Photo scanner for old family photos?

Does anyone have a recommended photos scanner?

Our family has been looking for an easy, but high quality way to digitally capture my grandmother’s photos. She passed away 10 years ago, but photos are still sitting in cardboard boxes :scream:. I’m looking for a high quality scanner for this project that will work with our macs.

We plan splitting the cost, so it doesn’t need to be super cheap. Preferably flatbed due to larger photos fixed on mats, although I know that will make it a time intensive project! She did have some negatives, but I’m not sure they are a priority.

Any advice or suggestions are appreciated! There are so many choices, not sure where to begin!!

Scanning is time consuming. I strongly recommend using a service which scans photos, negatives and transparencies. In recent years I know people who used ScanCafe and had great experiences. Today, Wirecutter (the NYTimes-owned online Consumer Reports-like website) has other recommendations. You’ll pay 40¢-60¢ per photo but will be able to see low-res scans online from the service used and be able to either approve them or ask them to be re-scanned before downloading (or being sent a USB stick).

Back in my film photography days I used a $900 (and long-discontinued) Nikon film scanner to extract the greatest about of data from my negatives. It was a bear and required learning the intricacies of the scanning software as well as taking many minutes per roll to scan. But even for more casual scanning of large photographs, it will take a long time, and you’ll likely have to make post-production adjustments (color, contrast, etc) to images, and it will cost you a lot of time and annoyance. If you’re splitting the cost with others I especially suggest looking at using a professional scanning service like the ones tested and recommended below:


For a flatbed scanner my current top pick is an Epson V 800 or 850.

Decide on your photo management software first. I would also think through very carefully your file naming scheme and also your cataloging/keywording structure. My choice is LightRoom for many, many reasons described elsewhere. Also decide if you plan to scan at archival resolutions or not. My feeling is that scanning at as high a real resolution as possible up to the limits of the film/photo is much better to avoid having to redo the project in a few years.

Another option is to set up a high resolution copystand with a really top end digital camera tethered to lightroom. Peter Krogh’s book on digital scanning is a good primer on that and his DAM book is IMO necessary for anyone approaching a major family archive project.

I am actually meeting with a photographer with a 56 megapixel camera today and we are going to do some test pictures of some of our larger format items.

If you are comfortable sending items to a scanning service then the top pick IMO is mostly because they do evrything in the US. I do not want to send my stuff off to India for scanning!

A good overall resource is

Library of Congress also provides a lot of info on how to determine optimum scan resolution for various types of media.

For a quickie look at the project, perhaps for low resolution scans you can rent both slide and photo scanners from this place. I have not used them but they are on my list to try for scanning the huge collection of slides we have to determine which ones we need to do at the high end 6400 dpi resolution with the expensive Nikon scanner that is ancient and on its last legs.

I’m in the middle of a similar project but my items range from collections at the historical society and my own family stuff. The collection I am working with consists of something like 25K color slides, about 19K prints, 1500 glass plate negatives, about 15K color negatives and around 100 old historical scrapbooks.


One thing to consider is if you have access to a decent DSLR with a good lens. Mount it on a tripod with the center column inverted and you basically have a repro camera. At resolutions around 20+ megapixels, and assuming even, fixed lighting, you can get very good results, even for printing purposes.

Thinking that if you already have the gear, it could be a workable solution.

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Wow - thank you all for the great ideas! I like the idea of using a company, however convincing my dad put photos in the mail might be difficult! I might try to talk him into this though, being stored in cardboard isn’t a much safer option for sure. My sister-in-law has a good camera, we might be able to set something up using that too.

Thanks agin for the all the ideas and links - our goal is to settle on a plan over the holidays…which hopefully does not involve waiting 10 more years! :smile:

I had a bunch of photos I wanted digital copies of. I used my ScanSnap S1500 set on high quality photo and got decent results. Printed one of the copies on a photo printer and could barely tell the difference between it and the original.

A flatbed scanner or a camera on tripod will be tedious and time consuming. Make sure you’re up to the time commitment before starting.

Tell your dad that mailing the photos to a scanning service that will allow you to have multiple digital copies is safer than keeping them in the house. I’m thinking about the recent tragedy in Paradise CA. I’m sure a lot of people lost a bunch of photos. An off-site digital copy goes a long way in helping to heal from the other losses.


Yep - seeing those fires definitely prompted me to bring this up again to the family. Hoping we can make a decision when we are all together next week!

