Helmut Turns Your Smartphone Into the World’s Fastest Film Scanner


Photographer and software developer Kostas Rutkauskas has launched a new mobile app called Helmut. Designed for Android, it’s a film scanning app that lets you digitize your old film strips quickly and on the cheap.

Rutkauskas is the same guy who developed the Exif4Film app that we featured last year. We also first reported on Helmut when it was awarded first prize at Photo Hack Day Berlin 2012, but not too much was known about the app at the time.


Rutkauskas tells us that he wanted to create an system that would only require a smartphone and a simple lightbox, and one that would work in the same way as traditional film scanning applications that are designed for computers (e.g. EpsonScan, VueScan, Silverfast, FlexColor).

That’s what Helmut is. It’s a simple app that lets you scan, crop, and then edit the scanned photos with basic tools (e.g. brightness/contrast, levels, color balance, hue/saturation, unsharp mask).

As evidenced by its hack contest win, Helmut’s has performed very well in initial tests. “The initial results on higher-end phones are great,” Rutkauskas says.

To use Helmut, you place your film on a surface that illuminates the film evenly from below (e.g. a phone/laptop/tablet/computer screen, a window with the sky in the background, a professional or DIY lightbox). You should be able to get results as long as the film is illuminated evenly.

Next, you launch the Helmut app, frame the film inside the camera, and snap a shot.


You then crop the “scan” and tweak it to the look you’d like. The resulting photograph can then be shared through services such as Dropbox, Facebook, and Flickr.




Rutkauskas and his team are now working with industrial designers to create an open-source lightbox that’s designed to be used with Helmut — one that you can download from a site and make yourself or through a 3D printing service.

If you’d like to give Helmut a shot, it’s now available as a free download over in the Google Play store.

  • Michael Choi

    And iPhone?

  • Bruck Assefa

    Wait so you’re “scanning” the film with the phone’s camera? I don’t know if I would give my phone camera such responsibility.

  • Philip Han

    It’s mainly meant to share using social media websites.

    I’ve been “scanning” my B/W film for years now and just using an inverse filter to share online.

  • Philip Han

    I wanted to build exactly what this App/lightbox does when the iPhone 3GS came out in 2008. I’ve only recently really learned how to do 3D printing/laser cutting and my coding skills are still dismal.

    Free viewer: Turn on accessibility settings (I use triple-click homebutton) and then turn on “Invert Colors”.

    Free scanner: Just take a picture of the film somehow and use any free app with color inverse.

  • James

    Close Enough

  • macron74

    Why would I use such an application that need special permissions to take pictures or video without your conscent. It seriusly worries me they can do that. Reason why I wont even bother to try it.

  • Dan

    Can we assume that the only real advantage using this scan app over the standard camera app, is that it has some colour compensation for the orange base-layer of a colour neg? But is it worth the ads that are sure to accompany this “free” app?

  • Kostas

    Actually you can achieve much more than such a compensation. Try it out, I’m sure you’ll find that yourself if you’re used to scanning the film.

    And there will be no ads. Ever.

  • Dan

    Nice to hear about the Sans-Ads Kostas. Unfortunately I don’t have an android phone to give the app a go, but I’ll let my students at Wolverhampton University know about it. :)

    I guess I’m OK for film scanning anyway as I have two Imacons in the next room.

  • Kostas

    Cool! I also have one (Flextight Precision II). Great tool. Was actually one of the main sources of inspiration for the app.

    Thanks for informing your students.

    We’re actually considering an iOS version too.

  • Aaron Tsuru

    Good timing! Been shooting 35mm again for the past few weeks, looking forward to playing with this tonight. <3

  • Mobilephotonetwork

    You can just do it with an app like Photo FX on iPhone. Take photo, invert colours and then crop.

  • Nejc Lasič

    I had exactly the same expression as the girl in the photo after finishing this article.