The tech helper: Digitising your documents and old photos (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Jun 21, 2010, 3:06 GMT
Washington - Important papers, letters, and photographs - most of us have them stuffed into boxes or filing cabinets, taking up space, and cluttering our lives. Wouldn't it be great if there were a way to digitise all of it without risking loss?
There is. Read on to find out how.
Q: I have several boxes of important papers that I have been moving from place to place over the past 25 years. Obviously I do not want to throw them away, but I also do not want to carry them around any longer. What's the best and quickest way to turn these into electronic copy?
A: You'll need three things: a staple remover, a good document scanner, and a reliable backup system. The staple remover is easy, so let's move on to the scanner.
The typical flatbed scanner, while inexpensive, is poorly suited to the job of scanning and archiving many paper documents - unless your flatbed is equipped with an automatic document feeder (or ADF), which is an add-on for some of the better models on the market.
Even with an ADF, however, the typical consumer-level scanner will probably scan so slowly that your patience will be tested and you may give up the battle.
Your best bet is a dedicated, high speed, full-duplex document scanner. Fujitsu makes some well-regarded document scanners, such as the FI-6130 and FI-6140, both good investments for those with piles of documents to be scanned quickly and stored as PDF files. Epson, Xerox, and Canon also offer competitive models.
The 'duplex' feature - which means that the device will scan both sides of a piece of paper at the same time, is critical, since many documents are two-sided.
Speed is another essential feature. You want to be able to insert 10, 20, 30, or more pages at a time and have confidence that the scanner will feed the pages without fuss and scan them rapidly so that you don't lose interest in a scanning job that may involve thousands of pieces of paper.
Dedicated document scanners such as the Fujitsu scanners mentioned earlier typically boast speeds of up to 120 pages per minute in black and white and color. These units plug into your PC with a standard USB cable and usually come with all the software you need to convert documents to PDF and store them directly into a folder on your PC.
Once you've scanned your documents, don't throw them out until you have a reliable backup system in place. A fully automated solution such as an HP MediaSmart Server, which relies on Microsoft's Windows Home Server software, is ideal, for it will back up everything on your PCs automatically each night.
Good documents scanners such as those mentioned here are not inexpensive.
The FI-6130, for example, retails for around 875 dollars. But, if you're committed to reducing clutter, this unobtrusive and attractive device could become one of your better tech purchases.
After all, you'll keep getting new documents. With a dedicated scanner, you can turn them into digital files and then throw them away.
Q: What's the best way to digitise old photographs?
A: There are two routes: if you have a recent-vintage, high quality digital camera, you can take pictures of your photographs. Or you can invest in a photograph scanner. There are pros and cons with each method.
First, to take photographs of your photographs, a tripod that allows you to point your camera straight down at photographs is essential. Otherwise, you risk introducing 'camera shake,' which will further degrade the quality of an old photograph.
Lighting must be even, natural (no flash) and sufficient to achieve a proper exposure.
The challenges of achieving proper lighting and support setup are the main difficulties in digitising with a camera. Plus, depending upon the quality of your digital camera, you may not achieve the resolution that you could with a dedicated photograph scanner.
If you're interested in using a scanner to digitise your old photographs, be sure to get one that has at least a 36 or 48-bit colour depth and hardware, with non-interpolated resolution of at least 6400 x 9600 dots per inch (dpi).
Bear in mind, you'll see interpolated resolutions much higher than this - the 'interpolated' meaning that the resolution is achieved through software trickery after the scan.
Other features you'll want to consider are the size of the scanning bed - important if you have large photographs - and whether the unit comes with attachments that allow for easy scanning of slides. Epson is well known for its high-quality flatbed photograph scanners. But you'll find models from Canon, HP, and other major vendors as well.
If you have primarily film and slides in your collection, you could also consider a dedicated film and slide scanner. These are smaller than flatbed scanners and generally more convenient and faster.
Plustek, Pacific Image, Nikon, Braun, and others make high-quality scanners for these media. Consult reputable dealers such as New York's B&H Photo (http://www.bhphotovideo.com) for recommendations of particular models.
--- Have a tech question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.