My aunt sent me a box full of “stuff” about my great grandfather a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve been pecking away at it, scanning a few photos here, a few documents there.  I wasn’t really making any progress – at least not that I could tell.  This is what I had remaining as of this morning:

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Granted, it’s not humongous, but the fact that it has been staring me in the face for the last two weeks whispering “I’m still here …” day after day has been unsettling to say the least.

So one day last week while I was trying to keep myself busy without requiring a keyboard, mouse, or a writing utensil* I was browsing through some random sites on StumbleUpon on my iPad.  I wish I could remember which blog it was (not a genealogy blog), but the author was a music student.  She had a great idea for a document camera stand scanner thingy (technical term).  The idea was so simple, yet so brilliant, I was almost disgusted with myself for not having thought of it.  But I was going to execute it nonetheless.

I drove over to Walmart (but any other store that sells school supplies would do – Wally World is just the closest one to me) spent about 3-1/2 minutes looking for my item, another minute deciding on a color (pink, duh) then checked out – spending a whopping $4.99.

This morning I finally decided to put the device to the test.  I scanned 118 documents and photos in less than 20 minutes.  I might have been able to do it faster, but onion skin requires a plain piece of paper underneath, which slowed me down a little.  Plus there were photos that were especially shiny and required me to move the device out of the direct light.  Even still – it was faster than the lift the cover … place the document … close the cover … press the button … waaaaaiiiiiiit for the scan to finish … lift the cover … process I was using to get all my documents and photos digitized.

What is this device, you ask?

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Pay no attention to the reading glasses in the background. We’re in denial here.

A basic run-of-the mill locker shelf.  I simply lay my cell phone or iPad on top, and line it up so the camera is aimed between the grates.  I decided to use my Android cell phone for this batch because the camera has a voice-activation option.  So I could switch out the document and say “shoot,” switch the document and say “shoot,” and so on.  It also kept me from accidentally moving the shelf or the phone.  Because I have my phone set up to automatically upload photos to Dropbox, I could watch as the photos appeared to make sure they were usable, and re-take them if they weren’t (or delete the false alarm photos that were taken when I was yelling at the cats).

If you plan to use an iPad on top of the shelf, I recommend that you put binder clips where the legs attach, just to keep it stable. You might also want to rig some sort of strap to keep the iPad secured to the shelf in case you bump it.

Basically, it averages to about 10 seconds per document.  Way faster than my scanner.  Larger documents and photos, or books, will obviously require a different setup.

What about quality?  Here is one of the documents:

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The camera on my Android phone takes photos at 8 megapixels.  I can’t remember what the camera on the iPad 2 is.  My “fancy” camera is 14 megapixels, but I would need a special tripod or something and that was more trouble than I was willing to go through.  I think these photos are as good (some are better) than I would get if I scanned them.

For the price, this might be the most efficient digitization option I’ve found.  Have you found an easier way?  Especially for books or large documents.  I would really like to know!

Update: Someone asked for a picture of how to apply the binder clips to the legs to keep the shelf stable, so here you go!

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*Those of you who are my friends on Facebook or in real life will remember that I tried to amputate my pinky finger with a mandoline while slicing a cucumber on Monday night.  It required 3 stitches.  And a splint, which I finally was able to remove yesterday).

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This Might Be a New Record … — 19 Comments

  1. WOW!!! Thanks for the idea. Have been looking for something to use to take photos of Military Badges for a friend. Bent Coat Hangers just don’t work. Thanks, Thanks, Thanks for this info.

    • You are welcome, Kate! I wish I could take all the credit for the idea – but I cannot. I will totally take the credit for choosing the color pink though 🙂

      I am also going to test it out on some family artifacts and heirlooms and see how it does. Let me know your results too!

    • Denise, I also contemplated purchasing the one that was on Kickstarter, but I just couldn’t justify the cost for what was essentially cardboard. For five bucks, I couldn’t NOT try it, you know? Next I’m going to see how it does with some of the heirlooms/artifacts of my grandmother’s before I put them away (following recommendations in your book, of course!) I’ll let you know!

  2. I would not use this technique unless I absolutely had to. Do it right the first time, so you don’t wish you had a better version later and have to redo it. Low-end combination scanners/printers/fax machines sell for only $70-100 and work great. I highly recommend one of them. Connect it to a laptop or desktop computer and scan an assembly line of photos and documents while you watch TV.

    • I get what you’re saying, Ry. I have a Canon all-in-one that I use too. But considering the time it took to digitize that 118 pages (20 minutes) versus the time it would have taken to scan them all (the better part of a DAY), and the fact that the images are as good (some are better) as I would have gotten from the scanner, it was a no-brainer for me.

      The best part was that I could see the images pop up on my screen as I scanned them, so I could tell if the quality was poor. There were only two photos that I had to set aside to scan on the scanner, and that was only because they were so shiny that the light reflected off of them and you couldn’t see the photo.

      Plus, I don’t have a TV in my office.

  3. Looks great! And so easy to do. Now if someone can come up with one to scan slides, I’d be very happy! Just finished going through my dad’s old slides, all 7500+ of them & scanned 3200+ with my hand-held scanner, 4 slides at a time!

  4. I think that this was a clever idea and certainly a good price for what you’ve been able to do with it.

    What I bought for my DSLR camera (12mp, I think) was a copy stand. I think it was $40 or $50 through B&H Photo. I haven’t used my camera for scanning documents with it yet. I’ve used it for photographing my grand-aunt’s antique bell that she gave me years ago. The stand is pretty good and stable and we were able to adapt it further to be able to shoot taller things, too.

    I think that this was very resourceful of you. 🙂

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    • Barbara, the binder clips are just to keep the shelf from accidentally folding back up. If your shelf is wobbly, it’s more likely that one of the legs is bent just enough to be annoying. Check that and straighten it by pressing it firmly against a straight surface (a wall or a sturdy table) to see if that helps. If not, you may want to (gently) use a hammer.

      Since I can’t post a picture in the comments, I’ll update the post with a photo of how to apply the binder clips.

      Good luck!

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