CZUR Aura: the Inexpensive Book (and Other Things) Scanner that Does Not Require Cutting the Bindings from the Books

Genealogists love scanners. We digitize old photographs, documents, maps, old handwritten notes, and dozens of other things that we wish to preserve in digital formats. Perhaps the most desirable scanners are book scanners, designed to quickly digitize the 100 pages or more pages found in a typical genealogy book. There are but two problems with most of the book scanners:

  1. They are expensive at $400 to $40,000 US, depending upon the features included and the speed of the scanning.
  2. Many book scanners require cutting the bindings off the books and then inserting the stacks of unbound pages into a sheet feeder that looks similar to what is found on high-speed office photocopiers.

Cutting the binding off a book is often traumatic for genealogists! Yes, I have cut bindings from modern reprints of old books without hesitation but I doubt if many genealogists will cut the binding from a book printed 100 years ago or even earlier.

A new scanner that is going into production now will solve most of these issues. Even better, it scans books, loose pages, photographs, and even small objects (coins, toys, jewelry, silverware, and more) without damaging any of the objects being digitized.

The CZUR Aura exists as an IndieGoGo project right now as the producing company is raising crowd funding financing to go into production on the new scanner. Delivery to customers who pay in advance is expected to start next month.

Actually, the CZUR Aura design isn’t all new. Scanners from other manufacturers over the years have included many of the same features. In fact, I have a HoverCam Solo 8 on my desk tight now that looks similar to the CZUR Aura. (See https://www.thehovercam.com/solo8plus/ for more information about the $350 HoverCam Solo 8.)

What makes the new CZUR Aura different from the other devices designed to scan books, documents, and more is:

1. The CZUR Aura combines several of the best features found in several competitive devices.

2. The CZUR Aura sells for a much lower price than its competitors (with an introductory price of $179 and up, depending upon the features selected).

3. The CZUR Aura includes a number of accessories at no extra charge that are extra cost or unavailable on competitive units. (I’d love to have a foot switch on my older HoverCam Solo 8 but it isn’t available at any price. In contrast, the new CZUR Aura scanners include a foot switch at no extra charge.)

4. The new CZUR Aura can scan almost anything, including a wide variety of documents and objects up to the size of A3 (29.7 x 42.0 centimeters, 11.69 x 16.53 inches). That will enable scanning of many oversized documents that will not fit into many traditional scanners made for office use.

5. The CZUR Aura is suitable for digitizing very old, delicate items that should not be digitized in any scanner that has rollers or other mechanical means of moving the item to be digitized through the scanner. Since nothing moves in the CZUR Aura, nothing is ever damaged, not even those old documents that are already falling apart from previous wear and tear.

6. The CZUR Aura scanner includes glare-free lights that are suitable for proper color reproduction. (My older, more expensive HoverCam Solo 8 has no lights at all, depending upon ambient light in the room to illuminate the item(s) being digitized. That works well on black-and-white items but color reproduction is either mediocre or else I have to provide (expensive) lighting that will reproduce colors properly. Actually, I for color scanning I normally use sunlight by putting the older, more expensive HoverCam Solo 8 next to a window. The new CZUR Aura scanner should eliminate that problem.)

7. The CZUR Aura scanner will scan at up to 4,320 by 3,240 pixels. (That’s total pixels of the image, not pixels per inch.)

8. A USB cable is included and the CZUR Aura will work with any Windows XP or newer system or with Macintosh systems running macOS 10.11 or later software. All required software is included with the scanner.

The design of the CZUR Aura looks simple although there is a lot of technology that isn’t immediately visible. In short, the book or document or photograph or whatever you wish to digitize is simply laid flat in front of the scanner (a black work mat is included at no extra charge) and the scan is made.

Software included with the CZUR Aura at no extra charge will save the scanned images in JPG, PDF, or in editable DOC formats. Yes, the software will even perform OCR (Optical Character Recognition) conversion to create editable DOC files that you can then import into all sorts of applications. The OCR feature of the software supports 186 languages! OCR software alone from many vendors can cost a lot of money but the CZUR Aura includes the OCR software at no extra charge.

For high volume scanning, such as digitizing an entire book without cutting the binding, the operator uses two hands to manually turn the pages and then presses a foot switch (included at no extra charge) to “snap” each image. The result is scanning at the rate of 2 seconds per page (300 pages in 20 minutes) when digitizing a typical book, much faster than digitizing a book with a typical flatbed scanner.

