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Shoebox: Make Your Old Photos Digital

written by: •edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 11/15/2011

Shoebox is a free app that lets you use the iPhone or iPad camera to take pictures of old photos, then it automatically crops and adjusts them for you. It's the fastest way to archive old images. Learn more about how it works in this review.

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    The Shoebox app from takes its name from the fact that many people have shoe boxes full of old photos. For any youngsters out there who don't understand, you should know that back before digital cameras were invented, people had to use something called film in cameras, and that film had to be developed. You'd get back an envelope full of pictures and they'd all be the same size. With devices like iPhones and iPads making such great personal digital photo albums, there is obviously a great desire to convert all those old photos. The best way to do this is to scan them in at high quality and clean them up with a graphic editor, but for something a lot more quick and easy, this app will do the trick. Image quality will suffer, though.

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    How it Works

    Shoebox crop This app is free to download and less than 6 megabytes in size. It's designed for the iPhone or newer model iPod Touch with a camera, but also works on the iPad. In order to use it, you will need to sign up for an account at, but that's free and quick.

    To 'scan' in your photos, all you're really doing is taking a picture of them. It's best to put the photos on a surface with contrasting colors, like a dark wood table for lighter color images. This is so the edge detection software can pick up the borders of the photo. If it doesn't, you can always drag the little pointers around to get it just right. The software will then crop your image and upload it to the site.

    For each image you process, you have the option to include info like a caption, the date it was taken, or the location. You can also choose to make the image private. If you don't make it private, then the photo could be publicly accessible. The images can also be shared to Facebook or Twitter, but only through the website.

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    Other Features

    Perhaps the biggest benefit of this service is that offers unlimited online photo storage. From their website, you can also upload other images so you aren't just stuck using photos taken with your Apple device. This means that the site could become your personal online photo depot, and completely free of charge. On their site, they also mention that they are partnered with the Internet Archive, meaning all of the content is being backed up for later viewing. Consider the ramifications of this before you go uploading any photos that you may not wish to spread around, and always check that Privacy button when in doubt.

    The website also has a basic family tree area where you can build your heritage and populate it with images. This is also quite nice, but not supported via the app. I get the impression that the app is designed to introduce you to the website service, because you'll spend more time on the site than you will in the app. Every bit of it is completely free to use, so there are no hidden fees they try to spring on you.

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    Image Quality

    Grainy photo I hate that this app uses the word 'scan' when inputting photos, because in reality you are just taking a picture of a printed photo. As a result, you can expect to see severely diminished image quality from the pictures it takes. The purpose of this app is to give you an easy way to share old photos online, and the quality of the output is reflective of that.

    The photo I tested, which wasn't that great in terms of quality to begin with, came out really blotchy looking when viewed in full size. In a smaller view, it looked decent enough to use as a profile pic on Facebook. Click the image to the right to get a larger view and see how it looks.

    The quality of the photos is dependent on many outside factors since it's a photo instead of a true scan. Lighting and glare can cause a problem, as well as bends in the image or even the texture of the paper it is printed on. I'd suggest you take at least two or three scans per photo to see how they come out.

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    Final Thoughts

    If you want to take your old photos and digitize them to be printed or cleaned up, then you need to use a real scanner and a good graphics editing program. I suggest a decent flatbed scanner or an all-in-one printer that includes a scanner, then go with Adobe Photoshop or the cheaper Photoshop Elements if you want to really clean up those old images. Many graphic artists are quite skilled at photo restoration and you might be surprised what someone can do with a beat-up old photo.

    For quick sharing on sites like Facebook or Twitter, or even via email, I think the Shoebox app is great. If you want to make a good quality digital archive of your old photos in order to preserve them or prevent future loss from damage, then this app is not the best way to go about it. Overall, I think the 1000memories website is more useful than the app, but together they make a good team.