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Crappy little slide/negative scanner

Here is the unit.
A little USB scanner
A little USB scanner.

If we open it up (warranty? what warranty? ☺), we can see that it's exactly what I thought it would be. There's an LED lamp with diffuser at the bottom.

Scanner light source
Scanner light source.

Looking directly down on this is a camera module.

Scanner camera
Scanner camera.

And to the side of this is the one chip on the board. It's a Sunplus SPCA2080A, and what looks like a 12MHz crystal.

A little USB scanner
A little USB scanner.

The SPCA2080A is a 1.3M/2M/HD USB2.0 camera controller. It supports the USB video class 1.1 standard, and can accept raw/YUV/JPEG data from a CMOS sensor. It can stream HD (1280×720) at 30fps, or 2.0M (1600×1200) at 20fps. There's a built-in colour processing engine for all the usual camera functions (brightness, contrast, gamma, tone mapping, auto-white, etd etc).

Therefore, the almost 8 megapixel images created by the software are a complete fabrication and the attempt to pad out the image with complete bollocks tends to interfere and make the results worse than had they just left it. So the best thing to do is not use the bundled NimoFilm software.

Thankfully, the driver also responds as a WIA acquisition device, which is less flexible (no live preview) and slower, but you get the native 1344×896 images out of it. Yes, it's only actually imaging to around 1.2 megapixels.
So while that's a bit crap, it's also a way to get the image as sent by the device without the pathetic and misguided puffery.



Asides from actually being 1344×896 (so it's probably actually using an inferior camera module than the cheap one I have attached to my ESP32 board!), it suffers from two other main limitations.

The first is that quite a lot of the usable photograph area is cropped. I'm now leaning to thinking it's more in the order of 15% or so on each margin, or losing nearly a third of the picture.
For some of the photos below, I had to prop the flaps open with a pencil pushed through, and then insert the film by hand (not in the carrier) just so I could move it to the part that I wanted to have in a picture of, as in the holder, it wouldn't do it correctly.

The second is that the automatic colour balance is really seriously out of whack. You must have a colour balance because colour film is almost sepia - it's not a clear substrate like black and white film. So if you start off with black and white photos and switch to colour photos, they'll appear heavily blue tinted as it isn't adjusting for the orangeness of the film itself.
If you go from colour to monochrome, the mono photos will appear with a strong orange tint (almost sepia toned) as it is now overcorrecting.
All of the monochrome photos below were strongly orange tinted. They appear as proper monochrome because I figured it would be simpler to knock out the colour in post rather than sorting out the scanner.
At any rate, it's a tool for getting something from old films, but count on having some sort of competent photo editor package, because you probably won't get immediately-usable results. You might also like to fiddle with the contast, as the images tend to be a little 'flat'. No doubt a side-effect of using a turn-of-the-century imager inside.


On with the show!


A trip down a memory lane

I've added an extra 'a' in that sentence as half of these aren't my memories.

Ardlui and ...? (May 1972)

In May 1972, Mom went to Ardlui.
Exactly as it says on the sign.

That was the first monochrome photo that I processed, and I think I did a good job of filtering out the heavy orange tint, but it was a pain to do. Easier just to cut out the colour completely, which is what I have done for the following photos.

These were the next photos on the film, but this sure isn't Ardlui. I'm guessing possibly Glasgow?


See that railway track on the lower-right? Well, I suspect this is what you see if you turned to the left.


That's not Red Riding or whatever that monstrosity was called. I have looked at a selection of photos of tower blocks in Glasgow in the '70s and didn't spot anything similar. Heh, it's probably Edinburgh, right?


Honeymoon - near Inverness (February 1973)

Nothing says "I love you" like being dragged around remote bits of Scotland with unpronouncable names, in mid-winter.

Here is the back of beyond near Inverness.

Near Inverness
Near Inverness.

Loch Lomond, Kingussie, and some names that look made up (Portknockie, for instance).

