Rusutsu Snow Trip 2013

In January,  we took the family up to Rusutsu in Hokkaido for a bit of snowboarding and skiing. Yes, this post is a little late.

The resort feels very much like a bubble place, but essentially is a collection of hotels and a few chalets around three main mountain ski areas. We stayed in the Resort Hotel North, which is at the base of one of the ski areas. Is it really a bubble era hotel? Well, it has an animatronic talking tree, some animatronic bears (or dogs, perhaps), and a full double decker carousel in the foyer which you could ride for free every evening, so yes, it’s very much a bubble hotel, and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you aren’t paying bubble fees.

We went for an all in package with breakfast and dinner, especially as the food at the in-house restaurants was good – believe me, we’ve stayed at places where the breakfasts were awful, and yes, I’m looking at you, Yamada Onsen in Niseko! As I’ve learned, with kids, having a buffet with a decent selection is vital to keep the complaints down.

Rentals weren’t too expensive, and the kit was very good, as is pretty much standard here nowadays, and the staff were fairly multi-lingual given the decent number of Chinese and Australian guests – also pretty much standard here nowadays.  The instructors were good too, and our eldest got some lessons in when she wasn’t skiing with me. For once I wasn’t renting ski boots, having picked up a cheap pair of Head ski boots in Jimbochou for Xmas last year, and it was nice to have a consistent setup for a whole trip.

Rusutsu’s got a good selection of courses too, and on clear weather days, some great views. I’m not sure whether I prefer it to Niseko, but it’s still got a decent selection of runs, and some hilarious tree routes. There’s a snow park, where I spent a morning. I’ve never been much into jumps and such, but I did actually have a good time in there, so next season I might invest a bit more time in the snow parks and see how it goes.

I also took my GoPro out, and got some great shots of the kids skiing, and us out on our snowboards. As I’m a much better boarder than skier, it was interesting to shift from trepidation on even easier intermediate slopes on skies, to double diamond slopes through the trees on my board, and just feeling challenged, rather than concerned I was going to break something.

I tried the camera both mounted to the board, and a headcam, and actually, I think it works as both, but obviously you get a lot of snow blowing up onto the camera on it’s board mount. One note though, unless you have the anti-fog inserts, you’ll want to regularly open the casing to lot the condensation dissipate after about 20mins.!

All in all, we had a great trip, and even the flights and travel went fairly smoothly, so no complaints there.

Photograph Digitising and Preservation

Perhaps as you get older, and certainly when you have children, you start thinking a bit more about preserving family photos. All photos of my kids have always been digital, so for me, preserving and archiving that has been a digital storage and backup dilemma, so have a look down the bottom of this post for my solutions on that.

However, almost all of my own childhood pictures are on single pieces of paper in boxes, some in albums, and some of which we still have the single negatives of. For me, that’s an issue as I live on the other side of the planet from the rest of my family and those photos, and there’s only that single copy, which we’d like to duplicate to have here in Japan as we start our own family, and not just to reduce that single point of disaster. I want to give my kids a giggle when they look at what I did when I was a kid.

Most of my old family photos were shot on cheap 110 film cameras with those stick flashes which melted after one use (my children will laugh at this post when they’re old enough to read it!)

110 film was widely available in the seventies and eighties, and roundly regarded as not very good nowadays. This means many of my childhood photos aren’t great technically, but from going through this process with a hundred or so photos so far, it isn’t the image quality that matters, it’s the memory of the moment, so don’t worry if that awesome memory you have in your head seems to have a coffee ring on the corner of the print and is slightly out of focus on the paper – it doesn’t detract at all.

Scanning

I have a recent, but not new, Epson GT-X770 scanner – it’s a mid range home scanner, and supports slide and negative scanning via a top lid light, and plastic negative holders. I did though, have to make my own holder for 110 film negative, as virtually no scanners support it natively. It also has some solid scan drivers and hardware elements for colour restoration, scratch removal etc.. I tend to scan two versions of each print; one a straight un-modded one, and one with colour restored because I actually find the scanner seems to do a better job of this that Photoshop for some reason.

