Okay, I’d hoped I was done. But it seems I won’t be until I go through all these scans. Scancafe claims to “clean, color correct and scan each one by hand.” Check out the thumbprint on the top left of this scan. (Photo: changing rail gauge on border of Lithuania and Poland.) This is the kind of thing you don’t notice until you see the images large, working with them one at a time.
(Continued from part two.) When it was clear I had only two weeks to review the 6000 images again, which took me over 50 hours the first time, I asked the manager if it was possible, because of the the lack of time I had to make selects before my trip due to their many problems, to process the images I had chosen at no further cost, in essence, paying 50% for about 68% of the images (which they had already scanned anyway. It would cost them all of one DVD). He said no, and offered me $100 off my final order. I didn’t appreciate this arrangement much, as my suggestion actually served us both better. They would have made more money (because I then made it a point to delete 50% of my order, ultimately paying $100 less than 50%, their required select rate) and I would have saved time and felt that the massive amount of my time wasted by their mistakes was truly acknowledged, backing up their, “We’re so sorry for the inconvenience” blather.
In the end, maybe it’s better I edited more fiercely then, as I’m not impressed by the quality of the end result, and am spending a fair amount of time archiving them. But then, maybe it’s not.
Another issue that popped during this time is that no nudes were scanned. Not even some playful images of the fully clothed. This I covered in a previous post.
Because I didn’t finish the selects until just before I left for Australia, I was concerned about my images being returned when I was away. I didn’t really want them sitting around somewhere, in NYC or in India. Regardless, I chose to keep them in India given the option as scancafe would remain responsible for them, which still seemed better than, say, my super. And so, the manager held them in India until I would return in late January. This much worked out well. The images were sent back when I returned and I received them on February 4, 2010.
I started going through the scans, not overly pleased with the results. By February 9th, I emailed the quality manager the following:
I’m sorry to trouble you with this, as you’ve been as helpful as possible given the circumstances.
I have to say, though, that the quality of the scans is not great. The technicians don’t seem to know anything about photography and perhaps have been trained to apply automatic adjustments to each image.
Some of my negatives are quite old, and I understand the low quality on these. However there are slide scans that I have in better quality from a scanner/photocopier circa 1999. This is not acceptable in 2010. All of these images need to be fixed in photoshop, which would not be a problem if scancafe did not claim to correct each image, and charge for it.
An example: The back lit silhouette is a fairly common principle in photo, especially film photography. The subject is MEANT to be a shadow, lit from the back. In many (all? I’m not near through all of them yet) of my backlit photos, the image has been ruined by blowing out the image until the background is lost and the subject is seen on the subject. I gave you an example of this last November my image #, but it was never addressed.
Some of the scans are quite good, and other batches are quite bad. Was the technician having good/bad days or moods? It’s quite odd.
The quality of these scans renders them $.10 each, perhaps $.15. Because the quality of scans is not what you advertise, I would like to be refunded the difference.
Again, I’m sorry to trouble you as you’ve been helpful, but I am not at all happy with the overall scanning experience. Thanks so much for your help in all of this.
I think the blown out silhouettes are what took me over the edge. Saved in small jpg files, these scans are totally worthless. I have them for reference, but nothing else. If I’d want to use them in an online gallery, I’d have to rescan them.
As before, I didn’t hear anything back. Until I posted my grievance on photo.net. Possibly coincidental, the next day, their chief operating officer in California contacted me with the following message:
Your issue has been escalated to my attention. It is unfortunate that we have not been able to meet your expectations.
Please bear in mind that the color balance, tonal balance etc in photographs is a subjective judgment and in your case we haven’t been able to match your expectations even after multiple interactions with our quality staff. As you desire, I will have all your orders refunded down to 10 cents per scan. I apologize for the inconvenience. In the 3 years of ScanCafe’s operations, you will be truly the first customer whose issue we have not been able to resolve.
Also, I just saw your blog today and noticed that you are concerned about how well our staff is treated and paid. For the record, we pay the highest in the city of Bangalore for the skill sets we employ. Our employee attrition rates are lowest in the industry. You, your friends or journalists are welcome to visit our facility at any time without notice. We also employ staff that have hearing and speech impairments and we conduct training for them in sign language as part of our social responsibility in enabling the differently enabled. Also, we have an annual celebration day at ScanCafe coming up pretty soon that we would like to invite you to. It will be a great opportunity for you to interact with our staff and truly assess to your satisfaction if they are happy. The management of ScanCafe has worked in companies like Cisco, eBay, Yahoo etc. I am just curious if you checked with the CEO of Intel if his staff was paid appropriately prior to purchasing your computer with an Intel processor.
