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Family Photo Archive, a.k.a. Scanning odd film formats

As I think I may have mentioned before, I’ve become my family’s Family Photo Archivist, scanning in decades and decades of prints, film negatives and slides, and trying to get them in a web-based solution where everyone else in the family who is so inclined can access them for viewing, printing, and also to assist in identifying people and places, and sharing stories.

I’ve gone through several phases of trying to find the “perfect” way to scan and archive the photos, even getting an amazing slide & negative scanner that, while producing really incredible scans, unfortunately ended up being so damn slow that I hardly used it due to the time commitment. Sure, this whole thing is one enormous time commitment, but when you have to babysit a scanner that can only do four frames at a time, it gets really tedious, really quickly.

So, recently I’ve gotten back on the trail of the best solution; this time, “best” being defined as “the solution that actually gets me to scan all of these images in a relatively short period of time, provides very good image quality (if not “perfect”), and allows me to get the images up somewhere on the web that people can actually look at them and comment before critical key members of the family are no longer able to do so.”

So, I settled on an Epson Perfection V700 Photo as the scanner, as it got a lot of good reviews, and seemed to have the best speed-to-quality ratio for the image types I needed to scan.

As for the web option, the best seemed to be, in the end, a new Flickr account that is set to default for sharing only with family, so that we could maintain privacy of those family members still living, and also for their photo note functionality, where you can draw a rectangle on the photo itself— say, around the head of a person— and make a note right there as to who the people are. Infinitely useful in identifying people in photographs when the usual “left to right” style of notation can get really confusing.

This all seemed to be working really well, up to the point that I realized that a vast chunk of the negatives and slides that I have in the collection are not of the usual 35mm and medium format sizes that Epson provides holders for along with the V700.

The first I encountered is that a great amount of my childhood is contained within the once-popular 110 cartridge film format, a tiny 13x17mm negative (on 16mm film) that does not hold a great deal of information. But it’s my childhood, damnit— so I had to find a way. After trying a few simple solutions with placing the film directly on the scanner glass and flattening it with a glass plate (a horrible experiment that resulted in Newton rings appearing in my scans), I googled for further solutions.

Finding several discussions on photo.net, the first option I tried was an adapter that would fit into the Epson’s medium-format holder. Several people raved about it, but what I received was a cheap polystyrene holder, sloppily assembled in three layers with double-sided tape, that I had paid entirely way too much for. I’m not even going to link to the item in question, as I want to give them as little promotion as possible. Sure, it worked, but it was so poorly designed from a workflow standpoint, it seemed like a complete rip-off.

I had a similar experience with 127 negatives, though I had not yet tried any sort of holder adapter.

Just recently, I have dug further into the collection to see what other formats I may be encountering, and discovered my Grampa— who was an avid slide photographer— took a much greater percentage of slides than I suspected in the 127 “super slide” format, which fills up almost the entire 2” square slide format, with only a 5mm border of frame around the edges. However, the slide adapter that came with the V700 was designed only for 35mm film slides, and thus the cutout area in the center of the slide holder is in the shape of a very thick cross, so that either the horizontal or vertical format will show through. Hollowing out this holder to allow the full 127 frame to show through does not seem to be an option, as the way the injection-molded holder was designed (already quite flimsy) would be made even more flimsy by filing it down, to the point of probable breakage.

So, I have embarked on a new venture— one I’ve never done before, but have often dreamed of: Industrial design. Now, I don’t fancy myself an industrial designer just because I’m suddenly designing real, physical products; however, I do hope that I can contribute something useful in this small area of film holders for the V700, not only for myself, but perhaps for others with similar needs.

So, in the works right now are three items: a full-blown 12-slide holder that is designed to hold 127 format “super slides” without cropping; a redesigned 110 filmstrip adapter that will fit instead into the 35mm filmstrip holder for the V700, allowing longer strips, and more of them per scan; and a 127 filmstrip adapter that will fit inside the V700’s medium-format holder. These are currently planned to be laser-cut from Ponoko.

The two smaller adapters are designed similarly to the overpriced holder I purchased, but the two outer layers will be black acrylic, for greater tensile strength and more precision in size and shape, and the layers will be bonded together with a welding adhesive which will also provide greater strength. I am aiming to make sure that this adhesive will not adversely affect the film stocks, and reduce the possibility that it will come in contact with any film in the first place. If you have any suggestions in this regard, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

I also hope, in the eventuality that I may make these holders available for sale, should the demand be there, that I can manufacture them less expensively and with higher quality than the rip-off adapter I purchased. I suppose eventually, after so many times of saying “There’s got to be a better way,” that you just need to sit down and make the better way yourself.

If you have any experience dealing with family archive scanning, or any of the issues I described above, I’d love to hear your comments.

You should check out my podcast about movie magic and VFX: The Optical.