Compact Camera for Document Photography

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#1
Hi,

This is perhaps a slightly unusual use for a camera, and as such I’ve not been able to find any useful advice online… I do a lot of genealogical/historical research and as part of that I photograph thousands of documents in the public records office which I then study at home.

I need a compact camera capable of taking sharp photographs of paper documents from postage-stamp size up to A0. It should also be capable of all-round use, e.g. photographing houses and landscapes.

Currently I use a Panasonic DMC-TZ20 which has served me well, but it must be getting close to 10 years old. I’ve also come to the realisation recently that modern smartphones are far better at recognising text and taking very sharp pictures. This is important because I need to be able to read the writing on my computer screen when I get home.

This disadvantage of smartphones is they are slow and relatively difficult to use. I often take more than 2000 photographs a day, sometimes up to 50 a minute. I need a camera I can hold in one hand (with an easy-to-reach button) while I turn pages with my other hand. For this I probably also need some form of auto-focus and stabilisation.

I don’t know much about photography, so I could do with some advice on the sort of specifications I should be looking for. How do compact cameras compare to smartphones for this kind of thing?

Thanks,
Mafegi
 
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Bazza
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#2
I suppose the first thing to think of is how much do you want to spend on buying a camera. Then does it have good optical stabilisation to avoid camera shake. Then comes make and what you find suits you, some built in features may fit what you want better than others. The only answer is really to go to a dedicated camera shop and get a hands on idea.
There is no set answer to your question but if you go to "https://www.camerapricebuster.co.uk/" may give some idea what is available in your price range
 
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Richard
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#3
Not sure why you think smart phones are slow? They possibly don’t work for what you want to do but maybe nothing does :confused: . Smartphones have extreme depth of field, auto focus anti-shake going for them. You could hold the phone with one hand (add a grip) and use a Bluetooth release in the other hand (there’s one you can slip over a finger, I think) while you turn the page. The main difficulty I find on the odd occasions I copy documents is getting the framing right — I find the corner position of the lens difficult. You could use a copy stand of some kind depending on the documents but maybe that wouldn’t be allowed.
Maybe one of the ‘rugged’ compacts would work, I think some have close focussing.
 
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#4
It does sound like some sort of 'copystand' rig is needed.

Having said that I am intrigued, as though the OP mentions usage of the copied documents at home.........the shear volume sounds almost like industrial copying. Why intriguing, is such high volume copying by an individual of Public Records Office documents actually possible???
 
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#5
It does sound like some sort of 'copystand' rig is needed.

Having said that I am intrigued, as though the OP mentions usage of the copied documents at home.........the shear volume sounds almost like industrial copying. Why intriguing, is such high volume copying by an individual of Public Records Office documents actually possible???
Country is not mentioned, may not be UK.
 
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#6
Country is not mentioned, may not be UK.
Granted, though the TZ20 is the UK/European model code rather than USA(rest of world?)

But as you say/infer context is all......so hopefully @Mafegi will post back with his insight not only about the camera advice but also the "where in the world"?
 
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#7
Hi,

Thanks all for your replies.

I’m amused by your curiosity about the amount of photographing of documents I do! You’ve made me a little nervous about saying exactly where I go, but I will say it is in Ireland.

Basically many of our records were destroyed in the Irish Civil War – mainly by a fire in 1922. Therefore if you’re researching Irish ancestors in the 17th-19th centuries you often have to rely on scraps of information recorded before the original records were destroyed – this means wading through hundreds of pages in the hope of finding a crucial nugget of information.

My problem is I have a full-time job so I do all my research in the evenings and at the weekend. I can only get to the records office a few times a year, so when I do I need to make the most of it.

I’m not sure a ‘copy stand’ will work because they are pretty strict about what you can bring in. Also, there is such a variation in types of thing I’m photographing that I feel I need the versatility of something hand-held. For example, if I’m photographing a 200-yo velum lease I’ll take a couple of wide shots, and then may need to take several close-ups of text hidden in the folds, because there’ll be no way of making it flat without damaging it. Plus I’m working like a man possessed – no time for any faffing about!

Sphexx, I take your point about the smartphone. I have one for work, but I keep a brick for personal use, so I’m not that experienced with them. I am thinking of giving in to peer pressure and getting one anyway, so if you reckon it offers the best option in terms of end-product then I should consider it. My main point against the smartphone was the difficulty of easily taking a picture with one hand while pointing it down at a table – but as you say, maybe that can be solved with a Bluetooth gadget.

The other thing I had in my head about smartphones is I thought they can take a couple of seconds to store the picture? I just experimented with my old-faithful and it can take a photo and re-focus on the next in about 1.7 seconds. Maybe 50 photos per minute was an exaggeration, but it can definitely do 30+. Could a smartphone?

Realspeed pointed out about going to a specialist shop. I must admit this hadn’t occurred to me because the closest thing I could think of was Currys-PC World. However, I have done some Googling and found a camera shop not a million miles away, so depending on what you tell me about smartphones I may go there for advice.

Mafegi
 
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#8
well just tried my IPhone 6 and that could take pics as fast as i could press the button and all in focus on text.
 
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#9
Just tried my iPhone 7+ and using the Bluetooth release it takes photos as fast as I can press the button. When you hold the phone ‘shutter button’ in it takes continuous shots at an unbelievably fast speed — bit of a nuisance to me as it is too easy to do accidentally!
Your description of the way you are working makes me think the smart phone is the way to go. You obviously need a tiny sensor to hope to get stuff in focus but a ‘grip’ attachment would make it easy to angle the phone about. There are accessory lenses for phones that I *think* can be quickly added/removed. I haven’t tried this but would movie mode help on those crease/folded pages?
 