I’m thinking of using the Epson FastFoto FF-680W which is wireless. My thought is I could use it for the project and then list it on eBay to get back some of my cost.

Almost 2 years ago, I scanned about 7000 photos using the previous version of this scanner, the Epson FastFoto FF-640. My scanner was not wireless and the top optical resolution was 600dpi. I suspect everything else is equal between the two. The scanner was fast and the scan quality was fine. I scanned in groups up to 30 at a time. Misfeedings were extremely rare (2 or more photos pulled in at the same time) and none of original photos were damaged. If you look at the Amazon reviews, some mentioned problems when scanning curled photos. I did not experience this, but that said, hardly any of my original photos were curled. The main problem with this scanner is occasional (frequent???) problems with white lines on the scanned photos resulting from dust/dirt on the inside of the scanner. When I did my scanning I might scan 5 groups of 30 before the lines would appear or it might happen after cleaning and scanning one group of 30. Epson suggests cleaning the scanner after every 300 scans or when you see the lines appear. I have placed a link to the cleaning procedure. While frustrating, it was not a deal-breaker for me (ie - I did not return the scanner). My suggestion is to scan a group of photos, examine the scans and if you see white lines delete the entire group, clean the scanner and redo. After my scanning project was completed I passed the scanner to down another family member. Let me know if you have any questions.

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Wow! So for your scanning project how long did it take you for the 7000 photos? This summer I’ll have half days on Fridays at work and am willing to do it for a few hours then and even maybe Sunday’s too. For me I’d throw on a podcast and scan and work on other computer work while scanning. Also does it scan to a USB, cloud, or to your computer? I’m also debating storage but might get a Synology which would help. Ideally I’d like to enable family to be able to browse photos by year.

I scanned 7000 with this scanner and another 1000 with a flatbed (larger photos and slides) over a 2 week period. I don’t want to guess at how many hours it took. I scanned it all to an external hard drive and have the original scans backed up to OneDrive and Time Machine, as well as another external SSD.
I will try to post my scanning process soon.

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Cliff, I’d look forward to a further post on your process. What I’m wondering now is we have photos in photo boxes. Some have them loose, others are in the packaging thing you get when you get them printed at the photo place. I’d imagine they would have the dates or month and year printed on the back. We have a big dining room table and living room rug I could use to help organize.

This is a description of the process I used to scan a large collection of photos and slides. This is the process I used. I am not saying it is the best process. I am not saying that it will make sense to anyone but me. The goal was to make a good digital copy of all of our photos. I was not trying to make museum-quality nor National Geographic-quality images. Just images that would evoke memories. It worked well and gave us what we needed.

I had approximately 8,000 photos and slides to be scanned. Most were in drug-store/photo developer envelopes. Some were in albums or loose in boxes. The slides were in Bell and Howell slide cubes or in plastic slide holders. A few slides were loose in boxes.

Most of the photos that belonged to my wife and I were in some sort of order. Those that belonged to my mother-in-law were poorly organized. In any given envelope there could be a combination of photos that had nothing in common with each other (different time periods, different events, etc).

My first decision: Sort then scan, or scan then sort? This decision was fairly easy. There were approximately 230 envelopes. After opening and sorting two envelopes, I already had about 15 groupings of photos on my dining room table. And making the decision regarding which group each photo belonged in, or whether to discard a photo, was not cut and dry. At this point I decided to scan all of them and sort them later, using Apple Photos.

The second decision that I made was to keep the original photos and destroy/discard all of the negatives. This was a personal preference. For further discussion of this, please refer to the internet.

For the 7000 or so 4” X 6” and smaller photos I used an Epson FastFoto FF-640. The scanner is a fast, sheet-fed scanner with a top resolution of 600 dpi. Epson has a new wireless version capable of 1200 dpi. The main problem with this scanner is occasional problems with white lines on the scanned photos resulting from dust/dirt on the inside of the scanner. Epson suggests cleaning the scanner after every 300 scans or when you see the lines appear.

