Best Film & Slide Scanners

Updated August 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

13 Models Considered
5 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
206 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best film and slide scanners

Last Updated August 2019

These days, most people take digital photos to capture their favorite memories, but if you grew up before the internet – or if you have loved ones who did – chances are you’ve got a bunch of photos and slides that were taken with analog cameras. Most families have dozens of boxes of photos or slides collecting dust somewhere in an attic or turning yellow in an ancient photo album. Thankfully, there’s a way to get your favorite photographs and slides onto your computer so you can restore, share, and archive them: by using a film and slide scanner.

Film and slide scanners are small devices that produce digital images from photos, slides, and film formats of all different kinds. In most cases, they include a small LCD screen for basic operation, and they scan slides or pictures to common formats like JPG or PNG. Some film and slide scanners operate as standalone units that save images to a memory card, while others are designed to be connected to a computer when in use.

If you’re looking to preserve your family’s most precious photographic mementos from before the digital era, you need a film and slide scanner. Here’s everything you need to know to pick out the best one for your needs. When you’re ready to buy, we’ve highlighted some of our favorite models, too.

Consider where you’ll store your scanned photos. Many users store scanned images on an external hard drive or NAS device. Others use a cloud backup service to keep their scanned photos with their other digital photos.

Key considerations

Before you start shopping for a film and slide scanner, collect some basic information to help clarify what you’re looking for. Start by answering these questions:

What film types do you need to scan?

Old-school cameras used different types of film: most worked with 35 mm, but other formats like 110 and 126 were popular during the 1970s and 1980s as well. Start with your source material and make sure the film and slide scanner you buy will work with what you have.

Do you want to scan images to a computer or memory card?

If you prefer to work with a laptop or desktop computer while you’re scanning your photos and slides (which can be great if you want to edit your photos as you go), get a model with a USB connection. If you’ll be scanning in multiple locations, get a standalone model that scans directly to a memory card. That way, portability is never an issue.

Do you want to play slideshows on your TV?

Some film and slide scanners also function as slideshows on the go – they include an HDMI port so you can connect them to your TV or monitor with an HDMI cable. If you’ve ever wanted to use slides as part of a presentation, or if you just want to see your classic photos on the big screen, get a film and slide scanner with an HDMI port.

A great starter kit

The zonoz FS-3 has everything at a price that’s more than reasonable. It works with a wide array of formats, it’s got a 22MP scanner, it can connect to your TV, and it even includes custom trays for various slide types to help keep your images level. If you need a slide scanner that’s good enough to produce high-quality images without needing a lot of setup time or know-how, grab an FS-3.

Film and slide scanner features

When it comes to film and slide scanners, there are three key features that matter more than the others: format compatibility, megapixels, and portability.

Format compatibility

The single most important factor when picking out a film and slide scanner is what film formats it works with. Older images can come on individual slides, filmstrips of multiple images, or even unique cartridges designed to keep the images from being exposed. The bottom line is to make sure the film and slide scanner you buy works with the images you want to scan.

Megapixels

Image resolution is measured in megapixels (MP), so units with higher megapixels take more detailed scans, while those with lower megapixels create smaller, blurrier images. If you’re just looking for a tool for uploading old images to social media, you can get away with a 2MP film and slide scanner, but if you want images that you can make prints from, you’ll need one with at least a 14MP scanner on board.

Portability

For years, film and slide scanners required a computer with software to enable the scanning, but more recently, all-in-one units have made it much easier to scan images on the go. Some portable film and slide scanners are even made to work with scrapbooks and photo albums, so you can create digital images from any type of photo.

EXPERT TIP

All film and slide scanners take a little while to learn, so walk through the process a few times. Once you’ve mastered the basics, it will seem easy, but there’s definitely a learning curve.


Staff  | BestReviews

Film and slide scanner prices

Inexpensive: If you just need a basic film and slide scanner and don’t mind getting one with a smallish screen, you can get a good one for between $50 and $150. Most models in this price range don’t include a memory card, so you’ll need to purchase storage separately. Some scanners on the high end of the range can also scan filmstrips, so you can convert them to digital video.

