UPDATE: I’ve changed my recommendation as to what the best high speed photo scanner is.
My mom loves to take pictures. She always had a camera with her to make sure that every moment of our childhood was captured. As a result we have tubs and tubs full of pictures hiding in a closet. My goal was to get all these pictures digitized and backed up. Sending them to a scanning service was both very expensive and something we didn’t want to trust a shipping company with. I have heard rumors of people that sent pictures to a US based company only to find out that their pictures were sent to China to save the company money.
To start scanning, we originally purchased a flatbed scanner, but at nearly 30-45 seconds a picture, it was just way too much to really dive in and do a lot of pictures in a short amount of time. When there is 3-4 thousand pictures to go through and scan in, a little research can go a long way.
I found the way to go is by using a high-speed document scanner. Here were my requirements:
- Full color 600 dpi scanning
- Fast scanning
- Double side capacity (so we get those dates and notes on the back of photos)
- Under $500
When I started looking, I found many different great document scanners on Amazon. The problem in general with document scanners is that they we not designed to scan in photos. The feed rollers and separation pads are optimized to grab pieces of paper, not glossy photos. Most of the reviews for the top bestselling scanners indicate they are excellent at scanning regular documents, but are horrible at scanning photos. This is mostly due to the fact that the higher resolution scans are unforgiving to streaks, dust, scratches, and other blemishes. If a speck of dust or dirt gets on the lens of the glass, pictures develop streaks all the way down the photo.
After looking high and low for a high speed photo scanner, I found the Kodak s1220 Photo Scanning system from a YouTube video filmed at an electronics show. It features double-sided scanning, auto-straightening, and of course, fast scanning of photos. The one real downside to using this scanner is that it retails for $1600 which was a deal-breaker for me. It did however meet all of my other requirements and had a lot of great features. There is really not a lot of competitors for high speed photo scanners right now, so nothing is really driving the price down.
After a little more research and looking at comments on Amazon, I found out that the Kodak s1220 photo scanning system is really just some pretty software coupled with an i1220 Kodak document scanner (yup, they actually send you an i1220 instead of an s1220). This scanner has the same exact specifications as the s1200, but is nearly $900 cheaper! That’s some pretty expensive software. There’s also a single sided scanner called the i1210 document scanner that is even cheaper if you don’t want double sided scanning. I also just noticed that my neighborhood Target has a i1220 “rebranded” scanner in the photo section hooked up to one of those photo kiosks.
With all this research, I went ahead found a broken i1220 document scanner for a few hundred bucks on eBay, fixed it up, and downloaded Kodak’s free Capture Lite software. Like many document scanners, the higher the resolution, the slower the scans, but I found that this model scanned documents faster than I could take pictures out of the albums. As a extra, it scanned regular documents in blazing speeds (plus it did both sides) at 45ppm.
- Double-sided duplex scanning
- Fast full 600 dpi (1200dpi interlaced) scanning resolution
- Rollers are designed in a way that doesn’t scratch photos
- Software auto-corrects “dust” lines and straightens pictures automatically
- Blank documents are removed automatically (when doing double-sided scanning, this is a key feature to have)
- Price was acceptable if purchased refurbished or used
- Windows or Linux only (I’m a Mac fan so this bugs me)
- Capture lite software included can be quite overwhelming to figure out at first and requires a 32-bit system (because of the required software for the “key” if you use a s1220)
- Doesn’t do slides or negatives
- Parts from Kodak.com are way overpriced and their customer service/tech support is absolutely terrible. Let me reiterate this, the RMA process at Kodak for their document imaging process is one of the worst customer service experiences I’ve ever had. If you need to order a part, triple check it is the right part and expect a long 3-4 week wait to return anything even if it is Kodak’s fault.
Tips for scanning using a document feeder.
- I found that by putting RainX on the glass, dust was repelled and didn’t require a swipe of the glass as often
- Getting a can of air can really help reduce the dust, hair, and lint on pictures
- Showing a preview of the pictures using the Capture Lite software allowed you to quickly find any blemishes
- Scanning photos twice (flipping the photos over after the batch and re-scanning) saved time because if you found a blemish or something wrong with the photo, it was really easy to find it’s “twin” and just replace the bad photo instead of finding and scanning the original picture
- Tag people in photos using software such as Picasa or iPhoto. You can then give a DVD of every picture that specific person was in
- Try and keep things as organized as possible. Tackling a dozen pictures is much easier than organizing hundreds
- If you use a different document scanner (and there’s a bunch of different quality ones out there), be sure that the pictures do not scratch on the pickup roller/separation pad when going through the scanner. Some scanners include a plastic “protector” sheet. I think this is pointless. Who wants to put pictures in a plastic sheet before the scan (and subsequently remove each picture after the scan).
UPDATE (Oct 6, 2013)
I recently got a hold of one of the newer Kodak Picture Saver Scanning Systems (PS50 and PS80). It was recently introduced and boasted better scanning results, so I was eager to see what it could do. I found that the specs were nearly identical to many high speed scanners out there today in terms of speed and maximum dpi output, but what was most interesting was the way the scanning unit was made.
The major problem with scanning using a document style scanner is the dreaded lines that appear due to dust particles collecting on the glass. After each batch, it’s necessary to clean the glass to prevent bad scans and when they do happen, the entire batch needs to be redone usually. The scanning unit inside the PS50/80 is inset so that the photo doesn’t actually touch glass when it passes through the scanner. This resulted in significantly better scans and lines were rare. I could go 1000-2000 pictures before seeing a line.
The software for the PS50/80 is also much better and easier to use. My mother felt comfortable using the computer to help scan in her photographs. Overall, it was a much better experience than previous scanners I had used. My only issues with it was that when doing 600dpi TIFF images, the computer couldn’t keep up with the scanner which slowed the process. Also, really glossy photos got stuck on many occasions.
Even with those minor issues, I was very pleased with the results and would only recommend using one of the newer scanners. What’s the big difference between the PS50 and the PS80? It’s basically speed and output format. The PS80 scans a bit faster and offers TIFF output (instead of just JPG). I highly recommend capturing in the highest possible resolution and size because you can always compress more, but you can’t increase the dimensions (e.g. turn a 300dpi capture into a 600dpi). Scanning with TIFFs do have their trade offs. The size of the photos are really large, and the speed of the scanner is about 50% less.
These scanners aren’t cheap though, the price ranges from $1,500-3,000 depending on your options. They are however, the best device for the job right now.