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CSN July 2008 Negative vibes and Positive Scanning
 
A year or so ago there was a survey that suggested that the continued use of mobile phones was a danger to health and sanity -the microwaves would slowly but surely fry people's brains. With a large number of people, particularly the younger generation, apparently obsessed with the things we would run the risk of breeding a future generation of imbeciles.

Though the survey was dismissed and finally buried under "lack of evidence" and "unproven", I've never quite been able to get it out of my mind. Was there really a lack of evidence ? No one has a time machine to see the long term effects, but surely the evidence of the high street is enough to conjecture that something very strange is happening to some peoples behaviour.

They seem to have adopted an imaginary friend called "mate", and when he's around they walk very quickly but erratically, staring at nothing but the floor, and ignoring near misses with prams, other pedestrians, and weaving in and out of moving traffic, mountain bikes, and suicidal skateboarders. Not only is this behaviour bizarre, it goes against all the principles of self preservation and self control. What information is so vital that it is worth risking life and limb to impart, and why are conversations so long and complex to an anonymous partner when in the real world, face to face, they may be reduced to single syllables ?
More than that, it can also be just damn rude. Having served a customer at the counter who continued an insignificant mobile phone conversation during the entire transaction, the onus was on me to do the joined up thinking for both of us.

Good job I can read people's minds.

Then there is the time when the relentless rattle of copies is drowned by the bellowing repeated catchphrase "I'm at the printers!" Would be nicer if they said they were at a specialist digital imaging capture and reproduction centre, or at least remember the name of the firm.

Before mobile phones, it was very simple. People had to make decisions and keep appointments. Now everything is pushed to the last minute and left as a loose end until the very moment the button is pushed - and even then maybe queried.
And there's the rub for the copy shop, too much instant and disposable electronic communication and not enough solid facts.

Reading this back I sound like the archetypal grumpy old man but there is a real practical issue in that customers who give you a mobile number instead of a traditional landline can do one of several things : give you the wrong number, usually missing a digit, not have the phone on, nor charged even if it's with them, or finally not pick up messages you leave, as they haven't got any credit. This can leave you with a considerable dilemma if you are hanging on a print job.

My standard practice now is to send a text message asking them to contact me, that puts the ball back in their court.

As with so many emails, the modern etiquette of mobile contact is that if you get a message, don't bother replying to it.


One of the continual themes in digital imaging is the importance to the copy shop of being able to do things the average customer can't do at home or in their own office. This doesn't just involve specialist machines, and often small gaps in the supply market can be filled with quite simple solutions.

The secret is the specialist knowledge, built up through the growing pains endured with digital, which enables them to be solutions. Ironically, multi-task machines, primarily designed for the home office market, which offer a mini copy bureau facility, can be extremely useful around the shop.

They are, for reasons of the competitive market, very cheap, easily portable from one workstation to another, and extremely adaptable to different tasks. We have had an Epson RX640 for over a year or more and although it's often forgotten as it's not in the front line, there are times when it proves worth its weight in gold.

It's an A4 inkjet printer, so it can knock out a respectable proof for a customer looking for colour critical printing. It's also an A4 reflective, and 35mm transparency scanner. It can print from and scan to camera memory cards, it can also print on CD. Ok it's not quick and it's not super high quality compared to more sophisticated printers and scanners, but there are times when a simple and cost effective solution is called for.

We have an Epson 3200 dedicated film scanner for the serious high-resolution stuff, but it is comparatively slow, being memory hungry by its nature, when scanning film, and it's a lot more complicated to use.

Any scanning requires some knowledge of how images are captured, and the often mysterious relationship between size and resolution. I have rarely had a scan brought in by a customer that has been suitable for the task. It's not that home scanners may not be capable, more that the average user doesn't know how to use the controls properly. And why should they ?

The main thing is understanding optical qualities. The scanner can't see what isn't there, it's not a microscope that can pry into hidden depths. For reflective originals, 300 dpi is about the effective capture level of the scanned image. The only advantage in going larger is if the target is to be printed bigger - you are effectively enlarging at source rather than at the printer end. An A4 scanned in at 600 dpi for example is the same as an A2 at 300 dpi. Its that relationship that takes a bit of thinking about.