Your refund will appear soon on your credit card if we can still process the last transaction electronically. If not, we will mail a check.
N. Dubey, Ph.D.
Chief Operating Officer
Whoa. A bit intense. My reply:
Thanks for your reply. I agree that the situation is unfortunate.
In 20 years of dealing with color labs in New York, I have never been told that color
balance, tonal balance, exposure, etc, are simply subjective because there are industry
standards that labs work to meet. When learning photography, students are not taught
color balance is subjective when the image is +40 magenta or a woman’s face is pale cyan.
I am delighted to hear that your staff is well treated and well compensated, and that
your company is socially responsible. You should make a page about this on your website,
as I assure you that I am not alone in wondering how your employees are treated. I’d love
to attend your annual celebration. I’m sure it would be fascinating as well as good fun.
Are you providing a plane ticket with your invitation?
Never have I enquired with a CEO about staff pay, so I’m not sure why I’d start with Intel. I did not wonder aloud about them on my blog because 1) now that mac has switched to Intel, ever major computer company in the US uses Intel processors, so there is no choice, as there is with where I have my images scanned. 2) Intel was never in possession and control of my most valued possessions. I would hope that you understand that people are trusting your company with treasured belongings, which means more consideration goes into it than say, selecting a word processor. If I sent a hard drive off to be fixed with the only copy of every word I’ve ever written, yes, I’d look into that company carefully. 3) If you were actually curious about whether or not I wonder about the treatment of workers elsewhere, yes, I do. And I spend my money accordingly.
Thanks for your attention to this matter,
And so it goes. I got the check in March, which means that in the end, I paid $370 for the scans. I was happy with this, until later in March when I unpacked the box of negatives and chromes and confirmed through my files that the Pakistan images were gone. Scancafe claims that they’ve never lost an order. But images within an order? I read on a forum that another photographer found after he got his images back that a number of them hadn’t been scanned. Sigh. After the previous exchange above, I wasn’t willing to push it further. I am upset about the Pakistan negatives—they were among the images I was most excited to see. But such is life. The scans are back, I’ve reordered them all (took a few weeks) and am now entering them into Lightroom, with keywords (tags). I’m glad I have them done, but I’m not sure I’d do it that way again.
As for scancafe, if you are the kind of person who took her photos to the 1-hr photo place down the block during the analog years, and that was fine, then sending scancafe your not-too-large order will also be fine. I wouldn’t send them anything over 500 photos. And I’m not sure how happy anyone will be who wasn’t happy with the 1-hr photo place. I definitely think they are a legitimate company, and they want to be a great company. They just aren’t there. They did send the check for $315, which means I paid $370 for the service, which would have been $785. But given the quality of the scans, the lost photos, and the lost time in the review process, I’m not sure that’s a deal. The pro-photo services scancafe charges are about as much as getting them done locally, so, why not do that? That’s my plan, next time around.
(Continued from part one.) I started on the review process immediately. I spent about 5 hours a day after work going through the images, until my eyes blurred and I could take no more. I wondered if they gave the same amount to time (14 days) to orders of 100 photos. They scanned the slides first, which were okay. They were in order.
The review process goes as such: After logging in, you go through a few screens to get to your folders. How they organized the pics into folders, I’ve no idea. I think the slides were given a folder per slide sheet, but the negs I’ve no idea. Some folders were huge, others had three. Once in the folder, there are tiny thumbnails of the pics. You hover over each one for it to appear, as in the screenshot above, which can take some time if scancafe’s servers are jammed. Having a large order probably didn’t help (that will be the refrain of this review). The folders, or “albums,” are at the right. Some of the color correction was questionable, but I kept on.
When I got to the negatives, things went downhill. Yes, some negs were twenty years old, and negs don’t scan as well as slides, which are positive images. But some of the colors were hideous and looked nothing like the original. In one photo, my mother’s face was cherry red. In another, a blue carpet slightly purple. And the negs weren’t in order. Ugh! Some of folders went from years 2001 to 1989 to 1996, making it extremely frustrating to chose edits of similar images if split into different folders and far apart.
