Monday, December 09, 2013

The machine, final evaluation and some statistics

After extremely prolonged vacation (my last post was How tocompile DigiKam 3.2 on Ubuntu in June), it is high time for a new post. And since after 18 months the 6 members of dia scan consortium  using the Reflecta DigitDia 5000 machine managed to scan almost everything and more, it is a good time for some statistics and final evaluation.

I should first explain "everything and more". Original plan was, that each dia scan consortium member scans his own slides. After several months and several rounds of using the scanner two of us independently tested scanning of negatives. Of course this required some preparation like cutting the film and inserting it into frames, but it was worth the trouble because the results were really good. We told others and soon everybody was doing it too. Originally we estimated the number of slides we will scan to about 5000 each. The negatives further increased this number, but that was just the beginning.

At various family meetings we showed some freshly scanned pictures and boasted a little about the great machine we have. The not so unexpected result was, that other family members asked us to scan their slides too, which doubled the required work. But it was fun. In my case, my father did a search of drawers and cabinets in our family house and found several youth pictures of my mother and himself I have never seen before. And my father in law had several thousand pictures which I scanned. Some were taken a couple of years before I was even born. And there were hundreds of his family including my loving wife from her birth to the time we have met twenty plus something years later. Many times as I was checking the scans I started to laugh and when my girls (wife and daughter) checked what I was looking at they could only join the fun.

The consortium members have made a rough statistics which showed that together we have scanned a little more then 60 thousand pictures. Except twice during summer holidays the scanner was operating almost every day for a year and a half. Once it was gently lubricated (sewing machine oil was used) to reduce moving friction of the tray and changing arm, but that was all maintenance it got. And it is still working flawlessly. Yes, from time to time it jams, but the reason is always a bad slide or a bad tray. After I accumulated some experience and with trays and slides of good quality, I have managed to scan without a single jam for a whole week. IMHO this machine has exceptional mechanics.

I am also perfectly satisfied with the quality of the scans. Naturally it primarily depends on the quality of original, which can vary significantly. Colors fade with age, but how the slides were stored has an even bigger impact. Do not expect spectacular colors, if your old slides are stored at conditions more suitable for wine bottles. And the biggest difference is the original quality of the film and how and where it was processed. I have scanned a wide variety of film brands. Scans of slides from Fuji and Kodak films which were processed in Germany or Austria are very good, even though some were taken more then 40 years ago. On the other hand slides from several film brands originating in former eastern Europe and processed in deceased Yugoslavia are almost unusable (read this as impossible to digitally correct colors) although they were taken more recently. Of course now it's too late to correct mistakes from the past, this is just to let you know what to expect.

So how much does it cost do digitize old dia slides? In my initial market research 2 years ago, I found several professional services in my area charging around 0,3 EUR per slide and the best offer (not the one I would thrust with my precious pictures) was 0,1 EUR per slide. We purchased the Reflecta scanner for 1200 EUR and we scanned 60000 slides. So the cost per slide for consortium members was 0,02 EUR or 2 euro cents. Yes I know, we worked for free. But it only takes 5 minutes every 3 or 4 hours to change the tray and that is not too much for your own family pictures.

So, if you have thousands of slides you want to digitize, here are some final thoughts regarding the required scanner. I can most highly recommend the Reflecta DigitDia 5000. I have not tried it's his successor DigitDia 6000, but as far as I understand, it has the same mechanics and higher resolution (5000 instead of 3600 DPI), so everything I have written for older model should be valid for the new one too.

If you are considering scanning your slides, but you find such new machine too costly, you can probably find a used one for about half the price or try to share the cost (or both). Our dia-scan-consortium was considering the option of buying a used machine, but finally decided against it. Today, when the wok is mostly done, based on good experience with the machine I would not hesitate to vote for it. And last but not least, sharing the cost is good, but sharing experience and ideas with friends having the same interest is even better.

The sad truth is, that scanning is only the initial part of the job. You will probably want to check and digitally correct the pictures, which takes more time, a lot more. I have written about my experience with that here. And my final plan is to tag all the pictures I have (including the ones taken with digital cameras) and write about it in future posts.

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