Using the Lomography Smartphone Scanner with the iPhone 11 Pro

The Lomography Smartphone Film Scanner was something of an impulse purchase after I spotted it in the shop during a recent visit to the Design Museum. It’s a little gadget for mounting a phone camera in a way that allows you to “scan” 35mm negatives. I was aware the product had come out a fair few years ago now, and was originally selling for nearly £60. I was also aware that people hadn’t exactly been excited by the results at the time.

The scanner was now down to £35, and I wondered what results might be possible with the better cameras in today’s smartphones. Looking online, I could see the Smartphone Scanner was just about sold out everywhere, and so I decided to hand over the cash and make the purchase.

Once home, I excitedly opened the nicely presented package, took the bits out, worked out which batteries I needed, and assembled it all together. It essential consists of a section with a backlit panel to pull the negative over, three stacking plastic extenders to raise the camera above the film and then an adjustable clamp section to fix the phone into the correct position.

The Smartphone Film Scanner’s constituent pieces

The film I’d developed the previous week was to hand so I had a go with that, inserting the negative into the slot on the side and then using a knob on the side to draw it through.

The Scanner assembled

One of the original complaints I’d read in reviews of the Scanner was that because a standard smartphone camera can only get so close to the film and stay in focus, the negative would only take up about a quarter of the total image, require some deep cropping in to tidy up the picture, as can be seen below.

The full frame as seen from the mounted iPhone 11 Pro using the standard lens

The iPhone 11 Pro has a 2x “zoom” lens and I thought it might be possible to use that to get better results with less cropping in, so I set the phone to 2x and mounted the phone in the clamp. It took seconds to whip my way through a couple of strips of film, simply moving each frame into place, taking a picture, and then winding onto the next shot. In the time it would take to scan one image on a flatbed scanner, you could almost shoot an entire film with the Smartphone Film Scanner.

Unfortunately the time you save with the scanning you’ll spend cropping, flipping, rotating, inverting and correcting each frame. The native Photos app doesn’t seem to have an “Invert” tool (if there IS one somebody please tell me) so I used Photoshop Express to do that and did the rest of the fixes in Photos.

Side note: Lomography did create a LomoScanner app to help shortcut some of the faffing about image editing, I had a play but unfortunately it’s garbage, outputting 0.9MP images that aren’t worth looking at.

Back to the initial scans. Looking at the edited images, I was not at all impressed. The beautiful detailed pictures I had seen the previous week out of my Epson V550 were reduced to a dappled watercolour-like fuzzy mess. Not just at pixel-peeping level either, just viewing the entire image on the phone it was obvious the quality wasn’t very good. My disappointment was overwhelming.

Smartphone Film Scanner shot using iPhone Camera app
Epson V550 scan
Close up comparing Epson V550 scan (left) to Smartphone Film Scanner with iPhone Camera app scan (right)

My next thoughts went to wondering if would be possible to improve the result by controlling the ISO and using the lowest possible setting. The built in Camera app doesn’t allow such manual intervention, so I installed ProCamera7 in order to fiddle with the settings myself. This is where I got really confused.

Selecting the 2x lens, I could not get the image into focus. No matter what settings I changed, the negative was a blur. After much faffing about, I realised that the iOS Camera app is even cleverer and tricksy than I had imagined. When selecting the 2x option, if you’re focussing on something very near the camera, it actually just uses the standard lens and crops in digitally because the the minimum focussing distance on the 2x lens has been exceeded. It does all this very quietly and discreetly so the user never knows. Clever old Apple. But not useful for this situation. I had been using the standard lens all along.

The only other thing I could try was reducing the ISO, so I set it in ProCamera7 to 32 and took the photo.

iPhone Camera app scan (left) compared to ProCamera7 scan (right)

As can be seen, the result is no better than that from the Camera app. I used the Gallery feature in ProCamera7 to inspect the metadata from both versions, and it turns out that Camera had used ISO32 in the first place. So after all that I was no better off using a different app.

Which means this is the best that can be achieved with the Lomography Smartphone Scanner. It’s really not great. The only use case I can think of is for whizzing through a freshly developed negative to create a quick and dirty digital “contact sheet” so that you can identify which frames you want to spend time properly scanning later. But then the Preview function on a flatbed scanner will allow you to do something similar with less effort.

So I’m not sure who or what it’s good for really.

1/10, wouldn’t recommend.

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