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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    Entries in scanning (14)


    HoverCam Document Scanner Review: Fast, Easy, VERY Portable

    As part of the research for my new book How to Archive Family Photos, I've been testing and reviewing all kinds of scanners and digitizing devices hoping to find the perfect tool for working with fragile old documents and photos. It seems I've been looking for a very long time. I want something fast and simple that delivers high-quality digital images in a variety of file formats suitable for preservation, research, and archiving. I like my Epson flatbed scanner for many digitizing projects, but I want a solution for working with oversize albums and other fragile items.

    I thought my Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i  might be the answer, and it IS a wonder workhorse for office paperwork, dis-bound books, and literature. But I'm not ready to put my grandmother's 1917 marriage certificate through the rollers.

    I thought the Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner  might do it all, and it IS my portable scanner of choice for anything that fits on the 4 x 6-inch scanner bed. The included Scan and Stitch software is reliable and produces excellent results, but it's not a practical solution for digitizing hundreds of oversize photo album pages, newspapers, and documents.

    I was ready to set up a permanent copy-stand solution with a digital camera, tripod, and lights when I learned about the HoverCam Solo 8 Document Camera  from Pathway Innovations and Technologies, Inc. in San Diego, California. Document Cameras have been popular classroom tools for some time, but only lately have advances in technology made the device a scanner alternative.

    HoverCam kindly sent me the HoverCam Solo 5 model to preview, followed by the newestHoverCam Solo 8 Document Camera  model featuring an 8 megapixel document camera and integrated device software. At the InfoComm show in Las Vegas featuring nearly 1,000 exhibitors, the Solo 8 won Best New Document Camera of 2014.

    Document cameras are typically used as demonstration devices and aren't known for smooth video or pristine pixels. The HoverCam Solo 8 changes all that with:

    • 8 megapixel camera
    • 30 frames per second refresh rate
    • 3.0 USB connectivity

    HoverCam and the Family Historian

    I have a lot of family documents and photos to digitize. A LOT. I've used a digital camera with and without a tripod and remote setup. I've used my flatbed scanner. But both solutions require a home setup for best results. I keep thinking, "Wouldn't it be great to have a portable digitizing device that's as easy as a camera but doesn't need the tripod?"

    HoverCam document cameras are powered by a single USB cable connection to your computer. I set up the Solo 8 on my dining room table connected to my Apple MacBook Air, and then I tried the device connected to a Dell Windows Laptop. It runs on either Mac or PC. I used it at home to digitize large photo album pages and various photos and documents. I packed it in a small tote and tried it out at the SCGS Library with books off the shelf. It was easy to set up, and simple to use.

    The device has two connection ports on the back side: one installs the software on your computer, and after installation the other port connects the cable to your computer for scanning.

    The articulating arm provides support for the camera and integrated LED lights (low and high). The entire camera folds up to fit in a briefcase and weighs under 3 lbs.  

    Digitizing With the Solo 8

    Most portable digitizing options provide images in JPG or PDF only. The large file size required for archival TIFF images makes it an impractical file format for smartphones and devices that store digital images on an SD card or flash drive. Because the HoverCam is connected directly to your computer, the device software can take advantage of the computer's processing power and hard drive storage capacity. I was able to digitize TIFF file format images, as well as JPG and PDF.

    The camera design provides a sturdy support for the camera, eliminating the need to carry a tripod or copy stand. This is a great feature.

    The lights can be switched on and off, low or high, to add extra illumination. I achieved the best results, however, with good daylight coming in through large windows. The HoverCam lights were fine with most paper, but when copying photographs or glossy paper, the reflection caused a reflective "hot spot."

    Software Features

    I've used enough different scanners and digitizing devices to know that the software is as important as the hardware in achieving consistent high-quality scans efficiently and easily. The HoverCam Flex software is available for both Mac and PC, but I've found more features in the PC edition, particularly the auto-scanning motion and time activated feature. 