My scanning process: Remove the contents of the photo envelope. Place photos in scanner. Scan photos @ 600 dpi. The software will ask you to name the batch of photos before it starts scanning. The naming convention I used for each scanned image, was a letter followed by a 3-digit number. The scanner software adds a sequential number to each image. So the images from the first envelope were named A001_0001, A001_0002, etc. Second envelope, A002_0001, etc. The scanned images were placed in folders named with the prefix (A001, A002, etc).
After the photos were scanned, I checked for quality. If the quality was good I went to the second envelope. If the images showed the white lines or other problems, I discarded the scanned images, cleaned the scanner, and repeated the process. After each envelope was scanned, I wrote the number in a blank book with some short notes about the photos in the envelope (year, event, people, places, etc). I then placed the original photos in new acid-free/lignin-free archival envelopes labeled with the prefix (first envelope A001). I destroyed/discarded any negatives and placed the original envelopes in the recycle bin.

My process for the 1000 slides and other photos (larger photos and less flexible photos, like Polaroids) was to use the Epson Perfection V550, a flatbed scanner that has accessories for scanning slides/negatives. The process was similar to that outlined above. In general, the slides were scanned at 4800 dpi and the photos 600 dpi. The naming convention for the slides was S00x_xxxx and L00x_xxxx for the lager photos. The original slides were placed in the archival envelopes and labelled accordingly. The larger photos were placed in regular large envelopes and labelled as well.

We ended up with approximately 8000 scanned images. The 315 envelopes with the original photos were placed in boxes and stored in a closet. Each box is labelled with the name of the contents. They take up about 9 cubic feet of closet space. We have a notebook with the descriptions of the contents of each envelope. So, every photo is cross-referenced between the original photo, the scanned image, as well as the notebook. This should make it easier if I were to want to find the original photo for rescanning or sending to a relative.

All of the scanned images were imported into a new Apple Photos library. All images were given the same keyword NoAlbum. This is where the sorting and discarding take place. This is the most time-consuming part. This took about 2-3 months. I did a little every day. I went through each photo and either discarded it or placed it into an album. My goal was to place each photo in only one album. Once I put a photo in an album I would remove the keyword, NoAlbum. That way when I started sorting each day, I could start with the images that weren’t in any album. Once I had every photo in an album, I added a keyword ALB followed by a 3 digit number. First album keyword is ALB001, etc. I will eventually add additional keywords and allow photos to be in multiple albums. Re:keywords… OogieM has a great post here: Editing image metadata of digitized analogue photos?

Currently I have the scanned images backed up to Time Machine, as well as an external SSD and MS OneDrive. Because this Apple Photos library is not my system library, I am planning of putting a copy in iCloud.


This is really extensive though based on your other posts I expected it. If we were talking in real life I’d immediately buy you a drink or food as thanks for the detail and extensiveness. Also if I’m being honest throw this up in the Cool Workflows section as its own post, I think it deserves further recognition. Also if you are going to MacStock I’ll see you there.

As to your comment, I like your process overall. I find it interesting that you won’t be getting rid of the photos. I say that as the trendiness of the KonMari method lately. I think for me personally with that many of the photos I’ll scan them all but then sort through and not keep all of them. The older family photos certainly but some of those shots aren’t worth keeping and are duds.

I think a bit different in my case from yours is that I’m a Lightroom user. I love Apple Photos but wouldn’t want the photos to be held hostage if for whatever reason it became corrupt. As of now, I’m storing the large majority of my photos in Lightroom and my iOS photos and videos in Photos.

I’d be looking at the 1200 dpi version and I’d go ahead and scan at the 1200 dpi resolution. I like the process of your numbering scheme. Also your thing about the quality. I don’t have too many slides but the images would be the priority right now.

Interesting your process of sorting and discarding. If you decided a photo wasn’t worth keeping would you just delete it from your Apple Photos library?

This is a good old school solution! Invest in an camera stand and remote trigger, and a put every page/photo under a plate of glass. It is also nesessary with a polaroid-filter on the camera lense to remove the refections from the glass, but in this way you can digitalize a box of photos in rather short time. This method will not work with negatives/slides, though :wink:

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Yes. With a slide adapter.

This is the only part that made me shudder. The negative has so much more information compared to the print that I can’t imaging getting rid of them. I’d probably do it the other way round, scan the negatives and toss the photos.


It can with either a slide adapter or a lightbox you place the slides on.

Good if you only have several hundred slides, not so good for many thousands of them.

Yes, I knew that part would turn some heads (I read all about it on the internet). I completely understand the quality issues with the negatives being better than the paper photos as a scanning source. Again, just personal preference. I am happy with the quality of scanned images.

How much space do these photos take up? I already have 700 GB of photos I’ve taken over the past 15 years.