NOTE: The 2 seconds per page specification is for saving images in JPG format. Saving images in PDF or in editable DOC format requires additional software translation on each image scanned and therefore will require a bit longer to complete. The exact speeds of scanning PDF or DOC images will depend upon the size and complexity of the items being digitized.

Another problem with many scanners that digitize items that are laid flat on a table or desk is that images often are skewed a bit one way or the other. The CZUR Aura includes lasers that shine three laser lines on the document (invisible in the scanned images). A revolutionary Artificial Intelligence algorithm then compares the laser lines to the outside edges of the item being digitized and automatically “deskews” the book curves and misalignment without operator intervention.

Finally, the CZUR Aura is lightweight and folds into a small package that is easily slipped into a briefcase, a book bag, or even into a large overcoat pocket. I wouldn’t call it “pocket sized” but I believe that it will fit into the pockets of my large trench coat that I only wear when it is raining.

The CZUR Aura has an introductory price of $179 US plus shipping. Worldwide shipping is available. However, if it was me, I probably would spend an extra $30 to also order the version that includes a battery for portable operation. (The battery can be switched off and the scanner can also operate on commercial power from a wall outlet.) Prices will be significantly higher for orders placed after the pre-orders placed on https://igg.me/at/czuraura/emal/849798 have been filled. This is normal procedure for almost all IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaigns. If you order now and later change your mind, the order can be canceled and your money refunded up until the day your order ships.

The introductory price is available only to those who pre-order via the IndieGoGo web site at https://igg.me/at/czuraura/emal/849798. Before ordering, you probably will want to read the FAQs (Frequently-Asked Questions) at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/aura-speeds-simplifies-all-your-scanning-needs#/faq.

The producing company was hoping to raise at least $50,000 US in order to go into production of the CZUR Aura. As of the time I am writing this article, the total amount raised is: $723,736. I’d cll that a success!

I will suggest the CZUR Aura will be a great Christmas present for the genealogist. You might want to print this article on your local printer and leave it lying around in the house where your family members will see it and be inspired to purchase one for your Christmas present. (Hint. Hint.)

I am enthused about the new CZUR Aura. In fact, I am so enthused that I ordered mine this morning. I’m not waiting for Santa Claus. I also included an extra $30 for the battery option.

12 Comments

Sounds too good to be true. Based on your review, I think I will order one.

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Artificial lighting AND lasers?
Better check before bringing this to any document repository or archival institution!

Our preservation office would never let this through the doors. HoverCam Solo 8s and ScanSnap SV600s remain welcome, however.

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Thanks, Dick! Never thought of using this type of purchase, but the thought of not having to lift the lid of my scanner to change a page (of anything, like tax information etc.) had me rushing to order one. Cost a bit more for Canada, and please note, there will only be 40 left as I ordered mine ASAP!! Merry Christmas to me and thanks to Dick for the post.

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The resolution of this scanner is, in my opinion, the same weak point as with the various portable sheet/photo scanners I have purchased over the years. The 4,320 by 3,240 pixel maximum (clearly defined for what is in essence landscape mode, with two pages captured each scan) means that a standard length page of 11 inches will be digitized at about 300 dpi. For some people and for some purposes that will be adequate but for one thing it really isn’t good for high quality photo prints, and the best photographic prints from even a 100 years ago or more actually do have better than 300 dpi quality. Of course typeset books have far higher quality print than 300 dpi and one situation where I see that is probably a problem is for books that use smaller point fonts, 8 point and at times smaller, for example that you may wish to process by OCR. This CZUR unit is in fact a digital camera and I am mystified as to why it cannot capture at better than ca. 300 dpi. Granted at US$179 (which apparently is the pre-order price only) you probably can’t expect 24 megapixel quality but my Canon XSi (not my newest DSLR but still usable for some purposes) is 12 megapixel and it can capture at about 380 dpi. Surely a 12 megapixel sensor (probably even a 16 megapixel sensor) can’t be very pricey today given that point and shoot cameras of far higher than 16 MP aren’t that expensive.
Th CZUR has the laser alignment feature (described here in this article) but I just don’t see what the big advantage a device like this has over a digital camera. For example I have printouts of very old land grant maps, 30 inches by 39 inches, that I bought from a government department, and I digitized them with a DSLR. The CZUR apparently does come with useful software (although I sure would like to know which 186 languages the OCR software can accurately recognize) but I personally don’t see what it gives me that in fact I already can do quite well. You can buy or make a camera stand for your DSLR, plus the DSLR has other applications.

