At the end of my previous column
, I intended to march onward toward dealing with digitizing and archiving your old home movies and videos, but a reader e-mail (by the way, props to Dan from Jerusalem for helping me to put off that difficult subject) convinced me that I hadn't completely addressed printed photos and other types of hard-copy originals you might want to archive digitally. So this week, I'll start there.
Got any digitizing advice for your fellow archivists? Here's your chance to share.
Specifically, how do you digitize hundreds or thousands of prints--or in Dan's case, love letters? The answer: very carefully. Choose your hardware
The method you choose depends on the types of originals, the volume of items, and your patience threshold. The cheapest but most labor-intensive approach is simply to slap item after item onto a scanner. I don't know about you, but that thought gives me a headache. An extension of this method, which can work for smallish originals on a letter-size scanner or for larger originals on a tabloid-size unit, is to place multiple originals on the bed and use software that automatically straightens and separates each and saves them into individual files. Though not exactly a volume-production process, it has the advantage of being relatively gentle on your originals, and the ability to separate the scans is generally built into the driver for most midrange scanners.
An automatic feeder (ADF), which comes standard with some scanners and as an option with others, is a relatively low-cost option and can be an attractive alternative when you have scads of flat originals. But ADFs can be risky. For one, the D
stands for document
--they're designed to handle a stack of uniform, fairly hardy pages. Every time you put your photos in one, you run the risk of scratching them, not to mention having feeder jams that could conceivably turn them into origami accordions. Furthermore, old, fragile letters and photos have unusual, inconsistent sizes that don't appreciate being sucked around a U-shaped path and can choke your feeder. For these, I highly recommend getting a scanner with a large bed, such as the Epson Expression 10000XL
. The downside: large-format flatbeds can be very
expensive. But if you're a scrapbooker, one of those large, expensive babies is capable of scanning an entire 12-by-12-inch scrapbook page and could conceivably pay for itself if you start charging for archival scrapbook scanning. Just a thought.
Alternatively, you can roll your own solution with a good digital camera and a copy stand
. This solution can be as cheap--or as expensive--as you make it. In general, copy stands can be quite pricey, but there is a variety available for less than $100
that should suffice. If even that stretches your budget too far, you can make your own
. Once again, depending upon the size the originals, you should be able to fit two or more small items in a frame. Watch out for your focal length, though--too wide an angle of view will distort the straight lines of your originals. Roll tape: from MiniDV to PC
Now that we've gotten all our static originals out of the way, it's time to move on to more movable feasts. And because I have to get this column in, I'll start with the easiest first: MiniDV.
I know what you're thinking: "MiniDV? I thought that was already digital!" It is, but if you want to use or catalog anything that's on tape, you have to copy it to your computer first. Although it's a fairly straightforward process, many people hit the wall when confronted with the confusion of cables that ship with the camcorder. Why? Because none of those included cables are the one that you need to connect your camcorder to your PC for downloading video. Furthermore, I've found that Windows detection of camcorders can be a little glitchy. So here's a step-by-step guide (which I wrote for an upcoming Weekend Project
) to get you started.
Install your video-editing software. Step 2:
Get your camcorder and a FireWire cable. Note that this is not
the cable that shipped with your camcorder. If you're not sure what the right cable looks like, check out the photos here
. Step 3:
Plug one end of the cable into your camcorder (the connector cover and connector are usually marked DV
) and the other end into your PC's FireWire port. Step 4:
Put the first tape into the camcorder and turn it on in VCR (playback) mode. When you turn it on, Windows XP should pop up the New Hardware Found balloon and automatically install the camcorder as an AVC device. If you get a message that Windows can't find the driver, opt to Select a Driver, then manually select the AVC device driver. You'll likely get an error message ("We don't recommend..."), but continue through the process. After you click Finish, it might say "This device will not work properly," but Windows will most likely identify your camcorder correctly. Step 5:
A pop-up dialog should then ask you which application you would like to start. Choose your video-editing application. Step 6:
In most video editors, you can choose Capture from the menus. The software should indicate that it sees your camcorder and give you onscreen VCR controls to control the tape. Step 7:
Check the settings to make sure that the software is capturing in DV format (the highest quality possible) and that it's capturing both audio and video. Step 8:
Simply play the tape, clicking the Capture (or Record) button when you reach the portion you want to download and clicking Pause or Stop when the segment you want ends. You are better off capturing a lot of little clips rather than digitizing the whole tape as one humongous file. Many video editors can automatically split up the tape into separate clips, a feature known as Scene Detection.
Repeat steps 4 through 8 until you've downloaded all the video you want to work with.
So there you have it--no more excuses for letting those vacation videos collect dust in the closet.
There are also a ton of services that will transfer your tapes, both analog and digital, to DVD, but you have to be very careful to make sure you know what they're really offering. I'll address those issues in my next Pixel Perfect column.