When it comes to updating all the obsolete media where your family’s memories are stored, sometimes it’s best to let someone else do the heavy lifting. Instead of spending hours scanning old photographs and painstakingly transferring VHS tapes onto your hard drive, companies specialize in doing all of this for you. This method can be pricey, but it’s often worth it because they can edit and improve the quality of your old photos and videos while they’re at it.
Things to Consider:
There will be a wide variation in the services offered, so here are a few considerations before you choose a company:
- Pricing. The range is huge.
- Quality of the scans in terms of resolution (the higher the dpi — dots per inch — the better.)
- Do they offer a damage guarantee, or provide a safe method for shipping back and forth?
- Which formats do they support? And how do they offer the digital copies to you? USB? DVD? Memory Cloud?
- What kind of editing/color correction/dust removal services do they offer? Is it included or extra?
Some Names to Choose From:
Lots of groups provide these services, with new ones popping up all the time. We’ve included just a few of the established companies to get you started on your selection process.
ScanDigital seems to have all the bells and whistles. They’ve been featured in publications like Forbes, RealSimple, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Reader’s Digest, and the reviews are overwhelmingly positive. They digitize photos, videos, cassettes, slides, and reels of all kinds, so there’s nothing you could throw at them that they can’t handle.
Photography: These are hand-scanned and edited, including cropping, rotating, color correcting, and red-eye removal. If you send pictures in an album, they’ll title each digital folder to match the labels on albums, and replace photos in its original location.
Tapes: No format too obscure or outdated.
Reels: Lots of options and media types are handled. They offer digital remastering for audio reels, including noise removal, normalizing, and equalization, as well as color correction and dust/scratch reduction for the images.
Digital Storage/Access: When they’re done digitizing your media, they will upload it into your personal account. You can then download the files directly onto your computer, or wait for them to send you an optional USB.
Cost: Cost is calculated ahead of time; when you sign up for a service you are charged per item, and cost varies depending on the DPI you choose (for photos). It can add up pretty quickly, but seems to be standard for the industry. Photo scans, for example, start at $0.62 per photo. They also offer 25% off your first purchase.
Shipping: You’re on your own packaging your media to send to them. They offer advice on best practices, and once it’s received they provide detailed tracking information. Prices are for round-trip, and run from $50 to $150.
EverPresent claims that because they’re larger than most companies, they can provide more for less. Like ScanDigital, EverPresent has also been touted in multiple publications, including The Boston Globe, Better Homes and Gardens, Ancestry.com, Martha Stewart, and The New York Times. EverPresent, however, doesn’t charge upfront and offers home pick-ups of your media items throughout the Northeast. If you prefer to ship, they have kits available to help protect your items, and they also have over 50 satellite locations that accept drop-offs as well.
Photography: EverPresent scans photos, negatives, albums, and scrapbooks for digital conversion. They also offer an organizational service, which consolidates the digital photos and videos into one library, then they declutter and organize it into smart folders to make it easier to find specific memories. (This is invaluable, in our opinion.)
Tapes: They work with every format.
Reels: Every format is accepted.
Digital Storage/Access: Digital files are delivered on a USB, and off-site cloud storage is included free for 180 days.
Cost: The one disadvantage of not charging clients upfront is an inevitable lack of transparency on their website regarding cost. They require you to answer a number of questions about your “project” and will respond accordingly with a quote.
Shipping: As we mentioned earlier, shipping isn’t necessary, which is a major plus.
ScanCafe differentiates itself from competitors by touting their photo enhancements. They also offer Value Kits, which is when you send them standard media only (paper photos, 35mm color slides or negatives) and then prepay for the scans. They will then send you a shipping kit with UPS tracked shipping and a safe handling guarantee.
Photography: They offer light editing on every photo, including image re-orientation, cropping, removing scratches and dust marks, color correction, and red-eye removal. ScanCafe offers 600 DPI resolution and enlargement up to 2x. They also offer photo restoration to digital format, which is pretty advanced.
Tapes: Formats accepted include VHS, Mini DV, Hi8 and VHS-C to a digital download or USB drive.
Reels: They offer digitization of 8mm, 35mm, and Super 8 movie films.
Digital Storage/Access: ScanCafe offers digital download as well as USB storage.
Cost: ScanCafe’s prices start off lower than ScanDigital’s, at $0.44/photo. The Value Kit prices start at $0.28/scan. However, you then pay another fee depending on how you want your digital copies returned to you, i.e. digital download ($10) versus USB ($15). They are open about the costs upfront, though, with all prices listed in one place (which is vastly different from some of the other sites.)
Shipping: They offer good suggestions for how to box up your valuable media items, but again, it’s on you to package and ship the goods to them.
Still Uncomfortable With Those Options?
Another option is to stay local: Many Walmarts, Walgreens, and other places that have photo services offer digitization as well. The one drawback is that these can get pricey if you have a lot to convert. Our favorite low-cost option is Costco, which will do a video transfer from any number of old formats into digital copies starting at $19.99. (That’s a good bit easier than tracking down an old Betamax from eBay, and a few dollars cheaper than what a lot of these sites charge.) This way, you’re still outsourcing the labor without having to rely on the often-unpredictable shipping services.