    Some of the software features I especially like, include:

    • Option for TIFF format
    • Cropping 
    • Ability to rotate, enlarge for detail, and adjust alignment 
    • Autofocus, and focus-lock
    • Auto-Scanning feature takes an image at a set interval, or by motion-detection

    The Automatic Scanning feature is unique among my current digitizing equipment. Currently, this works only with the PC version of the HoverCam Flex software. I set it to take a picture every 3 seconds and turned the pages of a photo album to quickly create images of each page. 

    My first attempts to use the HoverCam Solo 5 camera and software last summer were frustrating. I didn't know that the Mac software lacked many features (now included) and I was disappointed by the quality of the 5 megapixel images delivered with the Solo 5 model. The improved 8 megapixel Solo 8 model is a vast improvement for pure scanning, and the video quality is much better as well. New instructional videos at the HoverCam website provide a good introduction to the device features, and most functions are fairly intuitive if you've used scanning software before.

    Professional Genealogist Barry Kline recently reviewed the HoverCam Solo 8 in the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly and commented, "The Solo 8 retails for $349, which is a mid-range price for document cameras currently on the market. However, the Solo 8 is no average document camera. It could easily become one of the most versatile tools a genealogist own."

    Digital Image Quality 

    The bottom line, of course, is image quality. How does the HoverCam Solo 8 compare to other digitizing methods typically used by genealogists? I made several sample images with my Epson Flatbed Perfection V500 Scanner and with both HoverCam models, the Solo 5 and Solo 8.

    Photograph Scan Sample

    Right Click to View Large Image Photo Comparison of HoverCam Solo 5, Solo 8, and Epson Scanner

    The color variation is the most noticeable difference between the images. A closer look will show more detail in the Epson scan, as compared with either of the other images, but overall I thought the HoverCam Solo 8 provided a very good digital image. 

    Document Scan Sample

    I have over 1,000 pages of handwritten letters yet to be digitized. I don't really need a pristine image for restoration and touchups, like I might want with a damaged photograph. Instead, I would like what I call a "research quality" digital image. This image needs to be sharp and clear so the handwriting can be easily read, and it needs to be in a print-quality resolution so I can later print out the document for reference. The best format would be archival TIFF, saving me the trouble of file conversion to archive the images for preservation.

    In these two scans, I compared the quality of the HoverCam Solo 5 (5 megapixel document camera) with the HoverCam Solo 8 (8 megapixel document camera). 

    Right Click Image to view full size Document Comparison of Hovercam Solo 8 vs. Solo 5

    Both images are clear and easy to read. The 8 megapixel image is sharper, but the color cast is definitely tinted. The original paper is actually closer to the Solo 5 image. This may be due to the available light. I spent an entire day testing the two cameras and natural daylight lessened throughout the day. The Solo 8 image was made with the integrated camera flash; the Solo 5 image was made with flash off using natural daylight. I think this makes a good test case because many times, we don't have the luxury of working near good natural light in a research facility and we will need to use a flash. For research purposes, both images are more than adequate. For archival purposes, however, I do prefer the more natural color achieved without using the camera flash. With the flash turned off, the Solo 8 produces an image with similar color to the Solo 5 image displayed above.

    Newspaper Scan Sample

    My final sample included a 1964 newspaper clipping. And yes, the newsprint is just about this color. I think the Solo 8 did a great job with this little clipping, providing a cropped, ready to print/archive/transcribe image. The HoverFlex software also offers OCR capability, which I tried with this news clipping, with limited success. The clipping just doesn't offer the clarity needed for a good OCR transcription.

    HoverCam Solo8 Samples 3

    The HoverCam and Genealogy

    A mobile document camera is really a great digitizing tool for the researcher or family historian seeking a solution that is:

    • fast
    • mobile
    • versatile
    • affordable

    The HoverCam Solo 8 is a useful device for:

    • The family historian who wants to scan individual pages in dozens of photo albums and scrapbooks to preserve the context and captions of photos and memorabilia.
    • A researcher needing a portable camera/tripod/remote shutter solution that will be permitted in institutions such as the National Archives in Washington, D.C. or other archives and libraries.
    • A genealogist digitizing fragile handwritten letters or documents.
    • The archivist who wants to quickly digitize entire books or other bound material.
    • A researcher looking to enlarge an item, signature, or detail for closer study.
    • Anyone moving toward a paperless office by converting a large amount of paperwork and books to digital images.

