Before my parents moved from New York to Arizona in 2006, they left me with many of their belongings—a dinnerware set, an upright piano, a giant fig tree. The most precious item I received was a box full of photos documenting me and my siblings as we grew up.
I stowed it in the attic, where it was soon joined by boxes of photos and videotapes given to my husband by his parents, plus the prints and negatives we amassed on our own in the days before digital cameras and smartphones were a thing.
In time, I found myself worrying about what would be lost in the event of a house fire or a hurricane. I wanted to digitize the images not only to preserve them but also to share them with friends and family, particularly my teenage daughter, so she could one day look back on them and realize her parents were once young, too.
It wasn’t until I decided to test photo scanning services for Consumer Reports that I found the energy to complete the project. For many years I was unsure of how to deal with the items—overwhelmed, really, by the sheer volume of material—and, more to the point, hesitant to hand over my irreplaceable photos and videos to some unknown entity.
When Jerry Beilinson, who oversees CR’s technology coverage, offered up boxes of his family’s slides from the 1960s and ‘70s, I got even more motivated. But believe me, dear reader, when I say I was now twice as scared to get this project underway. Imagine being responsible for not only your priceless family memorabilia but your boss’s, too.
Choosing which scanning services to trust wasn’t a light decision. After a couple of months spent researching popular options, carefully packaging and shipping the materials, anxiously awaiting updates, and evaluating the digitized results, I finally found a few I’d recommend to family, friends, CR readers, and yes, my boss.
How I Evaluated the Services
A digital conversion service can take items in various forms of media and turn them into computer files for more convenient storage and sharing. Most importantly, it helps us preserve cherished memories, perhaps for generations to come.
You might think these services are all the same, more or less, but that’s not what I discovered.
I looked at 14 options, and the offerings varied widely. Prices ranged from 9 cents to $5 per scanned image, depending on the size and resolution. Estimated turnaround times ranged from five days to six-plus weeks, with video conversion generally taking the longest to complete. Some companies offer extra services, such as cloud hosting, so you can access and share your digital images once the project is finished.
I quickly eliminated 10 services from the running due to poor customer reviews; complaints to the Better Business Bureau; an outdated or insecure website; or a lack of detailed info on pricing, photo resolution, and privacy and security policies.
Like any customer, I gathered up photo prints, negatives, slides, and VHS tapes and placed the orders online.
But you don’t need to count every last photo or slide. You can instead estimate how many items you’re sending. (As a general rule, there are about 100 photos in a 1-inch stack.) Once the company receives your package, it will do the precise count for you and adjust the final cost accordingly.
Along the way, I made notes on the ordering process, customer support, how quickly the projects were finished, and even how well the originals were packaged when they were returned to me.
In short, I was a secret shopper, considering the overall experience. (I placed the orders under my maiden name and from my personal email address to mask the fact that I’m a CR reporter.)
For each service, I sent approximately 100 slides, 100 photo prints, a dozen negatives, and one VHS tape. To compare the results on an apples-to-apples basis, I sent duplicate prints to each company. (Most also include film and audio transfer services, which we didn’t test.)
I’m not a professional photographer or a CR lab technician with specialized equipment and decades of experience evaluating photo quality. But like any customer, I wanted my digital images to look as close to the originals as possible, if not even better (with retouching).
At a glance, it was hard to pick one service’s scans over those of another, because all of the photos—some retouched automatically by the companies’ AI tools—were Instagrammable.
When it comes to budget, DigMyPics is the recommended service. They let you preview your scanned photos and delete up to 20 percent of them from your order, in case you decide you don’t want or need them.
Consumer Reports says if you want to digitize your photos yourself you can use a free app like Adobe Scan or an all-in-one printer, which can give you higher quality scans and allows you to crop them individually on your phone or computer.