It's been a little while since I posted in the blog because we went camping at Mount Buffalo over Easter.

Since then I've had another thousand photos to organise... and I've just started on another project that will quietly occupy a lot of my spare time for the next year or more.

I've started my Great Photo Scanning Project.


I first started taking photographs at about the age of ten, using a 126 camera that my mother handed down to me. It took moderately good photos. That camera died, and for a short time I used an ancient 127 box brownie, which took astonishingly good photographs (due to its large negative size.) Then, for a few years I "progressed" to a 110 camera, that took the most miserable photographs imaginable. The tiny negatives in the 110 system were laughably inadequate.

Then, for my 18th birthday in 1982, I got a proper 35mm Pentax ME Super SLR. I was off... with a decent camera, I started taking many more photographs.

Like most people, I've got a stack of photo albums with some of my photographs, and dozens (hundreds? thousands??) of envelopes with the photos I didn't put into albums.

More unusually, I've put many (but, sadly, not all) of my negatives into ordered negative sleeves that show the rough date the photos were taken.

I've started peering at the negatives and slides to work out how many I've got. I've discovered lots of photos of friends looking distinctly daggy in that 1980s sort of way. Here's one of me: a daggy 1983 person pretending to look like a mean and sinister 1930s person.

Image:The Great Photo Scanning Project (One)

But negatives in sleeves aren't very useful. Six months ago I was asked if I had any childhood photos of somebody who was approaching their 21st Birthday Party, that could be used to produce a mildly embarrassing birthday card. I found one, but only by going and randomly looking at old photos.

By contrast, the photos I took of the 21st party itself, with my digital camera, have all been catalogued in my iMatch photo database. The time of the photos (to the second) and the names of all the people have all been recorded... which will be useful when she has her 40th birthday and can't quite remember everybody's name.

The Task

I've bought a Nikon Coolscan 5000ED film scanner which can make high resolution digital images of my negatives and slides.

The task I have set myself is to scan every single negative and slide that I took between 1974 and 2005.

This is no trivial task.

I could have made it easier by buying a flat bed scanner that scans several strips of negatives in a single pass. But, just as the 110 camera system was execrable, the quality of cheap and fast flat bed scanners is iffy at best.

The Coolscan 5000ED is no speed demon. (Well, compared with an earlier Nikon Coolscan that I also own, the LS2000, it is pretty fast.) The 5000ED can scan a negative in 20 seconds. But if you add some minor but important settings (like Digital ICE, which removes dust spots and scratches), the time to scan goes up to a minute or two per negative.

I haven't yet made a serious count of the number of photos I have. A back of the envelope calculation is:
  • Twenty-three years of serious photo taking (1982-2005
  • Approximately 25 films per year
  • Approximately 36 photos per film
  • Total: 15,000 photos
    At two minutes per photo: 500 hours work.
Fortunately I can multitask whilst scanning photos. If I put a strip of four negatives into the holder I can walk away and come back when they have been scanned.

The Beginnings

I've started scanning films from 1983 (the first well organised year in one of my books of negatives). I've done three films in the last two days. To start with I'm taking it slowly, experimenting with the controls on the Nikon Coolscan to make sure I understand them. Ultimately I expect I'll be able to choose settings by instinct. But for the moment I'm trying out different settings and monitoring my results in information that I'm collecting in the Nikon Coolscan pages on my wiki. Those pages will contain detailed information about the effects of Analog Gain and Digital ICE and all sorts of other things that will only be of interest to somebody trying to work out how to use a Nikon Coolscan.

(By the way: it'll be interesting to check in about April 2009 to see whether I have completed the task of scanning all my films. It really is going to take a lot of dedicated effort to do this work.)

Comments (1)
Anthony Holmes April 15th, 2007 04:31:01 PM

1) The Great Photo Scanning Project (One)
Frank 16/04/2007 10:44:35 AM

Goodness, you are a geek! I've been fooled for all these years. You need a pair of these: { Link }

Cheers :-)

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