    For the genealogist who has few physical items to digitize and who primarily downloads digital images from the internet, any kind of scanner is probably unnecessary or seldom needed. The flatbed scanning capability of an All-in-One Printer-Scanner-Copier combined with the occasional use of a smartphone with scanner app may be very adequate for occasional digitizing needs.

    As new models of the HoverCam Solo series are introduced, older models drop in price. The HoverCam Solo 5, 5 megapixel document camera is under $300 at, the HoverCam Solo 8  model with an 8 megapixel camera runs about $349. The camera comes with integrated software, ready to start digitizing your next family history project. 

    Note: Pathway Innovations kindly sent their newest document cameras at my request, with no obligation for a positive review. All testing, comments, and evaluations are my own. If you decide to purchase a document camera using my Amazon link, The Family Curator receives a small percentage which helps defray website costs. Thank you for your support.


    Preservation Week: Unlock the #1 Secret to Scanning Success

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    Digitize and Preserve Family Photos and Documents

    Are you getting the best possible results when you digitize family photos and documents? Check your scanning savvy with these 5 Tips for Scanning Success.

    1. Clean the Scanner Glass

    Yep, sounds pretty basic but it’s easy to forget. Old photos and documents are often dirty and may even lose bits of paper when handled. Use a microfiber cloth (used for eyeglasses or computer screens) to clean smudges and dirt from the glass of your flat bed scanner. For tough jobs, lightly wet the cloth – not the glass – then wipe the glass firmly with the damp cloth.

    2. Use the Right Equipment For the Job

    Equipment does make a difference in the end result. Your keepsake originals should only be digitized with a flat-bed scanner or digital camera. DO NOT run heirlooms through a sheet-fed scanner where they could be mangled and torn. Wand scanners are fine for books and pristine documents, but less direct handling is safer for old paper.

    Oversize documents can be difficult to manipulate for on an 11 x 14-inch flat bed scanner; minimize the potential for damage by using a digital camera mounted on a copy stand or tripod.

    3. Set Up A “Scan Station”

    Make use of every minute by keeping your equipment ready to go. If you have space, set up a Scan Station near your computer on a file cabinet or table. Keep your scanner connected to your computer with an external hard drive ready for file storage. Use two trays or boxes to organize your work: To Be Scanned, Scanned. Don’t file away the originals until you have added filenames and tags in your photo organizing software.

    4. Break Your Work Into Scanning Sessions

    Save time and be more efficient by breaking your scanning into two work sessions: In session one, complete the actual scans; in session two, finish the computer work: add file names; write metadata -- captions from the back of photos, tags with people, places, events, copyright info; and place originals in archival storage.

    And My All-Time Favorite #1 Secret to Scanning Success
    5. Use Professional Mode

    Most scanners come pre-configured for easy scanning. You don’t have to do anything after hitting the Scan button. But if you want access to some of the best features of your flat-bed scanner, you’ll need to unlock the Professional Menu. Look around on your scanner for a drop-down with more options, or check out the manual. You may have Auto, Home, and Professional modes (on Epson), or some other configuration.

    When you get to the Pro Menu, you will be able to set the best resolution for your project, choose mode, target size, and unlock color correction and descreening features. If you aren’t sure what all those options can do, refer to the manual or the handy Scanning Guide in my book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes (chapter 9).

    For most purposes, you only need to adjust resolution (or DPI) and select Photo or Document. If you wish, you can check Color Restoration to automatically restore faded 1970’s color prints, or Descreening to get better images of newspaper articles.

    Find more ideas for organizing and digitizing family treasures and genealogy research in How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia & Genealogy Records by Denise May Levenick (Family Tree Books, 2012). Celebrate Preservation Week April 23-May 3, 2014.

    Visit for more preservation ideas and information.


