The range of scanning options is quite diverse, even among apparently similar types of scanners. Our test models include three that only handle reflective media (eg photo prints), three that only do film and six that do both. It’s important to assess your scanning needs first and buy a scanner to suit.
Several of the models on test are very compact and, in some cases, even portable, running on battery power and scanning to a memory card without needing to be connected to a PC. Some scanners handle a wide range of formats and some make it easy to “gang up” a group of photos, slides or negatives for faster processing of large numbers of images.
You might think that a machine dedicated to scanning film only would do a better job than a “jack of all trades” flatbed scanner, but we found that is not always the case. We also found that you should be wary of claims on marketing materials and the packaging. Many claim to do “high quality” scans, but none of the scanners on test produced more than just acceptable quality. We found that flatbed scanners generally did a better job than dedicated film scanners but with few exceptions, we found the quality of the scans still left a lot to be desired. Several models on test produced unacceptable results, even for “cheap and cheerful” bulk picture conversion (see our Scan quality scores in the table).
While some film scanners scan fairly quickly, enabling the processing of more pictures, if the quality is not acceptable to you then speed doesn’t matter.
If you have a lot of slides to convert to digital format and you want to preserve them in high-quality digital format, it might be far quicker and easier to pack them all off to a slide scanning service. Some services offer bulk scanning of slides, transparencies, negatives and photos at less than $1 per scan. Try a web search for “image scanning services”.
Work out the cost of having your scans done by a service and weigh that up against the cost of a decent scanner (and the time you’ll take to do them yourself). If you’ll be doing hundreds of scans, the DIY solution with a decent quality scanner may still be your best option.