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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Quickest digitizing set-up ever

Every once in a while a DearReader will moan "I need a new scanner, my old one's so slow!" Scanners are by nature very slow, IMHO. Any digital camera can snap copies of a stack of old photos much faster. So why not skip buying a replacement scanner, in favor of a special "copy stand" camera mount with lights and your existing digital camera? You've probably seen these at archives and libraries near you. Be sure to scroll down toward the bottom of the page for info about 2 ESSENTIAL ITEMS.

Ol' Myrt here purchased an Albinar High Load 28" Copy Macro Stand with 15.75"x19" Base, Quick Release Mount and Lights from our friends at I was very careful to order when it was available for free shipping to Amazon Prime members. I wasn't sure about the light spectrum, and didn't order photo flood light bulbs. I already owned the 18megapixel Canon EOS Rebel T3i Digital SLR Camera with an EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens.

IMAGE: Taken by author.
As you can see from the photo above, I am quite happy to use some CFL lights from our extensive collection. Mr. Myrt and I did just combine two households, and clearly have a 30 year's supply of the bright white CFLs. I did not try LCD bulbs since they are more expensive.

To compensate for possible deficiencies in the 3,000-4,100 Kelvin light spectrum range, I ran a series of experiments using a variety of colored filters on my digital SLR camera macro lens to see if any tweaking was necessary. You'll notice my office walls and bookshelves are white and my desktop is light wood. I prefer to snap pics on a bright day, as my west-facing window has an un-shuttered crescent-shaped window above the main window.  I keep a UV filter on my camera lenses at all times, so I chose not to remove them for my experiments. I made it a point to test on a variety of new and old photos and computer prints, namely:
  • Photos - colored, black and white, sepia tone and those old Polaroid color prints
  • Black paper scrapbook pages with circa 1930-1950 black and white prints
  • Color and black and white laser printed images of original historical documents
  • Original newspaper clippings, funeral cards, etc.
IMAGE: Courtesy of
Vivitar's 58mm Pro Macro Photography Kit proves indispensable, and includes four invaluable close-up macro filters in the following magnifications. I do have a macro lens that proves useful some times. Tip: If combining magnifications, put the strongest on your camera lens first. Item pictured at right is a 52mm set.
  • +1
  • +2
  • +4
  • +10 
In all my years of taking pics of old pictures using initially a non-digital SLR camera box, I've used the +10 magnification filter only once.
Back in 1989, I discovered a small, postage stamp-sized image of my father as a baby in the side yard. The edges seemed distorted, but I was thrilled to see Dad's smile and noted my grandmother Myrtle's Red Cross placard in the window of their home in the background. Dad was born in mid September 1918, just as the flu epidemic was rearing it's ugly head. Grandmother was a nurse, and was certainly aware of the potential dangers for a newborn, but I digress.

Thankfully the automatic settings on my Canon EOS Rebel T3i 18megapixel CMOS Digital SLR Camera work just fine without the hassle of changing out the colored lenses. After all, I'm digitizing these for computer viewing and an occasional color laser print, not for printing out wall-sized posters. It's amazing how readily the camera's "eye" can see deeper into the paper of a fading family portrait.

  • Theoretically, you could use your cell phone's camera, but there are issues aligning the lens precisely parallel to the old photo without running the risk of your phone casting a shadow across the image. Since the lens itself is so small, there is little ability to pull in ambient lighting without a copy stand. The cell phone's cameras typically insist on a flash, which only serves to cast a white out splotch on the old photo's digitized image.

    I've use my cell phone in a pinch, with good success when outdoors on a bright sunny morning. Afternoon daylight is less desirable. I've even used the seat of a dining room chair as the impromptu, away-from-home copy table, with the back of the chair to stabilize my arms as I snapped the pic.
  • My digital SLR camera is clearly over kill for non-moving objects, particularly where the resulting view online on in a best quality color laser print will be the same size as the original image. 18mp would be fine if I needed to print a wall-sized image.
  • Mr. Myrt and I have successfully used the less expensive point and shoot digital cameras for years. We have used the Nikon CoolPix back when it was about an 8 or 10mp setup. Adequate lighting was an issue.

#1. A digital camera with an articulating viewer as show in this more recent model, Cannon Rebel T6i.  It works like a video camera's viewer, in that it can rotate to virtually any position. This assures that you won't be craning your neck to see if the old photo is in the right position on the copy stand.

IMAGE: Courtesy of

#2. An Eyefi Mobi SD card. Following a short installation process, this special SD card can send the images automatically from your camera to your computer via your wireless home network.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.

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