ScanCafe Review – Great Photo, Negative and Slide Scans

by Mike McEvoy on June 17, 2009


Scancafe was my first experience with a professional photo, slide and negative scanning service. Many people over the age of 30 have or once had a film camera. Many of those same people have hundreds or thousands of negatives, slides or photos that they would love to have in digital format. To help fill this need a number of online photo scanning services have cropped up in the last several years.

During this time has developed into a market leader delivering high quality, low cost scanning of 35mm slides and negatives, photos, medium format color negatives and 110/126/127 color slides and negatives. Recently I gained some firsthand experience with ScanCafe’s services when I sent 150 35mm color negatives to them for scanning.

A Little Photo Scanning Background Information.

My photography efforts go back well before the arrival of digital cameras. Having thousands of 35mm negatives, I’ve gone through a few attempts to gain digital access to my images over the last several years. I purchased an excellent quality Microtek flatbed scanner for my DIY computer scanning efforts and I also used a couple of local services to scan a small number of negatives. The time, effort and cost involved in scanning them myself or the cost of paying to have my negatives scanned by a local service have been a continuing impediment to my digital dreams. Tech Tip: unless you have lots of time and patience consider outsourcing the project.

Enter ScanCafe

Even with my own less than positive hands-on scanning experiences I was still very wary about sending my precious negatives off into the ether just to get them into digital format. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I placed my order online with Scan Cafe. The results: forty five days later I received a DVD with my scans and my precious negatives back and I really couldn’t be happier with the results. Scan quality is excellent, I received all my negatives back in perfect condition, and the whole process with including tax, shipping and an extra charge for the TIFF format came to $75 for 150 negatives. It would have been about $30 less if I used the standard JPG format.

Benefits of the ScanCafe Solution

ScanCafe’s web site has quite a bit of useful information on photo, negative and slide scanning and photo restoration along with detailed descriptions of their different services and the processes they use. I am not a photography expert so I can’t offer an expert’s analysis of the scan quality but here are some of the benefits that I found with the services they offer:

  • Excellent quality – I am very pleased with the scan quality of all of the 150 35mm color negatives.
  • Great prices – With tax and shipping the cost was $.50/image. TIFF format added $.19/scan so in JPG format the cost would have been $.31/image.
  • Wide range of scanning services including photos, negatives, slides and different formats
  • High resolution for standard service – 3000 dpi for slides & negatives, 600 dpi for prints.
  • Pro Level services available – 4000 dpi for slides & negatives, 1200 dpi for prints, TIFF Raw format.
  • Image restoration and repair services available if needed

Two other important benefits at ScanCafe:

Pay only for what you keep – after the scanning is complete you can review your images online and decide which ones you want. This is a great option since it allows you to skip the potentially laborious process of deciding which negatives or slides to send or not send in for scanning. At the time of order you pay for 50% of estimated charges and can reject up to 50% of the scans at the time of review and not have to pay for the rejected scans.

Order status updates – ScanCafe provides email updates when your package arrives at their facility, when it arrives at the scanning facility, when the scanning processing begins, and at various other points along the way.  You also have online access to your order status at any point in the process.

Potential Downsides with ScanCafe Services

Life is full of trade-offs and nothing is perfect. From my personal experience I encountered two downsides with ScanCafe, one is more general and one is based on my specific needs. The larger issue for most people will be the time it takes to complete the process and receive the finished scans.  The service can take 45 days or more from the time you send your material to ScanCafe until the time you receive your final results. Your material is repackaged and sent offshore (to India according to the person at ScanCafe that I spoke with). This explains both the extended time required and the low cost. Unfortunately ScanCafe does not offer any type of “rush” charge to lower the turnaround time.

Another downside was more based on my specific needs. My father had taken a huge number of black and white medium format family photos with his Voigtlander camera decades ago.  My efforts in getting these medium format negatives into digital form have been a bit challenging. I was looking for a service that would scan medium format black and white negatives. ScanCafe only offers scanning for color medium format negatives. Hopefully they will add a service for medium format black and white negatives in the future.

Update: In September 2009 ScanCafe began offering scanning services for medium format black and white negatives. Yay. I will be doing a review post once my first batch of medium format scans have returned. Stay tuned.

A Big “Thumbs Up”

All things considered, I would heartily recommend the ScanCafe service. They provide excellent quality at a great price. Although the time it takes for the entire process is a bit long, in hindsight it really isn’t. Many times your negatives, slides or photos may have been sitting in a closet or attic or on a bookcase for years. If that is the case then waiting another 45 days to have your images in digital format probably isn’t very significant.

If you are considering scanning large amounts of slides, negatives or prints on your own, do yourself a favor and point your browser at: Don’t waste the time and money trying to do it yourself. In the end, if you are at all like me, you most likely will never get around to it. To see some calculations on the time involved for DIY photo or negative scanning projects see the do-it-yourself section at ScanCafe.  If you would like more information on scanning visit Wayne Fulton’s ScanTips site for a wealth of scanning information. For an addtional resource with a wealth of info on digital photography be sure to see our post on “Digital Photography Review – an excellent photography resource.”