    Tech Tuesday: Streamlined Scanning with a Genealogy Photo Workflow, Part 2


    The Library Module in Adobe Lightroom3 shows the keyword and
    metadata tagging windows in the right-hand

    Using a scanning workflow speeds up my digitizing project and helps maintain consistency. This post continues with the genealogy scanning workflow I use for family history photographs, documents, and letters. Last week in Tech Tuesday: Streamlined Scanning with a Genealogy Workflow, Part 1, I described my typical scanner settings and scanning process.

    This week, we tackle Part 2, and move the digital image files to a photo organizer/editor such as Lightroom, Photoshop Elements, or iPhoto for tagging, cropping, and editing.

    After scanning my photographs and storing the images on my external MyBook hard drive (Western Digital), I turn to Part 2 of my Photo Workflow.

    Importing Images to a Photo Organizer/Editor:

    Note: TIFF Images are stored on an external hard drive.

    1. Connect hard drive to desktop computer.

    2. Open Adobe Lightroom, Import photos, with settings to retain file names.

    3. After import, tag photos with useful keywords, location, names of subjects, place, date.

    4. Rename files with descriptive file name prior to original scan filename. For example: aak-001 becomes 
    kinsel-arline_1912_ portait_aak-002 
    I use a hyphen to separate names and placenames and an underscore to separate categories, thus name_year_description/place_original file name

    Note: I decided to continue using a file identification number for correspondence rather than try to develop a suitable meaningful filename. This makes the post-scanning work much faster.

    4. Convert files as JPG and store in same folder as originals. File extension will differentiate TIFF and JPG.

    5. Back up file on second MyBook hard drive.

    6. After tagging, converting, and backing up, TIFF files are never touched! All edits are made to jpg files. In Adobe Lightroom, all edits are “nondestructive” meaning you can return to the original without loss of data. Files may be resized, emailed, cropped, etc. all without damage to the original image file.

    Other photo editing software can do a similar job with tagging, renaming, and converting from TIFF to jpg. Adobe Photoshop Elements is a great program and easy to learn and use; Apple iPhoto or Adobe Photoshop Elements for Mac does the job for Mac users. But, to the best of my knowledge, Adobe Lightroom is the only software that offers “nondestructive” editing. If you use a program that records changes on the original file, it is wise to always work from a copy, and save an archived original.

    With my originals safely archived on MyBook (#1), and backed up to MyBook (#2), I am comfortable editing and working with the jpg images on my hard drive. 

    Learn more about digitizing your family keepsakes and your genealogy papers in my new book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes. Special Offers now available from Family Tree Books, regularly priced $24.99, now $15.49, and save an additional 10%. Click here for info.

    This article is updated from Tech Tuesday Setting up a Genealogy Photo Workflow, Part 2 published 28 July 2009.

    You might also like -- Using Adobe Lightroom to Manage Genealogy Images


    Tech Tuesday: Streamlined Scanning with a Genealogy Photo Workflow, Part 1

    Scan multiple


    Professional photographers call it a “workflow," but it's really just a “routine.” It’s the standard order of doing things that results in getting things done. Routines work. You don't have to use Adobe Lightroom or any particular photo organizing or editing software to get the benefit of a genealogy scanning workflow. Whether you use Photoshop Elements, XnView, iPhoto, Picasa, or Flickr to organize and store your photos, a consistent procedure for scanning, file naming, tagging, and editing will make your photo work run smoother and faster.

    A photography workflow can help a genealogist or family historian process a photo collection efficiently and carefully. I first wrote about my Genealogy Photo Workflow in 2009 when I was using the photo management software Adobe Lightroom2. The program is now up to version 4, although I continue to use Lightroom3. It looks like Lightroom version 4 has some great new features, but haven't felt to try them out… yet.

    My Genealogy Photo Workflow

    After a few years and considerable trial and error, I’ve tweaked my original photo workflow a bit, but it remains essentially the same as it was in 2009. I've come up with a photo workflow that continues to work well for me. . . today, at any rate.

    I have broken the workflow into separate activities; this works for me because I can process the photos in smaller chunks of time. I can scan or import depending on the time available, and still make progress toward completing the project.

