The best way to digitize old photos, tapes and discs and leave them in your memory

I would have been in trouble if I asked to watch a video of my son’s deceased grandfather’s name today.

First, you need to find a VHS tape. Next, you need to find the gray market VCR. (Over $ 500 for obsolete technology!) Then I have to meet in another dark alley to connect the converter box to my fashionable smart TV. Then you have to expect someone to be kind and actually rewind in 1996.

Fortunately, my 3-year-old kid only wants a “great adventure with Dora.”

Technology makes it possible to preserve the stories of dead people, assuming that technology will not die.

The idea that old photos and videos are lost in obsolete media formats was well thought out when I was working on the documentary “E-Ternal: A Tech Quest to’Live’ Forever” on death and technology.

It’s also what the viewer wrote to me. Some even email suggest that paper is the best solution to ensure that the story is passed down. Of course, I’ve never come across a piece of paper that has improved over time or in a fire. The printouts are great, but not the same as a rugged hard drive or digital copy in the cloud that the whole family can access.

Old photos, letters, tapes. Technology has long allowed people to preserve their memories even after they died. But with new tools, interactive solutions such as memorable online accounts, voice bots, and even humanoid robots will be available. WSJ’s Joanna Stern travels around the world to test some of them for young women living on borrowed time.Photo Illustration: Adele Morgan / Wall Street Journal

Converting old media to digital files may not sound like a good time idea, but don’t worry. Here are some tips to make these older formats enjoyable in 2021.

old photograph

There are actually two ways to digitize old media. 1) Procure special hardware, roll up your sleeves and do it yourself, or 2) outsource.

It’s easiest to do your own photos and prints. What is the most efficient route? Invest in a $ 600 Epson FastFoto FF-680W scanner. When you put a stack of photos (including Polaroid) in the tray, the photos are scanned in large numbers at high speed every second and sent to your computer via USB or Wi-Fi. Epson software helps you assign a year to each metadata in your photo and has easy color restoration and editing tools. You can also scan the front and back to retain any writes or timestamps that may be visible.

It’s expensive, but if you’re dealing with hundreds of photos, the cost is worth it. In addition, scanners can be shared with family and friends who are plagued by piles of their photos.

Do you want to use it so much? IOS and Android apps such as Google Photos Scan and Photomine’s Photo Scan app allow you to capture photos using your smartphone’s camera. Find a table with bright light and shoot with autofocus without disturbing the shadow of the hand puppet. The app will automatically cut the surface. You need to use this option to move from photo to photo, so take enough time to prioritize the most important images.

You can use the Google Photos Scan app to scan old photos one by one. Try to get rid of the glare.


Joanna Stern / Wall Street Journal

If it sounds like a headache, send your photos to a pro with a service such as or Memories Renewed. Collect photos, organize them by year, get bubble wrap and email them. ScanMyPhoto will also send you a prepaid label and shipping box. The service then digitizes them and gives you the option to get them on a DVD, USB drive, or cloud download. Both companies will return the original. I used ScanMyPhotos a few years ago and was very pleased with the delivery time, the quality of the scanned images and the care of the original print.

Old slide

Older slides of 35mm and other formats are also available for these services. But I recently discovered the thrill of scanning them myself. Inspired by my uncle who scanned hundreds of 35mm slides during quarantine, I bought a $ 160 Kodak Scanza digital film scanner.

Turn on the coffee can-sized device, place the slide or negative in the appropriate tray, and slide it into the machine. You can see the image on the built-in screen. Press the camera button to save the photo to SD card. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to date a photo. Later, you will need to assign a date in the photo editing program of your choice.

Kodak Scanza converts 35mm slides and film negatives into digital files.


Joanna Stern / Wall Street Journal

If you want to perform dirty slide scans quickly, try Photomyne’s SlideScan app for iOS and Android. Hold the slide over a backlit surface (it’s great that your computer’s web browser points to and take a photo. The app will automatically crop and brighten the image. The quality wasn’t good, but it’s a good way to understand what’s hidden in those old negatives.

Converting 35mm slides to digital photos using the Kodak Scanza machine (left) produced higher quality scans than using the SlideScan app (right).


Stern family

Old tape

To convert videotapes (VHS, Betamax, MiniDV, Video8, or other older formats), you need a device that can play them. Then you need another device to record the video, like this $ 170 ClearClick Video2 Digital Converter 2.0. There are other ways to do this, such as connecting a VCR or older camcorder to your computer through such a converter.

That’s a lot. There are also many online tape conversion services such as ScanMyPhotos, Memories Renewed and Legacy Box.Also, Costco,

CVS, Wal-Mart and other retailers use a third-party service called YesVideo. Drop the tapes at your local store and they’ll do the rest for you.

Many of them also handle older audio cassettes. You can also try one of these cassette to MP3 converter gadgets.

Old dvd

All of these services convert DVDs to digital files, but it’s easy to do it yourself.

Joanna Stern has begun to convert her grandparents’ old DVDs to MP4 video files.


Joanna Stern / Wall Street Journal

Share your thoughts

Is there a convenient way or tip to save those old photo or video formats? Join the conversation below.

A few years ago, my mother converted some of my family’s old tapes to DVD. I have been working hard to convert them all to MP4 files. Insert the disc into this $ 31 LG DVD drive, launch Handbrake, a free app available for Mac and Windows, set the export settings and wait for the conversion to complete. (No, sorry, for copy protection, you cannot use the same app to rip a collection of “Friends” DVDs purchased from the store.)

So where do you store all these digital files? With cloud-based storage services such as Google, iCloud, and Dropbox? With a physical solid state drive? It’s a good idea to combine both. Because you don’t really know which technology will die next.

This leaves my biggest rule of digitization. This is not technical, but ambitious. Converting files to new media formats is the next generation.

I’m converting my grandfather’s VHS tape to my son’s video file. Forty years later, it is his responsibility to transform the media into a multidimensional cubite of artificial intelligence, or the new technology we are working on.

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The best way to digitize old photos, tapes and discs and leave them in your memory

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