As a professional photo organizer, I get this question all the time: What is the best way to scan old photos? What photo scanner should I buy?
What Is the Best Way to Scan Old Photos?
You aren’t going to like this answer, but I no longer recommend that consumers buy their own photo scanners for all of these reasons:
- Quality photo scanners are relatively expensive, often around $1,000 (US) for an entry level machine.
- They are notoriously high maintenance. One speck of dust can put you out of commission, running lines through your scans. That means you need to buy more supplies to maintain it…and learn how to use them.
- Scanners also run on software, which goes out of date and needs upgrading. Another headache to maintain.
- Once you finish scanning your collection, what then? If you are lucky, you have the (ahem) privilege of trying to sell it online. If you don’t get around to it quickly enough, that scanner will go obsolete in your closet, and then it’s worth nothing.
- If you think there’s an easier way, or you think you can find a cheaper scanner, you’ll be disappointed the first time you get to an odd-sized photo, or a slide, or a medal, or a photo stuck to a page, or anything else that your “cheaper” scanner can’t handle. So frustrating!
- I haven’t yet mentioned the learning curve on these scanners. Many of my clients scanned decades of photos, only to realize that they’ve scanned in “thumbnail” sizes, too small to print and completely worthless.
- Did I mention that the “cheaper” scanners are notoriously s-l-o-w? Like 10x slower than a pro takes for the same job. How much is your time worth?
I can’t even count the number of photo scanners I’ve found in client closets that have never been opened and are no longer compatible with today’s computers.
If I haven’t convinced you yet that it’s better to find a pro shop like ours to scan for you, consider that we have six scanners in my office, and all of them need care and feeding, and it’s part of our full-time job. 😊 I’d rather see you invest that money into a better computer or an external hard drive (learn more here), which you’ll have for years and use every day.
Can I scan old photos with a phone?
Yes…and definitely no. “Scanning” a photo with a phone is a good way to do what you can when you are in a pinch. Sometimes it’s the best or only tool you have, but it’s not a quality process. There’s always glare, shadows, curling, color distortion, messy backgrounds, and weird angles going on to some degree. You are making a copy, but it isn’t a good copy.
You know how you sometimes need a screwdriver, but can make do with a coin to turn a screw? That’s what phone scanning apps like Photomyne are…a coin to use in a pinch. But you wouldn’t want to build a complex project like a house using a coin instead of a quality screwdriver and the other tools you need to finish that project.
When you scan with your phone, that “picture of a picture” was taken today, so you’ll have incorrect dates and tags to deal with. In our photo organizing practice, we correct all of that before you get your scans back.
Can I scan photos with a document scanner? Can I scan documents with a photo scanner?
For scanning many paper documents, I own and highly recommend the Fujitsu ScanSnap (affiliate link) document scanners. There are many different models on the market, so you can find one, new or used, for quick and reliable document scanning. They are not recommended for photo scanning. In fact, they can damage your photos if they aren’t maintained properly. But they are very reliable machines, great for scanning 1- and 2-sided documents.
Remember, you don’t have to buy a scanner to go paper-less. If you only scan documents very infrequently, you can use your phone and the scanner built in to the Apple Notes app (in the iCloud Notes app, tap the icon for new note, then the camera, then Scan Documents), or inside Evernote (New note>>Camera>>Auto>>hold the camera over your document on a contrasting background, and it will automatically capture.) Document scanning apps are different from photo scanning apps, because they automatically clean up the background, capture in true black and white, and capture the text so it is machine-readable.
Find your best way to scan old photos during your project
Scanning is just one part of your photo project. If you are just starting, don’t get stuck here. First start by gathering all of your photos, albums, and other goodies together in one place. Do your best to organize what you have first. More info on how and why to work with a pro photo organizer here. Scanning comes a little later in the project, and by then you’ll be so jazzed by seeing your old photos, that you’ll be excited for scanning, however you choose to do it.