Martin July 9, 2009 at 10:25 am

Thank you for your feedback through Twitter, I decided to ship my negs off last week.

As for the medium format (120) negs; I am not sure if they updated their services par, as they list 120 negatives under ‘additional services’, but make no distinction between color and B&W… Hopefully they now scan 120 B&W at the same price.



MikeM July 9, 2009 at 11:13 am

Hi Martin, Glad I could help. Drop me a note after you get your new scans back and let me know how things went. I’m sure you will be pleased.

Re: medium format B&W negs, I had called ScanCafe on two separate occasions about this and was told both times that they did not do medium format B&W negs, but that I should check back in the future. Perhaps its time for another phone call.

JB August 8, 2009 at 10:02 pm

Another photo scanning service I’ve run across is FotoBridge.

Here is their site:

Mike H. August 27, 2009 at 8:59 am

Scancafe seems to have updated their website to include a price for medium format BW scans ($1.99 per scan). However, they refused to scan my BW 120 negs last month, telling me they don’t do medium format. Perhaps they’ve only added this service very recently. I wish I had known it was in the pipeline, as now I’ve got to send my negs back in again after only getting them back this week.

Mike McEvoy August 27, 2009 at 11:27 am

Yes, I just received an email from ScanCafe a couple days ago about the medium format B&W service. I’m glad they are finally offering this service. Looks like there was some confusion within ScanCafe on how they were rolling this service out when they returned your negs. Kind of a drag to have to ship them twice. But hopefully the wait will be worthwhile.

I will be sending in a back of medium format b&w negs very soon also and will do a follow up post once I have the scans back. Let me know how your scans turn out. What do you think about the $1.99/per negative cost?


Mike H. August 28, 2009 at 11:30 pm

I think the $1.99 price is OK, Mike, since we’re able to edit out 50% of our scans without cost. That’s a big virtue of Scancafe. However, I don’t see why they’re insisting on higher prices due to the perceived need to hand-correct every BW negative (because of ICE being turned off). I wish there were another option to simply buy the raw scan and give us the option of post-processing ourselves in PS if there are dust spots. I don’t actually *need* them to do it for me. A simple scan with iCE off should not cost any more than a color scan. Those who want manual corrections done can pay more if they want, but I don’t think it should be required.

I’m contemplating just doing all my work in color from now on and converting to BW myself in PS. But it just seems that actual BW film produces more pleasing tonality. I’d be interested in your thoughts on this when you get your scans back.

Martin August 27, 2009 at 12:23 pm

My confusion (sending 120 B&W) may pay off after all… They did advise me that the service wasnt offered yet, but the negatives went to India with the rest of my order to after all

I was in the process of selecting my scans when I got the news of the new service so I am in ‘negotiations’ for them to process my 120 B&W with the initial -20% coupon ‘focus’ (from the Photofocus podcast) as my order is technically still being processed.

They asked my to hold off before checking out so that they can confirm if they can include my batch as part of the same order. I have high hopes.

The price is a bit steep, but having seen the good work on my color 120′s, I think it’s worth it.


Mike McEvoy August 27, 2009 at 5:40 pm

Thanks for the update. Hope this works out and you are able to get your 120 b&w negs processed without having to submit them twice. This will be a good test of how ScanCafe’s customer service dept. functions. Keep us posted on how things turn out.

Martin August 28, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Good News Everyone! (Futurama wink)

The people at ScanCafe were nice enough to accept holding back my entire order to have my 120 B&W scanned!

Judging from the scans already made, I have no worries that they will come out great. Some of my color 120′s are so lush that I have the impression that they were photoshopped with watercolors… ;-)

The prices are fair, the service is top notch, the output is fantastic! If I were an octopy, I’d give it eight tumps up!


Amal Roy May 2, 2010 at 11:47 am

That service looks good. A nice way to get back those old nostalgic photos.
.-= Amal Roy´s last blog ..Speed Up Wordpress – Ultimate Guide To Make Sites Super Fast =-.

Mike McEvoy May 4, 2010 at 2:50 pm

@Amal Roy — thanks for visiting. yes, I would definitely recommend checking out Scancafe for photo, negative and slide scanning. They do excellent work at a great price. Only downside is the time it takes. But if you are not in a hurry I think they have a service that is hard to beat. They also do photo restoration work for old/faded/damaged photos. Be sure to check out my other Scancafe post – ScanCafe Medium Format Black and White Negative Scanning Service for information on their medium format scanning services.

Mark Nyman August 5, 2011 at 12:09 pm

ScanCafe did an amazingly bad scan job.
Out of focus, poor exposure, stretched in one axis.
But worst of all, my slides came back scrambled out of order,
which has taken many hours to repair

Mike McEvoy August 5, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Hi Mark, Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the feedback on your experience with Scan Cafe. Definitely sounds like your order wasn’t handled very well.

I haven’t processed anything through Scan Cafe recently so it’s possible that their service has declined. Or it may be possible that someone processing your order had a bad day. Hard to say.

Did you contact Scan Cafe and if so how did they respond?

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