Google's PhotoScan makes digitizing old photos easy

google photoscan
Credit: The Keyword

It is a question as old as time -- or at least as old as digital photos: What is the best way to digitize old pictures?

The answer is easy -- a dedicated photo scanner. But, if you don't want to drop the cash on one of those and spend all the time it takes to actually scan individual pictures, Google Photos thinks it has a pretty good solution in its new app. 

In IT Blogwatch, we digitize pictures of our brother's '80s mullet to share with the world.

So what is this app? Danny Zepeda has the background:

Google...announced a new...app called PhotoScan that lets you digitize your old photo collection with ease.
...
Digitizing old pictures with your smartphone has become the common method for preserving old memories, but it’s not perfect. PhotoScan makes the process easier thanks to an intuitive design and Google’s smarts...The quality of the image using PhotoScan won’t be as good if you used a dedicated scanner, but it is...better than using your stock camera app.

But what makes PhotoScan special? And how does it work? Harry McCracken has the details:

There are plenty of...smartphone scanner apps...but many are optimized for documents rather than photos, and I haven't seen any that deal with...problems...from glare on an image to the difficulty of holding your phone at the proper angle. PhotoScan steps you through snapping four overlapping sections of your print photo using a clever bit of augmented reality: It superimposes four dots on the screen, then has you move your phone around to lasso each dot with a circle...Then it intelligently detects edges, straightens and stitches together the four images, removes the glare, and generally polishes up the results. It will even try to rotate the photo automatically if necessary.

Sounds good, but what is going on behind the scenes? Michael Nunez is in the know:

What the app is doing...is essentially taking four images of the printed photo and stacking them...on top of each other. The app automatically removes bright white pixels caused by glares. It identifies glares by looking at pixels that move between each scan. The app automatically applies...other image correction including tweaks to color and exposure. You can also edit those settings yourself.

And what do you do with the photos once they are scanned? Jake Smith can tell us:

Photos can be saved to your phone's internal storage, or Google Photos to be organized, searchable, and shared. Google Photos...offers unlimited photo storage. PhotoScan doesn't automatically upload to Google Photos...The iOS, Android, and web app began rolling out Tuesday.

Speaking of Google Photos, any other big announcements? (See what I did there?) Abner Li fills us in:

Google Photos is also getting a number of new photo editing features...in the form of sliders for Light and Color, including: Exposure, Contrast, Whites, Highlights, and Shadows.
...
Auto enhance now makes “pro editor” enhancements to photos like balancing exposure and saturation to bring out the details. Filters...use machine intelligence to make edits based on the individual photo. Brightness, darkness, warmth, or saturation is taken into account before applying each of the 12 styles.

So what was Google's motivation to create this app? Jingyu Cui, a software engineer with Google Photos, tells us:

We all have...old albums and boxes of photos, but we don’t...digitize them because it’s just too hard to get it right. We don’t want to mail away our original copy, buying a scanner is costly and time consuming, and if you try to take a photo of a photo, you end up with crooked edges and glare.
...
We knew there had to be a better way, so we’re introducing PhotoScan, a brand new, standalone app...that easily scans just about any photo, free, from anywhere.

What do users think? Brian Tong has an opinion:

Google's PhotoScan...is LEGIT! Scan old photos directly to your phone. No glare.
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