What is a Photo Scanner?

S. Gonzales

A photo scanner is a device that allows users to optically scan physical images and convert them into digital images. Photo scanners differ from regular scanners mainly in that their resolution and color sensitivities are increased. Photo scanners can be employed by professional photographers as part of their work routines, but they also can be used by amateur photographers and even the average consumer.

Photo scanners convert old photographs into digital images.
Photo scanners convert old photographs into digital images.

Potential owners of photo scanners can purchase them for any number of reasons. Photographers might use the photo scanner to scan and archive photograph negatives. Archivists can use a photo scanner to do the same for slides. The average user might simply want to own a photo scanner to digitally edit photos or covert images to the less-cumbersome digital medium.

Some photo scanners are able to accommodate and read photo slides.
Some photo scanners are able to accommodate and read photo slides.

When selecting a scanner to purchase, potential buyers should be aware that features can vary by model. Some models might be equipped with holders that can keep slides and negatives in place while they're being scanned. Technical features such as resolution capabilities need to be examined and chosen so that users know that they've purchased a device that can address their needs.

More advanced models of photo scanners can use multiple lenses that can automatically determine what lens to use for the best scanning resolution of a photo. Scanning software that allows users to preview their images before completing scans can let users modify image sizes and resolutions or make other adjustments so that a scan comes out perfect the first time; this might also save space on a computer, because it guards against unnecessary scans.

The manufacturer of an image scanner might include image editing software with the scanner, but users of photo scanners often purchase or download software that is capable of more detailed editing. For example, while the standard image editing software included can be capable of making minor adjustments such as removing red eye, dust and scratches, a more sophisticated software might be able to restore, modify or change photograph colors. Adding extra embellishments to the photograph also can be an option that is available to those who use advanced, third-party software.

Photo scanners might also be used to create digital images out of other types of files and objects besides photos. A photo scanner can be used to digitize documents with printed or handwritten text. They may even be used to create images out of physical objects that have been laid flat across the photo scanner.

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