I sent an email to scancafe, which was my second or third as I’d been locked out of their site once or twice. It typically takes 2 days for them to reply because of the time difference between NYC and India. This was my response:
I would like to inform you that as per our process, we scan, upload and return all the media in the same order in which we receive. [This is untrue. I later realized that the negs had been given folder names (unlike the chromes) based on what the tech had gleaned from my notes on the file sheets. Files were misnamed, e.g. Bukley (Berkeley), and were sorted by misnomer, rather than upload time. Diaster.] However, please let us know the folder names in which the images are out of order and the image file names that are not up to your satisfaction. I can then forward a request to our Imaging Center to relook into the images and provide us with an update within 24-48 hours. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your patience and help in resolving this issue. [The number of folders out of order would have taken me hours to make right, so of course I decided to bare with it in the review fix it on my own when I got the scans back.]
Also, please be informed that once the images are online, you have the privilege to delete images (you can discard up to 50% of the scans), move images within a folder as well as across folders and rename folders. [I was deleting, thanks, and moving the images around in their system would have been a nightmare. And if I did, could I trust them to honor that order?]
In order to move an image, all you need to do is open the album in which the image is present, click on the image and then drag that particular image to the albums (folders) into which you want to save holding the mouse button down. The albums will be listed on the right hand side of that page (if its not present on the first page, you can click on the small blue triangle to view the next page of albums). You can then move the displayed image to the new list of albums. Please wait for some time (~5 sec) until the image is moved (until the change is saved). You can then open the second album to confirm that the image is moved. Its simple. You need not do anything else. The changes will be saved automatically even if you log out. [~5 sec per thousands of images = simple? Not on my time.]
Also, you are able to view a larger view of the image once you hover the mouse on an image. This is a feature of our interface so that our customers can have a larger view of the scanned images. However, you can just drag the image to the required album. You can also double click on an image to see a larger view. [This much was clear. I wasn’t editing images based on the tiny thumbnails.]
We are aware that the process is tedious and time taking and our technical team is working on the issue to get it fixed. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and thank you for your patience. [My patience, drained, because the scans weren’t uploaded in the order I gave them, but my misnamed files.]
[I’ve cut a bit of the redundant how-to’s out.]
To delete an image, you just have to select the image that you wish to delete and click on the “Delete” button just above the images. Once you click on that you will see a small cross mark in a red circle just below the image that you choose to delete. This will indicate that you have deleted those particular images. The image will not be deleted as you may want to undelete them before the final checkout. The changes you make will be saved automatically.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions or concerns and we will be happy to assist you.
It’s always frustrating to state issues to someone who should be able to fix them—or compensate—and be told 1) it’s not the case, 2) resolution will require you a lot of time when the mistake was not yours, and 3) how to boil water when the issue is that the recipe was given with instructions in the wrong order.
A day or two later, I complained about color corrections. I received a similar reply to the above, until I posted my displeasure on a forum at photo.net. Shortly after, I received a reply from a scancafe quality assurance manager, Joson, who’d “found some quality issues with my order.” This manager worked with me for the rest of the ordeal. Overall, he was very helpful and he did his best. He did not give me answers of the boiled water variety, though I’m not sure what they did in rescanning the photos, as there wasn’t much improvement. When I was asked if the order of the images could be fixed on this go, I was told yes, but, if they were, I’d lose the deletions I had chosen—which had taken me over 50 hours to select. I could choose one or the other. I chose to keep the deletions and incorrect order.
I will say a few things about corrections now. Given the small files and the quality loss involved with .jpgs (.tiffs are $.19 per image, which would have doubled the cost of the service), it would have been better that the images weren’t corrected at all. The techs there are not photogs (unlike many techs here). They aren’t professionals. From what I can tell seeing the final files, they are auto-correcting tone, contrast, and color. Auto-correcting is never a great idea, especially when saved as jpg. You really want all the original info there you can get. Alas, this became clear much too late. I didn’t mind the jpgs at first because I’m not using these for print. I’d always go back to the original negative for that.
A few comments on reviewing—the images are very small, so that you can’t nick the ones you don’t choose and pay for. Keep in mind, images that don’t look great full size (or even at 400×600) look better smaller. So you are likely to choose images you won’t like larger because the flaws are more obvious.
