My high school film teacher once declared: "All your photos are going to fade away, no matter how carefully you store them." Bummer. But hey, that was the '80s, dude, before digital technology arrived — and with it, nearly-eternal photo preservation (for better or worse). Ditto for videotapes: while tape stock can melt or degrade in a matter of years, a DVD can last at least a century if you care for it properly.
Thanks to digital photography and video, the photos and films you now capture can be easily preserved as 0s and 1s, but what about all those cherished images of your youth and your family's lineage? How can you protect these pictures and recordings from the wrinkly fingers of Father Time? We've singled out five digitizing services that convert your physical photos and videotapes into digital formats, several of which frequently offer credits on sites like Groupon, Living Social, and Eversave, so you can not only save your memories, but save some money along the way. (Note that, unless otherwise specified, the files are transferred to a CD or DVD, which is included in the stated price.)
Promotion: Buy 2 Photo Scanning Boxes, get a 3rd free; Save 10% (up to $25) on prepaid orders via coupon code "TWITTER"
Photo Scans: From $79.50 per 1,000 photos* (300 dpi); from $184 per Prepaid Photo Scanning Box (2,000 photos) (300 dpi)
Shipping: Free shipping
Turnaround Time: Up to 3 weeks; 1-day rush processing available ($49.95 per box)
Video Conversion to DVD: $19.95 per VHS, VHS-C, or Hi8 tape, regardless of length; $249.95 per Prepaid Video Box (up to 14 tapes in any combination)
Other Services: Negative scanning, slide scanning, photo restoration; 8mm and Super8 film to DVD transfers
Black and White: ScanMyPhotos processes all orders at its Irvine, CA. headquarters, and earns generally high marks from consumers for its quick turnaround times (often 10 days or less). About.com reviewer Peter Piazza recommends folks opt for 600 dpi scans ($134 per 1,000; $250 for 2,000 via coupon code "TWITTER") if quality is of paramount concern. However, if you're looking to turn slides, negatives, or other still media digital, you'll have to find another service, as ScanMyPhotos doesn't provide these services.
*Not prorated for less than 1,000 photos
Promotion: $20 off* orders over $100 via coupon code "RF1858593"
Photo Scans: From $0.48 per photo (300 dpi); From $380 for prepaid 1,000 photos (300 dpi)
Shipping: From $10 s&h
Turnaround Time: 2-3 weeks for photos; 6-7 weeks for video
Video Conversion to DVD: From $19.95 per VHS, VHS-C, BetaMax, Hi8/Digital 8, and MiniDV (up to two hours of footage)
Other Services: Negative scanning, slide scanning; 8mm, Super8, and 16mm film to DVD transfers
Black and White: While its prices are more expensive than competitors, ScanDigital's professional service is well worth it. They, at no charge, manually rotate photos and crop any black border left after the scanning process, provide color correction, photo cleanup, and remove any dust or minor blemishes on the scanned copies. MacWorld gives ScanDigital high marks for its website's ease of use and a fast turnaround time for archiving 35mm slides.
*Excludes prepaid orders
Photo Scans: From $0.29 per photo (600 dpi); $129.99 (with $19.95 s&h) per Value Kit (600 photos, negatives, or slides)
Shipping: From $7.19 s&h
Turnaround Time: 3-4 weeks for photos, 8-day rush processing available ($0.14 per photo); 4-5 weeks for video
Video Conversion to DVD: $14.99 per VHS, VHS-C, SVHS, Hi8, Digital 8, and MiniDV (up to two hours of footage)
Other Services: 8mm, Super 8, 16mm, and Super 16 film to DVD transfers
Black and White: With ScanCafe, you only pay for the photos you want to keep, though you must accept (and pay for) a minimum of 80% of your order. And while you have to pay 50% upfront, ScanCafe lets you select the images you wish to keep, and toss the ones that aren't quite right. MacWorld picks ScanCafe as its top service based on quality and price, and ScanCafe claims to use hand correction instead of auto correction for color irregularities and only scans at a minimum of 600 dpi (for photos). It does the bulk of its work overseas, in Bangalore, India, but notes that its technicians "are highly trained in all of the latest photo editing software."
Promotion: 50% off all orders via coupon code "WISESCAN"
Photo Scans: Available in bulk only: $55 for 200 photos, $99 for 400 photos, $219 for 1,000 photos (all at 300 dpi). $799 for 5,000 photos (600 dpi)
Shipping: From $9.95 s&h
Turnaround Time: 3-5 business days for photos; up to 3 weeks for videos; 3-5 business days rush processing (from $20)
Video Conversion to DVD: Available in bulk only: $99 for 6 tapes (MiniDV, VHS, VHS-C, and Hi8, in any combination)
Other Services: Negative scanning, slide scanning, Mix Pix Box (400 photos, slides, or negatives, $99)
Black and White: Because PhotoBin only offers bulk photo scanning, the more you convert, the more you save. What's more, you can up the resolution of all your photos for mere pennies per image ($14.95 for up to 1,000 photos). Be aware though, that a number of editing services (rotation, color correction, dust-removal, and the like) cost extra.
Promotion: 10% off all orders via coupon code "PHANFARE" and more deals here
Photo Scans: From $0.25 per photo (300 dpi); no bulk discount
Shipping: At least $5 s&h
Turnaround Time: Up to 1 week
Video Conversion to DVD: $20 per format: VHS, DVcam, S-VHS, Betacam SP, VHS-C, U-Matic (3/4"), Betamax, and Laser Disc, 8mm, Super 8, and 16mm
Other Services: Enhancement and post-prodcution on video transfers, tape cleaning and repairing, uploading digital photos to hard drives, digital music to CD transfers
Black and White: Unlike its competitors, Digital Pickle offers the convenience of drop-in no-appointment-needed locations in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Berkeley, CA. Of all the services we looked at, Digital Pickle also offers the broadest range of video-to-DVD transfers for different formats. (LaserDisc, anyone?) What's more, it offers the most reasonable turnaround time of just two weeks, which has earned Digital Pickle its stars on Yelp.
We Came, We Saw, We Scanned the Contenders...
The way we see it, it's hard to go wrong with any of the services listed above, though there are very clear differences. Digital Pickle has an edge in terms of the range of video transfers it accommodates, and had some of the most glowing customer reviews we saw. ScanCafe deserves props for quality and price (which we attribute to its outsourced production in India). ScanDigital ranked the highest in MacWorld's 2009 roundup of photo scanning services, and PhotoBin looks like a winner for its prodiction quality and customer service.
However, if you're like me, you might not feel comfortable shipping irreplaceable videotapes or photos off the continent, which is required to use ScanCafe; the risk of losing them just seems that much more likely. I love that Digital Pickle offers drop-in locations, and if I lived closer to New York or San Francisco, I would use that option myself. Make no mistake: A misplaced box is easier to find in a drop-in center than on a freighter bound to Bangalore.
That being said, if you're considering using any mail-away photo or video digitizing services, ScanCafe included, take our preliminary report into consideration and continue to do some research on your own. You can also try placing a small test order, to gauge how well the service works for you, before sending your entire cherished collection off to a stranger. Also, be on the lookout for deals and future credit offers for these and other photo and video preservation services.
Front page photo credit: Groupon