I have a ton of negatives in a box in my crawl space. Most of them are 35mm, but I also have a bunch of 35mm slides and even an envelope full of 110 shots.
Over the years, I’ve thought about scanning in the prints or even the negatives so I could have them archived digitally, but every time I attempted it I decided it was a ton of work that would take up time I simply didn’t have. As a result, I managed to scan in some photos as one-offs, but having everything in my collection in digital form was elusive.
One of Lisa’s friends blogged about an online service called ScanCafe, whose prices are reasonable (24ยข per image) and provides scans with excellent quality (3000 dpi). I was intrigued, so I went through my box ‘o’ negatives and picked a bunch of samples and tried out the service.
Here’s how it works: You pick out the negatives you want to have scanned– they’re initially scanned at the negative strip level, not the individual photo level– and put them in a plastic ziplock bag or an envelope, then pack them in a box. You enter your account information on ScanCafe’s site, they give you a UPS shipping label to print out, and you pay for 50% of the images you’re sending in.
A few weeks later, you’ll receive an email from ScanCafe with a link to thumbnails of the initial scans, then you select the images you want them to scan and put on a DVD for you. Add a few more weeks, and a box shows up at your door with your original negatives and a DVD with your selected photos in digital form.
I chose photos across several years. The shot at the top was taken in 1998, and the one below was a 35mm slide that was shot in my back yard in 1976.
I have to admit the quality is pretty good, better than I could have done with my Epson scanner at home. I had about 120 images scanned, and they all turned out very nice.
The scanning is all done at ScanCafe’s facility in Bangalore, India, with the company’s California address acting as a dispatch/coordination center. This contributes to the lead times– in reality, it took about two months from the time I sent in the negatives to the time the DVD showed up.
As I think about my next order, I may choose photos from a certain period– perhaps two or three years’ worth at a time– and have them scanned so sorting the images at the receiving end is less of a task. Right now, the images jump around from year to year.
If you’re looking for a hands-off solution to digitizing your photos, ScanCafe is a service to seriously consider.

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