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Review: Scanner digitizes memories from slides, film

5:09 PM Wed, Aug 19, 2009 |
Posted by: Walt Zwirko
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On a swing through the neighborhood Wal-Mart to pick up a few grocery items this week, I looked around in the photo department. There was a handwritten note at the counter alerting customers that this store no longer offered one-hour film processing; from now on, all developing requests would be sent out for off-site service.

It’s the inevitable fallout of our shift to a digital world, where memories are preserved on cards and disks as ones and zeros instead of on strips of celluloid as chemical grains.

There are probably some people reading this right now who have never taken a non-digital photo!

Nevertheless, many households still have a closet, a cupboard or a shelf stacked high with trays chock full of 35mm slides and glassine envelopes stuffed with strips of negative film. It would be nice to be able to share these analog images with far-flung friends and relatives on Facebook or an online photo album like Picasa — but how?

There are businesses that will transfer your slides and negatives to a digital format. The aforementioned Wal-Mart will take 50 slides and save them to a DVD for $30 — about 60 cents each.

ScanDigital.com, which specializes in work like this, charges between 68 cents (for a 2000 dots-per-inch scan) and 88 cents (for a 4000 dpi scan) per slide.

In either case, you would have to entrust what could be priceless images to faceless services. And you’d probably be very judicious about which slides and films you selected for transfer because of the price.

That’s why I was intrigued when I saw a product called Memor-Ease the last time I was at Costco. The box looked promising, describing how the device made by Pacific Image Electronics can scan your film negatives (black-and-white or color) and slide transparencies to your Windows computer. As a bonus, it is bundled with Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0, a very capable image editing software package (yes, it’s two versions behind the current 7.0 product, but I am quite happy using 5.0 on my computer at work every day).

The price for all this was just $50 — that’s less than what Wal-Mart would charge me for popping 100 slides on a DVD — so I plunked down my membership card and took the Memor-Ease home for a spin.

My expectations were low; how good could it possibly be at this price point (and with a name that sounds more like an over-the-counter brain tonic than a precision photographic device)? The specifications listed Memor-Ease output as the equivalent of an 1800 dpi, 5 megapixel photo — about the level of quality for which ScanDigital charges 68 cents per slide.

The Memor-Ease unit itself did not inspire great confidence when I unwrapped it. It is a featherweight, seemingly unsubstantial box about the size of half-a-loaf of Wonder Bread. There’s a single button on top of the unit and a vertical slot on either side. The rear panel has a USB connector to link to your PC (USB 2.0 only), which also supplies power for the scanner.

A CD with the necessary driver software for the Memor-Ease is included; installation and hookup is very easy.

All that’s left now is to scan (after first pressing a button to calibrate the device).

Memor-Ease supplies two plastic film holders — one is for slides, the other is designed for strips of film.

It’s a simple matter to pop slides into the holder, four at a time. It’s a bit trickier to insert strips of film into the other carrier, which can accommodate up to six frames. One must be mindful of indentations at the top and bottom of the holder that are intended to flatten the unmounted celluloid, which often has a curve to it.

I recommend using a soft brush and/or a burst of compressed air to remove dust from the slides or negatives before scanning. Software can deal with some image defects, but it’s best to start with the cleanest possible film for best results.

I also wear latex gloves to keep skin oil and fingerprints away from the surface of the film (you can get those at any drug store; make sure you get the “powder-free” variety!).

The CyberView software interface pops up and wants to know what type of film you’re scanning: transparency, negative, or black-and white. Now manually slide the carrier into the slot; it snaps into the correct position for each frame. The image, illuminated by a cool LED light source, appears almost instantly on the computer screen. If you like what you see, push the button on top of the Memor-Ease (or click its on-screen equivalent) and the photo is transferred to your image editing software in a flash.

If the photo is rotated the wrong way or needs some basic color or contrast adjustment, there’s an option to make those changes using CyberView (although a much wider variety of fixes is available in Photoshop Elements).

With a little practice, you can be converting dozens of pictures to a digital format in minutes without the need to let them out of your sight. Your primary impediment will be the time it takes to insert and remove film or slides from the carrier.

Note that the Memor-Ease is only designed for 35mm film; if you have any oddball formats, you’ll need another solution.

So how good are the digital images? To the right is a reduced-size copy of a photo I took in Taxco, Mexico in what was probably 1976. Click on the image and you can view the full 1755 by 2568 pixel version; it’s a 878 kilobyte file, so it’ll take a few seconds to appear with a slow connection.

The photo retains a good bit of detail. You can read some of the lettering on the cardboard boxes stacked by the curb, and the colors of the red, green and blue plastic jugs appear to be realistic.

But when viewed at full size, you’ll notice some hallmarks of digital processing that give the image the look of an impressionist painting. After all, Memor-Ease delivers a relatively low resolution when compared to the capability of the original film, which has an estimated pixel equivalent of as much as 4000×5000.

The fencing material leaning against the building looks fine in the thumbnail but it’s pretty “mushy” when blown up.

The black lettering on the sign is very clear, but it has a bit of fringing attributed to digital processing.

I don’t have access to a film scanner with better specifications (or a microscope) to make a direct comparison, but I’m certain that the original image is a lot sharper than this. With all the talk about high-definition this and that, it’s easy to forget that any pictures you have on film are inherently high-def!

I do have a snapshot-size print of this photo that was made when the film was originally developed, and the scanned version 33 years later is very close in appearance.

So I think you’ll find the Memor-Ease output more than satisfactory for sharing on the Internet or for making snapshot-size prints (up to about 4×6 inches). You could try for an 8×10, but the quality might begin to disappoint at that scale.

There are higher-quality film and slide scanners available at prices double, triple and beyond the $50 I paid for the Memor-Ease at Costco (it has a list price of $120). If you have some serious scanning to do and you are interested in enlargements and precise detail, I would urge you to look beyond the basic functionality of this device. Pacific Image Electronics makes a range of higher-performance scanners; you can find other models from Nikon, Epson and Canon.

But there is another way to look at all this.

Why not use the Memor-Ease to inexpensively digitize all of your images, then pay the price for someone else to provide higher quality scans for those “special” photos?

You’ll probably feel better about sending a handful of slides or negatives to a third party knowing that you at least have your own copy of the original securely stored away on your discs or memory cards.

And since you probably won’t have much need for the Memor-Ease after you’ve finished with your own library, you can sell it on eBay or donate it to a friend or family member who has their own closet full of non-digital images.

E-mail askwalt@wfaa.com



1 Comments

Hi Walt i have the scanner on Order from Adorame
$129.00 and hope i comes soon so that i can do my
slides there ar 1000 plus. thank Josef Touet


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