Compare Scanner Types

Scanner Comparison

There are many types of photo and document scanners to compare. When preserving and safeguarding your memories really matters, like your children’s early years of precious memories, preparing for natural disaster, creating a high quality scrapbook, or collecting one-of-a-kind fragile documents for your family history, be sure to select a device that produces the accurate image quality you will need in the future. Click here or the image to download a printable chart (PDF, 1MB) comparing these different types side-by-side.


Digital Cameras, Smart Phones, and other Mobile Devices

At first glance, it would appear that digital cameras and the new generation of mobile devices that have high-resolution cameras would do the job. Their improved optics and resolution produce point-and-shoot pictures that are sufficiently good for many people.  Using them for taking a picture of a photo or document may be sufficient for viewing on a mobile device’s small screen, but no match for a scanner. Resolution is only one part of the story. It’s very difficult to avoid the flash reflection, get the angle straight, keep the camera steady, or have uniform lighting.

Camera FlipPal side by side

Scanning with mobile devices whitepaper

Mobile apps are available that apply image processing to reduce the effects, but upon close examination with zoom, enlarged prints, or projecting a slideshow onto a large screen, you’ll see the difference. Don’t be surprised and find out in later years that a “scan” using a phone’s camera was embarrassingly fuzzy, had uneven lighting, shifted color, or distorted shape.

Click here to visit the post that describes the technical aspects.

Click here or on the image to download a technical whitepaper with more detail on this subject.

From the mechanics point of view, have you tried holding the mobile device steady while at the same time trying to hold the object?  It takes more than two hands to point a digital camera at a magazine or book, and at the same time flatten the page in a sufficiently to avoid the distortion in the binding.

Scanning a book

By comparison, with Flip-Pal, you simply take the lid off, flip the scanner over, and place it flat on the page.


To avoid crushing the binding of a book or magazine, hold the book with the page to be scanned flat, and the opposing page at 90 degrees. The curvature of the binding will flatten out, and the top edge of the Flip-pal will tuck into the binding.


Wand and portable sheetfeed scanners


Flip-Pal side-by-side with wand 

These are small and mobile. Some require a USB connection to a computer. They perform well with structured documents like invoices and single pages with low needs for image quality. Click the image on the left to see examples of a handheld wand scanning pages of an album with plastic film over the pictures. Notice the waviness caused by the tracking of the wand across the surface. Many people find it difficult to hold the photo in place and also maintain the correct speed as they drag the wand across the surface.

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Printers that are combined with a scanner. All-in-Ones

Many printers include sheet feed and flatbed scanners incorporated as an All-in-One (AiO). They are great at making copies of loose pages, and do well at feeding stacks of pages. If you scan documents for your business, they provide image quality well suited for those types of documents. They can scan photos at similar image quality as the Flip-Pal, but not at the high resolution of desktop flatbed scanners that are capable of scanning slides and negatives with their transparent media adaptors (see below).

Desktop Sheetfeed Document scanners
Desktop scanner

These can be workhorses for your business. They scan unbound pages of paper quickly. Some are duplex (have sensors on both sides of the paper) and are often bundled with office-oriented software such as OCR (Optical Character Recognition), filing/retrieval, and Internet connectivity.  As with the handheld wands in their docking station, the rollers or grit wheels which make contact with the surface of the photo can be a concern, and ragged edges, holes from removed staples, or thick paper can cause misfeeds, jams, and crumpled papers.

Desktop flatbed scanners
Desktop-scannerConventional flatbed scanners can provide outstanding image quality. The standalone models often include a transparent media adapter for slides and transparencies. They sit on your desk, connected to a computer. It’s impractical to use them for stitching individual scans to form larger objects, like fabric or wall paintings. They require photos and fragile objects to be removed and placed upside-down on the scanner’s glass, risking damage to them and their bindings. You must remove the picture from its frame to scan it, and then put it all back together.   It is cumbersome to put magazines and books upside down, smashing them down to get the binding flat, oftentimes requiring multiple attempts before getting it straight.

Specialty scanners

There are a variety of slide and photo scanners that do slides and negatives, some using camera technology. These vary greatly in image quality.

Small business-card scanners are available that are well-suited for that specialized purpose. Flip-Pal scans business cards very well, three at a time. Purchase the business card software separately to convert the scan to contact information (an example of OCR).

Flip-Pal does not scan negatives and slides.

Technical differences between the Flip-pal mobile scanner and iPhone 4s

For 8½ x 11″ documents, Flip-Pal’s 600 dpi translates to 28MP, 3.5 times the iPhone 4s and 5. Its internal LED illumination results in uniform lighting across the surface. For example, a blue sky will be blue across the entire photo, not light blue in one side and dark blue in another. The low-noise Contact Image Sensor (CIS) brings out the detail in the shadows without speckles of noise. Flip-Pal’s state-of-the-art image processing results in tonal accuracy and compliance with the sRGB standard, so a person’s face will have their true skin tone across all other devices like printers and computer displays that are also sRGB. Here’s a post on our blog about Archival Quality Scans from the Flip-Pal. 

By comparison, an 8 MP camera is about 120 dpi on an 8×11″ page. It is dependent on whatever lighting there is in the room, or worse, the flash. It’s small aperture, fixed focus, and folded light path limits the sensitivity, which results in pictures of photos with random noise throughout.  There will be shifts in color because the color space (the range of RGB color that can be captured) is significantly constricted.

The census record below shows the high detail available from a Flip-Pal scan that a digital camera or mobile device could not capture. Click on the image and zoom in.  Notice also that there is no evidence of stitching the 12 scans for this 14×20″ document.


1940 census scanned in 12 sections and reassembled with EasyStitch software

You’ll see the difference between a Flip-Pal and a digital camera when you look at the skin tones, the detail in the shadows, and the sharpness of edges and lines.  Your mobile device or computer screen may not show those deficiencies.  But, when preserving your memories really matters, you will want a digital version that is faithful to the original in every way, just as the Flip-Pal mobile scanner does.

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