    Supplies and Equipment Needed --

    flatbed scanner, (Epson Perfection V500) 
    2 external hard drives, (MyBook) 
    white cotton gloves 
    archival drop-front box 12 x 15-inch (for oversize photos) 
    archival flip-top box  8 x 5-inch 
    archival sleeves, 5 x 7-inch and 8 x 10-inch 
    permanent ink pen, archival safe 
    Adobe Lightroom 3 software

    Part 1: Scanning Workflow

    Set up --

    1. Connect and turn on scanner to warm up 
    2. Connect external hard drives to computer
    3. Put on gloves 
    4. Clean scanner glass with soft cloth 
    5. Start scanner software: set for color scan, TIFF format, sent to folder on my Desktop named Scans, file name + sequential image number; check option to open folder after scanning [this is my confirmation that I have completed the scan]

    Note: for file name, I use a general name for my current archive [aak] plus the next number in my series [045]. I will edit names in Lightroom when I add metadata.

    Scanning --

    Note: I scan both sides of every photo, front first, then back [thanks for that tip, footnoteMaven!].

    1. Set resolution, TIFF file format 
      I use 600 dpi for photos (1200 dpi for photos needing restoration or images that are very small), 300 dpi for documents
    2. Preview Scan front side of image; rotate image on Preview panel if needed 
    3. Scan; folder will open showing new file image with name of filename-number [aak-045] 
    4. Turn photo to reverse side and Scan; folder will open showing new file image with name of filename-number [aak-046]. Notice that front sides of photos are odd numbers, reverse sides are consecutive even numbers. 
    5. Remove photo from scanner, place in archival sleeve and set in box lid [will be used later] 
    6. Repeat for each photo; I usually scan in batches of 20-25.

    This is a good place to stop working and tidy the work area. I'm not finished with the original photos, so they remain in the box temporarily. The next part of the workflow is to Import photos to Lightroom for tagging and jpg conversion. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Streamlined Scanning with a Genealogy Photo Workflow coming next week.

    Blogger Michelle Goodrum at The Turning of Generations wrote about using a similar workflow for her project to digitize her father's early correspondence, Letter Scanning Work Flow.

    Why Lightroom?

    In my years as a computer-user I have worked with many different photo editing and organizing programs on both PC and Mac computers. I've gone back and forth between PC and Mac a few times, so one of my "requirements" has been to select cross-platform software. I typically purchase a medium-speed computer, not something with a super-fast gaming processor, so my second "requirement" is a program that isn't a big memory hog.

    I was an early user of Adobe Photoshop Elements and used the tagging feature extensively with my genealogy photo scanning projects. However, when I started working with huge TIFF and PDF files, I found PE running slower and slower and slower. At the time, PE did not play nice with TIFF files so I had to use another program to manage these files. I found XnView, a cross-platform, free program that handled all kinds of file formats and managed batch renaming, file conversion, resizing, etc. in an easy and intuitive interface. I used both software programs for a few years, generally preferring XnView for management tasks and PE for photo restoration.

    In 2007, I was intrigued by the buzz about Adobe's new professional photo management program, Photoshop Lightroom 2. I attended a Scott Kelby Lightroom Workshop and came away ready to get to work. Lightroom is powerful, yet simple. In my opinion, it's aimed for pros who would rather be shooting photographs than managing files. It suits me very well, and I am happy with my current setup.

    One of my favorite features in Lightroom is non-destructive editing -- any changes are made to the file instructions rather than to the original file itself. You can always go back to the original. Lightroom expert David Marx explains this well: Photoshop and Elements save changes to the original, Lightroom "builds simulations."

    I continue to use Photoshop Elements for design and editing work because I like the layers feature As PE has matured through various versions, it has become friendlier to other file formats, too. If I were starting out with a new program right now AND had a smaller image archive project, I would probably seriously consider using only one program. But, for my current purposes, the combination of Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop Elements work very well together.

