What to Look for in a Photo Scanner - Buying Guide Tips

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Scanning old photos and digitizing your memories is a great way to preserve your images and share them with friends and family. It will take some time to process your scanned photos, but having a good photo scanner helps make life easier. Once you get them scanned in, a digital copy will last forever (granted you have a backup). You will be able to edit, retouch, fix, copy, print, and share the picture. Many of the greatest photos of history live on today because they have been digitized for all to see on the internet. In fact, the United States Library of Congress has a large collection of photos that they have on their online catalog which they allow you to use.

Determining Your Needs

You must first determine the media (format) you will be scanning. If scanning slides or film, you will need a scanner that has this capability (a backlit slide holder). Next, how often and how many things do you need to scan? What size will you be scanning (greater or less than 8x10 inches)? Do you need professional quality scans? These few factors should narrow down your choices considerably in terms of basic functionality and price range.

A decent scanner will start at about $100-$150 and go up from there. More expensive scanners have additional features, scan faster, and support higher resolutions, physical sizes, and bit depths.

Scanner Format and Size

  • Slides, photos, or Both? – Find a scanner that will accommodate the media you intend to scan
  • Size – Is the scanner large enough to scan your entire photo or film negative (35mm, medium format, etc.)?
  • Resolution – The higher the better. More detail will be captured. Resolution is measured in dots per inch (dpi). A 600dpi setting is a reasonable resolution you should scan at to balance image quality, file size, and scan duration. All scanners should support this resolution. Consider higher resolutions to enlarge an image or capture the maximum amount of detail.
  • Bit Depth – Higher is better. A higher bit depth will gather more information (larger file sizes), color, and detail.


Most scanners are pretty similar in that they allow you to scan pictures, documents, and/or negatives to your computer. Some however have extra features that you may want to consider.

  • External Buttons – Do you need the ability to quickly scan things to an email or image with the touch of one button?
  • OCR Software– Do you need the ability to convert paper text documents into a word document or digital text? OCR stands for optical character recognition and can “read” printed text.
  • Speed – Scanners scan at different speeds and can accommodate a different number of images or slides/negatives. This goes back to how many and how often you need to scan something.
  • Reviews – Read what other owners of these products have to say. Do they like the scanner, does it scan images well at a good speed? Try searching Bright Hub for our scanner reviews.