ScanCafe in PMA Magazine: Bridging the Technical Gap

PMA Magazine has dedicated a cover story titled “Tale of Two Scanners” to the nascent but quickly growing scanning market in its Trends & Technology section. As regards our fun little business, both “Trends” and “Technology” are apropos. In the 20 months that we have been in operation, we have experienced phenomenal growth, thanks mostly to our fantastic affordability and our revolutionary “freedom of choice” model that allows customers to review images online and delete the ones they don’t wish to keep. We have also seen an increasing level of awareness in the minds of both the consumers and the pros which has led to our current environment of fledgling network effect, but we have a long way to go. I don’t have data to support this but probably well over 90% of Americans wake up in the morning and don’t realize that such a service exists. So although the trends are pointing north, we need to continue to do what we can to build category awareness. So getting continued coverage in the press is critical to not only ScanCafe, but to this industry as a whole. As I have said in previous posts – I just want people to convert their imagery. Allowing memories to languish in closets is just not acceptable.

Having best in class quality, of course, helps in building awareness as well (see previous post re: Money Magazine). This is where technology comes into play – to a point. ScanCafe and the other folks in the market use the best equipment and software available. But, guess what, no technology exists that can effectively manipulate or correct imagery in an automated fashion. In a nutshell, technology works where patterns are evident – and patterns are hard to define in an image. For instance, let’s say you have an image that has too much contrast in one section but the rest of the image is acceptable. Technical solutions would apply a correction, in this case adjusting the contrast, to the entire image as opposed to just the section where the correction was needed, resulting in a poor or dull image. This is why ScanCafe provides such outstanding quality – we bridge the technical gap with the trained human eye. Our technicians and graphics artists in Bangalore are truly world class and can apply the human attention that an image deserves, resulting in sharp, crisp images that can be greatly enjoyed by the customer. Again, it is critical for people to convert their analog imagery – but make sure you do so in an environment that results in high levels of quality.


How bright is bright enough?

A photograph is expected to capture the exact image seen by the human eye at that moment in time. This is an accurate expectation IF the lighting conditions are acceptable and have balanced exposure, meaning no major shadows, no major bright spots contrasting with dark areas etc. Most of the time, photographs have a good exposure; however, there are a lot of photographs captured where the light is acceptable for the human eye but not for the camera. This results in a “dark image” that does not resonate with the memory of the photographer.

One of our most challenging tasks in image editing and optimization is the “brightening” of dark images. This is a very tricky issue due to the subjectivity of the assessment and the individual’s knowledge of photography. The determination of whether or not an image is “too dark” depends upon:

  1. Exposure of the image: photos taken indoors with low lighting, outdoors with shadows, or with excessive flash typically suffer from image darkness issues.
  2. Calibration of the monitor being used for viewing the digital image (for example, your laptop can show a very different image in comparison to a stand alone LCD monitor). In many instances, the image is actually fine but the monitor isn’t calibrated correctly. Run a basic test on monitor calibration.
  3. An individual’s preference on the degree of brightness/contrast (for example, professionals and amateur photographers have zero tolerance for brightening images whereas average point-and-shoot photographers are only interested in the main object in the image looking nice and bright).
  4. Lastly, in brightening an image, “grain” and “highlights” will develop that may or may not be acceptable to the viewer. Typically, a professional or an amateur has a very good understanding of highlights and grain.

A picture is worth a thousand words and here I am writing an essay…stop! See the image below. We tested this image on 20 customers and asked them “which one do you like the most?” 2 chose A, 5 chose B, 10 chose C and 3 chose D. Different customers chose different images as the “ideal” one. Professionals leaned towards “A”, amateurs and semi-professionals chose “B or C”, the average point and shoot photographer chose “D”. In our standard offering for scanning and image enhancement services (19 cents for negatives and 24 cents for slides), our graphics artists spend about 3 minutes on each image, which will take you from “A” to “C”.

I chose an image with poor lighting as an example primarily because this type is by far the most prevalent example of a “dark image”. People tend to underestimate the amount of light required indoors and assume that because they can see perfectly, then the clarity will be mirrored in a photo but this isn’t the case. This is why you always see so many lights and reflectors when a professional photographer is shooting.

Click for a larger view.
How bright is bright enough?

So how do we manage this conundrum: How bright is bright enough?

First of all, all our monitors are calibrated using the latest software and Spyder3 hardware from Datacolor. We also use only diffused ambient lighting in our work spaces. Such lighting is optimal for a graphics work environment.

Secondly, our artists do not use the generic “brightness” tool in an image editor software product such as Adobe Photoshop because doing so brightens ALL the pixels in an image without discretion, which typically ruins the image. The brightness tool will enhance the dull regions in an image, but completely over brightens the brighter regions (see window in image above, this artifact is known commonly as “blown highlights”). This is actually a good reason to use ScanCafe – because it requires the manual touch of a human to make the appropriate level of correction. ScanCafe artists use the “levels” and “curves” tool in Photoshop which allows us to selectively adjust the brightness of pixels based how bright or dark they are to begin with. We prefer to lean on the side of not brightening images too much since the change is irreversible.

Hope this helps in understanding the challenge with dark images. I would like to thank my COO, Dr. Naren Dubey, for contributing to this post. We welcome other technical questions – just let us know what we can do to help.


ScanCafe’s new online digital restoration service as seen on!

