Last fall, I did a presentation at B&H on using your camera as a scanner, based on my book Digitizing Your Photos. The webinar proved a pretty detailed overview of the camera scanning process for prints, slides and negatives. For those unfamiliar with the process, or for people who have been struggling to get high quality scans, there is a lot of good information in here.
I’ve got a number of appearances scheduled for the coming months. Here’s a list, followed by a link to an interview I did with Photofocus.
APPO Raleigh, NC March 21-24
I’ll be giving a general session at the Association of Professional Photo Organizers on the use of Artificial Intelligence in asset management, as well as a breakout session on using your camera as a scanner.
APPO is an organization for people who help (mostly) private individuals scan, tag, preserve and make use of their photographic legacies. More info here.
Palm Springs Photo Festival
I’m thrilled to be headed back to Palm Springs for the 2018 festival. I’ll be doing two programs. The first is Wednesday, May 9th program on scanning with your camera and the second is What’s new in DAM program on May 10th. More Info here.
Maine Media Workshops
I’ll be giving a week-long workshop on managing your mage collection with Lightroom the week of June 10th. I’ve never taught here, but I’m really excited to give it a whirl. I know a number of people who have had life-changing experiences at the workshop. More info here.
Available now! – Web Interview on PhotoFocus
I had a really enjoyable hour speaking with Rich Harrington, Tim Grey and Kevin Ames about getting organized. The interview has been archived and you can find it here.
Editor’s Note: This post combines a couple threads I’ve been writing about. I’ll provide some real-world methods for converting visible text to searchable metadata as discussed in Digitizing Your Photos. In the course of this, I’ll also be fleshing out real-world workflow for Computational Tagging as discussed in The DAM Book 3 Sneak Peeks.
In the book Digitizing Your Photos, I made the case for digitizing textual documents as part of any scanning project. This includes newspaper clippings, invitations, yearbooks and other memorabilia. These items can provide important context for your image archive and the people and events that are pictured.
Ideally, you’ll want to change the visible text into searchable metadata. Instead of typing it out, you can use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to automate the process. OCR is one of the earliest Machine Learning technologies, and it’s common to find in scanners, fax machines and in PDF software. But there have not been easy ways to automatically convert OCR text to searchable image metadata.
In Digitizing Your Photos, I show how you can manually run images through Machine Learning services and convert any text in the image into metadata through cut-and-paste. And I promised to post new methods for automating this process as I found them. Here’s the first entry in that series.
The Any Vision Lightroom Plugin
I’ve been testing a Lightroom plugin that automates the process of reading visible text in an image and pasting it into a metadata field. Any Vision from developer John Ellis uses Google’s Cloud Vision service to tag your images for several types of information, including visible text. You can tell Any Vision where you want the text to be written, choosing between one of four fields. as shown below.
Here is part of the Any Vision interface, with only OCR selected. As you can see, you have the ability to target any found text to either the Caption, Headline, Title or Source filed. I have opted to use the Headline field myself, since I don’t use it for anything else.
Here are my findings, in brief:
- Text that appears in real-life photos (as opposed to copies of textual documents) might be readable, but the results seem a lot less useful.
- Google does a very good job reading text on many typewritten or typeset documents. If you have scanned clippings or a scrapbook, yearbook or other typeset documents, standard fonts seem to be translated reasonably well.
- Google mostly did a poor job of organizing columns of text. It simply read across the columns as though they were one long line of non-sensical text. Microsoft Cognitive Services does a better job, but I’m not aware of an easy way to bring this into image metadata.
- Handwriting is typically ignored.
- For some reason, the translate function did not work for me. I was scanning some Danish newspapers and the text was transcribed but not translated. I will test this further.
(Click on images to see a larger version)
Let’s start with an image that shows why I’m targeting the Headline field rather than the caption field. This image by Paul H. J. Krogh already has a caption, and adding a bunch of junk to it would not be helping anybody.
You can also see that the sign in the background is partially recognized, but lettering in red is not seen and player numbers are ignored even though they are easily readable.
In the example below, from my mother’s Hollins College yearbook, you can see that the text is read straight across, creating a bit of nonsense. However, since the text is searchable, this would still make it easy to find individual names or unbroken phrases in a search of the archive.
You can also see that the handwriting on the page is not picked up at all.
The Bottom Line
If you have a collection of scanned articles or other scanned textual documents in Lightroom, this is a great way to make visible text searchable. While Google is not the best OCR, thanks to Any Vision, it’s the easiest way I know of to add the text to image metadata automatically.
AnyVision is pretty geeky to install and use, but the developer has laid out very clear instructions for getting it up and running and for signing up for your Google Cloud Vision account. Read all about it here.
Google’s Cloud Vision is very inexpensive – it’s priced at $.0015/per image (which works out to $1.50 for 1000 images.) Google will currently give you a $300 credit when you create an account, so you can test this very thoroughly before you run up much of a bill.
Watch for another upcoming post where I outline some of the other uses of Any Vision‘s tagging tools.
I had the pleasure of making a visit to the National Archives and Records Agency early this month, meeting with Steve Greene and Cary McStay who are in charge of scanning the official photos from the Nixon administration. They are using a digital camera to do the scanning, in much the same way as I outline in Digitizing Your Photos.
The film from the White House Photo Office was transferred to NARA so that it would be sure to be preserved. (This was done along with the audio tapes which are still being digitized.) There were 258,318 images on 14,526 rolls. Most of it is 35mm b&w or C22 negative film. There is also some 4×5 film.
NARA first used conventional scanners for the project, but it was clear that conventional scanning was going to take too long to accomplish. They began testing camera scans, and became very comfortable that the quality coming out of a D810 was high enough for the vast number of uses of the archive.