    Learn more about digitizing your family keepsakes and your genealogy papers in my new book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes. Special Offers now available from Family Tree Books, regularly priced $24.99, now $15.49, and save an additional 10%. Click here for info.

    You might also like -- Using Adobe Lightroom to Manage Genealogy Images

    Revised and Updated, from an article originally published 21 July 2009 Tech Tuesday -- Setting Up a Genealogy Photo Workflow, Part 1


    This Holiday Season, Use your Flip-Pal Like An Archivist

    Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away, do you know where your family photos are? Will you be visiting friends and relatives, and hoping to work in a bit of family history sleuthing between the drumstick and the pumpkin pie?

    Most family historians have experienced the frustrating situation where a relative shows us a photo or document, but is reluctant to let the item out of their hands to be scanned or photocopied. A digital camera can do a good job in these situations, but a scanned image will be even better. The battery-operated Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner is an ideal travel buddy for holiday get-togethers.


    If you plan to pack your Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner along with your potluck dish, plan ahead  with a few tips that will turn your heirloom scanning into archival quality images.

    Mobile scanners like the Flip-Pal and wand-type scanners can give great results, but you will need to do a few follow-up tasks to turn your image scans into archival copies.

    Before You Go

    1. Take extra batteries and memory card.
    2. Bring a microfiber cloth to clean the glass scanning bed.
    3. Purchase a pack of 4 x 6 -inch index cards and/or the Flip-Pal Sketch Kit to use in identifying people, events, and places.

    As You Scan

    1. Organize the photos by size or event. It will be easier to work with them at home if the images are in meaningful groups for cropping and file naming.
    2. Use the highest setting, 600 dpi, for photos; use 300 dpi for documents.
    3. Use the index cards or or the Flip Pal Sketch Kit to write captions or identifying information. Write along one side of the card, place it in the margin next to your photo, and scan image and information together. Or, Use the transparent sheet in the Flip-Pal Sketch Kit to identify people without writing on the photo itself.
    4. Use the cards or sketch kit to create an Index Image that indicates a new series: Uncle's Joe's army pix, 1942-43; Stella's Wedding, 1 Jan 1952.

    After You Scan 

    1. Transfer images to your computer, using the included software to stitch together any oversize images.
    2. Import images to your photo organization software. Use batch renaming when available to give your images meaningful filenames, for example: brown-arline_1915_wedding
    3. Create an archival format TIFF copy of all images and store on an external hard drive. Photo editing software uses different commands to convert files; look for Convert, Export, or Save As commands that allow files to be converted and saved. Select TIFF format and direct the file to be stored in a separate folder.
    4. Use a copy of the TIFF image file for extensive photo restoration work; use the JPG files for sharing via email, photo books, and web.

    JPG vs. TIFF File Format

    The Flip-Pal scans images in JPG format, a popular and widely-used image format. JPG is useful because the file sizes are not too large; however, it's also a "lossy" format, so called because the the file is compressed and loses quality and information when it is edited and  saved. To avoid this problem, museums and archives use the "loss-less" TIFF format for preservation copies, although the file size will be much larger than a JPG version.

    I convert JPG images to TIFF and store these large files on an external hard drive to create Archive Preservation copies of my images.

    Special Offer

    For a short time, Family Tree Magazine is offering a free copy of my Scanning Secrets video class with the purchase of a Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner. The Flip-Pal makes it easy to scan photos and documents when you're on the go, and the tips in Scanning Secrets will help you transform standard scans into long-term preservation copies.

    Scanning Secrets video class is regularly priced at $29.99 and includes ideas to help you

    • Select the best settings for your desktop scanner
    • Use a scanning workflow to streamline projects 
    • Set up a scanning station
    • Choose the right scan resolution 
    • Use adjustments for color restoration and descreening
    • Tips for faster, easier scanning

    Use THIS LINK and the offer code SFTFLIPPAL to receive the Scanning Secrets Video free with your purchase of any Flip Pal mobile scanner. Special offer valid through November 7, 2012, cannot be combined with other offers. Flip Pal mobile scanner must be purchased with code SFTFLIPPAL in order for offer to be valid. 

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