In my own personal archives I have nearly 15,000 pages of documents related to my family history. Many of these documents are already digitized because I either found them that way or they were sent to me that way. However far more are paper, and inconveniently, not a standard size. This got me looking at ways to digitize them so that they could be shared with others, and s backed up as insurance against loss. I started out as I am sure virtually everyone else does by using my "all-in-one" flatbed printer/scanner to make the copies and that was fine for a while, though I was really not thrilled with the quality of the output or the length of time each scan took. I also tried a sheetfeed type scanner from Neat (model NM-1000) that also worked well but had the limitation of not being able to fit larger documents thru it. I next turned to my iphone 5s and Samsung 10.1 2012 Note. These two did not work for me because of a lack of consistency in the output quality. The flash needed to be turned off or there was a bright spot in the image, so I was at the mercy of the existing light which meant each session of document photographing resulted in images of differing light quality.
I did however like the speed with which I could take the photos of the documents and the ability to digitize documents of really any size. So this got me exploring the concept of Document Cameras. Let me declare right up front that you can pretty much pay anything you want when it comes to document cameras, but $20,000 for a truly professional model was simply not in the budget. That meant finding a document camera that resulted in a quality image without breaking the budget! I performed the usual websearch and found dozens of cameras on the market, so it was clear that I needed to develop some requirements to help narrow the field. What I came up with was resolution, image type, ease of use, compatible software, and importantly under $500.
- Resolution - I wanted to be able to generate an image that was of sufficient quality that all readable detail of the original could be seen in the image. After looking at many different images I settled on at least 5 Mega-pixel. The concept of mega-pixels in cameras is probably for a completely different blog but one which I hope to cover in the future.
- Image Type - It was important to me to be able to generate a lossless digital image. I get the whole thing about .jpg's being the defacto standard of the internet, but each time you save an image as a jpg you lose a little bit of the quality. As such I wanted to be able to save the original image in a format that would not lose quality. If I need an image in jpg format I have the software to convert it. This was important to me, and ultimately I settled on the .tiff file format.
- Ease of Use - As soon as I started taking photos of documents with my Samsung Note I realized how much I liked the speed with which I could take those photos. With a scanner set at high resolution it could take 15-30 seconds or longer to process each page. this was fine if you had 1 or 2 documents, but remember I am looking at processing thousands, and the amount of time that was going to take was depressing! So whatever document camera I found needed to be able to focus and take the photos quickly and clearly.
- Compatible Software - Ok, confession time. I am a PC person. always have been always will be. I am not saying PC's are better than Apple (ok actually I guess I am), but whatever software came with the camera had to work on my Samsung Series 9 ultrabook, and Windows 8 operating system.
- Under $500 - as it turns out this was never an issue. $500 seems to be a natural pricing breakpoint. virtually all of the cameras I looked at fell under this price.
With the above requirements in hand I went back to the internet and began reading up on Document Cameras. In Part Two I will share what camera I decided on!