My father recently passed away and left us with grocery bags, buckets, and 55-gallon drums full of photographs and negatives. I'm guessing there are easily over 100,000 photos and 100,000 negatives.

Does anyone have recommendations for getting these turned into a digital format before the degrade further? I'm hoping there's a moderately priced (a few hundred dollars) photo and/or negative scanner that is automatic where I can toss in a handful of photos and have the fronts and backs scanned. (We'd like to save the notes he wrote on the back of the pictures too.)

If it's two separate units (one photo scanner and a separate negative scanner), that's fine too.

My day job is being a Windows and Linux admin, and I don't know too much about photography--so I probably couldn't tell you much about the pictures or negatives.

Thanks for your time.

  • I was in a similar situation. Because digitizing the photo's takes a lot of time and/or money, I started making a selection of the photo's en negatives: about 60% I threw away; 30% I threw away after digitizing it and 10% I digitized and kept. Chances are that you'll never look at 100.000s of digitized photo's, but you probably will look at the selection of 1000's of dear memories that matter. I found the process of going through the pictures and negatives a very fulfilling way to remember and get into the head/eye of my father. Good luck.
    – agtoever
    May 21, 2015 at 9:10

6 Answers 6


A cheap scanner will take about one minute per negative or photo: that's 3/4 year of full-time work to scan all this stuff, not counting the follow-on postprocessing needed to clean up the scans. If you want to continue living your life, consider shipping this material off to a service, as suggested in a related thread and another and another.


Advice on your suspected degrading first: store the material properly and it is are more durable than any digital version you create today (the life-time of a harddisk is lower than the life-time of a negative). The only negative effect is that you won't be able to review them today on your PC. On the plus side - you can store them dry, cool and dark for years until you can afford to have them scanned.

Assumption second: I can only talk about scanning 135er film (24x36mm pictures, german "Kleinbild). I literally have to take digital pictures of the few rolls of 120er film (6x6 cm) I shot in my childhood.

I own an Nikon Coolscan V ED for scanning 135er-film. Works nice with stripes of ~5 pictures, as it has a feeder-unit. I use it mainly for my own pictures, as I shot analogue SLR until last year, but today I'm roughly in the same position as you - my father shot a lot of reversal film for projection (and I remember fondly glueing glass plates with the pictures together with him). There is no feeder for framed pictures for the Nikon V. But there is one for the Nikon 5000. Two warnings:

  • these scanners are not cheap (also, because they are not really sold anymore)
    • choose the cheap and it costs you more time / effort (been there ...)
  • the software (be it Vuescan or Silverfast or ...) costs too
  • it takes (a lot of) time
    • to find the right settings (DPI, colour-curves (!))
    • to scan and store (with stripes, one starts the batch and ignores the program for 20 minutes (multi-scan))
    • to sort and post-process, if you are into quality

If you still want to scan on your own, I bought mine four years ago from http://www.filmscanner.info/en/ - they have some nice reviews ... and a scanning service too ;)

PS: reminds me of the Vivan Maier - article (http://vivianmaier.blogspot.com/) about the young guy discovering an amazing street-photographer from Chicago. Don't know which question here linked to her.

  • 3
    Yes the expected lifetime of a hard-drive is less than that of a photo/negative, but just because a HDD dies does not mean the file is lost assuming it is properly backed up.
    – Edd
    Feb 11, 2011 at 12:23
  • Indeed. The lifetime of bits is infinity if you move them to new media when appropriate. And common formats like JPEG and PNG will be readable as long as we have computers.
    – Reid
    Jun 10, 2012 at 18:43
  • if you save it to SSD the the lifetime is indefinite, that's what they are using for archival purposes in museums at this point.
    – user379468
    Nov 11, 2014 at 3:10
  • My day job is designing storage systems that don't fail. They wouldn't be stored on a single hard drive. They would be stored on an array of 12 drives with redundancy and fault-tolerance. The data would then be backed up over a 10 GB fiber connection to an off-site backup about 1/4 mile away. Additionally the data is occasionally archived to 'the cloud'. :) Feb 23, 2016 at 19:13

I personally would not send out my photos because they are irreplacable and I've had many bad experiences with sending out photos and not getting them back. However, I have no quick answer to your problem either. I am thinking about trying the Epson Perfection 2480 Limited Edition Photo Flatbed Scanner with Feeder (B11B172171).


I bought the Canon Canoscan LiDE 210. I wanted a scanner that rapidly went through photographs from old photo albums but had better quality than the little 600 dpi autofeed jobs like the Kodaks (which are rapid and great, but low quality). Unfortunately, the Canon CanoScan is not the answer. It says it does 4800 dpi in 10 secs on the box, but in reality it only does 300 dpi in 10 secs. It has an automatic crop function, but unfortunately with 4x6 photos it overcrops the bottom two photos every time. It will do higher DPI (you actually need to find your way to a manual screen and MANUALLY TYPE IN 4800 dpi to get it) but at that resolution, or even just slightly higher resolution than the Kodaks like 750 DPI, it becomes painfully slow. I spent hours trying to figure it out, get it work, had to call the 1-800 # and I am now going to return it to the store. Avoid this one for photos.

  • 2
    I think we can probably generalize this as: an $80 scanner probably won't cut it.
    – mattdm
    Jan 3, 2013 at 16:51

If you are looking at approaching some professional scanning service companies, you can consider ScanCorner (www.scancorner.com). They outsource the photo digitization and restoration work to India and thus offer quality digitization at prices as low as 20 cents. They have tie up with Fed-Ex for global shipment pickup.


Plustek Optic film 120 is your best bet today. To do a quality scan of film you really don't have many choices. Good luck!

  • 2
    Why is it the best bet?
    – mattdm
    May 21, 2015 at 1:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.