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Scanner or camera: which is better?

December 5, 2012

scanner vs. camera

After reading Monday’s description of the portable Doxie scanner, a colleague suggested I write a post on the pros and cons of scanners versus cameras for capturing text. Many teachers have cameras in their pockets, incorporated into smartphones. We can use them to capture documents, but they are not always the best choice. This article provides a quick take on each device’s strengths, followed by a side-by-side comparison chart.

It’s great when you can find – or someone else provides – a digital version of your desired text, but that’s not always feasible. Here are some examples of times when a faculty member may want to capture text:

  • Student work submitted on paper
  • Article in a periodical
  • Notes on a whiteboard
  • Receipts during a conference trip
  • Placard at a historical site
  • Program from a performance
  • Cultural artifact in a foreign country

Once you have an image of sufficient quality you can use Adobe Acrobat or other software to “recognize” and save the text along with the picture, allowing you to search for specific words or phrases.

When to use a camera

Use a camera when you want to capture something quickly with reasonable sharpness, whether it’s a flip chart, ticket, billboard, or restaurant menu. A camera is great when your goal is show the text on a computer screen. Use it in the field or on the fly when you have one item or just a few. Cameras are great for three-dimensional objects and fragile documents. Mount it a tripod or document stand, if you have one, to keep steady.

When to use a scanner

In general, use a scanner when you have time to get the details – in complex drawings and fine print, for example. A scanner is preferred when the end product will be printed and distributed. Use it at home or in the office when you have flat objects or photos. A small portable unit may be helpful if you need details but are away from the office. If plan to scan a whole bunch of documents, get your hands on a scanner with a sheet feeder.

The details

The chart below summarizes my take on how these two types of devices compare in several categories. Keep in mind that both scanners and cameras come in a wide range of quality and cost. The chart is not scientific, but I believe you will find it helpful.

View this document on Scribd

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 4, 2014 6:59 am

    Nice comparison between camera and a scanner. I usually use my Camera as a scanner and was wondering what is the real need for a scanner at home 🙂

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