While the widespread adoption of digital photography, accelerated by ever better smartphone cameras, has transformed the way we take and save photos, most homes house a trove of physical pictures from yesteryear. As time wears on, these photos, often forgotten in a crumbling shoe box hidden away in dusty attics, eventually wither away without proper conservation. Colors fade, edges fray, and left long enough, photos will naturally decompose. Photo scanners play a vital role by digitizing original prints to preserve them for the future.
The market is awash with countless options, with manufacturers flaunting their product’s ability to capture sharp and worthy digital versions of your photos. But, amid all these options and unhelpfully similar promises, which is the best photo scanner? Today, we’ll be answering that exact question and offering a selection of what we consider the best scanners out there, with a focus on those best equipped to digitize your physical photo collection.
How We Picked
We focused on the core features that separate scanners from one another: resolution, typically measured in dpi; scan quality; scan speed; ease of use; and design, notably size and footprint. Budget also played an important role, and we focused very much on photo scanners that offer the best bang for the buck, but with quality very much at the forefront of our decision-making process.
This focus led us to settle on five different photo scanners that should suit most users’ home photo scanning needs. As with most consumer electronics, you can always spend more money, but for non-professional use, there’s really no sense in breaking the bank for features that simply won’t be used.
Best Photo Scanner in 2021
Fast for a flatbed scanner
Easy of use
Pricier than the nearly identical Canon CanoScan Lide 300
Though it is marketed as an entry-level scanner, we didn’t hesitate to pick the Canon CanoScan Lide 400 as the best photo scanner on the market today. High resolution, fast scanning, a great price, and a simple setup all combine to offer a photo scanner that won’t disappoint.
With 4,800 dpi, the Canon CanoScan Lide 400 produces accurate colors, realistic contrast, and superb details with every scan. Additional software features found in Canon’s software bundle allow you to tweak photos with features such as dust and scratch reductions, grain correction, and the like.
In addition to high-quality scans, Canon CanoScan Lide 400 scores extra points for its scan speed compared to most other flatbed scanners. Canon’s official blurb notes 4 seconds for a standard 4″ x 6″ photo at 300 dpi, which when it comes to the physical scanning is more or less correct. We do have to factor in the human aspect, specifically how long it takes to place the photo on the scanner and such. Doing so brings the average scan time to roughly around 10 to 15 seconds. Still, we’re looking at one speedy scanner, more or less twice as fast as the similar Epson Perfection V39.
Where the Canon CanoScan Lide 400 stumbles is volume. For those looking to scan masses of photos, doing so with the Canon CanoScan Lide 400 will take substantially longer than a feed-through or portable scanner. But, for the occasional user that wants to scan in a handful of photos in high quality periodically, little else rivals the Canon CanoScan Lide 400.
Another point to consider is that the Canon CanoScan Lide 400 is almost identical to the lower-priced Lide 300, except for an added space-saving kickstand, an extra control button, and double the dpi. If the 4,800 dpi isn’t a deal-breaker and you’ve plenty of space to spare, then there’s little sense in forking out more cash for the Lide 400 when the Lide 300 will more than meet your needs.
Neat and stylish design
Treats photo gently
Not the best scan quality out there
If speed is a concern, then the Plustek Ephoto Z300 is, for our money, the best value fast photo scanner out there, with the added benefit of being one of the more visually appealing scanners on the market. Its small footprint means it won’t clog up a workspace or home office either.
Average scan speeds are around 2-3 seconds per 4″ x 6″ photo and approximately 5-6 seconds per A4 document. As Plustek suggests, you can hope to digitize around 1000 pictures in one afternoon if you can keep up the pace. While feed-through scanners aren’t always best suited to photographs due to the genuine risk of damaging them during the scanning process, the Plustek Ephoto Z300 features a soft roller mechanism that gently feeds in prints. Therefore, it’s highly recommended for old, delicate photos that need to be handled with care.
Looking at scan quality, the Plustek Ephoto Z300 is limited to 300 dpi or 600 dpi, which isn’t surprising given the excellent price point. This should suit most people who simply want to save a collection of old physical photos and aren’t too fussed about higher resolutions. Although other models do out-shine the Plustek Ephoto Z300 with better colors and sharper contrasts, the scans offer decent overall quality. The results are ideal for archiving photos from home.
Excellent quality scans
Compact size for flatbed scanner
Slow scan speed
The Epson Perfection V39 lands on our list of the best photo scanners because of its ability to churn out high-quality prints at a very reasonable price. Flatbed scanners generally come with office space premium, but Epson has managed to squeeze down the size of the Perfection V30 without sacrificing scan quality to make it among the most reasonably priced full-fat scanners out there. An included vertical kickstand saves even more space.
Scanning photos is straightforward with the Epson Perfection V39 thanks to intuitive software and useful tools such as automatic photo correction. The 4800 dpi resolution produces stellar results. Vibrant colors, accurate skin tones, sharp details – it’s hard to find fault with the digitization process.
The Epson Perfection V39 also packs in versatility. It can scan documents and photos equally well and even convert documents to editable text, making it a worthwhile option for those who want options.
The only real gripe we have with the Epson Perfection V39 is the slow scan speed. This comes with the territory and is expected for a flatbed scanner, which lags behind feed-through alternatives across the board. You’re looking at roughly 30 to 40 seconds at 600 dpi per photo if you take into account lifting the lid, placing down the picture, closing the lid, scanning the document, and opening the top once more to remove the print. It’s reasonably average for a flatbed scanner but won’t suit those that imperatively need speed.
