This service will digitize your old slides, negatives and photographic prints at high quality and at a very cheap price. I’ve been using them to scan my 30-year backlog of photographs and I have been delighted with the results. I’ve used other services to scan my old photos; ScanCafe is by far the best deal. Their prices are fantastic. To scan a slide is just 24 cents, a color negative 19 cents (at the time of this writing).

Here is how it works: You pack up your images and mail them to ScanCafe’s headquarters in Northern California. They count them up, and repackage them before shipping the pieces to India. In India they are scanned, touched up, rotated and then privately posted to your account at their website. You then go through the images online and select which ones you’d like to keep. You are allowed to dismiss (and not pay for) up to 50% of the total for that order. You can reject images because you aren’t happy with how they look online, or simply because you don’t want the image. In the specific case of original photo negatives, there is no reliable way to communicate which image(s) you want on the strip, so ScanCafe will scan the entire strip of negatives. You’ll have to reject the particular frames you don’t want (but no more than 50% of the total order. Combine them with slides to keep your percentage down.)

After you’ve made your selection, Scan Cafe will send the originals back to the US and then from CA they will ship you a DVD/CD with your images and your originals. It takes 7-8 weeks door to door. The quality of scan is great for everything except huge billboard enlargements. The photos are scanned at 3000 dpi which gives a file about the quality of a 7 megapixel digital shot. You can scoop the final jpeg images into iPhoto or Flickr or Blurb books. They are rotated into correct up-down/sideways orientation by hand. They are clean and crisp. I have a Nikon scanner and these $0.19 scans are superior in quality. On the left is a ScanCafe scan cropped for detail, on the right is a Nikon scan. Note the increase dynamic range of the left one, as on the rock. (These two images have been uniformly reduced in resolution to fit on the web.)


So for $25 you can get 100 slides scanned. You’ll need to pay for shipping your box to and fro via UPS, which might total $12, so larger orders amortize that cost. And then there’s the 2 month wait. Clearly this is a tool for dealing with your archive and not a birthday present you need next week. If your photos have sat unused for 10 years a few additional weeks turnaround is not going to hurt. The 50% cut is also meant to encourage you to scan everything and sort later.

These cheap prices have encouraged me to revisit my earlier photo life, and in the spirit of the web, start sharing the treasure now hiding in the basement.

Some people are very concerned about sending their precious originals to India — or anywhere for that matter. They should not be. ScanCafe has a very elaborate tracking and shipping system that would work even if you were shipping jewels. Their scanning facilities in Bangalore (description and photos here) are more organized than you are. I have more trust in this system than I would handing them over to any neighborhood scanner.

-- KK