The Smartphone Scanner is a typical Lomography product – beautiful, easy-to-use hardware, an innovative idea and lo-fi experience. However, there are a few things to consider before you buy the product.
First of all, the product itself is not a full-fledged scanner: it’s a backlight. A pretty basic one, to be exact — you, for example, have no way to increase the light level. However, it provides perfectly even illumination and is very film-friendly: your color negatives won’t have white balance issues. But the picture itself is made by a smartphone camera.
Smartphone cameras are not optimized to this task. Unless you have a model with the possibility of setting it manually (it’s not always the case,) the phone will automatically switch to high ISO mode which will result in a fairly obvious digital grain. A real scanner, which is made specifically for the purpose and takes pictures much slower, provides a much more neutral result. On the other hand, you will have an enormous resolution — most of the cameras on the market today have 8 megapixel or more (unfortunately, you will surely lose some of the camera’s resolution.) While your film will be put into the scanner with the wider edge on the bottom, cameras take “portrait” oriented pictures when they are fitted into the scanner. If you reduce the image, the grain will be less noticeable.
With a professional scanner, you can correct your images quite a bit. You can change light, contrast, colors, everything while physically processing the image. Whatever you do with a smartphone scanner, you will have a digital image first, and this is what will be corrected — which can mean that some detail can be lost during the processing. Especially slightly underexposed frames are prone to quality loss.
The third thing you have to consider is the application. You can use the smartphone’s built-in app to do the “scanning.” Lomography’s built-in application makes cropping way easier but it is still very basic. The Helmut application provides maybe the best image quality but it is a bit slower to work with. You can also choose a desktop computer program to edit your smartphone’s pictures. This will provide you the most sophisticated options, but it means the most work. Perhaps the Lomography app provides the fastest results — but it was not compatible with my girlfriend’s Samsung Galaxy SIII (images for this article were scanned using my HTC Desire X.)
Once you put it together, the scanner is very easy to operate. A roll of film takes a few minutes to scan. Unfortunately at this point some special color films (like the Kodak Portra) will not look too nice without extensive post-processing. However, it works pretty nicely with slides and black and white film: the end result will be a pretty Lomographic image of your films — maybe unprofessional but something like-able.
I have never seen it mentioned elsewhere, but the smartphone scanner can be pretty useful to one owning a normal scanner. The backlight and the smartphone’s interface makes it a pretty handy tool to preview your films real quickly (without storing it) before starting the real scanning.
At this point, this product is mainly for those who are into some exotic analogue-digital adventure. Otherwise, stay tuned — the scanner app is said to come up with new features in the not too far future.