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Google’s New App Can Help You Scan Old Family Photos

Put that scanner away and try this instead

Our smartphones can store thousands of photos, making it possible to chronicle years of our lives on a single device. But what about photos captured on film cameras, like Polaroids and old family portraits?

Google’s new PhotoScan app, launching for iPhone and Android on Tuesday, aims to make it easier to preserve film photos on your smartphone.

PhotoScan scans photos using your smartphone’s camera in a way that eliminates glare and shadows to improve overall quality, the company says. It will also automatically crop out edges, like the white border of a Polaroid shot. Google says it should work with photos in frames and picture albums, too.


When scanning a photo, Google’s app asks you to line up a circle in the center of the screen with four dots located near the corners of the photo. The app then takes multiple individual images and stitches them together. That reduces the glare you might get when taking a single photo from one particular angle.

PhotoScan worked well during a demonstration with regular printed photos. But scanning Polaroids proved trickier, perhaps because of their smaller size. In some instances, I had to scan my photo more than once to get it to register properly. The guide dots also moved around a bit as I tried to line them up properly, making it difficult to scan pictures quickly.

PhotoScan generally delivers on its promise of digitizing old photos with minimal glare — it did, however, catch a slight reflection from a nearby computer monitor while I was using it. Still, PhotoScan managed to capture better-looking images of my Polaroids and focus more quickly than my iPhone’s stock camera app. It neatly cut the white border from my Polaroids as well, which makes the subject appear more clear.

Take a look at the images below to see the difference:

Shot with PhotoScan

Lisa Eadicicco
Lisa Eadicicco

Shot without PhotoScan

Lisa Eadicicco
Lisa Eadicicco

As you might expect, PhotoScan works with Google Photos, letting users transfer newly scanned pictures to their cloud library. Google Photos will also automatically recognize the content of an image imported from PhotoScan. If you’re a Google Photos user who has tagged images of friends and family members, Google says its software will automatically recognize those people in images imported from PhotoScan, even if they’re much younger in the scanned photo.)

Google wouldn’t reveal what it has planned for PhotoScan. But David Lieb, the product lead for Google Photos, hinted that the company may focus on improving what users can do with those photos once they’ve been scanned. And while the current version of the app primarily fixes glare, Lieb also said the team is looking at other enhancements related to color as well.

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