Digital copying of fragile documents

by joemac - 6/27/08 7:50 PM

In Reply to: Best cameras for digitally copying documents? by mitzia

My recommendation: Canon S5-IS (around $300). Not knowing your exact needs or working conditions, some of my experience may not be relevant to your uses.

My wife does a lot of genealogy work and we regularly copy old very fragile documents with digital cameras. We have had excellent results using our Canon S1-IS and Canon A570-IS cameras, better than scanned or photocopy machine copies. A camera is much less damaging to documents than pressing the binding of old books onto a scanner bed or taking books apart if bindings permit. Working in old dusty courthouse records rooms, history centers and even copying family records, we seldom have room for a tripod and usually work in horrible lighting conditions. We also have time-limited access to documents. The ability to manipulate the quality of images after photographing pages has permitted us to decipher documents that were nearly illegible, things like hand-written pencil notes in 200+ year old probate and land record documents.

Once you have a quality digital image, you can convert it to a *.pdf document. Some software that converts pdf documents to a searchable word processing format requires a minimum 4 megapixel camera (I think that was a recent WordPerfect version, but am not sure) so check that minimum megapixel requirement if you want electronically searchable files. Keep in mind that higher megapixel cameras result in much larger image files. Our S1-IS is only 2 megapixel, but the newer S5-IS an 8 MP camera when set at its maximum setting. The flexible LCD screen on the S1-IS (also on the S5-IS) is a real asset in aligning the camera to the document under lousy working conditions. Flash (often absolutely needed) can flood a document with excessive light. The 10x optical zoom (12x on the S5-IS) lets me back off far enough to provide decent light while still tightly framing the document. The A570-IS has only a fixed LCD screen and isn't nearly as flexible in tight circumstances. The S5-IS has added a hot-shoe to permit attaching an off-camera flash unit that solves the excess reflection problem. It also has a much larger LCD screen the the S1-IS, which makes it much easier to see what you are doing. Battery usage with high-quality rechargeable AA batteries lets us capture several hundred images, even using the flash. We carry a couple extra sets of fully charged AA's with us for changing when needed. I would not buy a digital camera that requires a specific, dedicated battery.