A perfectly good question to ask is ” Can my phone or tablet be used as a photo scanner ?” In our high tech world, there are so many ways to digitize images. We have digital cameras in our phones, our laptops, and tablets. Digital cameras, flatbed photo scanners, and handheld photo scanners. Not surprisingly then when we are asked to “scan” something, we reach for the nearest imaging device and digitize whatever it is that needs “scanning”.
This is where the term “scan” becomes a bit ambiguous. Up until App Stores came along, “scanning” meant inserting a photo or document under the lid of photocopying type machine. This machine is called a flatbed scanner. Its sole purpose was and still is, to digitize a photo into a computer. A good one will cost several hundred pounds or more. This is the purest form of turning a printed photo digital. The devices create an even light beam to light the image. The “scanning” head runs along with the light across the photo and digitizes the image. This scanning method enables great control. The image is always flat, undistorted and evenly lit. No unwanted shadows or focus problems or pixelation.
Recently a bunch of phone Apps calling themselves “scanners” have exploded onto app stores. Despite their clever ways to straighten and crop images and auto correct any lighting or distortions they are not scanners. Such apps called CamScanner or PhotoScan to name two of many.
A phone is not a scanner.
A phone is not a scanner. It is a camera taking pictures of a photo. The images produced by phones when copying photos are subject to a degree of distortion, reflections, shadows, low contrast, and blur due to camera shake. Not to mention the quality of the imaging array in the camera. Phones have a very particular structure to their images. Not as clear and sharp as a scanner, not as pure an image as a scanner because they are not scanners.
The problems start with all the processing they do of the image. By the nature of the lens in the phone, they are not best suited to close up work. Even if the “phone scanner” gets you to take four pictures of the one document and merges them into one. This very action of merging, correcting distortions and evening out lighting and shadows means the image has already been heavily processed. It is this software processing that degrades the image. Sure it looks fine on your phone! As soon as it is in front of your friendly photo restoration expert they can see the image is not as good as could be. You don’t want a sub-par photo restoration right?
A good scanner will capture all the minute details on the photo, the texture of the paper and the details within. This enables separation of the details in the image from the damage, allowing it to be repaired to a high standard. This is not the case for phone images of photos.
I am not saying don’t ever use these apps. They have a truly useful purpose. Capturing documents or photos on your phone is great for research, recording details and archiving. But it is not quite up to the job or providing a quality image for photo restoration. To perform miracles, digital images must be of the best quality we can get. Without a doubt, for getting the best results for photo restoration, by capturing images from an already printed photo, it is the flatbed scanner. For more on scanning please read my scanning guide.