ScanCafe: An un-candy coated review
I’ve read a lot on Scancafe.com and the reviews are always so positive. The pros and magazines couldn’t find a single thing wrong! This company is flawless it seems. So, I decided that it was time to get that pile of old photos scanned.
But, you know, never trust anyone. So before sending off the hundred’s (if not thousands) of photos in the archive, I thought it best to test the service with a sample lot of 100. The results were a bit different than what all the fantastic quotes on their site say.
Here is the 1 minute summary:
In a good showing of customer service, many of the points I make in this article are addressed by Wade from ScanCafe.com in the first comment to this posting, please see his comments to get a good understanding of where I may not have fully understood all the options available.
I’m a photography nut. I’ve also been in the tech industry my whole career. Putting those two together means that I’m going to be a bit more concerned with quality than the ‘average joe’ who just doesn’t want to take the time to scan. My photo archive is a treasure trove of memories that I want to last lifetimes. And being a techno control geek means that almost no one can make me happy. If this sounds a lot like you, this review is worth reading.
- Price per scan is competitive (although prices are going up…again. May 10th, 2010 is latest increase).
- New feature of sharing to Facebook while you review was a nice surprise (didn’t see listed on their website).
- Someone else does all the work for you!
- The amount of time from date of shipping to receiving back (roughly 3 months).
- Risk of loss (your cherished & irreplaceable family photos travel to India)!
- The person scanning decides how to crop.
- Color correction not always the best.
- Their automated software can result in artifacting.
- Hidden costs – I assumed to much here that the cost of scanning plus the initial shipping cost was all I was going to pay. But yes, you do have to pay another charge to get your photos back.
What you may have missed…
- They use Epson 4490 flatbed scanners, currently selling at Amazon.com for 120 bucks.
- Your prints ship to India…..India!
- They promote that every photo is hand touched for scratch and dust removal. I think they mislead on this point as many of the photos returned had software removal done only. (They say they run Digital ICE and then do manual).
My advice to you:
You simply can’t beat the price in terms of the amount of time it takes. But what you can beat is the quality. Anyone who thinks that person churning out scans with a stated time of 4 minutes spent on each one simply can’t compete with your own talents.
This service is truly for those photos that are ‘nice to have scanned’. If you are serious about your photo collection and have the ability to perform the color correction and dust/scratch removal, then do it.
The nitty gritty details:
Price: Pricing is the best if you cost your order by price per scan. The real cost savings is by sending multiple hundreds of photos for scanning. If you have a few dozen like I used as a sample lot, then the cost wasn’t that great. The reason is the shipping cost of $10 on the front and the surprise $10 on the back. Again, I had no idea I was going to pay another $10 to get my photos back. Seriously, why is this not mentioned? Picky on my part? Sure, but this made my gut think they may not be upfront on other things too…
Facebook: While doing the review process, I noticed the option to connect to Facebook and share the previews. This wasn’t mentioned on the site or in other reviews which can only mean it is a fresh/new feature. Very handy for us Facebook users.
When you share to Facebook, the system creates a new album simply named ScanCafe. Using Facebook, you can further sort and move your photos out of this album and into your current or new albums.
Timing: This service is painfully slow. I wanted to write this review a month ago, but was still waiting on my photos. The service does give an accurate estimate, I just happened to miss read it. I placed my order on March 6th and the estimate given was April 27th for scanning. My eyes mistakenly read March 27th.
After a month went by I re-checked my account to then realize the schedule date for scanning to occur (in India!) was April 27th. Again, I assumed to much. I thought that was when I would get my photos back.
The slow boat from China had them back in May. I almost forgot about them….
Solution: What would be great when you are ordering is a big picture of a calendar that shows you the current date and the date when you get your photos back in your hands.
Cropping: When I scan photos from the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s, I actually like having the original border of the photo. For me, it leaves that visual impression you have of the original photo. All film in those days (for the ‘cheap’ family cameras at least) had that thick white border. It means something.
Not to ScanCafe, every photo was cropped to the edge of the ‘white’. So here is another thought to ponder. What about Polaroids. What makes a Polaroid picture? Two things, the colors it produced and the nice white border and thick chemical pack on the bottom. They crop that off too!
Solution: Don’t crop. During a customer’s review process, add a cropping tool which is used on sites like Shutterfly or even Walgreens.
Color correction: (http://www.scancafe.com/scanning-quality/color-correction) Let’s continue on this Polaroid point for a second. A Polaroid has a very distinct coloring to it. There are filters in Photoshop and software you can purchase that will specifically take any photo you have and make it LOOK like a Polaroid. Some filters will even go as far as adding that nice white border and chemical pack.
So why does ScanCafe run color correction on a Polaroid photo and effectively nullifying the very essence of the photo? Dunno!
Furthermore, the large portion of the photos became distinctly darker. If you look at the marketing materials on their website (http://www.scancafe.com/scanning-quality/color-correction) you will see that they promote taking dark photos and, through the magic of color correction, make them lighter.
Here is a great example of the results I received, I rather enjoy my scan as the details in the shadows are present:
Solution: Have a choice between original scan and color corrected scan.
Artifacting: The website has a long explanation on why their process is superior to the competition (http://www.scancafe.com/scanning-quality/scratch-removal). And a key quote here is “Software has its place, and ScanCafe certainly uses it where it makes sense”.
What looks very obvious to me is that when dust/scratch removal was done, they only used software. The supposed additional manual process missed obvious scratches and dust. For the record, if you go to the photo scanning specific page, it does in fact state “Scratch and dust removal” (http://www.scancafe.com/services/photo-scanning). It even says that a technician will spend 4 minutes per image addressing all the problems they list including scratch and dust removal.
Solution: I don’t know there is one here other than to say that if you don’t pay the ‘pro’ price, you get the peon service. The $0.22 per image scan price means you aren’t going to get results like that shown on the website. Simple enough.
Hidden Costs:You might have guess I’m a little peturbed on the cost of shipping back. Not that the amount is horrendous, it’s really the point of misleading your customer.
Ok, I’ll do it myself!
Equipment: You can buy the same scanner that ScanCafe uses for $120 off of Amazon.com. I personally use a CanoScan 8800F.
Time: To do nothing more than scan 100 photos, you can pull it off in about 60 minutes. If you are on Windows, don’t quote me on this. My work flow on the Mac is much faster than what I could pull off Windows.
I scan with Mac’s built in software Image Capture that dumps the images straight into Aperture. I’m also able to place 3 to 6 photos on the bed at a time and with Image Capture, I select the border of each image (after preview scan) and then it scans each photo.
At 600DPI, it takes about 7 seconds per photo. But you have to include time to swap photos, straighten them, etc. If you go up to 2400DPI, that takes about 2 minutes per photo to just scan.
Results: Here is a sample of a photo scanned by ScanCafe, then by the CanoScan 8800F with the final color corrected version through Aperture and Photoshop. The series below has the CanoScan first with the 1970′s cheap ‘ole film color cast intact. The 2nd is ScanCafe’s version of scan and correction. The final photo is my color correction.
I like mine better
Solution: Have a service that just scans, nothing more. That would be the winning formula as us control freaks can then do the ‘real work’!