Photo albums are not what they used to be. Modern phones sort their photos, which we now take, by the thousands. They automatically recognize faces and places. They back it up in the cloud. And the big news in 2023: You can now apply the same treatment to your older photos.
It’s easier than ever to bridge the gap between 2023 and when images are shot in batches of 12, 24 or 36 exposures and then developed at high prices in specialty shops. This also applies to the decade around the turn of the millennium, when digital cameras ruled mainstream photography. That was before smartphones put them back in the same drawer as a Walkman…
Therefore, it is quite possible to collect photos from all eras into a single digital album that does not gather dust, without breaking your head. Here are three ways to do this.
Digitizing old photos is neither easy nor fun. Unless you have a tool designed for this purpose on hand. Epson offers one called the FastFoto FF-680W, and it’s in clearance these days. The device has the look of a PC printer working upside down: Insert up to 36 photos in a maximum 8 x 10 format and it will scan them all, one by one. The resolution ranges from 300 to 1200 pixels per inch (ppi), which then allows it to be quickly shared, reprinted or enlarged.
The details are not trivial: this digitizer restores the sweet words noted on the backs of old photos. And for those photos printed from 20 years ago that might be faded, Epson includes software to revive faded colors, horizon straightening, and more. It’s all stored where you want it, on your home computer, on a network drive, or with a cloud service like Dropbox.
Sharp and sharp image
Phones from Apple, Google, Samsung, and more come out with more pixels, more filters, and more photo editing options every year. That’s great for the snapshots you take from these phones, but what about your oldest digital photos?
Google offers an imperfect solution, but it might work for some: drop your old digital snapshots into Google Photos’ cloud storage, and its algorithms will enhance the photo as if you just took it. These old photos may have been taken in another era with a digital camera, or more recently with an old phone – whatever the model, it could be an old iPhone.
However, there is a problem. Dubbed Photo Unblur, this solution can be found in the Google Photos app for Android and is exclusive to phones in the Pixel 7 range.
As you might guess from its name, the Sharpen Image function improves focus on a blurry image, which was a common problem in the not-too-distant era when focus wasn’t automatic or very accurate. It also restores precision to photos taken on the move. This functionality is in addition to (but not exclusive to) another highly regarded Pixel software tool: the Magic Eraser. Most of the time this option makes it possible to effectively remove unwanted elements from your photos, whether they are recent or not.
who is who
Apple and Google do more with the photos you take on their phones than they do with storing them on one of their millions of servers. They use the information you contain to create specially designed mini albums. The dates, places, and even topics they contain are used to give a title to these smart albums: your trip to Paris, outdoor photos, family photos, and so on.
It’s practical and fun. They’re expensive, too: cloud storage from Apple and Google is only free for the first few gigabytes. However, you do not need to pay a monthly fee to benefit from similar treatment for your digital photos. European company LatticeWork has created a household tool in recent years that does all that and more.
The device is called amber. This is a small home connected server. It comes in three versions: The cheapest ($300) needs an external USB drive to work. The other two – which can also be used as a home WiFi router, not stupid – have 1 or 2 TB of internal storage. In fact, they have twice as much, but the second storage serves as a backup copy of the first. Not stupid.
LatticeWork originally developed Amber to be the brains of the connected home, with a focus on respecting the privacy of its users. The project is still in development, and software upgrades to Amber servers continue to improve it.
Intelligent image sorting algorithms are already on the device. All you have to do is install the companion app on your phone and everything is automatically saved to the server, which identifies objects, places, times, and faces. This is how smart albums are created and can be referenced or shared, at home or abroad.
Amber’s algorithms aren’t quite as accurate as Apple’s or Google’s, but at least they work from your home. Those who fear their memories will be devoured by digital giants may have an interesting alternative here.
For the rest of us, it’s another way to extend the life of photographic memories that may be from yesterday, last year, or the last century.
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