Google PhotoScan: Experience Retaking Old Photos

Guest Post from DigiDaddy

In the article [Save Life Photos] Step 4: Retake or Scan Old Photos, I introduced three methods for digitizing your old photos. The first is to retake your photos using your smartphone. If you do this method, you will need to adjust the distance and angle of the light source, which can be time-consuming and require many retakes to produce a slightly acceptable recreation.

My family has a large amount of photos, which are now old and faded. The film development and photo printing technology of those old times are not comparable to the technology of today; hence, I bought a Plustek ePhoto scanner to scan my photos at home. This scanner doesn’t only scan my old photos to digital files, but also kind of restoring their images. I feel the scanned images look prettier than their paper originals.

Google claims its PhotoScan  app is the scanner from the future, saying it “gets you great looking digital copies in seconds – it detects edges, straightens the image, rotates it to the correct orientation, and removes glare”. The app sounds magic and it’s free, so of course I downloaded it and gave it a try.


Overview of Google PhotoScan

Google PhotoScan app is available with iOS and Android versions for free.

While Google names this app as a “scanner”, it actually uses the phone’s camera and flash to “take” photos. The App then uses software and machine learning to remove glare, perform color correction, crop, and adjust slanted images to upright orientation.  Photos are then saved to Google drive. Note there is no import function, so if you have been using your phone’s Camera app to recreate photos, the PhotoScan App can’t help you de-glare and crop photos from outside of the app.


How to Use Google PhotoScan

After you have installed it and opened the app for the first time, you will be led through a quick tour of the app features. You may skip it  and use the help from my more detailed step-by-step introduction below instead.

  1. Put the photo you want to recreate onto a table. Avoid a table with a colorful surface. To ensure you make good retakes, follow these two tips. First off, if the photograph in a sleeve or album, remember to remove it; otherwise, it can be almost impossible to avoid the reflection from the album’s material when retaking the photo. Secondly, and most importantly, there must be a significant contrast between the background and photograph. If your photo is mainly light- or bright-color, place a black sheet behind the photo; alternatively, if the image is a nighttime or dark image, place a white sheet behind the image.
  2. Launch the PhotoScan app.
  3. Hold your phone square, directly above the photo, and adjust the external light source (such as the table lamp) and your phone’s position to avoid any reflection from the photo’s coating surface. Make sure the photo is all set within the frame and there is no glare, and then lightly press the big shoot button. Must be “lightly” so your phone camera doesn’t shake. PhotoScan_screenshot_TC01
  4. Next, four white dots will appear within the screen creating a box shape; a hollow circle will appear in the middle of your screen. Move your mobile phone to line up  the hollow circle over each of these four white dots. Take note: when you do this, make sure you move the phone steady and flat. Don’t tilt your phone; otherwise, it will influence the results of PhotoScan’s color calibration and automatic cropping.
  5. Press the circle at the bottom right-hand corner of the app’s screen. This will open the last photo you took. Remember we took this photo in landscape position, and there were big black borders of the background around the photo (see Step 3 above)?  PhotoScan not only straightens the image but automatically recognizes unwanted borders, and cuts them out. Isn’t that amazing? PhotoScan_screenshot_TC02
  6. PhotoScan also provides 3 functions.
    • If the photo is oriented the wrong way, you can press the button on the left side under the square. Each time you press it, it will rotate the image 90° counterclockwise.
    • If you need to crop the image (quite common with photos taken in the old days with the film cameras which were characterized with having small viewing window, requiring skills to adjust the lens zooming in or out, or oftentimes capturing an unwanted passerby in the background), you can use this crop function to make the images more focused.
    • If you aren’t satisfied, press delete and retake. If you are satisfied, press the arrow in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, and return to the previous screen.
  7. Once you have finished recreating your photos, you can choose which ones to save, or you can save them all at once. PhotoScan_screenshot_TC03
  8. Then this screen will load, confirming to you the recreated photos have been saved. You can then browse the photos, or continue scanning (retaking). All Done! PhotoScan_screenshot_TC04


Google Photoscan Quality Comparison

Below is the image that I retook from an old photo with Google PhotoScan.

Remake with Google PhotoScan app / File size: 1701 Kbytes


This image below is what I got using the built-in Photo app on my Sony smartphone.

_Sony 相機


The results here are clear as day. The PhotoScan app can not only recreate the image but also use crop the image smartly.


Having used Plustek ePhoto to scan some old photos, I don’t think the Google PhotoScan can compare. Let the images speak for themselves. Have a look at the PhotoScan’s recreation quality and file size against Plustek ePhoto’s. Which do you prefer?

Zhongshan Tower, Yangmingshan – Taken in 1981

Zhongheng Highway – Taken in 1984

Google PhotoScan only seems to take the photo and convert it into a digital file. The yellowing, fading, and all the other blemishes of the old photos are faithfully reproduced.

The Plustek ePhoto doesn’t just digitize photos. It revitalizes these old photos, and genuinely ‘faithfully restores’ the lives of the people and scenes of the time. I believe that this scanner can capture every minute detail, even compared to my own eye. We don’t open old photo albums to view these old photos anymore during the family get-together. The scanned images are more clear, viewable, and beautiful than their paper counterparts, so we display the scanned images on TV screen instead.


The Verdict

If you’re after convenience and not too worried about the quality of the digital files, then you can quickly retake a few of your more recent photos with the Google PhotoScan app, which I think is comparatively better than other mobile apps.

But if you have a lot of photos that you want to be converted into digital files, I would still recommend to invest in a photo scanner. As you can see from my step-by-step demonstration of PhotoScan , this app claims to have smart color correction and cropping, but in the end you need to be smarter than this app because you have to be the one to raise and align your mobile phone with the image. You need to gain experience knowing how to avoid reflections, and being able to keep your hand still, moving horizontally smoothly while not shaking. Afterwards, you still need to confirm the photo and confirm the cropping and orientation. In case of photos you don’t feel satisfied, you need to delete it and retake. You repeat these until you find the image is good. Each photo takes more than a minute. After severally retakes, your hands, shoulders and neck will feel sore and your eyes will feel strained, far too frustrating.

When scanning photos with the Plustek ePhoto scanner, I sat with ease. I placed each of my photos individually into the photo scanner and then within a second the image would appear on my computer screen. Google PhotoScan may have such good features like color correction and border cropping, but this scanner also has those features. Whatever the color, sharpness and file size, Plustek ePhoto does comparatively better than the PhotoScan. I don’t need to manually modify the images too. Above all, there is no learning curve. The operation is very intuitive. I even asked my wife to scan her old photos, and she was able to scan them well. I didn’t need to teach her how to use the scanner, and there is no nagging from her. Not only do I save the troubles, but I also can enjoy the peace and quiet.


This guest post was originally written in Chinese by DigiDaddy and localized into English by Plustek Connect digitization expert team with the author’s permission.



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