Mid-range: Film and slide scanners that cost between $150 and $200 up the ante in all ways: they’ve got bigger screens, they work with more formats, and they’ve often got connectivity options like HDMI and USB-C. If you’re scanning film or slides for archival purposes, or you just want an above-average scanner, plan on spending this much.

Expensive: If you need a professional-quality scanner, a proper flatbed scanner is your best bet, and good ones start at about $200. Prices increase from there.

CAUTION

Before you start scanning, decide on a file-naming convention for your digital images. When scanning multiple images, it’s easy to lose track of which is which. Try including key identifiers like the month and year the picture was taken or the location.

Tips

  • Check to see if the scanner has a storage maximum. Some film and slide scanners that require a memory card have a hard limit for how much storage they can handle, which means you’ll have to transfer files whenever you run out of room. Make sure that any model you buy can work with memory cards up to at least 32GB or larger.
     
  • Keep a handheld vacuum nearby. All film and slide scanners share one big problem: they’re susceptible to dust, which can show up on your images and degrade the overall quality. With a handheld vacuum, you can handle stray dust ahead of time and reduce the chances of getting dust on your final scans.
     
  • Decide first how many megapixels you need for your scans. Megapixels (MP) measure how many pixels are captured in a single photo, so scanners with higher megapixels create higher-quality scans and superior images. Most film and slide scanners have powerful cameras, so no matter which model you buy, you’ll get high-resolution images. Average film and slide scanners scan 14MP images, while more powerful models scan 22MP images.

Fancy features, accessible price

The DIGITNOW scanner offers a good balance between cost and features. It’s got a 22MP scanner, so images have incredible resolution, it can digitize filmstrips, and best of all, it’s a standalone scanner, so it doesn’t need to be tethered to a computer to work.

Other products we considered

The DIGITNOW 135 Film Slide Scanner is one of our favorite models that works with a computer because it’s so simple. It’s got a holder for negatives and filmstrips, and it scans images in seconds. The on-board 2MP camera creates images that are good enough for social media, but the best part is definitely the price tag. Another strong contender is the Sharper Image Slide and Negative Converter. It’s got a 14MP scanner, it comes with a memory card, and it’s incredibly simple to use. If you’re in the market for a slide scanner that creates above-average images, or you want one that’s a little classier than most, this is the one to get.

The desktop software included with most scanners can be clunky and hard to use. If manufacturer software is the only way to transfer images from your scanner, you might need to use it, but if you’re looking for photo-editing tools, there are better tools available for free, and many of them are smartphone apps.

FAQ

Q. How long does it take to scan a slide?
A.
Usually not more than ten seconds. While some film and slide scanners are advertised as “extra fast,” none are that slow to begin with. When it comes to scanning old photos and slides, it’s important to do it on a one-at-a-time basis because you’ll want to make minor adjustments to make sure each photo comes out looking right. Scanning slides can be a time-consuming process, but the results are always worth it.
 

Q. Do I need to be a “tech person” to use a film and slide scanner?
A.
No. Film and slide scanners are designed for everyone and typically include intuitive controls and easy-to-understand instructions. If you’re intimidated by the thought of setting up your own film and slide scanner, consider getting someone to walk you through it the first time. Once you get the steps down for scanning an image, you’ll find it easy to operate even if you’re not that technically inclined.

 

Q. Will images I scan look OK if I print them out?
A.
It depends on what resolution you’re scanning at, but generally, yes. In order for an image to look good when printed out in a common format like 5 x 7 or 8 x 10, it needs to have a high enough resolution (usually at least 10MP). Film and slide scanners are built to create printable images, and most scan images at resolutions that are more than detailed enough (like 22MP images).

The team that worked on this review
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Enid
    Enid
    Editor
  • Jaime
    Jaime
    Writer
  • Kyle
    Kyle
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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