So, where was I? On Tuesday, October 27, 9:27am, I was told that the images would take 3-4 business days to reprocess, which meant by Friday at, October 30, they should be online.
It wasn’t until two weeks later, on Tuesday, November 10, that my images were ready. In the meantime I kept receiving automated messages like : “Review deadline: 3 days! Your photos are online and awaiting your review.” My patience was tried. There was less and less time until I left for a two-month trip to Australia, where I’d rarely be online. November 10 was only two weeks before the trip. Who has time to be going through 6,000 image images again while preparing for such a trip? I guess I did.
Some of the rotations had been lost, as well as negatives from years 1998-1999. The latter a cause for alarm, although much of what I shot those years was slides, except for a trip to Pakistan. When I asked the manager about that, he looked and said, simply, that there were images scanned that could be Pakistan (they were Iran), but everything was scanned. It wasn’t until I got everything back, and put them back in with their contact sheets (in March, 2010) that it was clear that they were sent, but not scanned or returned. Scancafe never answered to that, and by that point, I was too tired of dealing with them further. I should have looked earlier when I still had the energy. Alas. Hindsight.
I’ve been thinking about the female form a lot in the last week or so (a switch from my usual state, dwelling on the male form, which I’ve realized occurs despite a hell of a lot of visual bombardment of the former, and possibly only because I do my best to limit that bombardment), but this is going to have to wait. It’s time I wrote up the scancafe experience in one long bit, so people don’t have to wade through a year’s worth of posts about it if they want to know my experience.
I wanted to like this company. I really did. In the end I have very mixed feelings. I suppose all I can say is that you usually get what you pay for. It’s like the lens issue. I’m in love with the Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G but how can I justify dropping that much on a lens? The alternatives, however, just don’t cut it. And so it goes.
I decided to have all of my analog images scanned last August for a number of reasons, the biggest, perhaps, being that I’m nostalgic. But also because I love technology (a dangerous combination perhaps). I want to be able to type “spectacles” into a catalog and see every photo I have of funky frames. I want to call up my grandmother’s table (in lower left of photo, 1995) in her house, as well as mine (2009).
So, I did some research. Scancafe seemed like a better option than digmypics (who seem to have redone their site since my search) scanmyphotos. I realize my standards are high, as David Pogue raved about scanmyphotos in a NYT review, but I thought the sample images he used were of extremely low quality. But David Pogue is a tech guy, not a photographer. When these scanning services rave about the pro photogs who use them, be certain that these high profile clients are receiving high profile treatment, and I can only assume are using the “pro” services. All the scanning I’d done previously was by myself at ICP, by the now defunct Flatiron Color, or by highly recommended Hong Color, in NYC. Hong Color’s scanning is high-end. It starts at $40 a scan, more than 100x scancafe, so when digitizing 6,000 images, HC is cost prohibitive. Scancafe’s price with shipping would be about $1820.00. Because scancafe allows the client to choose only half the scans, I figured I could get that down to $1000.00.
I spent the last weekend of August packing up my images and numbering the sheets and bundles. They suggest on their website that you not concern yourself with such things, and just send them on. This not to convenience you, but so that they don’t have to worry about scanning images in order and keeping them in order. And if you have no idea where an image is, how you can really be sure if it was returned? Or if you sent it to begin with? I highly recommend organizing your photos and knowing what you have and where before you send them anywhere. I put mine on the UPS truck to California on August 31st. I found a promo code online, which saved me 20%. So, on August 31, I paid for half my estimated order (I’d underestimated the count a bit):
|50% of scanning service charge||$ 638.00|
|Shipping Label||$ 33.40|
|Total charged||$ 671.40|
This was my original payment.
On September 9th, I received this email:
We’ve received the originals for your order 9AEALF… which was placed on 2009-08-31.
This meant the box had arrived in California, where they’d be put in a container bound for India.
On September 18th, I received this email:
We’ve received the originals for your order number 9AEALF… at our imaging center.
Your order has been scheduled for scanning. We estimate that your order will complete our scanning and quality control processes on Oct 26, 2009. You can expect to hear from us then.
This meant they’d arrived in Bangalore (India). I was excited.
On September 23rd, I received an email saying:
A technician has been assigned to your order and the process of manually scanning & repairing each of your images is underway. After all your images have been completed, they also will go through our stringent quality assurance checks.
