While I am unable to purchase an overhead scanner I cannot see another path to digitizing some of the family assets I have. I am hoping such scanners are available for use/rent in e.g., public libraries or business solutions stores (e.g., FedEx Kinko's, Staples, etc.) Google searches aren't turning up much so I thought I would ask how best to locate one for use?
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You can easily make your own overhead scanner.
I attached my small, light, 12 megapixels digital camera (Canon A1200) to a simple 4"/100mm mini-tripod (from a dollar store), and clamped the tripod over the edge of a table. (a proper tripod pointing down would also work, but the legs might get in the way).
Then I put the items to be scanned on a lower table below the camera, with the whole setup in front of french windows (for maximum even light, outdoors would be better). I used the the camera zoom (or you could adjust the height of either table) to get the right image area.
I used this to rapidly "scan" in handwritten notebooks. Much faster than a flatbed scanner and using the tripod/clamp keeps the image size consistent from one page to another (and helps with focus).
Results are comparable to the full color scans of (for example) the shipping records on Ancestry. Here's a tiny part of an image that was of a full page in the notebook:
A camera with a manual focus carefully adjusted would produce better results, especially with extra lighting, but even a basic modern digital camera with autofocus is getting "good enough" in most cases.
For some really large items (family trees), I put the item on the floor to get enough in the shot. You can take photos of items much larger than a magazine double page spread, and still get the resolution to read small text on it, with this number of megapixels.
I suggest using your mobile phones camera (4 Megapixel or greater)
Use something like the ScanBox that turns your mobile into a overhead scanner, allowing you to take images of photos and documents that are less than A4 in size with the bonus that it packs flat for travel.
A moderate-capability digital camera is a viable alternative in some cases. I have shot excellent images from vital records registers with a Panasonic digital camera, not using a tripod or a flash.
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