Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Scanning Multiple Photos at Once

Anyone born before 1984 has albums (or stacks) of printed photos.  Consumers didn’t start using digital cameras until the mid-nineties or so.  Therefore, anyone born before 1984 has probably wanted to scan in a ton of photos at one time or another.

The problem is, there are NO good options (time efficient, decent-quality, and inexpensive).

You can use a scanning service, but sending my precious photos out to some anonymous nit-wit in a lab somewhere is NOT a gamble I am willing to take (also, have you seen Red Dragon?! –I don’t want that guy handling my photos).  Not to mention, there is the intermediary of the carrier (USPS, FedEx, UPS, etc.) on BOTH sides of the operation, and in my experience, those guys lose things WAY too often to trust them with my treasured memories.

I am ASTOUNDED that there is not a HUGE market for a consumer device that would allow you to simply place a stack of photos in a hopper and have a scanner process images automatically.  Surely there are THOUSANDS of people who would pay a couple hundred dollars for this device.  And considering what scanners cost (they basically come FREE with your printer these days), I can’t imagine that there wouldn’t be a HUGE profit on this $200 item.

I also can’t believe there doesn’t seem to be a single review or blog post online discussing the possibilities of using a multi-sheet document scanner for scanning multiple photos in a single session.  There are TONS of people wanting to do this (scan multiple photos at once), but nobody writing about the possibility of using the available tools.

So here’s my contribution to the throngs of people yearning for a way to scan their thousands and thousands of photos into their computers.

The ideal solution is obviously a scanner with autofeed that can process a stack of photos in batches.  Anything I’ve found in the past decade that is of any quality whatsoever (mostly Nikon and Kodak products) is in the over-$2,000 range.  There have been cheaper “family photo” scanners that can do a small stack, but they are generally extremely limited and tend to have horrible scan settings (like 300/600dpi max and only one option to save to JPEG).  Not only that, but they seem to have gone the way of the Dodo; I can’t find a single one online at the moment.

The closest thing available are document scanners like the NeatDesk ($340 and a pretty low rating on Amazon) and Fujitu’s ScanSnap ($447 and a four and a half star rating from more than 1,300 reviewers), but they are specifically catered to documents, and thus scan at only 300-600dpi maximum resolution and only save to JPEG or PDF (and at the $300-$400 price point, I can’t imagine why in the world you would buy either of these things instead of a $99 all-in-one that also prints photographs).

For a while Epson had the Epson B11B172171 Perfection 2480 limited edition for around $500 (or you could purchase the B12B813372 for around $160 which was just the photo feeder lid that you could attach to either the Epson 2480 or 2580 flatbed scanner), but all of these have been discontinued and I could only find a few in weird places around the web (places I wouldn’t necessarily trust to buy from).  Actually, there are two used ones on Amazon, but they are  $475 and  $639 –USED!).  The B11B172171 was a flat bed scanner, but it had a 4x6 photo feeder in the lid, and could scan a stack of 25 photos at 48bit, 2400dpi resolution.  I am very curious as to why it was discontinued.  I’m not sure I would have gone for it, since the max photo size it could scan from the feeder was only 4x6, but I guess that’s better than the nothing that is available now.

[UPDATE]: I have found the B12B813372 in a couple of places for around $140, and it will work the Epson Perfection 3590 Photos Scanner (as well as 2480, 2580, and 3490) which you can still find in some random places on close-out (or perhaps even used).  The only downside is being limited to a max photo size of 4x6.

HP offered the 5500C ($300) for a while, which was very similar to the Epson (25 photo stack feeder), but evidently it jammed all the time, as all the reviews I’ve read for it are awful.

So today I did a bunch of research on “what’s out there” in the under $200 range for devices that offer a multi-sheet document feed for the on board scanner.  Full disclosure, for my photo printing needs, I switched from Epson (a prosumer grade, large format printer) to Canon nearly a decade ago, and I’ve been very happy with that decision (so I guess I may be a little partial to Canon).

The brands that I came across in my research were the ones you would expect to find: Canon, Epson, HP, and Brother.  After a couple of hours of online research, I decided to go with the Canon MX922 even though it only has a Contact Image Sensor (CIS) and a resolution of 2400x4800 for the flatbed (compared to a Charged-Coupled Device (CCD) sensor with a resolution of 4800x9600 in my older Canon MP990).  The specs for the Auto Document Feeder shows only a resolution of 600dpi x 600dpi, though looking at the way the ADF functions, I’m not sure why the ADF and Flatbed have different scanning resolutions; they seem like they utilize the same sensor.  From the specs, I’m also not exactly sure what 48-bit internal/24-bit external means (why would internal/external be different?), but that’s the same spec as my MP990.

Most importantly, the MX922 has a 35 sheet capacity auto-doc feeder for the scanner.

The price at Staples is currently the same as Amazon ($99) even though that’s the “regular” price on Amazon and a “special mark down” at Staples (where I guess it’s usually $199 –I’m kind of assuming it’s being discontinued?).  So I went to Staples, picked one up, drove it home and plugged it in (total time from leaving my house to printing the first test sheet was about 23 minutes).

Unfortunately, the Canon software does not allow using any of the scanner’s “photo” settings if you have selected “ADF” (auto document feeder) for the source.  This is INCREDIBLY annoying!  Also, the ADF only allows for a limited number of document sizes: Letter, Legal, A4, A5, B4, B5.  This means I had to set the feed guides at their smallest setting and then find something to set between the feed guide and the edge of my stack of photos to accommodate the 4x6 size.

