Using Your Digital Camera as a Scanner

Take Pictures of Your Pictures

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

With so much imagery readily available in digital formats, a scanner is not necessary unless you have a lot of photographic prints or other printed artwork to scan, although for turning text documents into text via OCR, a scanner is faster if you have more than a page or so to work with.

If you don't have a scanner or don't see yourself needing one regularly, pick up your digital 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 everybody has one.
  • Even cell phone cameras, if the resolution is high enough, can work in a pinch.
  • Digital cameras are 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 is superior to most digital cameras, making a scanner 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 prevent color casts and shadows.

Tips for Getting Better "Scans" With a Digital Camera

  • 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, take 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 clear acrylic sheet on top of books or photos that won't lie flat to capture 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.