Tuesday, 16 March 2010

How to replace a photocopier with a good camera phone and your own printer.

There is a problem with photocopiers in libraries - University or public. You need money, for a start. Then you need time, you need a photocopier not being used by anyone else, it can be highly wasteful of paper, and of time.
You can get a much more flexible and useful result by using a digital camera and a few minutes of image processing when back at your PC.
Photographing pages and then printing the photos can work at least as well, if not better, and can be done anywhere, any time.
So let's look at doing so.
You need, first of all, a digital camera. A decent high-quality camera on a decent mobile phone is perfect. I've been using a Nokia N95, which is possibly even overkill.
For best results you will need to modify the camera settings slightly. I find that setting it Black & White makes life easier. There may also be settings to adjust light balance based upon flourescent, incandescent or sunlight, settings for image sharpness (more is better, in this respect, because you want nice, clear text) and image size. Go for the highest quality photo your camera can take - you can always discard pixels later, but no matter what the TV shows will have you believe, there is no way to put them back in.
You may be able to do all this as a customised setting so you don't have to repeat yourself next time you want to copy anything else.
You need two things: You need a consistent light level across the entire page, with no obvious areas of shadow or light, and you need a good contrast between text and background. Basically, you need a good background level of light. A flash is particularly poor in this situation, because you are so close to the page that you will probably get a bright spot and a gradient outside that. Your mileage may vary if you have a particularly good xenon flash (those of you who still have N82s can stop feeling smug, you bastards).
I suggest you try and get each page flat, photograph it from directly above to minimise any text distortion, and try and get it to fill as much of the frame as possible. Tip - try and keep the page numbers, you will need them for referencing properly.
Oh, and of course you want them as sharply in focus as possible - practice breathing exercises, if you have a shaky hand.
Once you have the images, you need a computer and good image editing software. If you have access to Photoshop - sure, use it. I use the GIMP, which is free and just as powerful.
To make life easier, you want each photo orientated the right way, and you then want them as legible as possible.
It's also a good idea, financially, to cut down on the amount of ink you print.
You will notice that the image is in greyscale, with a not-entirely white background and not-entirely black text. To correct this, look for a neat little tool called, in GIMP, "Threshold". It sits under the Colours menu, and what it does is take the greyscale image and turn it into strict black and white by picking a degree of grey and making everything below it white, and everything above it black. Very neat, deceptively simple, and if your photos are any good, very, very effective.
I don't usually need to adjust the defaults - you may find it beneficial.
This process should give you pictures with no visually messy and ink-wasting grey smudges, and with the most readable text.
If you want to print, print as you like - I prefer two-up printing. Digikam can print an entire set of photos quite nicely. Picasa can, as well. Experiment with your preferred software.

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