It Can Always Be Better

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Flip-Pal Portable Scanner Review for Genealogists and Other Interested Folk

During my visit with the Federation of Genealogical Societies annual conference this year, I met people at the Flip-Pal booth. They have created a hand-held reflective type scanner to help people make quick scans of images and documents that they might not have been able to make with a normal flat-bed scanner. I was impressed to say the least.

If you have large originals or originals you cannot take  home (something genealogists deal with all the time), the Flip-Pal is an absolutely necessary tool. The quality of the scan will be acceptable for many purposes.

However, as a full-time photo retoucher with 12 years of experience, I have developed an eye for detail. When I compared the company's original example to their printed copy from the scans, I was not satisfied. I noticed a visible loss in detail in the 3-quarter and shadow ranges.

My questions about the optics of the device satisfied my opinion of what a scanner needs to capture good detail. But why did the scanned copy look so poor compared to the original? I was told it can scan at 300 or 600ppi. Naturally, I would recommend 600ppi over 300ppi with such a small scanning area for big images. 300ppi is fine for scans when you have your own flatbed with easy to customize settings. However, the Flip-Pal's controls are clearly limited and it's better to choose the 600ppi option just to be safe.

The answer to my question was found in a test with a customer who purchased the Flip-Pal. I discovered that the problem was not the Flip-Pal's optics or hardware. Rather, it was the stitching software (called EasyStitch). The Flip-Pal scans your originals and saves them to a removable SD card. The original scans—which I will call "source" files—are put in a folder on the card. The built-in stitching software—which is independent of the scanner driver—will put the source files into one complete file. This is a crucial aspect of the product—especially if you are scanning oversized originals or a document page that require a scan of more than one section. 

When we ran EasyStitch, it downsampled her 600ppi source files into a complete 300ppi image. Ouch! Both the Macintosh and IBM/PC versions contain this problem. To compare EasyStitch more scientifically, I put the Flip-Pal source files on my computer and ran the Photomerge function of Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Photoshop Elements. The difference in detail was clear: Photoshop left the resolution intact and the detail was excellent. However the EasyStitch Flip-Pal software compromised it by forcing the image down to 300ppi.

My recommendation: If you really want it, buy the Flip-Pal (especially if you're a genealogist). But do not trash the source files! Until the stitching software is fixed, you will have this problem. Meanwhile you can stitch the files with Photoshop's Photomerge function. If you are a technophobe or you find my work-around overwhelming, then just hold off until they fix it. Or get someone to help you stitch those files in a program like Photoshop and archive them. Then you can trash the files to make room on the SD card. 

The $29.99 carrying case is essentially an expensive dust-cover. It will not do much to protect it from a drop or substantial thump into a wall or door. You need to wrap it in a towel and then stuff it in the case to get real protection. Purchase or kit-bash your own case with the padding similar to a professional camera case. Otherwise, you will eventually break it through normal use. Think of the Flip-Pal as a very useful, but fragile, expensive tool. Treat it as such so it will last a long time.

Flip-Pal also offers an affiliate program for those who want to earn commissions promoting their products. Be aware that the sign-up page is not an https secure page. You will be required to enter your social security or tax identification number. Be very careful submitting that information through a non-secure page.
Once Flip-Pal fixes their software and their affiliate page, I will most certainly join the chorus of praise. For now, I'll watch from the sidelines.


Update: As of the March 21, 2013 Flip-Pal newsletter, it looks like a new version of the ever-important stitching software. It reads "...When customers use the Flip-Pal EasyStitch software to “stitch” scans of large originals, they will appreciate that the scans to be stitched, as well as the final stitched images, are larger and easier to view..." I think this is a positive move. However, I have not yet tested it. If you have tested it, please post a comment.



Eric Basir runs Photo Grafix, a humble photo-retouching studio in Evanston, Illinois (USA). He's taught hundreds of genealogists through the methods of his Photo Restoration Basics course. If he doesn't know the answer, he won't rest until he finds it. Eric Basir is at your service: With each "Ask The Retoucher" article, he'll help you successfully tackle your digital photographic problems. 


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11 comments:

Eric Basir said...

As of December 2011, the Flip-Pal stitch software, version 1.14, does not correct the resolution problem. According to Flip-Pal, the problem is in the design. It cannot hold files of a certain size.

Catherine Pendleton said...

Thanks for these tips. I was disappointed the first time I used Flip-Pal on something large and so ended up scanning it on my large scanner. I thought the poor quality was because I originally scanned at 300ppi instead of 600 (I had just gotten the Flip-Pal and was experimenting). Now it seems it wouldn't have mattered. I'll follow your advice next time!

Eric Basir said...

Thanks for the input Catherine! Now you know what I mean. It does half the job good. The other half is poor, but you can do a work-around. Please spread the word about this article. I really don't think people understand the severity of the problem.

Michelle Goodrum said...

Thank you for this article. I'm going to try your work around and compare the results for myself. I didn't realize that was an option.

Eric Basir said...

Great! Let me know if you get stuck. It's pretty easy. Just keep those source files no matter what!

Unknown said...

Eric,

Do you know if the easy-stitch software has been fixed?

Thanks,
Marty

Eric Basir said...

Marty, it looks like they had an update in May, 2012. I did my review on an older version 1.0. The more recent 1.14 is available on their website at http://flip-pal.com/customer-care/#Downloads

Unfortunately, I still don't know if they fixed it. I still haven't bought a Flip-Pal for myself (which I need to do). My review was from my work using someone else's Flip-Pal. So you'll need to contact them.

You can also join their email list for updates. http://flip-pal.com/sign-up-for-flip-pal-updates/

Wendy said...

Hi Eric,

I wrote to Flip-Pal and this is what I was told:

"The way it works is in order to deal with potential memory limitations and so your computer does not run completely out of memory, EasyStitch limits the maximum number of pixels in a single stitch result.

"Originals requiring 2-4 scans may be scanned at 600 DPI and EasyStitch will retain the 600 DPI resolution. With 5 to 6 originals, the output resolution will be 400 DPI. For 7 to 8 originals, the output will be 300 DPI.

"When scanning at 300 DPI, EasyStitch will retain the 300 DPI resolution for stitches with up to 16 scans.

"For originals requiring more than 16 scans, the resulting stitched image will be less than 300 DPI, and the higher the number of scans, the lower the resolution of the stitched result."

Hope this helps, as I was curious, too.

Wendy

Eric Basir said...

Thanks for sharing Wendy. They really need to make sure buyers know about that issue. I wonder if it'd be better to tell buyers to load up on RAM for big images and/or allow them to change those settings.

Joni Pipkin said...

Just a quick heads up: I got mine for Christmas, 2011. Barely used and treated with kid gloves and TLC, it is now dead, and I didnt buy the warranty so I'm outta luck and scanner. Company did apologize.

Eric Basir said...

Joni, that's terrible. I'm sorry.

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