It Can Always Be Better

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Flip-Pal is a Good Tool, But Needs More Fixing

Flip-Pal Scanner
Even with new software, Flip-Pal still has yet to fix an old problem
At the 2011 Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), when I was introduced to the Flip-Pal portable scanner, I was impressed. However, something wasn't quite to my standards. So I did a little test and posted my first Flip-Pal review.

To summarize, this is a good product with excellent potential. Yet, it suffers from two critical flaws:

1. It does not save files as TIF. The user is restricted to the JPG format, with undisclosed compression quality settings.

2. The stitching software downsizes 600 ppi scans to 300 ppi under most circumstances.

Now, as I watch Call of the Wild Man in the hotel during the 2013 FGS conference, I must report that none of these flaws have been corrected. Moreover, the file format restriction (JPG only) is simply unacceptable. Since Flip-Pal does a substantial amount of marketing in genealogical circles, I find this annoying as well. As businesses that serve such a specialized market, we have a responsibility to ensure our customers are getting exactly what they need for the long-term.

The JPG format was formulated for sending images through telephone lines quickly. It was especially useful for news photographers from around the world to get their images published on time. JPG is an inappropriate format for archiving images. Now it is widely used by all because of it's small file size. It's fine for sharing. It's not fine for filing in your archives. It always compromises image detail for smaller file size. On the other hand, the TIF file format keeps all image details.

Below are 300 ppi scans saved as JPG (the only file format for Flip-Pal) and TIF (the format I recommend for scanning, which is available with Epson scanners). Yes, to some, the difference between the two may be negligible. However, looking in the dark sleeve area and the paper white areas, I see a noticeable difference.

The Flip-Pal JPG format has a slightly blurred appearance. This is simply the result of the JPG format, not necessarily the optical resolution. The Epson TIF clearly shows the original texture of the paper through the printed and unprinted versions. The Flip-Pal JPG simply smudges this detail. Compare for yourself below.

Note JPG artifacts in dark areas and lack of detail in original paper
300 ppi Flip-Pal JPG Scan at 200% magnification

Note the detail of paper and clarity of edges
300 ppi Epson TIF Scan at 200% magnification   

If you have no way to use a regular flatbed scanner, such as those I recommend by Epson, then the Flip-Pal is what you need. However, keep in mind that TIF is the appropriate scanning format for your digital archives. If you need to upload them to a website or email, save a copy as JPG (with smaller resolution as needed).

Regarding Flip-Pal's stitching software, they have a decent response on the Flip-Pal FAQ site. Nonetheless, it is insufficient in that they do not clearly mention its limitations regarding the size of your original. They also fail to advise customers to keep the original scans made prior to running them through the stitching software. That way you will not be stuck with an image with compromised detail.

As I said during my classes this weekend at the FGS 2013 conference (soon to be on the Photo Grafix University YouTube Channel), Flip-Pal is perfect if you absolutely cannot use a high-quality flatbed scanner. However, you should be 100% clear about its drawbacks and make the necessary accommodations.

It is possible that Flip-Pal will overcome the JPG and stitching limitations in the future. If they ever did, I would likely endorse them. For now, I will stand behind my recommendations for a good Epson scanner, Adobe Photoshop Elements and redundant back-ups.

Be aware. Be wise. Educate yourself. Last, but not least, be sure to subscribe to the Photo Grafix University email newsletter for useful information and updates about my latest classes and workshops on this topic and more. If you want to learn more, order the Photo Restoration Basics course and learn all the important facts regarding file formats, file resolution, color correction and more.


Sharon Blair said...

I purchased the Flip-Pal for the occasions where you are at someones house & they have family pictures but do not want to loan them then I would have at least a way to scan. One thing you did not mention is that they also don't work very good for pictures smaller than the scan area, it really works best for 4" X 6" pictures as there is no way to zoom down to a smaller picture it includes all the white space around a smaller picture which I consider a huge disadvantage. But I do like your professional review. Thank you.

Eric Basir said...

Thanks Sharon. That is an excellent point of which I never considered. I definitely see a big problem with being forced to scan a wallet-size type photo at 100%. Even 600 ppi is not the best for such small images.

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