Shown below are some of the photos that were scanned as part of this project. Eventually, the images will be transferred to the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, where they will be available to scholars, authors and others interested in this period in our history.
PS – NARA is also digitizing the Nixon audio tapes. These are going more slowly due to a number of factors, and are still in production.
The window into a hallway at NARA counts down the remaining Nixon tapes to digitize. I had not noticed it at the time, but there is a nice collection of Nixon-themed figurines sitting on the window sill, including the presidential series of Pez dispensers and Futurama figurines.
Last month I published the results of my tests of the Nikon D850 “negative digitizer” on PetaPixel. Judging by the dialog and web traffic, a lot of people saw it. I’m putting up a short synopsis here, along with a link for those who missed it.
The bottom line: great camera for scanning, digitizer not ready yet.
The Nikon D850 is a truly wonderful camera for scanning photographs as I outline in my book Digitizing Your Photos. It offers a significant bump in resolution over the Nikon D800 which I have been using. If you are looking for the highest quality camera scan from a 35mm style DSLR, then the D850 would be an excellent choice (as would the Canon 5DSR, or the Sony a7r II mirrorless).
The camera includes a “negative digitizer” feature which can flip B&W and color negatives into positives in the camera. In theory, this could provide some real workflow advantages over manual conversion. However, there are some problems in the current implementation. Here they are in brief:
- Clips highlights and shadows too aggressively
- Can only shoot JPEG, which means highlights and shadows not recoverable
- Exposure compensation and contrast control disabled in digitizer feature
- Uncontrolled variation between frames means that batch corrections are not possible
Here are two images from the same negative strip. As you can see, the color is rendered very differently. This makes it impossible to batch correct with a consistent look.
Nikon’s unofficial response
At the PhotoPlus Expo, I got a chance to have an extended dialog with Nikon representatives. They had seen the PetaPixel article and understood the issues I raised. More important, they indicated that it’s essential to fix these problems. I left the meetings with the impression that there would be a concerted effort by the Nikon USA staff to address these problems.
When I hear back from Nikon, I’ll be sure to post an update on the situation. In the meantime, if you are interested in using your D850 (or any other camera) as a scanner, the best methodology is outlined in my newest book, Digitizing Your Photos.
I’ve got two presentations scheduled for October. The first is a free two hour seminar on scanning with a digital camera at the Click! Photo festival in Durham, NC. It takes place 10am-noon Oct 6. Here’s a link.
And I’ll be in New York at PhotoPlus, doing a tag-team presentation with Katrin Eismann called Preserving Your Photographic History. I’ll show how to scan with a digital camera, and then Katrin will demonstrate reparations and restoration techniques from her revised book on retouching. Here’s a link for that.
Use this custom landing page for a 15% discount and free show pass.
Nikon sent me a D850 to do some camera scan testing. My initial impression is that it it really promising, but I have not been able to get it to do exactly what I want. It does a pretty good job for most negatives, but it’s having problems on dark images.
I’ll run a number of rolls through it over the weekend and report back. I will say that even if it’s not perfect now, I can tell this is going to be a great solution for camera scanning color negatives, particularly in conjunction with Lightroom.
The Nikon D850 has been announced, and it looks like a heck of a nice camera. The headline stuff includes everything we’ve come to expect from the next magical generation of digital SLR cameras – 45 megapixels, 7 frames per second, ISO 25,600, 8k video, touch screen, and so much more.
But tucked away on page 85 of the PDF brochure is this: a negative digitizer! Apparently the camera has a built-in algorithm for flipping negatives positive.
Some seasoned photographers may be exploring ways to convert their film assets created with old cameras into digital data. Taking advantage of its high-pixel count of 45 megapixels, the D850 offers an option for digitizing film (35mm-format), which can handle color and monochrome negatives. First, set an optional ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter onto a lens such as the AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED attached to the D850. Then, insert the film to be digitized in an FH-4 Strip Film Holder or FH-5 Slide Mount Holder, and shoot. The camera’s digitizing function automatically reverses the colors and stores them as JPEG images. This once time-consuming process involving a film scanner can be done much more quickly. You can enjoy pictures with family and friends while selecting and digitizing by displaying them on a large TV monitor connected via an HDMI cable. Enjoy your old film images by digitizing them with the D850.
There are several items above that I’d love to test. If it could handle color negatives reasonably well, this could be a major workflow improvement for camera scanning.
And I don’t really like the ES-2, but there’s no reason not to use a rail system or copystand /lightbox .
In any case, it’s very exciting to see Nikon acknowledge this missing market niche, especially when so many photographers have mourned the loss of the Nikon scanner line.
Our Movie of the week this week is a long one. I had the pleasure of chatting with my old friend Frederick Van a couple weeks ago. We talked about photography, workflow and my new book on scanning photo collections. The video podcast is embedded below.
September 13th, I’m presenting at B&H’s Event Space in NYC to share techniques from my new book Digitizing Your Photos with your Camera and Lightroom. You can come see it live if you’re in New York, or see it on the web.
I’ll be presenting material from my book on scanning photos with a digital camera. In the webinar we’ll cover:
- The camera scanning advantage
- Hardware setups for scanning prints, slides and negatives
- How to ensure top quality
- Using Lightroom for camera scans
- Tagging your images
- Publishing and sharing your scans
When: Wednesday, September 13, 2017, 1:00p – 3:00p
Skill Level: Basic, Intermediate, Advanced – Everyone will get something out of it
Location: B&H Event Space
Address: Second Floor of B&H NYC SuperStore at 420 9th Avenue, New York NY 10001
All of their events are FREE! If you want to guarantee a seat for an event, please register ASAP. Their events can fill up fast.
Can’t get to NY? The event will be streamed. Register to watch online.
Not available on the 13th? B&H will post the video on their website.
Other questions? See B&H’s FAQ for Event Space details.