The resolution I scan at depends on the source and the photo. There are plenty of guides out there, though I find some to be a bit off to me – a good website for reviewing some of the more technical aspects is ScanTips

Generally I scan colour paper print photos at 300dpi, and a few at 600dpi [dots per inch].

300dpi is easily good enough for most prints, and recently, what most photo print shops printed at anyway. From what I can tell from testing on the 110 prints, 300dpi is already far above what was captured on the paper anyway. I use 600dpi for some black and white prints from good sources, though again, I’m probably going too high and am pretty much capturing high resolution grain some of the time.

For negatives, you’ll use a much higher dpi setting (as the negatives are so small) and you start to see why scanners often have fantastically high scan numbers.

I tend to go for ~2400-3200dpi, but again, you run the risk of purely scanning grain in the negative, rather than capturing any real value, so no need to put the scanner on max, unless you have pristine, well shot slides or negatives. Again, for me, my sources are relatively poor, so I don’t need to go too far – to around 3200dpi for some 35mm negatives I had from early backpacking trips with my old Olympus.

Other Scanner Settings
I tend to just try to capture everything in the scanner, and then ‘fix’ in software on a copy. The only exception is really colour restore as I said, and some hardware features. Unsharp mask etc. I just leave for software adjustments later on.

File Format

When saving anything you’ve digitized from an analogue source, you want it to be in a loss-less format – this means that it’s exactly what you captured. The other system is ‘lossy’ and generally you don’t see the difference, except when you do multilpe generations of saves.

I save the files as loss-less TIFF files. This seems to be the most widely supported format, and holds comments and other things fairly well, it also has some lossless compression options, and handles high colour depth for those with higher end scanners. I’ve saved some of my own scans as PNG format also, as there’s nothing wrong with it, and has some advantages over TIFF in loss-less compression, but lacks support in some applications.

Never, ever, save as JPG – just don’t – always try to save a loss-less version as your ‘gold master’, and take JPGs from that. For any file conversion, I recommend IrfanView for Windows, and GraphicConverter for OS X.

Outsourcing

If the thought of getting a scanner and taking the time and effort to do all those photos seems scary or just plain painful, you can pay someone to scan your prints and negatives, and return them to you. This might also be an option if you’re looking at a huge archive.

There was some controversy a few years ago that many of the companies ship your photos to India for scanning and clean up, though there never seemed to be anyone who’d lost photos or had any other issues with any of these services, and as long as the end result is good, I fail to see how it’s an issue.

That Digital Storage
Backups for my computers used to really be about things I’d written and so on, but basically, like this blog – I always have a copy online these days, but I will confess I still backup a WordPress export locally now and then, but I think that’s relatively safe.

Prints are on paper, and you have a negative. There’s no worry about obsolete file formats, or applications, you just look at them in an album – risk of deletion is fairly low.

For any format though, there’s the risk of natural disaster, fires, theft and all manner of things – I tragically saw a lot of this when I went up to Tohoku to help clean up the tsunami damage – we all kept a keen eye out for any photos, CDs, hard drives or negatives which may help someone put their family memories back together.

I see a lot of people saying to keep a USB drive as a backup, but I’m not sure that’s safe enough. I believe in 3 copies – two different media locally, and one off-site copy. For me, most of my photos are on a Mac, that’s backed up sort-of live to a USB drive (not a portable one) on my desk via Time Machine, and then I use CrashPlan to upload another copy to their servers over the internet.

I used to back up to DVDs, but the libraries became just too large to burn, and I can’t trust small hard drives, though for a while i would keep one in my office drawer as a backup.

So that’s my setup for archiving the analogue photographic past. There are cheaper, simpler, or more expensive ways of doing it, but this is working for me. I don’t think you can go too wrong as long as you get a basic loss-less image file at a decent resolution, and back it up – and keep that original print or negative.