Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Camera People vs. Scanner People

There really aren't that many controversies of any serious nature that stir up the genealogical world (with the exception of the same one or two that get revisited every year).  I've noticed, however, that there is one topic of conversation that tends to get people a bit heated.  That is the preference for capturing digital copies of items either by a camera or by a scanner.

Now, let me say right at the start that I am a firm believer in calling ahead to a library or archive and asking them what their policy is. Regardless of your technological preference, following the repository rules is key.

But what if you have a choice? What if the archives says you can use either? Then which do you select?

I'm going to use deeds books as an example for this particular discussion.  You know deed books, those big, awkward to hold and photocopy books?  My preference is to use a wand scanner to capture the images of the page.  The reason for that is the wand scanner lies flat on the book and curves with the large awkward curve of the book to give a nice flat, curve-less image when finished.

Cameras on the other hand, will capture all the text but also capture the curve.  The result is that your line of text is not straight as with the scanner.  In a low light situation that can make your photographs blurrier and more awkward than what is already created with the curve.

Mind you, many deed books are modern copies of original or older deed books. For this reason I have no problem with using a wand scanner. However, if this were an original document I wouldn't dream of using a hand scanner. In that case, I would use a Flip Pal, flatbed scanner or digital camera (digital camera being the easiest to transport to an archive followed closely by the Flip Pal).

It's not so easy picking your digital capture device is it?  There are so many factors to take into consideration. The preservation of the documents being first and foremost and our digital capture preference next in line.

I've gotten into some serious "going no-where" discussions with folks who insist that using the camera is always better than using a wand scanner.  Clearly I think the wand scanner has its time and place.

What about you?  Which camp do you fall into and why?


15 comments:

  1. Hey Marian - a few minutes ago I decided to use my camera to digitize an obituary I just received in the mail, with the reason being that I've lost the power cord on my scanner (ordered a new one yesterday - hopefully it gets here in time for my June 27 webinar). Mary Hill will be teaching a webinar (https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/512502062) on September 19 about using a digital camera for genealogy. I guess I usually prefer to use my scanner when possible, thus eliminating the need to turn on/off my camera's flash, adjust the micro/macro settings, etc.

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  2. For microfilm images, my preference has been to capture the image on a flash drive or print it out and scan it later. I've experimented with taking digital pictures of microfilm images with mixed results - I can';t control consistency and most shots have parallax problems.

    For published works, I now try to take a digital picture (usually several in hopes one is good!), or get a photocopy image to scan later. I have been to several repositories that required me to take a non-flash digital image of an old bound record and discouraged making a photocopy. And some make it for you, and charge an exorbitant fee.

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  3. I'm not sure which camp I'm in at the moment. I have usually used our flatbed scanner at home to scan documents and photos. Our FHC just recently acquired an awesome scanner that allows you to copy letter size (pension file) documents onto your flash drive. Used that and love it. But, I have a question. I have a document from 1896 that is large (about 14 x 16 or so). It's a Dental Doctoral Diploma and has been rolled up in a tube. I've tried to take pictures of it but I'm not sure I like the outcome. It doesn't roll out straight and flat. I don't have a Flip Pal (would this work best?). Any suggestions for me on how to digitize this document?

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    1. * I mean LEGAL size documents etc. (pension file) NOT LETTER size.

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  4. I ALWAYS carry my digital camera with me, and the batteries are always charged, and I always have an extra memory card...you just never know when you might need it!

    Linda

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  5. Although I use a scanner when possible at home, when on the road doing research, I always use a camera or a location available device. Using a camera is not based on quality of the image or lack of harm due to original documents but solely on portability. I already carry a smart phone which has an app allowing me to access any file on my home computer, a gps device for locating places without reams of printed out directions, a folder containing notes, an empty folder to contain finds and a camera, pencils, notepads, etc. My hands are full enough as it is without worrying about a scanner. If I moved to the next logical step of carrying a briefcase, then I might consider one.

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  6. I, also, just posted about this issue. I had the chance to talk to a photographer, and his comments are mainly oriented towards preserving historic photos at home, but they are available for review here: http://ancestralbreezes.blogspot.com/2012/05/photography-questioning-scanner.html.
    I agree for large books as in your example, a wand scanner does a great job.
    Typically, I try to photograph everything, and scan when I have to. Just easier for me, and I think that most of this is personal preference, unless you are an archivist or other professional - then I'm sure there is a preferred method.
    Jana Last - the photographer I spoke with suggested using a piece of glass to hold documents that are curved flat, and his technique for that is one of the posts I'm working on for my blog... watch for it in the near future. He provides some great tips for photographing in that situation, so you don't get any glare.

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    1. Thanks for asking your photographer friend about my predicament! I really appreciate it. Your blog is on my reading list, so I'll check it out when your new post is out. :)

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  7. On research trips I take the wand scanner and my camera; when I visit relatives with pictures, I bring my Flip-Pal. The wand scanner is great for books, but it does have problems when the books are closely/tightly bound.

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  8. I have used a digital point and shoot for years and will most likely continue even though I received the Flip Pal recently. I always carry one in my purse and it works for me. The newer ones have some great features including one for text.

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  9. I'm in both camps. It really depends on the situation at the time whether I use the wand scanner, camera or Flip Pal.

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  10. I use my camera for most non flatbed work. However as said above the Flip-Pal is a blessing when it comes to thick books. There is one problem: The Flip-Pal is delivered with 4 alkaline batteries (4x1,5=6V). When I replaced those with one set of rechargeable NiMH (4x1,2=4,8V)the voltage was too low for the Flip-Pal to scan. I replaced my standard NiMH with 4 GP "ReCyko"/2100 mAh and these batteries seems to work!

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  11. I was planning on getting a scanner at some point but a while ago while doing some research I had a book that I couldn't make a copy from. I had my laptop and was transcribing what I had found when I decided to take a picture with my phone and see how it did. I was impressed with how well it came out then emailed it to myself and opened it up on my computer. I decided that a scanner wasn't really necessary.

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  12. My favorite option is the CamScanner app on my Android phone. I get better results with this than my DSLR camera or wand scanner. It allows cropping, does some auto-enhancing and multiple pages (like several pages of a book) can be saved as a PDF. With those features, there's no need for editing or putting pages together later.

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    1. I'm with Linda on this. It's a great app.

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