It seems like there a lot of apps over the last few years that tout they can take high-quality photos of old photos and that you don't need to use a scanner. I personally have never liked those apps, for archiving photos. They are fine if you simply want to quickly share a photo with a cousin or family member, but for archiving and preserving old family photographs or documents I still prefer to use a professional scanner.
Earlier today a group of genealogists had a fun Clubhouse chat about scanning and preserving old photos. My new friend, Melissa, is incredible at knowing all of the methods of preserving, sharing, and backing up your photos. Together we hosted this fun hour and a half long chat about photos! During the conversation we talked about different types of scanners, including using your phone to 'scan' the photos. After the chat I created a list of my recommendations of scanners that are good for digitizing your genealogy photos and files.
As I said earlier, I personally have never been a fan of using my phone for digitizing my old family photos that I want to archive. I just haven't felt like they capture as good of quality as a flatbed scanner. However, I also came across a scenario today where my camera was actually able to capture a better quality image than my scanner!
Before I talk about the specific example, here's a little background info: my grandfather recently passed away, and I inherited ALL of his genealogy research, documents, photos, etc. He did a ton of genealogy back in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. All of his stuff was in paper format, including a bunch of family group sheets that he added photos of the individuals. Here is an example of one of those family group sheets.
When I initially scanned it, using a traditional flatbed scanner, it look pretty good. The main thing I wanted to capture from scanning this was each person's photo. I haven't seen most of the photos included here. After I scanned it, I zoomed in to some of the photos and I was quickly disappointed in what each one looked like close-up.
Most of the photos seemed to lose quality during the scan compared to when I just looked at the paper itself. I tried to adjust several settings on the scanner, including the dpi, but nothing made the photos look better.
I think what happened is these photos were photocopies (done in the 80s) of already small photos, and then getting copied onto cheap paper (using an old photo copier). Then, when I scanned them using the flatbed scanner, it made the quality even worse... I think the ink on the paper and the scanner light didn't play nice together - I am not 100% sure why that would happen. I'm sure there are other photo/scanning experts out there that could give a better explanation than me.
I then had the thought to take a picture of the family group sheet with my phone to see if that looked better.
I think the photos using my phone actually turned out quite well! Here are some comparisons side-by-side.
Not only do the photos taken with my phone look less-pixelated but I also think it captures more of the texture and shadows from the original photo.
Again, I am not completely sure why the scanned copies look so grainy and pixelated, but I am much happier with the copies that my phone took.
So, while I am still not convinced that these photo scanning apps are great for archiving and preserving all photos, I did find a great use for it! The next time you try to scan photocopies of photographs, or even documents, and you notice it makes it look grainy and pixelated, try using your phone camera instead and see if that gives you a better quality image.
Here are a couple of other tips I found when using my phone:
What are your thoughts? What are your scanning methods and techniques? Did you find this helpful? Leave a comment below to let me know!
A.C. Ivory is a professional genealogist, blogger, product manager, ux designer, computer geek, and traveler.
Do you love old photos? If so, check out my other site, Forsaken Photos!