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I gave up trying to buy. There is no way to add the $30 battery option to a scanner order. It also adds a $30 shipping charge which is way out of line. Then I checked Amazon for reviews of previous versions and read of having to turn off anti-virus software in order for it to work and that the software was scanning the hard drive and communicating with servers in China. No thank you.

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    I had no problem ordering both the scanner and the optional battery. Admittedly, the software that accepts the orders is a bit primitive. It isn’t as polished as ordering something on Amazon or other major retailers. But it worked.

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    I was curious about one of Robert’s comments and it is true that in the user manual in the troubleshooting section about software installation problems it says:
    “Check your anti-virus software or firewalls that may be blocking or stopping the software. Turn off your anti-virus software or add the Aura software as trusted; turn off the firewall or lower the security level.”
    Now that may be just some standard boilerplate and not a concern, although normal software does not include such comments, and the part about turning off your firewall is suspicious.
    CRUZ (apparently an acronym for the company name ‘Continue Zeal Until Real’, whatever that means) has been selling the CRUZ ET16 Plus for several years. The ET16 has a 16 MP camera (the Aura only 14 MP) but seems to have the same general features and software as the Aura, but the Aura is collapsible and portable. In fact it seems to me that the software of these CRUZ scanners is really the main selling point. The ET16 Plus uses ABBYY FineReader for OCR (I assume the Aura does as well) and one big question is what version of ABBYY comes with these scanners. I got ABBYY FineReader Sprint bundled on the CD supplied with one of my (probably more expensive) flat bed scanners, but I don’t think that version would be sufficient for the requirements of the CRUZ scanners, which means they probably include ABBYY FineReader Standard/Pro with their software. Decent OCR software isn’t cheap and ABBYY FineReader Standard/Pro sells for more than the introductory (limited special) price of the Aura, so how can that be explained. CRUZ is based in the southern China city of Shenzhen (and I guess has offices in Hong Kong as well) and I know that China is well-known for its manufacturing and marketing to the west of knockoffs, including of western designed electronic devices; they often have to include modified, bootlegged software to run the knockoffs. I certainly have no knowledge of CRUZ and how it operates and it may be totally above board, but my comments here may be worth keeping in mind.
    If you do go to Amazon and go through user reviews of at least the ET16 Plus about 50% are very positive but a fair number are quite negative.

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I bought an earlier CZUR scanner and never got it to work properly.
No customer service help either…

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I bought a previous CZUR model and returned it after a day. I couldn’t get it to make an acceptable copy. Had dark spots and light spots on a single page. It needed better lighting than it would provide.

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I was one of the first to order the previous CZUR scanner and supporting this student startup felt good. The hardware was months late, the Mac software was even later, and performance is not adequate to be productively useful.
Now that CZUR is a real company I would wait for real world reviews of actual hardware and software before buying.
One of CZUR’s so called features is the ability to create an online library. Its potential for copyright abuse give me pause.
Dick, please let us know how you end up really using this device to digitize your old books.

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I assume that the focus is automatic. When you scan near the front or end of a book the two open pages will be at different distances from the camera.
How do they handle the curve of the page on the binding edge?

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    There seem to be few details about the technical aspects of the digital camera (other than it is 14 MP) but if the lens has a permanent, moderately high f-stop then that results in a depth of field large enough to accommodate the moderate differences you are wondering about. Given that in the CZUR Aura the object to be ‘scanned’ (photographed) is, predictably, more or less a fixed distance from the lens (allowing for slightly different thicknesses of books and also the differences in path length between the lens and the centres versus edges of books) I would assume the lens is fixed focus and fixed aperture (f-stop). The reality is that even in DSLRs the standard (zoom) lenses, even fairly pricey ones, are not that “fast”, that is their f-stops are maybe f/3.5 at best, which already gives several inches of depth of field. The point and shoots are similar. If you have an old film SLR it came with a fixed focal length lens (probably a 50 mm f/1.8 or maybe f/1.4) and with that lens ‘wide open’ it was/is possible to get a fairly narrow depth of field. I did buy a fixed focus 50 mm f/1.8 for my Canon DSLRs, which can be useful for some purposes.

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