When checking customer's original files I always check size and resolution first to see if there are any conflicting issues that will cause problems in the final output - particularly common if files are being nested for print. Photoshop always works to the resolution of the first open document, so any subsequent imports will be scaled around that. They may be alternately bigger or smaller depending on actual file resolution.

Where high resolution scanning is definitely required is dealing with negative and transparency film or material originally designed to be enlarged optically. Though real film is less popular these days, more than a century of common use means that there must be countless millions of images stored in this country alone. If even a small proportion of these archives is to be transferred to digital at some stage, there is still a huge amount of business out there for any bureau that can cope with the transfer.

There was a time when some copiers came with a transparency hood - literally a projector that shone the image onto the flatbed to print. But as film fell out of fashion so useful gadgets like that were deemed unnecessary.

Scanning film at 1-1 is not sufficient because unlike print it is has an extremely high density grain in comparison, and obviously is originally designed to be enlarged and printed by shining high intensity light through it. Hence the need for backlighting.
Dedicated film scanners usually drive the originals through in a carriage over the scanner head, using a slow electric motor to keep the image stable. Flatbed scanners are quicker, but tend not to be quite so accurate for really fine detail.
It just depends what the job calls for, and what the budget demands.

The beauty of the Epson RX640 is that it is straightforward to use and certainly good enough if the main aim is to produce images for websites or small prints.
I have to stress at this point "other manufacturers multi-function printers are available", but I am a fan of the Epson because the software is simple to use in both home or professional settings.

The basic home settings will do the simple tasks with automated settings, going into professional mode will enable you to take control of the image capture. This is necessary if you are tackling anything out of the ordinary. Like any automatic system, if you give it something unusual it will go into panic mode.

That something out of the ordinary came in the form of a small square of glass with the positive image of a group of soldiers etched into it. I am familiar with glass negatives from the Victorian era (though not quite old enough to have shot any personally).

This one was a bit more substantial, being mounted in a 50mm thick slide for a lantern projection, and thus too big to go in the 3200 film scanner. The RX640 has a 35mm strip backlight in the hood and the scans are usually positioned under it located by a special frame. But as the glass slide would fit under the hood without leaking light, it was only a matter of lining it up with the position of the frame.

This isn't the first group of soldiers rescued from some box in an attic though exact details are still being investigated. This motley crew appears to be a bunch of "other ranks" from an infantry regiment some time around the Crimean War,
So some time in the 1850s. Whether actually on active duty in the theatre is unknown.

This was a little bit of a challenge, but with a priceless snapshot of history it's worth the effort of thinking off the square, especially as every new adventure in imaging pushes back the boundaries of the possible.

More up to date, but also investigating the challenges of size and resolution, another customer had brought in a 35mm print film taken with a disposable
camera for an enlargement to A2 plus. Normally this would be a no-no as often the quality of the original is so poor, but on examination, the image was so dramatic, it was worth saving, literally. It was not only a disposable, but a waterproof one, and the shot was taken at sea, in the water, on a choppy, spray filled horizon. Not much to focus on, and not much detail, but the overall effect was quite catching.

The film had actually been processed at a well know high street photographic specialist, and the customer had been charged extra for a "hi res" scan. Opening the disc this turned out to be a 1200x1600 pixel scan only suitable for 6x4 inch mini lab prints. Didn't look too bad at that size, but at A2 it was pretty awful.

A decent hi-res scan on the 3200 was a big improvement. Result, one very happy customer and some extra prints. Copy Shop 1, Photo Shop 0.

Is it a coincidence that this same photostore, which six months previous closed 80 of its poorest performing (on figures) branches, in May announced a further 200 job losses, predominantly amongst its senior staff.

Times are hard, but is laying off experienced staff and replacing them with
less qualified but presumably cheaper to run ones really that cost effective ?
It looks like a short term patch on a long term issue.

As I always underline in this column, the only way any reproduction bureau is going to survive is by getting ahead of current knowledge and technology, not slipping back to a base level of the average consumer.