On the plus side, they bumped into the military doing a training exercise. And while my father made a bit of a fool of himself, mom made instant friends and even got to have a go at driving a 3-ton truck (which she handled like a boss over rough terrain, nobody believed that she didn't have a driving licence).
Dad? Jealous? Oh, hell yes. ☺

Honeymoon - Lossiemouth (February 1973)

Continuing the magical mystery tour of Scotland honeymoon, we're in Lossiemouth. That's in the middle of the second northernmost northern coast. If that sounds confusing, look at a map of Scotland and you'll understand. It's roughly horizontal with Gothenburg.

It's looking at mom and thinking "Mine!".

Being photobombed by an excitable dog.


Caernarfon Castle (July 1973)

Mom loved old castles and churches. You must remember, America literally has no history that predates the Mayflower (1620). I can literally say "I live in a house older than your country". So mom was quite the castle geek. And a roman geek too, but not in the idiotic togas and faux Latin sorority sense. Several weekend visits at boarding school, she'd drag me around Fishbourne. It was interesting the first time.

When my uncle and his wife and son visited (sort of 1998ish, I don't remember the exact date), guess where we went. ☺

Caernarfon Castle
Caernarfon Castle.

By the way, sometime between the winter wonderland and welsh castle, my parents bonked. Mission successful.


Dunblane (January 1974)

Once I was released from my little plastic box, mom quickly learned why my medical notes said "BABY MURRAY SLEPT ONE HOUR!!!!!!!" (in capitals and followed with many exclamation marks). I don't like speaking as an adult because I used a lifetime supply of words as a very noisy baby.

Here is mom, in my first days, with both of the things important to her.

My first days, and Puff
My first days, and Puff.

The parrot (sulphur crested cockatoo) was called Puff / Puffy and it seems that the two of us engaged in competition for mom's affection. Bloody parrot could get away with dropping peanuts during a flypast, but I was not able to get away with throwing my food. So unfair.


Catonsville (December 1974)

Mom went back home, mainly to introduce her family to me. That's grandmom on the left, granddad in the middle, and sitting down is the Rick that I'm named after.

A Catonsville Christmas
A Catonsville Christmas.

I've had two emails asking why mom, from America, came to Britain. Well, her first time over here was to go to an exclusive finishing school (which is why mom could do a pretty convincing RP accent if she needed to, not to mention knowing the exact purpose of a dozen different shapes of glass). She did a lot of stuff with horses, and was aiming to be a vet specialising in show-jumping, or something like that. Her boyfriend at the time was a count (Belgian, Danish, I don't recall) but that didn't work out because "oh how ghastly, she's American". The guy didn't care, but there was far too much idiotic prejudice for it to have ever worked out.
Back in America, it was the worst of the Vietnam War. Mom's first boyfriend there was training to be a doctor and he got conscripted by the lottery. He was shipped out days later, and you'd think a guy being a doctor might be a useful first-line medic, right? Wrong, 'Nam was such an unmitigated disaster that he was assigned to crawl on his hands and knees to pat the ground looking for mines.
They sent his dog tags back three days later.

During an argument with grandmom, a relationship that was already very strained for reasons that I will not explain, grandmother said "It's America, love it or leave it". Mom said "right, bye", and left as soon as she got things in order. Came to the UK, started doing nursing training (well, not quite a vet...) and eventually married a local.

Apart from the above visit, and a year when I was four or so, she only ever stayed a night or two at the family home, and after the visit with me as a toddler, she never went back.

She once said to me that you really have to leave a place to understand how screwed up it is. I didn't really understand until I left Britain in 2002. I now look at it as an outsider, and I listen to the British news and also the news from various international sources, and my opinion of Britain now is "Oh FFS, you're a complete joke". Pretty much how I think mom viewed America in the end. She lived long enough to see Trump elected, but not to see the aftermath. Thankfully.


A float for Fleet Carnival (June 1975)

The little hospital that my parents were working at entered a float into Fleet Carnival. At was about "Nursing of the future".

Carnival float
Carnival float - nursing of the future.

Everybody got involved.

Carnival float
Carnival float - Matron is always in charge.

