Cradle to Grave: Secrets of Successful Scanning
Posted Jan 31, 2009

The expression, “We’ve come a long way, baby,” can be applied to many things—including the use of photos in video production. When I first started my video business I was ecstatic when I found a new program called DigiView Gold that allowed me to digitize photos and get them into my computer. It didn’t matter that it took a special color wheel and a black and white security camera, not to mention a lot of time—to me it was revolutionary.

Then things begin to change quickly. Panasonic came out with the WJ-MX10 digital mixer that allowed me to not only digitize photos but also to grab still frames from video. Perhaps the ultimate breakthrough came when I got my first VideoToaster system from NewTek. Now I not only had the means of storing digital photos, but I could actually put them in my productions using a GPI interface along with my editing decks. It was complicated, but effective. When Alpha Video came out with the Deli, I was able to automate my slideshows and record directly on to tape. All of this, of course, happened before the advent of nonlinear editing.
When nonlinear arrived, first through the Amiga computer using the NewTek Flyer and then eventually going to a PC-based system, I was able to produce photo montages in an efficient manner, and this quickly became a big part of my business. I would digitize photos by using a copy stand and a video camera hooked up to my computer. After purchasing the “motion picture” maker I felt I had finally arrived, because now I was able to put motion into my photos as I recorded clips directly to my hard drive.

Then, two things happened that transformed the way I was able to work with photos and slides: Scanners became cheaper and computers became faster, allowing me to manipulate photos without the need for the motion picture maker.

Over the years I have gone through several scanners, and I have learned how to use photos effectively in my business. I do hundreds of memorial videos each year (each having anywhere from 30 to 1,500 photos), and I also do other types of montages using photos. For this to be profitable, I rely on speed and quality, which means I need the right scanner.

My current scanner of choice is the Epson 4990 (below). I settled on the 4990 for two reasons. First of all, it’s fast: It uses a FireWire connection and will automatically number photos being scanned at the same time. It also delivers great quality: The images come out great, and I can do basic color correction as I scan (it does a great job on slides, something cheaper scanners do not do). It also has a feature called DIGITAL ICE that allows me to do basic repair on old photos that are in bad shape. I scan photos at 300dpi (even though I could do it at a lower dpi) because I want to be able to zoom in close when editing. I can also offer the restored photos to families.

Epson 3990 digital scanner

In editing, I do not use a template. Instead, I use keyframes to direct movement in each photo. But before editing with photos, I do a very quick cleanup in Photoshop so that the photos are in pristine condition when they appear on the video. My goal is to produce the “WOW” factor: I want people totally blown away when they see my work. This produces not only new clients but also many orders for extra DVDs. I can get this business because of the quality of my scanner.

Because of the restoration work I do on the photos, I am also able to offer the cleaned-up images to the families on CD-R at an extra charge, or I can give the images to my clients for free on orders of at least 10 DVDs. I am also able to offer Heritage Makers memory books using the restored photos, as well as offer digital photo frames. Quality is important.

To give you an idea of speed I get with the Epson 4990, let me walk you through a typical scenario of a project with 30 photos. With my scanner, it takes 15 minutes to scan 30 photos.

If I activate DIGITAL ICE (below), it will take an extra minute or two, but the photos come out 90% restored. After scanning the photos, I quickly run them through Photoshop, doing basic things such as color balancing, removing dust, removing dates from photos, and generally making sure that smudges and other marks are removed. This will take another 15 minutes. This allows 1 hour for the actual editing, which involves putting movement into each photo, creating special effects, and timing the montage to music.

Epson Scan Digital Ice

I allow another 30 minutes to burn the DVD, do the graphics, and create an invoice. A basic program, with high quality, takes only about 2 hours. I have done as many as 6 projects in a day, including burning all of the extra DVDs that were ordered.

Lately, I have been getting a lot of emails requesting information about a new scanner, the Kodak s1220 (below). I first heard about this scanner from fellow videographer Bob West of Bob West Video, who is very enthusiastic about the number of photos he is able to scan in a short amount of time. I would encourage you to contact him (bob@bobwestvideo.com) for his feedback.

Kodak s1220 scanner

However, the issue of quality needs to be addressed. The s1220 is essentially a repackaged i1220—a document scanner—with some photo editing software. I tested the s1220 and I was impressed with the speed. But I felt that the speed compromised the quality. I noticed green streaks going through dark areas of the photos. I also felt that the software needed improvement, as it was a bit confusing. (This problem was illustrated at WEVA Expo 2008 during a demonstration of the s1220 when the presenter couldn’t find the folder of scanned photos.)

I would really appreciate more feedback on the s1220, especially as Kodak improves the software. At present it’s PC-only; the current version of the software isn’t Mac-compatible.

When it comes to purchasing a scanner, there are three guidelines videographers often use: cost, speed, and quality. For many of us, when it comes to scanners, the cheaper the better.

But we need to recognize that a scanner is to photos what a camera is to video. None of us would consider getting an inexpensive, one-chip, VHS camcorder to shoot an important video project.
Regardless of whatever miracles we believe we can pull off in post, our videos will never be substantially better than the footage we capture. The same is true of scanned images. We need to be prepared to spend a little extra cash to get a scanner that will give us give us the best quality possible, not only for photos and documents but also for slides.

There are many scanners that are similar to my Epson 4990—and the street prices for these models are usually between $350 and $700. If speed is the feature that’s most important to you, then you should look at the Kodak s1220 (street price $1,400–$1,700).

But do not sacrifice quality for speed. Never underestimate the “WOW” factor, which is all about the quality of the final product and has little to do with how fast you were able to create it.
Recently I produced a memorial video and I watched the reaction of the family members as they watched it for the first time. After regaining their composure, they asked me if I did larger projects. I told them I did.

They said, “Good—we have been looking for someone we can trust with our 2,000-plus family photos.” All I could say was, “Wow.”

Note: The Epson 4990 became unavailable shortly after EventDV went to press. Its successor, the Epson Perfection V700, offers many of the same features (in addition to some new enhancements) in a slightly more expensive package ($549). For more information on the V700, go to www.epson.com.

Alan Naumann (alan at memoryvision.tv) has recently updated The Complete Course on Funeral Videography, an expanded version of his popular Business Everlasting training DVD. A featured speaker at WEVA Expo 2004–8 and a 2006 & 2007 EventDV 25 honoree, he is based in Minneapolis.