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Using Your Digital Camera as a Scanner

Take Pictures of Your Pictures


Portrait of woman with camera
Gary Houlder/Taxi/Getty Images

There was a time when having a scanner, especially a high-resolution flatbed scanner, was an essential piece of office equipment for desktop publishing and graphic design. Today, digital cameras can often take the place of a scanner.

With so much imagery readily available in digital formats, a scanner is less necessary unless you have lots and lots of photographs or other printed artwork to scan. For turning text documents into text via OCR, a scanner is faster if you have more than a page or so.

But if you don't have a scanner or don't see yourself needing one regularly, then pick up that camera and take pictures of your pictures. In addition to taking photos of artwork or printed pages, using your digital camera to capture images of whiteboards and other presentation materials at meetings, conferences, and in the classroom can be more efficient than old-fashioned pen and paper note-taking.

Pros of Using a Digital Camera as a Scanner

  • Almost everyone has one.

  • Even cell phone cameras, if the resolution/quality is high enough, can work in a pinch.

  • Digital cameras are more portable and don't need to be connected to a computer.

  • For all but the most high-end uses and for posting images online, the image quality is often more than adequate (if proper photography methods are used).

Cons of Using a Digital Camera as a Scanner

  • The resolution and color depth for a good scanner may be superior to most digital scanners, making it more suitable for some applications.

  • Camera needs to have a "macro" mode for good close-ups.

  • Camera and image must be precisely aligned (to avoid distortion, cutting out part of the image, and out-of-focus areas).

  • Lighting must be carefully controlled to avoid color casts and shadows.

Tips for Getting Better "Scans" With a Digital Camera

  • Calibrate your digital camera for more reliable color matching.

  • Use a tripod or set the camera on a solid surface to keep the camera perfectly steady. Use the self-timer because even the act of pressing the camera button can cause movement and blurriness.

  • If possible, use a lightbox to control lighting. If that's not possible, try taking pictures near a window or place a lamp on one side and then place a piece of reflective paper or white poster board on the other side to reflect light evenly across the subject.

  • Use a heavy acrylic sheet to lay on top of books or photos that won't lay flat to get a less distorted picture.

  • Learn the different settings for your camera to find the ones that work best for different locations and lighting conditions that you can't control easily yourself.

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