.

So, how affordable is this service?  It depends upon the quantity of photos that you want scanned.  As of this writing, www.scanmyphotos.com offers two options:

A)  Fill the provided shipping box with up to 1000 photographs, and the total cost of the service is $49.95.

B)  Fill the provided shipping box with as many photographs as you can fit into the container, and the total cost is $99.95.

At these prices, it is now within the realm of possibility for all of us to digitize our entire collection of photographs without spending an unreasonable amount of time or money on the process.

What is an Exif, Anyway?

In a recent posting,  Pablo presented another fine article about that bit of land at the edge of the Ozarks that he calls Roundrock.  Within the post Pablo expressed uncertainty over the exact date that a photograph was taken.  With one mouse click, I was able to present Pablo with this needed information.

Of course, Tjilpi  (that rascal) noted that I might just have the power to reach into Pablo’s desktop to obtain that information.  If I did have that power, I promise that I would only use it for the good of mankind, but I must confess to much lesser degree of technical prowess than that.  Here’s the secret.  The Exif header.

For those of you who want to explore this thing called the Exif header in detail, this article from Wikipedia can point you in the right directions.  But here’s my nutshell explanation.

One of the powerful properties of a data file is the fact that many differing types of data can be stored together in the same place.  This creates some great opportunities when applied to the realm of digital image files.  When an exposure is made with a modern digital camera, the resulting image file that is created will contain 2 types of data – header data and image data.

The image data, as the term suggests, contains the specifications that define the actual image that we view, such as the picture that you see on a computer monitor, or the printed output from your color printer.

The header data, on the other hand, is an eclectic but useful combination of data relating to the image that it accompanies.  You might be surprised to learn how much information accompanies each digital image file, much of which can be put to good use by the photographer and his/her software. 

First, the basic camera settings at the time of exposure are included in the data.  This can be quite useful at times, for instance when Pablo needed to find the date a particular photograph was taken.  Along with the date and time, of course, the file includes a detailed record of parameters such as f-stop, shutter speed, ISO settings, metering mode, focus distance, flash mode, etc.  It is very useful to be able to review the camera settings when critiquing your photos.  You may discover which camera settings work for you, and which don’t under various photographic conditions.  Those of you with multiple digital cameras will appreciate that the Exif file records the camera make and model number, so you can identify which camera was used to produce any given photo.

Second, a thumbnail version of the full size image is usually stored in the Exif header.  This speeds up the operation of most modern image editing and viewing software, and provides a way for your camera to quickly display the image for review in the camera’s LCD monitor.

Third, the Exif header contains information that may be used to convey hardware dependent information along with the photograph, such as color matching hardware profiles.  While out of the scope of this post, the idea behind color matching is to provide a means whereby the image that is displayed on the screen, or output to the printer, will look the same.  For example, if you have a desktop computer with a CRT display and a laptop with a TFT or LCD display, you will soon discover that the same image file may look different when viewed side-by-side.  When set up and calibrated properly (a science onto itself), your hardware can be “trained” to display the images with a close match.  The information contained in the color matching profile, which can be included in the Exif header, is used as a part of this process.

Accessing Exif Information

Most image editing software has a means of showing the Exif header information.  Photoshop, for instance displays this information beneath the folder tree pane when a file is highlighted in the File Browser, or through a File-Properties menu selection.  Check you help file if you haven’t already figured out how to view this information in your own image editing software.

Windows XP and Mac OS10 x will also reveal Exif data from your image file.  For the Mac, Exif information may be viewed in the Finder by doing Get Info on a file and expanding the More Info section.  For Windows XP,  right-click on the image file and select Properties, then click on the Summary tab at the top.

For a stand alone program to examine Exif files, I use Exif Image Viewer, which is freeware available here.

What I find most useful, however is to be able to easily examine the Exif header information for photographs that I am viewing in my web browser, such as the photograph that I saw at Roundrock Journal.   You can learn a lot from examining the Exif data of photos you find appealing.  For this application, I use a little gem of freeware called ViewEXIF, which is available here.  This installs itself as an extension to Internet Explorer or the Firefox browsers, and is simple to use.  Here’s how to do it.

