The Exciting Adventures of OCD Archivist

I bought a Nikon CoolScan V ED Film Scanner. Then I fed all of my photo negatives into it. It took 18 days.

That was 2615 photos, taken over a span of 12 years.

That's roughly the number of digital photos I've shot in the last three months. The rules are different when each shot you take costs a dollar...

The scanner seemed to do a pretty good job. I scanned the 35mm negatives at 6000x4000 (24 megapixels), and saved them as JPEGs with file sizes of 3 or 4MB each.

My negatives were all cut into strips of 4, and dated back to July 1994, which is apparently when I bought my vintage-1980 Nikon FM2. That's a fully manual, non-electric camera (except for the light meter). It turns out that "fully manual camera" means "all of my photos are dark and out of focus".

I've got a few hundred older photos, but I don't have the negatives, so I guess I'll have to do those the hard even harder way...

The Nikon software is kind of irritating. It has a really good dust-and-scratch-removal filter (it's like magic, seriously) but there's no way to turn it on globally; you have to click a check-box for each photo. So the scanning process went like this:

  • Extricate the strip from the book;
  • Blast it with air (I went through six cans);
  • Feed the hole;
  • Wait 8 seconds for the Hypnowheel Cursor to go away;
  • Select picture 1. Click the checkbox.
  • Select picture 2. Click the checkbox.
  • Select picture 3. Click the checkbox.
  • Select picture 4. Click the checkbox.
  • Shift-click to select all 4.
  • Click "Scan".
  • Click "OK".
  • Wait fifteen minutes, and hope I notice the sound of the strip ejecting, because it doesn't beep or anything.
  • Select NikonScan from the dock;
  • Re-open the now-closed "scan" window via the menubar;
  • Repeat.

That's... kind of a ridiculous amount of clicking. But when I ripped all of my CDs, it took me months, so I guess this wasn't as bad as that. Oh well, it's done now.

Also, the software crashes about one time in twenty, and it doesn't save its "directory and file number" information unless it quits normally, so when that happens, you have to be careful that it doesn't dump the photos out of order in some completely wrong place.

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26 Responses:

  1. buz says:

    I spend a lot of my time feeding the hole too.

  2. allartburns says:

    I've been doing the same thing with a Canon flat-bed that can do transparencies, negs and slides. I can do four negative strips at a time, but since mine are also cut into 4s I have to load the tray twice for most of my film. Still, 16 in one go is nice, but it only does 8 slides at once.

    I scanned a bunch of my mom's slides from the 60s and am putting them on DVD for her to watch on her player. (The slide projector died ages ago, she hasn't seen these slides since I was a kid.)

    Are there any third party drivers for your scanner? Anything you can drive from photoshop? Any way to use Automator to drive it for you?

    • jwz says:

      I don't think there's any other software that will talk to it. It can be used as a Photoshop plugin, but that didn't seem like it would have sped anything up (the plugin just opens the same "scan" window, and then feeds the bits to PS instead of saving them to disk). I've never tried to use Automator.

  3. dr_memory says:

    There's a third-party driver/controller for Nikon scanners for OSX called SilverFast that's allegedly less atrocious than NikonScan for bulk scanning. There's also VueScan.

    I have no personal experience with silverfast or vuescan; only relaying heresay.

  4. baconmonkey says:

    crystal meth is bad, M'Kay?

  5. netsharc says:

    Man I'm jealous of you... so much free time.

    • jwz says:

      It didn't actually take much time -- just some tedious repetition every 15 minutes. Forever.

    • quercus says:

      Are there no unemployed Flash coders needing a break from burger flipping?

      If I had this problem (and if I had a scanner reliable enough to even contemplate doing it) I'd throw some money at one of several skint friends and get them to do it.

  6. zzedar says:

    Strictly speaking, that would be OCPD, not OCD.

  7. xrayspx says:

    We're going to head back to 2004 to see what your experience would have been like then:

    • Glance briefly at SANE supported scanners list. Notice they don't have scanners newer than 1998
    • Buy whatever scanner
    • Decide you have to write your own SANE driver for it, but can't get documentation on the Internet, or from the manufacturer because it's a trade secret.
    • Reverse engineer the driver an duct-tape together a working SANE implementation.
    • Write script to automatically scan, name, size and deposit your scans in appropriate directory structure (I think this is the only thing you would have had an easier time with).
    • Wonder why every time you scan something it makes ALSA drop out/flip channels/change your sliders.
    • Life could be worse.

    • taffer says:

      The bit about ALSA got me, thanks.

      Why does scanner software have to suck so badly?

