Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Fulfill Your Digital Preservation Goals with a Budget Studio

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Fulfill Your Digital Preservation Goals with a Budget Studio

Article excerpt


Colorado State University Libraries (CSUL) are regularly engaged in a variety of digitization projects. Materials for some projects are digitized in-house, while items from selected projects are sometimes outsourced. Most fragile materials that require professional handling are digitized in-house using an expensive overhead scanner. However, the overhead scanner has been occasionally unstable since it was purchased, and this has delayed some of our digitization projects. As digital photography technologies advance, image quality delivered by digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras is improving, and camera prices have lowered to an affordable level. In this paper, I will compare images produced by a scanner and a camera side-by-side, list pros and cons of using each method, illustrate how to establish a shooting studio, and present a budget estimate for that studio.


There are many online guidelines and manuals for digitizing print materials. Some universities and museums have information about their digitization equipment online. Most articles focus on either high-end scanners or customized scanning stations. These articles are very helpful for universities and museums that are relatively well funded. However, there is almost no literature discussing how to use inexpensive digital cameras and photography equipment to produce high-quality digitized images. This article will use a case study to prove that a low-budget studio can produce high-quality digitized images.


The test camera set was chosen because it was the one the author used for general purpose. The camera was also chosen by many professional photographers because of its quality and affordability. To avoid dispute, the overhead scanner's make and model are not revealed.

Test Equipment

Table 1. Test Equipment

Budget Studio                          Overhead Scanner

* Nikon D800                           * Our overhead scanner
* Nikon AF Micro-Nikkor 60mm           * Nonreflective glass
  f/2.8D Lens                          * Book cradles
* Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 3-Section        * Purchase price: $55,000
  Carbon Fiber Tripod Legs               (purchase in 2007)
* Really Right Stuff BH-40 LR          * $8,000 annual maintenance
  II Ballhead                            (2013 price)
* Nonreflective glass
* Book cradles
* X-Rite Original ColorChecker Card
* Natural daylight
* Total cost: $4,500 and no
  maintenance fees (priced in 2014)

Focus and Sharpness

A quality digitized image needs to have a good focus. A well-focused image shows details better and can produce better Optical Character Recognition (OCR) results for text-based documents. At CSUL, we have no control over the automatic focus on our overhead scanner and have noticed that sometimes one page is sharply focused but the next page is slightly out-of-focus. During the scanning process, our overhead scanner does not indicate if a shot is focused or not. A DSLR camera can beep or display a flashing dot on the viewfinder when in focus.


The following two figures compare images produced by our test DSLR and overhead scanner. Both images were originals and have not been enhanced by software. In addition to this image, we tested nine other illustrations. Following our comparison study, we concluded that a semiprofessional DSLR camera produces sharper images than our expensive overhead scanner.

In figure 1, at 100 percent zoom, the left image has a better focus, contains more details, and has colors closer to the original. The left

image was taken using a Nikon D800 + Nikkor 60mm macro lens and under natural lighting. The right image was produced by our overhead scanner.

In Figure 2, at 200 percent zoom, the left image (taking using the DSLR) shows much more detail than the image on the right (taken with the overhead scanner). …

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