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  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 ( 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, 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

What In the Heck Is This?

What town?

When gazing off toward the western horizon from the vantage point offered by our mountaintop (talk about making a mountain out of a molehill!), my eyes will usually come to rest at the location that is beneath the yellow arrow in the photograph displayed above.

Can you see what it is that I feel compelled to look at?

No?  It’s only 4.2 miles away, as the crow flies (which raises the question -what’s with that saying?  The crows I see around here never fly directly from one spot to another.  But I digress).

OK, OK.  I’ll show you a picture taken from the same spot, but at an earlier date and zoomed in to a larger magnification this time:

Here it is!

 Now you can see what is underneath the yellow arrow in the first photograph.  It is the town closest to our land, with a population of approximately 270 people.  It takes about 10 minutes to drive over to this little town from our house.  By contrast, it takes about 35 minutes to drive to the “city” closest to us (pop. 11,000+).

What might you find in our little town?  At one end sits a full-fledged post office facility, located next to a bank, where you can conduct some of your business.  Around the curve there are two diners, one of which serves only breakfast and lunch (their pies would probably win many county fair competitions).

Across the street are a couple of flea market type shops, perhaps with a rusty old 1949 Farmall C tractor in need of some TLC sitting out front.  There is a barber shop, a pizza shop, and a grassy parkway containing a small covered bandstand (donated and built by local volunteers).  The City Hall is located here, and it is open for business one day per week (I think on Mondays, but you might want to call ahead to be certain) .

The local telephone company maintains a small substation/maintenance office in town, and our volunteer fire department is housed in a nice facility in the center of town.  Further down the road, you will come to the town park, which is located next to the local Saddle Club facility, which includes a lighted riding arena, spectator stands, concession stand, and other equestrian facilities.  Who knows, maybe your neighbor might just be crowned Little Miss Rodeo Queen?

Little Miss Rodeo

As you continue down the road, you pass a couple of small businesses, including a new fitness center (a fitness center in a town of 270?)

The far end of town is where the local school district operates their only educational facility, serving grades K-12.  The district is tiny, with a total enrollment of 427 students in 2005.  Along the roadsides leading into town from both directions are the numerous churches which dot the landscape.

Now, finally, after all this lengthy babbling on about this little town, I get to the subject of this post, which is about where the true heart of this little community seems to centered.

Do you think that the heart of the community (H of C) resides at the school grounds?  After all, the school has athletic fields, a multi-purpose room, a new gymnasium, and is the place to be seen Friday nights during football season.  I don’t think so, because there are many empty-nesters and childless residents in the area.  They aren’t likely to be seen at school sponsored activities.

What about the churches?  Surely churches play a large part in the role of H of C out here, don’t they?  Well, yes and no.  Undoubtedly, a church provides a central role in the lives of area residents, especially in a bible belt region such as the Ozarks.  But because there are so many churches dispersed around this little town, each one only services a small fraction of the total population.  While serving an important function in the community, no single congregation can legitimately claim to be the H of C of this little town.

The Saddle Club, which hosts numerous events throughout the year, and is host to a great weekly “Family Fun” night during the warmer months, only serves the needs of the local equestrian community.  If you aren’t a horse person, you would have no reason to frequent this facility.

How about the local diners?  Doesn’t everybody eat out from time to time?  Couldn’t these places thus serve as the H of C?  Maybe, except that one diner is only open through lunchtime (the one with the great pies), and has a small dining room, thus could never serve as a crossroads for the town.  And the remaining diner, while providing a decent meal, is somewhat pricey for this neck of the woods, thereby limiting it’s potential to be the popular spot an H of C must be.

Rather than continuing to eliminate one candidate after another in my quest to arrive at the true heart of the community, I will cut to the chase and present my nomination:

The hub of the community

The Country Market.  Every small town aught to have a place like this in it’s midst.  More than just a spot where you can fill up the tank with gasoline or diesel fuel, you can also replenish your propane tanks and pump kerosene for your shop heater in the winter.

Do you need groceries?  This little store is amazing in the selection of goods that are offered.  From fresh produce to meats and dairy, canned and frozen goods to spices and ice cream, it seems to have most of the things you might happen to need between trips to the city for larger-scale shopping.

Are you hungry now?  This little place is a franchise for Hunt Brothers Pizza – 2 pizzas, $12.99, all toppings included.  It also sells Chester’s Fried Chicken, which is excellent (if nothing else, you can trust an Ozarker to know good fried chicken).  The lunch counter will fix you up with a burger and fries, catfish, and other items that vary from day to day.   If your preference is for something a little healthier, there is a Subway franchise located within the store also.  To help alleviate your sweet tooth, you can purchase Krispy Kreme dough nuts (provided they haven’t sold out of the day’s supply).

Have you come to the area to try your hand at some of the superb fishing that Bull Shoals Lake provides?  The Country Market can outfit you with fishing tackle, as well as bait and license.  With over 1000 miles of shoreline (that’s right, one thousand), there are plenty of opportunities for camping.  The Country Market has you covered as well.  Propane, charcoal, white gas, and miscellaneous camping supplies are sold here to replenish your supplies.

With all that this store offers, it is not surprising that everybody who lives anywhere near this town utilizes the Country Market on a regular basis.  It is the one spot in town that is regularly in touch with the pulse of the community.  Want to know who’s in town or out?  Ask at the market.  Is Betty recuperating well from her surgery?  Are there any farms for sale up the road?  Did you hear about the Smith’s new grandchild?  There isn’t anything you can’t find out about at the Country Market, if you just hang out long enough!

Therefore, considering the arguments presented, I offer the Country Market as my pick for the Heart of the Community designation.

Anyone disagree?