      • xrayspx says:

        It has to suck because scanner manufacturers think that the reason people pay for scanners is for the great software they provide, not because they provide a device which can take things off paper and put it on a USB cable. So because of that they don't release specs to developers who could write software for different niches, and instead we all have to suffer along with software written for Aunt Tillie with one roll of film per year with pictures of her adorable nieces and nephews, instead of, for instance JWZ who has 16 years of negatives to scan and wants it done quick.

  8. vxo says:

    I've gone through processes like that in the past. Scanning software is notorious for not having great batch scan functions, unless it came with some uber-expensive scanner specifically made to chow down on jobs of 300 TPS reports or whatever.

    Oh, and thanks for mentioning this... I've been meaning to get a film scanner for some time now, and definitely want a unit that plays nice with Macs. The Coolscan V ED you mentioned sounds nice, and is about $300 less than I anticipated spending on a scanner when I last looked.

    I noticed Nikon's specs say the LED illumination has four colors ... R, G, B, and IR! What does it use the infared scanning for? I'm guessing that's something to pull more detail out of 'blocked' highlights, perhaps?

    If I can get the same kind of detail out of a digital print that I can get from wandering over to the photo lab here on campus and manually printing the negative on color photo paper (this process sounds simpler and less potentially carcinogenic than it is!), I'll be truly impressed. I've heard that some digital print processes hold the proper colors longer than conventional C-prints... though, of course, TIFF or RAW files never degrade.

    Incidentally.... has anyone else noticed that OS X Tiger's got JPEG2000 support? Damn skippy.

  9. spendocrat says:

    Next time you have to do something so repetitive like this, check out a GUI macro recorder, something that'll let you "record" a set of steps, and then do them over and over. 1 click instead of N.

    • jwz says:

      I have never seen one of those that worked worth a damn.

      • spike says:

        QuickKeys for Mac OS X is worth at least 0.9 damns, it's worth a look.

      • edge_walker says:

        QuicKeys seems passable. For a linguistic data processing project, we used it for "bring up article, click print, click OK, select next article" sequences on half a dozen different CD-ROM-based dictionaries. (No, we didn't print the stuff, it went to a Samba network printer that actually was just a script which poached the dictionary definition from the Postscript data. Huge hackjob - don't ask.) It coped OK with a bunch of very different programs, running a few dozen thousand iterations of each macro. (We had problems keeping the machines stable for the two days each dictionary would take, but it was Windows that was crashing, not QuicKeys. Did I say huge hackjob? It was fun in an "egads, I don't wanna do that again" kind of way.) Setting up macros that work robustly enough can't be done solely with the recorder and the wizards, you have to adjust their output, but it's not that hard.

        A+ would buy again.

  10. purple_b says:

    ok, now cough up the pics of when I was young and thin. I was also promised bad pics of me making faces or having eyes closed.

  11. jkonrath says:

    I bought one of those exact scanners in like January or February. I didn't have as many negatives (I only went through two cans of air) but then my mom sent me about a thousand slides from 1968-1972, and those are a real bitch, because you have to do them one at a time.

    There is no way to automate the shit, except to use Nikon's software and bear with it. I'm sure some basement dweller out there has written a crap driver that does 10% of the functionality and also features an email client and Jabber intergration, but seriously, fuck that.

    I eventually got a system down where I could do steps 1-11, then read a book or play a game on my laptop while I waited, and then 15 minutes later, repeat.

    All of the DigitalIce dust/scratch removal is truly magic, except that it pretty much triples the scan time. Maybe it would have been faster if I wasn't using a Mac Mini.

  12. skepticle says:

    And nevermind if you have just one frame.
    I had to tape it to some empty film to feed it.

  13. babbage says:

    I have the same scanner. I got fed up of the software suckitude ad used VueScan instead. It also has a rather nifty feature in which it scans the same image multiple times and takes an average. Time consuming, but a noticable improvement for those photographic masterworks.

    My plan you see was to use the Coolscan V with my Nikon F80 (probably N80 to you) and a mixture of Velvia, Fuji NPH and Reala. The scanner has sufficient resolution that I was sure digital SLRs wouldn't significantly exceed it for a couple of years. That way I thought I'd get a decent result digitally for a limited amount of money spent.

    In the end though the actual scanning process turned out to be so arduous that I gave up. While VueScan works in a more labour-efficient way then the Nikon software (or so I think), the scanner still takes a long time to scan. I scanned a few images that I really value, and just didn't bother doing the marginal ones. The negative files languish unloved, the scanner is loaned to a friend in another country and I'm the happy owner of a digital SLR.