I walked into the Wegmans supermarket with a box full of prints. Old, new, color, b&w, even sepia-toned antiques. In sizes ranging from a few inches square to 8x10s. Eighty minutes later, I walked out with a CD containing 402 JPEGs, along with printouts of thumbnail-size copies of every shot.
Who doesn't have lots of old prints that deserve to be copied, shared, and preserved? But who has the negatives? Mine went the way of my 29-inch waist. And who has the time or patience to scan them all at home? Especially when you can get it done so cheaply. My tab at Wegmans? $49.99.
This miracle of digitization is part of an experiment Kodak is conducting to see if there's a business in converting shoeboxes full of prints into JPEG files that can be printed, e-mailed, or just safely stored for years.
At the heart of this venture is the Kodak i660, a document scanner used by banks, insurance companies, and other operations to digitize huge quantities of paper files. While the machine is only the size of a two-drawer filing cabinet, its specifications are huge . According to José Rivera, who's in new business development at Kodak, the i660 costs more than $44,000 and is rated for 60,000 documents a day on paper of various types and sizes.
If the i660 can turn the paperwork from a fender-bender into a crisp digital file, why not your baby pictures?
Kodak tweaked the software and equipped two Wegmans supermarkets around Rochester, NY, with i660s that scan up to 120 4x6s per minute.
In Irvine, CA, entrepreneur Mitch Goldstone similarly uses an i660 at his 30 Minute Photos Etc. store (www.shoeboxreprints.com). He even services by mail. (Wegmans is strictly walk-in.)
I dropped my box of prints on the counter, and the clerk and I went through them, making sure they all faced up; that there were no Polaroids ("the machine doesn't like them"); and we weren't scanning professionally shot photos (Kodak respects photographers' copyrights). We also pulled out badly wrinkled prints, and any that had tape or glue on them. But there were no more than a dozen rejects. The other 402 prints-ranging from souvenir photos of Coney Island circa 1910, to my parents' wedding pictures, to my first-grade class photo, to shots I printed on an inkjet just days before-flew through the scanner like confetti before a fan. And not one of them was harmed in the process.
Here's what you get: 300-dpi JPEGs burned to a Kodak Picture CD that includes not only your photos, but also software by Kodak that makes it easy to edit, print, e-mail, and upload shots to photo-processing sites. While the scanner packs picture-enhancing software similar to what's in a Kodak minilab, it wasn't used on my shots; they were scanned only.
I used the EasyShare software to make adjustments on a dozen different pictures and printed both the original and enhanced versions on a Canon i960 inkjet. When done at 1:1-that is, at the same size as the original print-both versions looked quite good. Some of the old ones were improved over the original. But going much larger than the original size often would lead to softness and the picture breaking up.
If you're looking to reproduce a couple of heirloom photos as gorgeous works of art, use your own flatbed scanner and powerful image-editing software. But if, like me, you have piles of prints that seem destined to spend eternity boxed away, unshared and unprotected, visit Wegmans-you may leave as happy as I did.