Call it "first world problems", but I'm somewhat envious of the under 18 year old crowd. They'll never know the inconvenience of rewinding a VHS tape. They'll never know how aggravating it was to span a 14 MB file over 10 floppy discs with WinZip, and wait 20 minutes only to have it fail at the last disc. And they'll never have to spend $15 to develop a roll of 24 exposure film to find that only five of them are any damn good. Everyone else probably has a dusty box full of printed photos hidden away somewhere in the house. Kaiser Baas has attempted to make it easier to give these relics a new lease of life.
Digital scanners are certainly nothing new, but over the last few years we've seen a move away from standalone printers and scanners, to the all-on-one type devices which favor convergence over quality. And scanning photo after photo while opening and closing the top, whilst individually saving each photo and cropping to the dimensions is a huge pain in the rear, not least is it time consuming and beyond the scope of the less technologically adapt. Best of all, because the unit scans directly to SD card, you don't even need to access a computer to use it. This product is for them.
The Kaiser Baas Photo and Negative Scanner is a simple affair, with everything in the box to get you started, although you will need to bring your own SD card to the table. Let's take a look at the inclusions. Inside the box, we have the scanning unit itself, 1x AC power cable, 1x USB A cable, 1x 35mm slide adaptor, 1x cleaning tool, 1x sheet protector and 1x brief set of instructions.
The unit can be powered via the supplied AC power adaptor or via 6 AAA batteries (not supplied). The unit requires a few seconds start up time, but then you're good to go. There is no on-screen display, just an LED button which indicates the scanning resolution. If it's green, it's scanning at 300 dpi, if it's orange then it's 600 dpi, the highest resolution available. Whilst 600 dpi is a good general resolution, it's a shame that the unit cannot go any higher, considering that at that resolution it wouldn't be scanning the full resolution that a standard 6x4 photo can resolve. Still we soldier on.
First we need to insert any standard SD card (formatted FAT32) into the rear of the unit. The scanning process is very simple. Simply place the photo vertically and move the slider to the size of the photo so it scans straight. Failing to do so will result in a skewed image, or potentially damage to the photo. The scanner will automatically feed the photo through and place it to the other side. Once it's done processing (around 60 seconds for 600dpi), you can move on to the next. Each photo will be saved to the stick as a separate JPG file.
Ditto for 35mm film negatives. Simply insert the scan adaptor into the grove and place the film into that. The scanner will automatically feed it through, although scanning time is a little longer. Surprisingly, the unit scans each slide and cuts them into its own JPG, which is a nice touch. The unit will scan negatives at 1200 dpi.
So, what's the quality like? Well, I guess that depends on your expectations, and the quality of the original images. The limitations are quite clear. The maximum resolution for photos is set to 600 dpi, the unit can only output lossy JPG's and the compression level of the unit is quite high, with each image only around 600 kilobytes in size.
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There is no setting to loosen up the compression. Further, the unit does not come equipped with Kodak's Digital Ice algorithm which automatically cleans images of dust and scratches, a feature found in more expensive flatbed scanners.
Still, the little unit does scan a surprisingly good image. My observation is that it does output a rather dark image, with crushed blacks which works well to hide any surface scratches and dust inherent in the original. However, if you have the time to input the scans to a photo editing program such as Photoshop, you can instantly see that the unit does scan a high level of detail. Brightening up the image and turning down the contrast can show a significant improvement to the scan and in many of my test images - even the original photo.
I realize this is a somewhat unscientific method, but to illustrate, I have included an original digital photo of my 2011 trip to Japan (downsized), and the scanned version of a professionally printed 6x4 version of the image. Instantly you can see that the overall image is darker with a slight variance in colors. Note the crushed blacks visible on my shorts, and the darker cracks and lettering in the rock.
Be careful with images with a fine layer of dust and grime, you may find these build up and result in scanned images with nasty vertical lines, which sadly I learnt the long way - losing around 70 scanned images that I had to re-scan. To rectify, insert the supplied cleaning tool to the rear of the unit and wipe back and forth a few times to clean the optical sensor. Kaiser Baas have included no instructions or warning about this - which may stumble the more inexperienced.
Negative scans, despite the increase in resolution to 1200dpi, do not fare as well. Images are frequently blown out and harsh and abrasive looking. You won't be doing much with these images other than perhaps Facebook uploading, however short of taking the negatives to a professional printer, it's perhaps better than nothing.
So can I recommend the Kaiser Baas? Yes, I can. It does a very good job for a $229 AUD ($238 USD) product and fills a hole in the market for the mum and dad crowd who just want to digitize their old photos, without whizz bang results. For the more discerning, the Kaiser Baas is still a very good option, but the best results will require some light manipulation with Photoshop, which to a degree begins to undercut the benefits of the unit in the first place.
In the future, I would truly love to see Kaiser Baas release a more professional version of the scanner, equipped with a small LCD with access to more manual scanning controls, such as increased resolutions, looser JPEG compression and codec choices and the inclusion of Kodak's Digital Ice software, which would go a long way to repairing light damage and visible dust. Still, for what it is (and short of spending an additional couple of hundred dollars on a higher end flat bed scanner), the Kaiser Baas unit offers very good value for money, with a simple to operate product that virtually any one can pick up and use, and gives instant results.