Camera versus Flatbed Scanner


Today’s Question: You recommended making a digital copy with a digital camera, rather than using a digital scanner. Was there a reason for this preference? Many folks already have printers with scanners built in. My multipurpose printer does such a good job that I got rid of my purpose-built flatbed scanner to save desk space in my home office.

Tim’s Quick Answer: My preference for using a digital camera rather than a flatbed scanner to digitize an old print is based on image quality. Specifically, sharpness and color fidelity will generally be better with a digital camera, even though a flatbed scanner offers advantages in terms of resolution and ease-of-use.

More Detail: Flatbed scanners are certainly easier to use compared to capturing a photo of a photographic print. Scanning takes a bit more time than capturing a digital photo, but getting the original configured on a copy stand with good lighting can more than make up for that time advantage.

Flatbed scanners often feature a higher effective resolution than many digital cameras. However, that doesn’t necessarily translate to improved image quality. In most cases you will get a sharper image by capturing a digital photo rather than scanning with a flatbed scanner.

To be sure, a good flatbed scanner can provide an image with very good quality, and for many older photographic prints this may be more than adequate. After all, an old photographic original won’t have tremendous resolution to begin with. However, when quality is the priority I recommend digitizing with a digital camera rather than a flatbed scanner.

When convenience is the priority, and especially if you have a scanner that has demonstrated good image quality, then obviously that is a perfectly great solution as well.

Today’s question, by the way, was a follow-up to my answer from August 10th about preserving old photographic prints, which you can find on my Ask Tim Grey blog here: