Introduction: ScannerScope

Project Description:
In terms of our bodies, we speak of "scanning" as quickly glancing at something from a lateral perspective, in which our eyes pan horizontally as our heads pivot on our spines. When we scan a text, our eyes move quickly from left to right. We may also scan the landscape from left to right. For this project I was interested in horizontality as it relates to scanning the landscape. The Western landscape was a veritable subject for legendary early landscape photographers. Early photographic processes were unwieldy, often requiring hauling large camera and even darkrooms into the expanses of the wild landscape. The desert with its bright sun light and solitude was idealized as a photographic site for Western expansion. Now we have new imaging technologies like the scanner. So, I created the Scannerscope, a camera made with a portable scanner and essentially a camera obscura or large-format camera.


  • Portable handheld scanner
  • styrene and glue
  • lenses

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Step 1: Peek Inside the Box

Open up a camera and take a peek.
Open up your scanner and take a peek.

In standard photography, the image is created as a whole when the photosensitive material or sensor is exposed. In contrast, scanners build images incrementally from side to side. If you open up your scanner, you will see a set of rails that the sensor moves across to capture the image.

Here is an image of flatbed scanner that I disassembled. I removed the glass plate. On the left side you will see the sensor and LED strip.

Step 2: Learning About Distortion

The scanner has a short focal length, in that it is designed to focus on
images that are very close to the "lens." On the left, notice the distortion that occurs as the image recededs from the nose, which is pressed up against the scanner bed glass. Additionally, the image accuracy is determined by how smoothly the sensor moves across the image. Notice the distortion on the right image. The distortion is a matter of not moving the held-held scanner smoothly across my hand.

Step 3: Your Scanner

Your scanner is a handheld portable scanner that operates when moved across a piece of paper. There is a motion sensor on the unit and originally I thought that I was going to attach the sensor to a toy motor, but decided against it.

Step 4: Design

Once you figure out the focal length, then you can design the length. I designed this in AutoCad and then was able to bring the file to my studio on my ipad and toggle between the layers to see the different things as I was fabricating. The design work can be done in Illustrator or with simple pen drawings.
I made a rail system that the unit can slide across.

Step 5: Fabricate

Fabricate your ScannerScope. I used Styrene, a plastic used for architectural models and prototypes. Any sheet material—like, metal, wood, cardboard, foam core, plastic—can be used.

Step 6:

Test and experiment
This camera is rather unwieldy. In contrast to the smooth motion of your household scanner, this is done manually, with much distortion. The work becomes more performative. You'll need to use a light meter and test out with filters to get the exposure right.

Step 7:

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    3 Discussions


    2 years ago

    This is a really interesting project! What motivated you to make it? How are the images saved and how many pixels are there in the image? It is similar to slit photography that was used in 2001 Space Odyssey.


    2 years ago

    This is awesome! I agree with swansong! I'd love to see how you built the styrene housing and interfaced with the scanner 'lens'.


    2 years ago

    That's a neat scanner! You should include the dimensions of the build you used :)