No computer required
Not suited to very high resolution scans
Scan time is longer than other options
A portable photo scanner comes into its own when you, for example, need to visit a relative to scan in photos and don’t want to lug around a flatbed scanner, computer, and other accessories. The Doxie Go SE fits the bill perfectly, with a compact footprint that means you can safely carry it around in a backpack (Doxie also sells a nifty $30 carrying case that protects the scanner from dust and scratches).
There’s also the added benefit of it running on batteries (you can expect to scan up to 400 photos per charge), so no having to find a power socket or wrestle with a lengthy setup or pesky drivers. It also runs without a computer and can store up to 4,000 photos thanks to an included 8 GB SD card before you need to sync it via WiFI, the SD Card, or USB. Simply turn it on and start feeding photos through. Suppose you want your photo scanner to double as a traditional document scanner; in that case, the Doxie Go SE can also handle anything from business cards to legal papers, even very thick documents.
The Doxie Go SE is, however, limited to a scan resolution of 300 or 600 dpi. For most users, this is more than enough, but for those than what higher definition scans, the compromises made for portability do come through. The same applies to the scan time, which tallies up to around 8-10 seconds at 300 dpi, relatively slow for a feed-through scanner. Once again, you have to make sacrifices for portability somewhere. That said, the quality of the prints is excellent with vibrant colors thanks to the Doxie software and app’s automatic contrast, rotation, and cropping features.
Good quality scans
Last, but by no means least, we have our pick for the best budget photo scanner: the versatile Canon CanoScan Lide 300. Very similar to its more expensive brother, the Canon CanoScan Lide 400, it strikes a perfect balance between price and scan quality, all packaged in a relatively compact design.
It’s hard not to like the simplicity on offer here, whether that’s the setup or the actual scanning process. You won’t waste any time, and you’ll be scanning more or less out of the box. This isn’t a scanner weighed down by unnecessary features or operational complexity – cheap, to the point, and efficient.
Resolution is capped at a generous 2400 dpi, more than enough detail for home photo scanning, and includes a decent bundle of software for retouching and improving photos to suit most non-professional requirements. The results are more or less on par with the CanoScan Lide 400, with strong, vibrant colors, pleasing contrasts, and overall, a faithful depiction of the original prints.
The Canon CanoScan Lide 300 does falter a little when it comes to scanning speeds compared to the CanoScan Lide 400, but they remain respectable for a flatbed scanner at around 15-20 per photo if we include lid lifting and print placement. Much like the CanoScan Lide 400, the Canon CanoScan Lide 300 isn’t a high-volume scanner and is best suited to small batch scanning, but with fantastic results.
Things To Consider
Flatbed or Feed-Through
Flatbed and feed-through scanners each have their place when it comes to photo scanning. Feed-through scanners are generally faster and easier to use if only for their efficiency when scanning many photos. However, they do come with some compromises, chiefly in the resolution department, which often translates to overall lower quality prints.
Flatbed scanners, or the more traditional design, are better suited for damaged or delicate photos. They also tend to be larger machines than their feed-through counterparts but offer better quality scans and higher dpi counts, which is why professionals and enthusiasts prefer them.
We recommend choosing based on your needs and requirements. There’s no right answer, and there’s an option for every budget out there. The above scanners offer both types of scanners, each more than suitable for home scanning photos.
Resolution and Scan Results
Although it can be tempting to simplify the buying process by opting for the scanner with the highest dpi count, a higher resolution doesn’t always translate to better results. Two scanners with identical dpi counts can produce vastly different results when it comes to the quality of the scan. Similarly, a lower resolution scanner can sometimes offer better results than a pricier, higher-resolution alternative.
All the options in our list offer excellent or at least good scan quality, so they are safe bets. If you are conducting your own research, we recommend looking into user comments and in-depth reviews to ascertain where a particular scanner falls when it comes to quality.
Space and Scanner Footprint
Consumer scanners have shrunk in size in recent years to cater to work spaces and homes with limited space. Luckily, this size reduction hasn’t come at a cost to scan quality, and there are options out there for every space. We particularly recommend scanners sporting built-in kickstands such as the Canon CanoScan Lide 400 and Epson Perfection V39 if you must fit a scanner in a tight spot. It’s also worth measuring up before buying. You can find exact dimensions on manufacturer websites, so be sure to do your homework before committing to avoid having to make space when the scanner arrives.
Our pick for the best photo scanner goes to the Canon CanoScan Lide 400. It’s high resolution within the entry-level range makes it a no brainer for those that want faithful scans of physical photos, and the quality of the results was hands down among the best out there. For speed, we gravitated towards the excellent Plustek Ephoto Z300. Compact, stylish, and efficient, this scanner should suit those with stacks of photos to digitize on a budget.
Although the Canon CanoScan Lide 400 produces excellent scans, we were also taken by the Epson Perfection V39. Despite being among the slowest on our list, it offers an awful lot of functionality for a reasonable price. As for portability, you can’t go wrong with the Doxie Go SE, which was by far the most useful scanner we came across, if only how easy it is to scan photos on the go without the need for a computer.
Finally, for those trying to stretch their budget to the maximum, the Canon CanoScan Lide 300 offers an outstanding balance of design, quality prints, and a respectable resolution, despite it being lower than its pricier older brother, the Canon CanoScan Lide 400.
Our guide to the best photo scanners now comes to an end. We hope that the above has helped ease the sometimes frustrating experience of choosing the right product from a sea of options. If you have any questions, please do drop us a line in the comments section below, and we’ll endeavor to provide an answer as quickly as possible.