December 8, 2012

My DIY portable book scanner

While I'm in India next year, I plan on visiting several agricultural research libraries to find primary sources related to my research. And while there are several options for how I could record these documents, the fastest, easiest, and most useful seems to be using a digital camera to photograph pages from my documents. I am unsure whether these different libraries will let me use a camera and a tripod, but I am hoping they will.

I've been researching the best way to use a camera for scanning documents, and found an entire world of DIY book scanning. Unfortunately most of these scanners are not portable, and a bit above my ability level as a novice DIY-er. But after some research into camera tripods, I found this set up, pictured above, to be the most promising. I then came across this article and decided it was worth it to invest in the equipment (which all in all, cost me less than $100, not counting the camera). I also got a piece of plexiglass from the hardware store to flatten pages, but I think it will depend on what the libraries allow. Finally, hopefully I will be have good ambient light in the libraries, because I found that my camping lantern cast uneven shadows (but the overhead light caused glare in the plexiglass). If anyone has a suggestion for lighting, please let me know!

I am pretty happy with my results so far. The process goes pretty quickly, and I can do it sitting down. My files are large and as long as I get a good enough contrast between the page and the words, I can make readable files (not exactly OCR text readable, but readable to me). Processing the images is taking longer than taking them, and then I'm converting the files into pdfs (since so far I've been scanning from library books, it is pretty easy to keep them organized).

Here's a pretty good example of what I've collected. For this specific photo I used my lantern for lighting and the plexiglass sheet. I edited the photo in iPhoto to adjust the color/shadows, crop it, and make it black & white. As you can see, it is easily readable especially when zoomed in. The next scan I do, I will probably play around with the white balance and ISO settings on my camera.

Throughout my research in India I will be keeping all of my digital files on Dropbox and Google Drive so that if something happens to my computer, I won't lose my files.

Feel free to ask me any more detailed questions about my method, and I would of course appreciate any advice!