Flatbed Scanner vs. Smartphone Camera: Photographs

Collection of photos on table

This is part two of a two part series comparing a traditional flatbed scanner to a modern smartphone camera. My previous post was part one covering text documents.

In the previous section we favored convenience and readability over precise details because we were only looking for information out of the documents. Photos on the other hand can be very precious and retaining high resolution detail is important. Can I get away with only using my smartphone camera to archive printed photographs?

Unlike my previous post, the photograph I’ll be using is a real example. It’s my grandma at her 90th birthday party who has since passed away. The photo is very important to me so I’d like to preserve the original quality as much as possible.

Flatbed Scanner

Older woman wearing lei on beach
Sample 1: Flatbed Scanner 300 DPI

Results aren’t surprising. Details are captured well because of the high resolution 300 DPI used, no distortion, and there aren’t major flaws. As we saw with text documents, the image came out slightly brighter than the original but that could be corrected with some minor contrast and brightness adjustments.

Smartphone Camera

Sample 2 captured the most detail but was subject to my current rooms lighting completely changing the color of the photo. Sample 3 corrected the color but has the obvious issue of glare. Both 2 and 3 were slightly distorted due to minor curve in the photo and perspective of taken photo.

My last attempt was to move on to an app to help me with the glare. Google’s PhotoScan app has some pretty cool tricks and is built exactly for our purpose. You take multiple shots of the same photograph at different locations so the glare moves around. That gives it enough information to combine all the layers into one with all the glare removed. It sounds like a great idea but the resulting photo is very poor quality with an almost smudge like appearance as you can see in the magnified example above on the right-hand side. I’d caution people against using this app as a primary archiving method.


Flatbed scanners still provide superior quality compared to smartphone cameras when it comes to preserving photographs.

I wasn’t happy with any of the smartphone camera samples because too much detail was lost; the flatbed scanner was an obvious winner in terms of quality. If I’m in a pinch and need a quick scan or the quality isn’t as important I might use the PhotoScan app or simply take a photo if the lighting is good. For now, I’ll be keeping my flatbed scanner around in case I have more photographs to archive.

4 thoughts on “Flatbed Scanner vs. Smartphone Camera: Photographs”

  1. What you didn’t mention is that the flatbed scanner preserves the exact dimensions of the photo. This is important when scanning official documents like ID cards and passports. The standard for many governments is to see a true-dimension image at the top left corner of an 8×11 white rectangle. Exactly what you get from a scanner. AFAIK, there is no scanning app that is dimensionally accurate. If you take the image from closer up, you get a bigger image, and you lose the true dimensions. This IMHO is a major digitalization fail.

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