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#10
The only reason for my(our?) curiosity is that as far as I am aware no public records office in the UK (and many other places?) allow without written agreement making copies of the records.

You mention that they are strict about what you can take in!

So, my last thought on context is if they have in place a policy that affects the right of access they are giving you that does not prohibit the photographing of the documents & artifacts then that is great for you and your research.

But if they do restrict or limit the use of photographic recording equipment ( e.g. smartphone or camera?) then that is 'your choice' as to how you proceed.
 
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#11
I think I’d go smartphone.

While it might not seem the obvious answer, my current iPhone (XR) is sharper than my compact - also a Panasonic. Think mine is also a TZ20.

I think I’d also say that my old phone was sharper too. IPhone6.

Gripping them is a bit of a faff, but those stick-on handles will make it easier to work with. My daughter has one.

This sort of thing: https://www.amazon.co.uk/PopSockets...ones-Tablets/dp/B01DNRMTA0?ref_=fsclp_pl_dp_1

Weirdly, iPhones don’t have to be fired using the shutter button. You can also use the volume buttons, and if you have headphones plugged in, you can use the volume button on the headphone cable while holding them in your other hand.

This would only work on older phones though as the current ones all have stupid Bluetooth headphones.

PS I have no experience of current Android phones.

They’re pocketable and if you do run into problem with officious librarians, it’s easier to pass off as something you should be carrying anyway.

There are also apps that scan the text and convert it so you don’t have to retype it all.

https://www.techradar.com/uk/news/best-document-scanning-app
 
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#13
Smartphone is the ideal tool, you can even get document scanning apps that will compile pdfs, convert to text and error correct and a whole host of other features. They will also auto save so you don’t need to transfer.

A point and shoot seems a rather archaic choice.
 
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#14
They might struggle with 200 year old text though ;)
They might struggle if it's in Gaelic...

But if it's printed and in English, I believe they're pretty good. Not tried myself.

Worst case is that you have to take a photo, which you were planning to do anyway.

Can you not take your work phone in and try it before committing to buying something else.
 
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#15
Another vote for a smartphone. I have to take pictures of documents, invoices, receipts etc. for my work. I used to laboriously use a flat bed scanner then convert to something I could submit for a claim.
Then a colleague recommended an app called Scanable. It automatically identifies most things, even funny shapes then automatically takes a picture, perspective corrects and adjusts contrast for readability. You can then save them locally, send them as images or compile them into PDF.
It doesn't take art level images but to get text information into a portable format it knocks spots off trying to achieve the same thing with a camera or a scanner.

I'm sure you'll find other apps out there that can do Optical Character Recognition etc. if that's helpful. I guess on a hand written document things might not go well with automatic solutions but then you can always fall back on the inbuilt camera app.
 
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#16
Even if the scanning apps can’t recognise the text they can ‘square up’ the image by recognising page edges which *might* work.
 
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#17
Gosh, smartphone it is then! That’s not what I expected to hear when I came here, but you’ve persuaded me, and since I’m already getting pestered about not having one, I might as well kill two birds with one stone.

In terms of a Bluetooth adapter for taking photos, is this the sort of think you’re talking about:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ailun-Blue...coding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=9C33F42T00G7QMJW206S

I need to find something that allows me to grip the smartphone and easily take photos, and see the screen.

(Regarding the records I photo – rest assured, photography is allowed for personal use, and so long as you don’t share the photographs online. They’re just strict about how much stuff you bring in – e.g. no bags, no coats – because they need to be sure you aren’t slipping stuff into a bag. Most of the records are hand written, but there’s no Gaelic thanks to English rule.)
 
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#18
Gosh, smartphone it is then! That’s not what I expected to hear when I came here, but you’ve persuaded me, and since I’m already getting pestered about not having one, I might as well kill two birds with one stone.

In terms of a Bluetooth adapter for taking photos, is this the sort of think you’re talking about:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ailun-Blue...coding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=9C33F42T00G7QMJW206S

I need to find something that allows me to grip the smartphone and easily take photos, and see the screen.

(Regarding the records I photo – rest assured, photography is allowed for personal use, and so long as you don’t share the photographs online. They’re just strict about how much stuff you bring in – e.g. no bags, no coats – because they need to be sure you aren’t slipping stuff into a bag. Most of the records are hand written, but there’s no Gaelic thanks to English rule.)
I’ve bought a couple of these https://www.amazon.co.uk/CamKix-Blu...-spons&keywords=bluetooth+shutter+button&th=1 and found them very reliable.
For a grip There’s a wide variety but I prefer the kind that clamps on to one end and mimics a normal camera grip (usually have tripod sockets for extra mounts) — this is is a somewhat expensive version with built in Bluetooth shutter :https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adonit-PhotoGrip-Bluetooth-Shutter-Samsung/dp/B07HRRL9W1/ref=sr_1_7?.s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1549574754&sr=1-7&keywords=Phone+camera+grip.
 
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#19
BTW have you thought to ask the same question on genealogy websites as it must be a common problem — not necessarily in Records Offices but parish registers, family documents and so on?
 
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#20
Thanks Sphexx - I like the look of the Adonit photo grip. I think it would be exactly what I need.

I haven't actually asked about this on genealogy forums, but I know photo stands (like mentioned above) are generally used for parish registers.
 
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