Modernize Your Memories & Make them Easier to Access by Digitizing All of Your Old Media 

hands holding old photographs

What do we mean by “old media”? Everyone has that box, the one stuffed away in an attic or closet somewhere, that holds piles of old photographs, home VHS videos, and envelopes crammed full of 36mm negatives that you keep meaning to reprint. If you’re anything like my family, you have multiple boxes filled with such items, inherited from grandparents and aunts and uncles who lovingly preserved them themselves. These memories probably don’t need to be displayed in frames around the house, or organized into a tidy scrapbook for frequent viewing, but they’re definitely too important to throw away. Instead of letting them molder, gathering dust and taking up valuable storage space, what if we shared a better way to preserve your family keepsakes? Yes, my friends, we are in the digital era, and it’s time to bring the past up to date.

Digitizing old photos, VHS tapes, slides, and even cassettes is relatively painless, and it will ensure they don’t get lost or accidentally destroyed. It will also make it easier for you to enjoy them — because who has a slide projector or a VHS player anymore? We’ve researched the easiest ways to take on this daunting task yourself, so you can figure out how you want to approach preserving your family’s memories.

Digitizing Old Media. Where to Start?

The biggest deterrents to starting a project like this tend to be time and energy. We strongly encourage you to think about how much time you want to devote to digitizing your old media, and go from there. If you are relatively computer literate and don’t mind having photos strewn across your dining room table for a few weeks, then the Do It Yourself methods are probably your cheapest option, compared to sending items away (we’ll discuss that another time.)

Using a Scanner

photo scanner
Epson FastFoto

Using a scanner at home to digitize old photos will be labor-intensive, but this method definitely has its benefits. Your photos are less likely to get damaged or lost, your home printer probably already has a scan function, and you’ll be able to organize your photos yourself while going down memory lane.

If your printer doesn’t already have scanning capabilities, or you don’t mind getting another piece of home tech, you can streamline this method by getting a scanner designed specifically for this purpose. As always, do some research before you purchase, because all scanners aren’t made equal, and there may be one that has a feature you would prefer. Many photo scanners can digitize film negatives as well as your printed photos, and some are designed to scan stacks of 4×6 photos really quickly. (The Epson FastFoto, for example, scans batches of 36 prints at a rate of one per second, which is impressive. It’s also wireless, so it can upload your photos directly to your online storage drive of choice.)

Pros: This is probably the cheapest method. to digitize old photos, and it’s hands-on, so you have ultimate control over the selection, organization, and quality of the scanning.

Cons: If you are the type of person who struggles to get your printer to spit anything out in a timely fashion, this may prove to be a frustrating undertaking. 

Using Your Phone

two hands holding a phone taking a picture of old photographsLike everything these days, there’s an app for this. Basically, you take a picture with your phone of the picture you want to digitize. The app then takes multiple photos of each print to improve the quality, remove glare, and correct any distortion that inevitably happens when you take a photo of a photo. Your options here really come down to which app you’d prefer to use. Google’s PhotoScan is free, and is compatible with all the Google photo editing tools that you might be familiar with. There are others as well, of course, such as Photomyne’s Photo Scanner Plus (for $3.99).

Pros: It’s as easy as point-and-click, and doesn’t require any new hardware.

Cons: This is a little more painstaking, so if you have a lot of photos to digitize this could take a really long time.

What About Other Obsolete Media?

When it comes to VHS tapes, taking a picture or using a flatbed scanner won’t do the job. Patience is key, because obtaining the right tools is actually the hardest part. The end result, though, will preserve precious memories in a format that won’t erode over time like a tape will. 

Step one: you will need a VCR or VHS camcorder. If you don’t still have one in your home, the best place to find one is probably eBay (tip: we wouldn’t pay anything over $45, and make sure you get a guarantee from the seller that it’s still functioning.) 

UCEC video converter set upStep two: you need a converter that will connect to your computer. They’re called UCECs, and most of them will look a bit like this: UCEC USB Converter. Then, you plug the converter into both your video system and your computer, and it will transfer in real-time using your computer’s video software. (If you need more info, here is a helpful video we found on YouTube: How to Transfer VHS Tapes to Your Computer.) If you’re concerned your personal computer won’t be up to the task without downloading additional software, sometimes — as with the photo scanners — getting a specific tool like this one is worth the extra money.
Pros: If you don’t like thinking about someone else watching your kid’s middle school performance of The Wiz, then go for this method. 

Cons: All the USB/video/audio port connecting and software downloading can be understandably intimidating, and could have a high frustration factor. 

Where Should I Store All This Data?

The final consideration when digitizing all your old media is where to save all your newly digital memories. Photos and videos take up a LOT of memory space, so you might want to think about saving them somewhere other than your personal computer or phone.

a CD, USB thumb drive, and memory cardsYou can save your files on a USB drive, an external hard drive, or even a CD/DVD, if you prefer to have a physical copy on hand. But let’s face it, even those are almost obsolete already, too. Some of the newest models of laptops (particularly Macs) don’t even have disc readers or USB ports. (Insert angry emoji face.)

Another option would be saving them online. DropBox is an affordable online storage cloud that many people like, and the Apple iCloud is also very reliable. Just be wary, as some subscription cloud services limit how long your images are stored. 

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