How to Use Your Digital Camera as a Scanner

The quality can be just as good, and the convenience can't be beat

Portrait of woman with camera
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It used to be that a scanner, especially a high-resolution flatbed scanner, was an essential piece of office equipment for desktop publishing and graphic design.

Today, a scanner isn't necessary unless you have a lot of photographic prints or other printed artwork to scan. Instead, you can often use a digital camera to scan physical images.

You can also use your digital camera to capture images of whiteboards and other presentation materials at meetings, conferences, or classes. This method can be more efficient than old-fashioned pen and paper note-taking.

Pros of Using a Digital Camera as a Scanner

Almost everybody has a digital camera of some sort. Even smartphone 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, the image quality is often more than adequate if you use proper photography methods.

Cons of Using a Digital Camera as a Scanner

The resolution and color depth for most digital cameras isn't as good as that of a scanner, so scanners are still more suitable for some applications. To work well as a scanner, the camera should have a macro mode for good close-ups. Additionally, you must precisely align the camera and scan subject to avoid common image flaws. Finally, you must carefully control lighting to prevent color casts and shadows.

Tips for Getting Better Scans With a Digital Camera

To get scanner-quality results, follow these suggestions:

  1. Make sure to calibrate your digital camera for reliable color matching.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Use a heavy clear acrylic sheet on top of books or photos that won't lie flat to capture a less distorted picture.

  5. 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.