How do I set up a document-capture system on my Mac?
September 16, 2006 11:25 AM   Subscribe

How do I set up a simple document-capture system on my Mac?

I'd like to document all the papers that come and go in my classroom. I have a setup for a document camera, which means a copy stand with a tripod mount and all that. I also have an iBook (Tiger).

Here's what I'd like to do:

1) Place a sheet of paper on the document stand.
2) Hit a keystroke command on the iBook.
3) Take exactly one sip of coffee as the document is photographed and saved as a PDF into a prespecified folder (or, ideally, right into FileMaker -- but I can, I think, handle the FileMaker scripting).

What cameras will let me do this? (The iSight seems to be too low-res.) What software should I use? Thanks.
posted by argybarg to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
With a scanner and a sheet feeder, you could eliminate the coffee-sipping step -- put on a stack and return after the whole coffee's done. I doubt it'd cost more than the digital camera you'd have to buy to get useful quality, and you wouldn't have to worry about scripting the software and automating the camera shutter, because scanners with document feeders are designed to do exactly what you describe.

This Hewlett-Packard one is $500, for instance, and this Xerox is more consumer-oriented but only $300.
posted by mendel at 11:37 AM on September 16, 2006

Response by poster: I should explain that, because this is an elementary school classroom, these "documents" will come in wild shapes and sizes, including little scraps, words on index cards, or even models built with construction paper.
posted by argybarg at 12:11 PM on September 16, 2006

I think most canon cameras come with software that lets you run a USB capture from your computer. As I recall you just have to click with the mouse to take a shot.

I'd think that even an old 3 or 4 megapixel model would be good enough for anything if the intended output was a computer monitor (I snap photos of full page restaurant menus with my camera and can read the ~12pt type well enough). Printing would be another matter. 12pt type would probably look pretty crummy, but larger type and larger handwriting would probably be fine.
posted by Good Brain at 12:32 PM on September 16, 2006

I recently bought a Samsung Digimax i6 (6 MP, ~$300), and I've been pretty impressed with its document capture abilities, even for printing and 12pt or lower. I don't know about the rest of your setup, but I'm pretty apeshit happy with the lens and features for text capture. One example: I took a picture of a city map (of Bari, Italy) and could zoom in and out to use my photo as a reference while wandering the city, rather than unfolding the cumbersome map of which Bari was only a slice.
posted by xueexueg at 12:45 PM on September 16, 2006

I have Tiger as well, and I think Automator is the way to do it. Tiger has a program called "Image Capture", that has a workflow action that will take a picture from whatever camera is on and connected. You can then use the actions associated with iPhoto or Finder or whatever to get the results you want, put it through PDF actions ("PDF Converter"). If you want to customize things further (maybe integrate the Filemaker scripting into the workflow?) you can call an AppleScript or do command line stuff from the workflow.

The specifics on the camera, I'm not sure about, but I would give the iSight a try - it's a pretty nice camera, and integrates well with the OS - maybe visit your local Apple store if you don't want to go to the trouble of buying it and then returning it. If you don't, you may need to get your webcam to pretend it's an iSight or other firewire camera in order to get Image Capture to work. I do this (for iChat, not Image Capture, but the idea is the same) with a $10 program called iChatUSBCam.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 12:54 PM on September 16, 2006

the isight resolution is kind of low... i dont think its appropriate for document capture.
posted by joeblough at 3:48 PM on September 16, 2006 looks interesting: Photograph documents with camera phone 2 megapixel or better; send to scanr; they'll send you emails attaching your pictures converted to searchable PDF. Haven't tried it.
posted by Dave 9 at 9:47 PM on September 16, 2006

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