1.  Download and install the software.

2.  From now on, when you right-click on any photograph displayed in your browser, you will see a screen like the following:

_________________________________________________

New Context Menu

_____________________________________________

You can see in the screen capture above that the Context Menu that pops up now has a new option – View EXIF.  Select this option, and the following window will immediately pop open:

Exif data listing from ViewEXIF

So there you have it – a quick and dirty primer on the Exif header file.  Now, learn to use these tools, and go forth wisely with your new found knowledge!

PS – Answer to the title of this post – Exchangeable Image File Format

A Simple Way to Display Your Photographs

From the moment that I picked up my first camera and started taking pictures, I have always desired the ability to easily and quickly create and display a print of my work, and to do so in an inexpensive manner.  But in the film medium, the steps involved in film processing into negatives (or slides), darkroom enlargement onto photographic paper, and the subsequent chemical baths and processes needed to bring the print to fruition are neither quick nor easy.  And the cost of the enlarging equipment and processing supplies, as well as the need for a dedicated and specially equipped darkroom makes the endeavor anything but inexpensive.

Because of the costs and difficulties involved, I had opted to sit it out on the sidelines, with an occasional trip to the local camera store (or film counter) to take care of my photographic print needs.  But all things eventually change, and so it has with the entire film experience.  We are now in a digital world, and the equipment and processes have changed, along with the associated technologies utilized to produce a fine photographic print.

For the photographic hobbyist such as myself, there is a type of digital photo printer that has reduced the skill and effort required to produce an astoundingly high quality print to simply pushing a button.  The type of printer I am referring to is a dye-sublimation printer, such as the Olympus P440 unit shown below, the various Kodak dye-sub printers, and those produced by many other manufacturers as well.  The cost of this type of printer has dropped dramatically in recent years, to the point that some now cost no more than one decent enlarger lens alone!

Olympus P440 Dye-Sub Printer

Using this type of printer is simple.  Either pop the camera’s memory card into the printer’s memory card-reader slot and print directly from the card, or connect the printer to your computer (via USB) and print from within any imaging application.

The results are indistinguishable from an 8″x10″ enlargement ordered from a photo lab, since they are using the same types of printer technologies to produce the prints that you order.  The cost for an 8″x10″ print (using the P440) is $1.60/print, factoring in the ribbon cartridge and the special dye-sub paper that is required.  Printing an 8″x10″ is quickly accomplished in a four-pass printing process, which leaves a clear protective coating on the finished print.

Simple matting tools

Here you can see the few simple tools and materials needed to mount, mat and frame your finished 8″x10″ photograph.  First, mat board in a color that compliments your picture and frame is necessary.  I purchase 11″x14″ mat board from Internet art supply storefronts, where an assortment of various colored boards can be purchased at a steep discount from normal prices.  By buying the mats this way, I can buy them for about 40 cents each, and I can usually find an appropriate color to fit my needs..  A mat cutter is essential to be able to produce a fine, bevel-cut mat edge, in whatever custom size and style you choose to use.  A straight edge/ruler for measuring mat opening layouts is necessary, and spray adhesive is used to cement the photograph to a backing board so that it does not warp and curl beneath the mat.

Mat Cutter

The mat cutter is composed of a few simple parts, one being the cutter assembly shown above.  The cutter rides along a track that keeps it moving straight and true, and the 45 degree slant to the blade produces a nice beveled cut.  Once the photo is attached to the backing board, the pre-cut mat is placed over the photo, and the entire unit is placed within the frame of your choosing.  Now, all you need to do is find an empty space on the wall to hang the mounted, matted and framed photograph on.

Finished product

The total cost for the print shown above?

8″x10″ photo paper and cartridge cost, per print = $1.60

11″x14″ mat board (2), per print = $0.80

11″x14″ Frame (Walmart special) =$5.00

Grand total = $7.40 for framed, mounted and matted print.

There you go – it’s as simply as that!