Hi Folks,

I am proud to announce ScanCafe’s new digital restoration service. As with everything else we do – we worked to ensure ease of use for our customers while maintaining the highest level of quality and affordability in the industry. It was important to us to maintain the value proposition of only paying for what you want.

How did we accomplish this with digital restoration? Here’s how it works: You upload the image you would like restored or corrected. Our world-class restoration artists review the image and then provide you with a quote within a couple of days. If you decide to pass – there is zero cost to you. If you want us to move forward, you simply approve the quote and within a few days you will have the fully restored image ready for download from your secure ScanCafe account. Market prices for this type of work run anywhere from $20 on the low end for basic corrections like red eye removal, all the way to $350 plus for a full reconstruction project. ScanCafe’s prices run the gamut of $6.95 to $39.95 for the same level of work. And, as with our scanning services, our quality is phenomenal. Check out the article written about our service in the magazine. The article also includes examples of our work. For more examples, visit our gallery.

Click for a larger view.
Restoration Example

Aside from the digital upload capability you can always send damaged images as part of a scanning order. After scanning, we can restore the image for you using the same process.

We have had fantastic success breathing new life into old memories through our #1 rated scanning service. Now we are ecstatic to take a broken memory and make it whole again. I am continually amazed at the emotional impact of our work on our valued customers. Adding another high quality service will only strengthen this experience.

As always, I actively look forward to any feedback you have on our new restoration service or on any aspect of the ScanCafe experience overall. Please feel free to post comments here on the blog or to send us an email at Old fashioned? Please feel free to call us at 866-745-0392.

Don’t let those fabulous memories languish!

Spring Cleaning with ScanCafe

Spring is in the air (at least in California). Isn’t it exciting? While many of you gear up for your annual cleaning and de-cluttering extravaganza, I thought I’d suggest something people often overlook when clearing out the clutter: digitally converting your old photos.

Our research shows that the average U.S. household has about 10,000 photos stored away in closets, attics, or taking up valuable space in the office or living room. But you can’t throw these precious images away, so what to do?  Scan them with ScanCafe!  We had a customer drop off two boxes of slides yesterday, each weighing about 65 pounds.  Now imagine the freedom of movement he will have when we return to him a few DVDs.  He can move his original slides (aobut 15,000 of them) into some sort of storage and completely remove them from site.  This is an amazing way to de-clutter, once and for all.

While many people will still save their photos after they’ve been scanned, there’s really no need to. We scan the images in high resolution and burn them to a CD or DVD, so you can look at them anytime you want. You can share them with friends and family anytime via our wonderful online library.  You can back them up on your computer’s hard drive, or order additional discs, so you know they will always be safe.

Another great reason to get rid of the originals is that “Clutter Makes You Fat”! No, really. Home organization guru and HGTV host Peter Walsh just released a new book called, Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?, in which he observes that there is a direct correlation between the way your body and your home are taken care of. He theorizes that an unorganized home actually aids in packing on pounds (my home must really be unorganized).

So let’s trim the fat! Send us your photos, negatives and slides and we’ll send them back in digital format. You can organize them however you like on our secure web-site, and we’ll burn them to CD or DVD exactly the way you’ve set them up. When you get them back, you can throw all those old photos away (or save them in a location that is completely out of the way), and start using that empty space to get the rest of your home organized.  Now if I could only find room for my old text books . . .

Happy Spring, watch out for those bunnies!


ScanCafe Named Winner in Money Magazine’s Field Test

I could not have asked for a better Christmas present than this. ScanCafe is the flat out winner in Money Magazine’s photo scanning field test – check out the January 2008 edition. This is outstanding news for us in more ways than are obvious. Clearly it helps our business, but from a personal perspective, it proves that our business model is phenomenal and you can truly find the best quality product at the lowest price with ScanCafe. In fact, quality was a true differentiator in this test which lends strong credence to our claim of being the best quality scanning service out there. We can now add Money Magazine to Popular Photography, PC Photo,, and many, many blogs as independent and trusted sources to prove our quality and our service. Our technicians in India are highly trained and the lower labor rate allows us to spend much more time on each individual image – hence the enhanced quality that you just can’t seem to get in the U.S. at even remotely acceptable prices. Lastly, the results of this test are significant and credible because we had no idea that it had even occurred.

I was actually out of the office (shhh, I was on the 14th green at Spanish Bay, don’t tell anyone) when Laurent, our Chief Strategy Officer, Founder and resident snow boarding expert, called to tell me that the article had been published listing ScanCafe as the “four star” champion.

Again, as I said in my blog post about ScanCafe’s inclusion in O Magazine – I am mostly happy that scanning services, in general, are getting more attention. People are really starting to see the value of digitizing and protecting their most cherished photo moments. Furthermore, informed consumers are also much more open to using first-class services that scan images internationally. For example, it was nice to see that the second place finisher does their scanning internationally as well. I would also like to say that there are some other good companies that do quality work and have a high caliber of ethics that weren’t on the list and they are definitely a better choice than the companies that exhibited poor quality, high prices and dubious marketing & pricing tactics. Now, readers of Money Magazine and have several good choices for their digitization efforts. Thanks Money Magazine! Get your images converted, folks, regardless of how you do it – don’t let them waste away. Remember, one digital image on your computer is worth 100 paper ones in your closet.