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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Scanners vs. Cameras -- or both? Part One

Please be advised that the opinions I express in this post are clearly mine and your opinion my be very different. If you like, you can always comment with differing opinions.

I use two completely different physical methods to capture digital images. Both of them have their plusses and their minuses. In some cases the goal of capturing an image is limited to readability. In other cases, the issue is preservation in digital format of an original document or photograph. In this post, I am focussing on the physical equipment involved. Digitization, regardless of the capture device, involves a number of steps. These are roughly as follows:

Step One: Identifying and locating documents and photographs for digitization.
Step Two: Determining reproduction rights including any possible copyright claims.
Step Three: Determining the best method of reproduction.
Step Four: Exploring the best and most efficient method of establishing a work flow.
Step Five: Allocating time and resources for the digitization project.
Step Six: Setting up the equipment in an adequate work area.
Step Seven: Capturing the images.
Step Eight: Transferring the images to a storage media and backing up the images.
Step Nine: Adding metadata to the images to identify the contents.
Step Ten: Extracting the genealogical information from the documents and attaching them to appropriate individuals and families in a data base.
Step Eleven: Sharing the information and images with others interested in the same families.
Step Twelve: Where appropriate, arrange for archiving the images and original documents.

Even before you start down this road, you need to acquire equipment of a sufficient quality to provide a suitably legible and detailed image and where appropriate, to satisfy archival requirements.

The concept here is to end up with an image that will be able to be viewed by the maximum number of people over the longest period of time. At the same time, realizing that the images will likely have to be migrated to newer more current formats in the future.

I use both the traditional flat bed scanner type equipment and the more recently developed digital camera type equipment to produce high quality images. There are a variety of hand-held type scanners out in the market, but I have not found any of them to be of the quality or speed necessary to archive large amounts of information. This evaluation, of course, involves determining the ultimate use of the images. Here are some examples of the various levels of usage:

Entry level: Images captured from books or other documents purely for the purpose of taking notes or later transcription. There is no intention to archive the images. In this case, there is no need to be concerned about either the quality or format of the image as long as it can be read when viewed on a computer screen. No special equipment is needed, you can use a smartphone with a camera, an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera, a handheld scanner or whatever. File formats should be readable by your own programs.

Intermediate level: Capturing images for the purpose of recording documents that are readily available in other locations. For example, adding photos of gravemarkers to Find-A-Grave online or taking pictures of museum pieces or other historical places. The intent here is to record the object or view and not necessarily to preserve the image in an archive. Again, no special equipment is needed, you can use a smartphone with a camera, an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera, a handheld scanner or whatever.  File formats should conform to the requirements of the viewing site or generally used by the computer community.

Advanced level: Preserving paper documents and photographs that are one-of-a-kind and may not survive natural deterioration. This is the real goal of preserving documents and photographs digitally. At this level, not only is the quality of the original digitizing equipment a concern but also the file format and quality of the images. In every case, at this level, the resultant images should strictly conform to the highest and best standards available at the time the image is acquired.

Part two will focus on the equipment needed at each level and give some suggested brands and types of equipment.

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