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Cameras as Research Tools: A guide to tools & techniques: Camera or SmartPhone?

Scanner apps for your smart phone

Scanner apps for your smart phone:

    • Scan many documents directly to multi-page pdf, which can be simpler to manage than the single images that cameras produce.
    • Transfer instantly to Dropbox (which makes for easy linking from Zotero) rather than transferring from a memory card

JotNot  (for iphone and ipad)

DocScanner (for iphone and ipad)

CamScanner. Available for Android and iOS. Free and paid versions.

Other useful software

Adobe Acrobat Pro:

This software will be helpful if you use a camera or a scanner app; it can convert JPGs to PDFs if you have already collected a large number of image files that you need to consolidate into a single PDF file. But it can also be very helpful even if you use a scanner app. Remember that archival files are usually not described down to the item level. That means that if you want to cite or store single items in Zotero, you will have to create that metadata yourself (rather than just having Zotero pull it in for you). Acrobat Pro can take a large file-- whole folders that you have "scanned" and you can extract single pages or multiple pages so they can easily be stored in Zotero. While the free version of Adobe Acrobat allows you to read PDF files, Pro allows you to manipulate those files, including deleting pages, reordering, or extracting sections. 


Acrobat can also run OCR on your PDF files, thus making them searchable. Zotero can search the content of your PDFs if you set it up to do so, so it can really be helpful when you didn't properly tag your notes as you planned to!

Benefits of a smartphone over a camera

Decide whether a smartphone or a camera is a better option:

Benefits of a scanner app on a smart phone: (text)

If you are mostly taking images to quickly acquire text documents for research at a later time, your scanner app is probably the easiest way.

Remember that cameras take single images, they are on cards that run out of storage, and they are stored as large files.  You will have to take time to convert them to usable form, and then recombine them into single files. Try to weigh that against the time it would take to just take the time to read and take good notes.

Scanner app will take pdfs and will keep them combined, so each folder or document can be in one document which you can then instantly upload to the cloud.  They don't have to go through another application to be edited or resized. Some scanner apps will automatically run OCR (Optical Character Recognition) as well so that typed text will be searchable. 


When a camera is a better option: (images)

If you are taking images of photographs, blueprints, maps, or other illustrations and you want the highest resolution possible, a good camera is probably better. That said, my iphone has a better camera than my point and shoot. And if you truly want publication-quality images, you might just want to pay for the on-site services of bigger institutions who have professionally-trained staff, overhead cameras, flatbed scanners, and other far superior tools for the best images.

If you do use a camera, remember that you might not be able to view the images right away to see if they are clear. Newer cameras have wireless connectivity so that you can see images right on your computer right away, but for most, you would have to tether your camera.


While you would definitely require Adobe Acrobat Professional in order to convert JPEGS to PDFs if you use a camera, it is still a useful app to have when using a scanner app, since it also always you to edit and extract individual pages to create single documents, or to combine multiple documents, easily.

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