Let's say you are at a county courthouse looking at old land records
and you find what you have been looking for: the transcription of your
ancestor's deed showing his purchase of property. Of course, you need a
copy but the only available copy machine doesn't handle oversized
documents. Even more important, you always prefer a digital image
whenever possible as it is easier to store, copy, and include in your
reports. However, there is no scanner available. What to do?
Use your cell phone's camera!
Most modern-day cell phones include cameras of 5 megapixels resolution or more. In fact, the current iPhone includes an 8 megapixel camera while most of today's Android cameras include the same or even higher resolution. (Beware of cameras claiming 20 or more megapixels. Those claims are technically correct but those cameras take pictures that are usually downsampled with the result being an 8 megapixel image.)
An 8 megapixel image, assuming it was created by properly-focused lenses and a high-quality sensor, will produce a BETTER image than does the typical photocopy machine. Cameras also easily handle oversized documents. Finally, a digital image can easily be saved anywhere, copied, sent by email, or used in almost any imaginable manner. You won't be required to insert quarters into a machine, either.
With appropriate software installed, your smartphone becomes a pocket photocopier and scanner. Of course, you can always take a picture of any document at any time without using any extra software. However, if you take hundreds or even thousands of such pictures, you may find some difficulty when searching for the one image you need months later. Use of a document management program will make those images more useful and easier to find and retrieve.
I digitize most everything worth keeping. I digitize copies of ancestors' deeds, my insurance papers, prescriptions, bills, BBQ recipes, magazine articles, motor vehicle registrations, my own driver's license, my passport, receipts for income tax purposes, receipts from the automobile's last oil change, and anything else that I wish to keep. I typically use my iPhone's camera five to ten times a day to digitize various pieces of paper. Once digitized, I throw away about 99.9% of the paper. (I haven't yet thrown away my passport!) I store all my documents in the cloud as well as copies on the desktop and laptop computers. I also can quickly retrieve any document at any time on my cell phone, wherever I am, as long as I have a decent cell phone signal. That can be handy when at the doctor's office, the motor vehicle department, or most anyplace else.
I now have now digitized more than 2,000 documents and all of them are available to me within seconds as long as I have my cell phone with me. I would hate to travel with all those documents on paper as the briefcase would be very heavy! Using digitized documents is faster and easier than using paper. Using proper backup techniques, digitized images will also keep much longer than paper copies. Assuming you have multiple digital copies, stored in multiple locations, you no longer have to worry about fire, flood, burst water pipes, mold, mildew, rodent damage, or any of the other things that easily destroy paper.
As soon as you start using a cell phone camera regularly to digitize documents, you will run into a document management issue: how do you quickly and easily find the one document you seek from the thousands you have stored?
In fact, there are dozens of document management programs to choose from for Windows, Macintosh, Android, iOS, Linux, and probably some other operating systems. Prices vary from free to thousands of dollars for some of the document management programs aimed for corporate use. It is impossible to define any one product as "the best one" for all genealogists. However, once you have your needs defined, you typically can narrow the choices to a handful.
One strong candidate for the title of "the best document management program for you" is CamScanner. It uses the camera in your Android, iPhone, or iPad device to digitize any documents you wish, to save them securely in your desktop or laptop computer or in the cloud, and to catalog and quickly retrieve any document when needed. It is available in two versions: a free version that has some limitations or a full-featured version that costs $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year, if you pay for twelve months in advance.
The free version serves as a great introduction to the product. I would suggest you always start with the free version, then move up to the paid version only if you decide you like CamScanner and plan to continue with it.
You download and install CamScanner Free in the same manner as most all other programs for iPhone, iPad, or Android products: visit the iPhone/iPad App Store or visit Google Play. Installation is free and simple. Once installed, tap the camera icon and your camera will open, ready to snap a picture of a document.
Make sure you have decent lighting. Sunlight is best so place the document near a window, if possible. After the photo is taken, you can align the image to the borders. The CamScanner does a rather good job of automatically finding the edges of the document and making the needed adjustments. However, it isn't perfect. Some documents may need a bit of manual adjusting.
One feature not found in some competitive document imaging applications is CamScanner's lighting adjustment option after cropping. While some apps offer this, few work well. In every test that I made with CamScanner, the final image always looked great as long as there was sufficient light available when I snapped the image.
Once captured, any document can be printed directly through AirPrint, sent via Fax, sent via e-mail, or saved internally as a PDF file. Of course, all files can be copied to your desktop or laptop computer at a later time by using the iTunes on iPhones and iPads or by using the USB cable on Android devices.
When you sign up for a CamScanner account and install the software into your handheld device, you immediately receive 200 megabytes of file storage space in the cloud for free. You can then access all the documents stored in the cloud anytime on any devices, wherever you are.
CamScanner Free does add watermarks to all PDF documents, displays advertising, has a limited number of annotations, and does not convert words on a page into computer text. Paying for the Pro version removes those restrictions. Free users only receive 200 megabytes of storage space in the cloud, enough for perhaps 100 documents or so. Pro users receive 10 gigabytes of file space. If you need more than 10 gigabytes, you probably need a more robust (and expensive) document management solution than CamScanner!
I would use the free version for a while but only to evaluate the software. If I liked CamScanner and planned to use it often, I would soon upgrade to the Pro version.
You can see a side-by-side comparison of the free versus the pro version at https://www.camscanner.net/user/upgrade.
CamScanner does more than simply take pictures, it also allows you to manage your documents:
- Access, edit and manage documents anytime and anywhere as you need. Want to quickly find some docs? CamScanner enables quick search in seconds.
- Add notes to any documents
- Add tag to any document for easy search
- Multiple viewing modes: list view & thumbnail view
- Copy and move documents to other locations
- Easily search for any document by OCR tech
- Merge documents content
- Set passwords for important documents
- Backup and restore documents to/from SD card (on Android devices)
You can also:
- Easily share document scans in PDF or JPEG to collaborators via email or you can save them in the cloud, fax and print out those documents.
- Fax scans via network
- Send PDF files via email
- Print files wirelessly with Google Cloud Print
- Upload files to almost any of the cloud storage services
biggest drawback that I see to CamScanner is that it is a document
management program for use on handheld devices only. If you have a mix
of images with some stored in a desktop computer, others stored in a
laptop, and still more stored in a handheld device, CamScanner probably
will not be a good solution for you. However, for anyone who captures
most documents via a handheld device's internal camera, CamScanner can
be a great solution. The producers of CamScanner claim to have more than
60,000,000 users around the world so obviously it does meet the needs
of many people.
I doubt if CamScanner will ever replace a good desktop scanner. It cannot compete with Scansnap or any of the other scanners designed to scan paper when at home. Then again, CamScanner doesn't have the price of a desktop scanning package either. You also probably won't be carrying the Scansnap or any other desktop scanner when shopping at Ikea! In contrast, most people keep a cell phone camera with them at most all times.
I find CamScanner to be an excellent solution for genealogy purposes and for a myriad of other uses. You can learn more about the CamScanner Free and CamScanner Pro at https://www.camscanner.net. Android users can download CamScanner from the Google Play store while iPhone and iPad users can do so at Apple App Store for those devices.