As you can see from the scans below, the photo almost always rotated a bit, but I think with some creative engineering I can remedy this situation without too much trouble.  For the record, processing a stack of 24 4x6 photos from the ADF was no problem -though each photo was rotated a bit (oddly enough, when I scanned a bunch of photos at once, they were much less rotated than in the examples below).  I think I could have processed more photos at once (there was space); that just happened to be the size of the stack I grabbed.

For the time being, I’m focusing on scanner settings (not the physical feed/rotation problem) to see if a decent image can even be obtained from the Auto Document Feeder (since the whole point of this experiment is being able to load a stack of photos for automatic scanning).

I spent a lot of time scanning a single photo using various set-ups from the “Canon IJ  Scan Utility.”  All the scans below were from the same (bad) original photo from January of 2007 via Flickr printing (the physical photo was sent to me 7 years ago by a family member).  So the original image is of poor quality but should serve well for comparative analysis.  I purposefully used a “sub-par” print to illustrate various things like moire/banding, color correction, etc.

In the end, none of the scans from the Auto Document Feeder were really acceptable. Some people might be satisfied by the results using “Custom Scan, Source: Document, Apply Auto Document Fix, Reduce Moire” or a similar custom set-up using the ScanGear option (which is similar to Canon’s previous “use device driver” type menu), but I wouldn’t spend a lot of time trying to archive the entire family photo album collection if this is as good as the quality gets.

For only $99 I may end up keeping the MX922 because I like that it has a LAN option (I can hard wire it to my network so everybody in the house can use it), but I’ll have to see if I think the printer is as good as my MP990 (which I think does a great job for “snapshot” photos; I’ve got a Canon Pro 9000 mkII for my large format and “pro” photo printing).

After all this research, time, and work, I am wondering if the Canon scanner software can be hacked.  It would seem that ALL the limitations I ran into were software based (limited available selections/settings for scans utilizing the ADF source).  Magic Lantern has done AMAZING things to unleash the potential of Canon’s DSLR cameras, so perhaps there is a hack that could unleash all the potential of Canon’s scanners in a similar manner.  If only I had the skillz.  If this is up your alley, please leave a comment or send me an e-mail!

For now though, scanning a stack of photos automatically from an auto feeder remains a pipe dream.

Scans from the ADF source (auto document feed) on the Canon MX922 scanner (click for 300dpi image)…

For comparison, this first photo is scanned from my older Canon MP990 platen using typical photo settings from the Device Driver menu


Also for comparison, this photo is scanned from the Canon MX922 platen (vs. the auto document feed) using a typical “photo” setting in Canon IJ Scan Utility (the same scan utility used for the remainder of the photos below)


Custom Scan, Source: Document, Auto Fix, Reduce Moire


Custom Scan, Source: Document, No Auto Fix, Reduce Moire


Custom Scan, Source: Auto, Auto Size, Auto Rez, Image Correct


Auto Scan, Image Correct


Auto Scan, No Image Correct


Scan Gear Advanced, Color Matching Profile (all filters off)


Scan Gear Advanced, Recommended Color Profile (all filters off)


Scan Gear Advanced, No Color Profile (all filters off)


Scan Gear Basic, No Color Profile


Scan Gear Basic, Recommended Color Profile with auto Correct


Scan from Windows’ Devices Menu (right-click scan from Windows 7 Devices Menu using custom created profile for “source: feeder”)



archiving family photos
multi-feed photo scanner
photo archiving
auto photo scanner
scan multiple photos at once
scan stack of photos


Unknown said...

My parents have the same problems with scanning all of their photos into digital formats. There doesn't seem to be a quick and easy automated system for doing it. I've heard that there are professional scanning services that will do it for you. It might be worth looking into. http://www.bluegrassofficesystems.com/products

crosshatch said...

I, too, have been astonished that there is no such product on the market. I agree completely with your analysis. I bought a fujitsu scansnap iX500 for everyday documents and am delighted with it--but it's not so great for scanning photos.

The Invisible said...

It REALLY is quite bizarre that there's no easy solution for this problem that EVERYONE who took pictures up until 2006 experiences (tons of printed photos that they would like to have in digital format)! It would be so easy to make a "hopper" for 3.5x5, 4x6, and 5x7 photos so you could just load and scan a stack. I can't imagine why Canon, Epson, Brother, ANYONE has not done this. Really weird (and frustrating).

Unknown said...

I have scoured the Internet and found ONE adf scanner that offers the 1200-dpi resolution it's the artixscan 1200df from microtech. I have looked and looked and found 0 other options. The problem with cannons adf is not in the software but with the optics that the adf is equipped with and the max capabilities that it has. They need to equip the adf with BETTER OPTICS. hopefully this helps clarify

Unknown said...

Did you get anywhere with hacking this? I have a Canon printer and the ADF actually keeps the photos straight no issues, but again i'm limited to 600dpi and only set paper sizes. I found some software that would let me select other options but it ultimately failed :(

The Invisible said...

Unfortunately I've really made no progress. I'm stuck laying multiple photos on a flat bed and either manually separating everything or letting software do it's best to find the edges and save each pic as an individual photo (either way is tedious and time consuming). I am completely baffled that there is not a cheap and easy machine that will allow you to insert a stack of 500 4x6 photos and just let the machine go to town. Seems like an easy enough thing to build, and someone would make a killing on the millions of people with old school photos in boxes that they never see any more.

Anonymous said...

I would high five you if I could. This is a massive black hole in the consumer electronics market that is desperately crying out to be filled. Millions of consumers would love to bulk feed their precious photos into an ADF and create digital backups.

The Invisible said...

I am totally BAFFLED by the fact that there is still no solution for this. It's absolutely bizarre.