The following is a Plus Edition article, written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
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 or her 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 instead of a paper copy whenever possible as it is easier to store, copy, and include digital images in your reports. However, there is no scanner available. What to do?
Use your cell phone’s camera! In many cases, you can also use a tablet computer’s internal camera.
Here is an example of a book image made by my Android smartphone’s camera:
Click on the above image to view a larger version.
Most modern-day cell phones include cameras of 8 megapixels resolution or more. My Google Pixel camera stores images as 12.2 megapixel files. The current iPhone also includes a 12-megapixel camera. (Beware of cameras claiming 20 or more megapixels. Those claims are technically correct, but those cameras take pictures that are usually “digitally enhanced” with the result being a modified 8-megapixel image.)
A 12 -megapixel image—assuming it was created by properly-focused lenses, a good source of light, and a high-quality sensor—will produce a much 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.
To be sure, my favorite method of digitizing paper is to use the desktop scanner I have at home. However, that isn’t very useful when I am someplace else. My second-favorite method is to use my Flip-Pal portable scanner but I do not carry it with me everywhere I go. If I am at a relative’s house and looking at old family photographs, a Flip-Pal scanner that is back at my home, possibly many miles away, isn’t very useful.
If I find myself in need of a digital copy at other times, I revert to my third-favorite method: use my cell phone’s camera.
NOTE: according to Wikipedia, “smartphones are defined as “mobile phones and of multi-purpose mobile computing devices. They are distinguished from feature phones by their stronger hardware capabilities and extensive mobile operating systems, which facilitate wider software, internet (including web browsing over mobile broadband), and multimedia functionality (including music, video, cameras, and gaming), alongside core phone functions such as voice calls and text messaging.” Most of today’s smartphones use either the Android operating system or Apple iPhone’s iOS operating system.
With appropriate software installed, a smartphone becomes a pocket photocopier and scanner. Of course, you can always take a picture of any document at any time simply by snapping a picture in the same manner as taking all other cell phone pictures. 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 scanning app installed in your smartphone will not only help organize the images, but it will also add numerous other enhancements, such as adjusting the color, contrast or brightness, or by cropping the image. You add can watermarks and annotations too, plus add tags so you can search for scans later. With some scanning apps for smartphones, you can even add OCR (optical character recognition) to convert the image into searchable and modifiable computer text.
There are also built-in collaboration tools, where you can invite other people to make edits to your scans. The list of features goes on, including search and connections to popular cloud storage services, like Dropbox or Google Drive.
I digitize most everything worth keeping. I digitize copies of ancestors’ deeds, my insurance papers, prescriptions, bills, vegan recipes, magazine articles, motor vehicle registrations, my 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 scanners several times a day to digitize various pieces of paper. Once digitized, I throw away about 99.9% of the paper. (I do keep the originals of my passport, driver’d license, and similar documents, however!) I store all my documents in the cloud as well as copies on the desktop and laptop computers. In addition, I can quickly retrieve any document at any time, even on my smartphone, wherever I am, as long as I have a decent cell phone or wi-fi signal. That can be handy when at the doctor’s office, the motor vehicle department, or most anyplace else.
At this time I have digitized more than 3,000 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 also will last much longer than paper copies. That is especially true of those cash register receipts that seem to start fading away within weeks after being printed. Electronic images of the same documents, however, can remain readable for centuries. Assuming you have multiple digital copies stored in multiple locations, you no longer have to worry about fading ink, 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?
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