I recently had nearly 2,000 slides scanned from a service called ScanCafe, a company based in Burlingame, CA in the heart of Silicon Valley. I love their story and how it all started because it’s not dissimilar to my own.
One of the ScanCafe’s co-founder who I’ve yet to meet, had to travel back to Switzerland to attend the funeral of his grandfather. They tell the story: “Every family seems to have a family archivist, and among his many gifts, Laurent’s grandfather was an enthusiastic photographer, who left behind countless Agfacolor prints, slides and negatives. As the engineer in the family, Laurent volunteered to scan in all those old photographs so that they could be shared with the extended family, who are scattered all over the world. Many of these photos, in fact, had been forgotten altogether….” I’ll stop right there.
They nailed it at the “need” level and solving a real problem and that’s the point. Many of the photos in our lives are forgotten altogether. I went through a simliar situation, once when I had to hand scan and photocopy (yes really) slides from the 1940s for a family reunion when my grandfather was still alive. Disjointed as our extended family is and despite the fact that reunions and get togethers used to be plentiful in my childhood, they had waned and in fact, were resented because of the amount of work it took to make a meet-up happen. Recapturing earlier family memories rebonded my relatives and for me personally, it gave me a deeper understanding and perspective of what made our family culture tick.
Forward wind the clock to when my grandfather finally passed and I wanted to do the same thing at the funeral. With very little notice, I had didn’t have the time to convert the best of his life, so I resorted to showing slides on a rickety old machine that was scratchy, hard to manage and frankly, just didn’t do the job. The equipment was old and outdated. When I was a kid, no one minded swapping out slide after slide and manning a machine because it was the only option available.
I learned about ScanCafe from my friend Rick Smolan, who is an amazing photographer and had ordered his own slide scan batches through their service. Having tested a few of my slides on a friend’s high-end scanner, I was disappointed by the grainy results and weary that any service could return the clarity or color quality on a set of slides that were over 80 years old. I also had a stack of slides from SE Asia that were nearly 20 years old, many of which were sadly scratched and poorly stored.
ScanCafe’s results were incredibly good not to mention the fact that their service and marketing team aced it. Since I am who I am, I had an endless set of questions, not to mention fears and concerns about parting with the only copy of some of the most memorable moments in my life. A huge call out to their head of marketing Wade Lagrone who walked me through the process before I embarked on the image scanning journey. Step-by-step, he assured me that my slides would be safe and sound and why.
One of the reasons I was concerned about the safety of the slides is the fact that they ship them to their scanning facility in Bangalore India and my fears had to do more with shipping mishaps than anything on the ground in India. Sure, things get lost from time-to-time when you ship things overseas but more often than not, they tend to be small uninsured parcels with no tracking numbers. The risk is dramatically reduced when you’re shipping something in a massive crate, one which is so large that it would be pretty hard to misplace or suddenly go missing. Point taken.
The process is pretty simple. You can either order boxes through them which includes peanuts for protection or use your own. If the latter, be sure to take their tips for a smoother process, such as how to pack your slides and reduce the risk of scratching and extra movement during shipping.
After they do a run through of your photos, they allow you to review them and only order the ones you want, which is a fabulous feature. Why pay for the ones that are lousy? And, how would you know if you’ve never gone through a process like this before or had a clue about the quality of the results?
Once you review them and say yay or nay to your images, they ship them back to you on CDs clearly marked in a similar way to the way you tagged them when you sent them. In my case, I marked things by region and country and put them in separate plastic bags, all of which was logged on a separte piece of paper I could refer to later. The result was zero confusion on the receiving end as to what slide scan went with a specific period of time, event, person or trip.
Sending your valuable and precious memories is a stressful and emotional experience for most of us. If it’s the only photo of your parents or grandparents in a particular embrace or with a particular smile that you resonate with, the thought of losing your only copy is painful.
I would use ScanCafe again in a heartbeat and based on my research, the feedback I’ve received about competing services and of course my own positive results, these guys are the best gig around, hands down. Below are some of the results from their scans…bear in mind the age of some of these images and the fact that many had faded through direct and indirect sunlight and have been severly scratched over the years.
The below scan of India came from a slide which is about 20 years old.