Yes, it was a big spaceship theme. Since this was the mid seventies, it's hard to tell if they were doing this tongue in cheek or straight up serious.
Well, at least nobody was decked out in tin foil.

Oh... wait...

Carnival float
Carnival float - slutty nurses and tin foil.

Short uniform dresses like something out of the sixties, what mom would call "f--k me boots", and tin foil capes. It was like sleazy glam rock given a space motif, and a good half decade before the Flash Gordon film.

Oh, and since I exist at this point, I'd have to turn up somewhere.

Carnival float
Carnival float - my dad and me.

I look like I want to be stuck in the rocket and blasted the hell off this planet.

But I know that in the midst of this, we did actually make contact with a time traveller. The nurse on the left with the fluffy hair and glasses. She's using a freaking smartphone. In 1975!

Carnival float
Carnival float - you tell me she's not posting a Facebook update.


Avebury (summer 1976)


Avebury, for those that don't know, is a large circle of standing rocks, within a larger circle of standing rocks. With some mounds and other stuff. It isn't as visually impressive as Stonehenge, but to my mind it is far more important when you look at the scope of it. Plus you can not only go and touch the rocks, you aren't going to have to fight your way past a pile of nutty Druids. Let them have Stonehenge, it's overrated anyway.

So, to end this reminiscence, here I am, a child of the stones.

A child of the stones.


A final thought

Some of these strips of negative that I'm holding in my hands predate me. They are a half of a century old.

A strip of film
A strip of film (me at Avebury).

It didn't need anything other than a camera of some sort to view these images, and they were viewable (albeit inverse) with just an eyeball.

What will be people's legacy to their children these days? A CD-ROM of random numbered photos? A handful of SD cards? Will any of this stuff actually be readable in fifty years? It's hard enough to be able to read some media of twenty-odd years ago - Zip discs and SyQuest for example.
Indeed, it's pretty hard to cope with a simple floppy disc if it isn't a 3.5 inch disc formatted as 720K or 1.44M FAT.

We can't even point to a selection of cringe-worthy posts on Facebook, as there's no guarantee it'll be around in fifty years. Just a decade or so ago, MySpace was the popular social platform. Two decades ago, Geocities was a popular place for site hosting. Both now only exist through what the Wayback Engine managed to capture - which isn't all of it.
We're even seeing Google cutting back on their free offerings. Unlimited photos? Not these days.
Can we even be certain that in twenty years (never mind fifty), YouTube will exist?

So here, mom has left me an analogue storage medium that has sat in a bag in a damp house for some twenty years, and is still perfectly usable. With careful handling, I might be able to leave these for my (imaginary) daughter to find. And I would rather imagine that the DVD-Rs will flake apart the moment they are spun up (assuming she can put together a disc reader), and the SD cards will have silently died (assuming she can find a reader), but mom's photos? Will still be there. Her memories, her exploits, her life. All there for the viewing, having effortlessly outlived all the digital photos that I have taken.
Well, my life is nothing compared to hers...



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David Boddie, 23rd January 2022, 21:29
The unknown station is perhaps Shawlands, judging by the sign at the bottom-right of the photo:
Rick, 23rd January 2022, 23:22
Oh, well spotted! Yup, that's exactly it. 
I've not located the exact place the photo was taken, but narrowed it down to a few possibilities. Unfortunately Street View is on streets, not people's back gardens. 😉 
Bernard, 24th January 2022, 00:52
Aye, an’ yon wee train’ll be a BR class 303 a.k.a. a Blue Train. Used them daily between Burnside and Central Station in 1966–1968, would you Adam and Eve it?
Gavin Wraith, 24th January 2022, 20:42
I second your comments on Avebury Ring. And do not forget Silbury Hill right next to it, the largest man-made hill in Europe.
J.G.Harston, 28th January 2022, 03:09
Since I came here from Hong Kong 29 years ago (eek!!!) I look at the news back there and similarly think: WTF is happening????
Pieter, 28th January 2022, 04:13
Love some of the pictures. I am also 48. The atmosphere somehow feels familiar even though I was not there.

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