On October 19th, this arrived:
Okay. Attention span kaput. Will continue this tomorrow.
Oh yes, she’s still droning on about scancafe. As if she didn’t have plenty of other things to do in preparation for the trip (clean, organize, photocopy docs, buy stuff like a swim shirt/rashguard so that she dosen’t become one with the many Aussies who develop skin cancer, but does acquire a cute surfer-girl look. Okay, Andrea is making her get one. She like the pink). Okay, sorry, no more third person. I’m reviewing the scancafe images again, now that ‘quality control’ has rescanned and reloaded them. I’m deleting more, whilst trying my very best to be patient. (Shouldn’t this have been done weeks ago?) Instead of sharing the current frustrations, I’ll step back explain how I’m trying to approach this waste use of my time.
Looking at almost every image I took from 1998-2003, and deleting the ones I don’t want, I’m trying to note why some work and others don’t. Missed expressions, bad exposures, off compositions obviously kill an image. I’m noticing what I did right and what I didn’t. There is a huge improvement over the years, and I’m hoping this time editing will help me while shooting. I’m also trying to notice what focal lengths I tend toward, and light techniques in difficult lighting.
I find that I learn best by a combination of repetition and osmosis. Instead of writing down notes, I’m just letting my brain take in info passively as I sift through all the images, and let it absorb what makes an image work. It’s a longer process than studying more actively, and there are times I do that as well, but I feel that this method is deeper and longer lasting, because it integrates naturally with what I already know.
I would like a year off (who wouldn’t) to work on photos, thoughts, and yoga. Integrate and develop what little I know. Hmmm.
Rawalpindi, Pakistan, 1999, print-to-flatbed scan
Scancafe comparison negative scan to come
My 5783 scans are done! I received the message a week early, so now, so much for the Sri Lanka photos and trip planning. I’ve got to wade through all these images before November 2 (in 14 days) to decide which I want and don’t want.
It is amazing to see these images scanned. I’m going though the chromes (slides) first. It’s amazing to see them because many I’ve never seen larger than a 16x loupe. And, of course, to go back and see those images. Anything I haven’t digitized or printed hasn’t been seen in years. It’s like finding a stack of photo albums.
Other than being unable to sign into scancafe’s site (forgot password, and the retrieved password didn’t arrive in my inbox for >20 minutes, which was confusing as the site never verified that the password was sent), it’s fairly well organized thus far. Some of the images are much darker than the actual chrome, but only about 5% thus far, and I imagine I can fix those myself if I need to. Overall, it’s incredibly exciting.
The actual number of scans came back as 5783. My guesstimate was under by exactly 50. Wow, maybe I am neurotic. 🙂 Scancafe allows you to scan all your images, but you only have to choose and pay for half of them. I was sure I had so many duds that I might not even want half. I’ve only been through 506 of them, and I’ve only managed to delete 136, or 26%. Oh heavens. Scancafe is smart to work it this way. Guess I’m out about $400 more than I’d estimated. Very worth it, though.
On Friday, 18 Sept, I received an email from scancafe informing that my images have been received at their imaging center in Bangalore. They’ve sent me emails about my order along the way: when I placed it (31 Aug), when it arrived in California (8 Sept), and when it got to India. (It seems that it took one more day to go from Cali to India than it did NYC to Cali. Nice job, UPS.)
While I ate dinner last night, I thought about all of my images in India. Will one person be assigned to scan all 5000+ negatives and slides? Or do they break them up and assign them to different people? If it’s one person (which seems more romantic as well as potentially more weird)—good word they will know me well by the end of this job. I cannot imagine. I wonder who this person is, where she sits, if she likes her job, if she’s eating dosa for lunch or dal and rice. Who she is. Okay, it could well be assigned to a whole room of people. Who knows. I was given an estimated date of Oct 26 for them to be finished and online. If it’s one person not working weekends, that’s over 200 images a day. Oi.
When I checked my email a few hours later, a new update from scancafe: “A technician has been assigned to your order and the process of manually scanning & repairing each of your images is underway.” Hmm.
I reminds me a bit of a play I saw last year, “There or Here.” A subplot involved an American woman frequently calling a helpline for assistance with her computer and getting to know the woman on the other end in India who helped her out.