I recently purchased a CZUR Aura X Pro to scan documents and books in my office, home, and at libraries and archives, during the course of my current research project, The History of Christian-Muslim Relations in China and Japan, 1549-1912. After experimenting with the book scanner for the past few weeks and due to the paucity of detailed reviews of the scanner online, I decided that I would introduce this piece of equipment, and its pros and cons, to readers of The Digital Orientalist.
The CZUR Aura X Pro set up on my desk in my office.
Why I chose the CZUR Aura X Pro?
For the average consumer, there are only a limited number of options when looking for a compact, non-destructive, book and/or document scanner for personal use. One can find book scanners for less than $100 (USD), but most models for the popular market are priced somewhere between $300 and $600. Major manufacturers include Bamboosang, CZUR, Fujitsu, iCODIS, iOCHOW, and Sanwa Direct. I chose the CZUR Aura X Pro for three primary reasons:
- It has an internal 3000MAH battery (potentially increasing its portability). This is the primary difference between the Aura X and the Aura X Pro.
- It looked more robust than some of the models from other companies in the same price bracket.
- It offered the possibility to scan items up to A3 size.
The CZUR Aura X Pro arrived in a professional looking box which housed the scanning unit, a black mat to place one’s documents and books on, a USB-A to USB-B cable, a power adaptor, a foot pedal, a set of finger cots, sidelights, various documents, and a CD to install CZUR Aura‘s scan software. The unit is suprisingly well made, and reflecting this is rather heavy. It has one button which is used to turn it on or off, to switch between modes, and increase or decrease the brightness of the unit’s built-in lights. CZUR also offers an app that allows you to control the scanner, but since it is a very simple task to control the unit from its single button or from a computer, I haven’t found a need to use the app as of yet. Lights on the base indicate remaining battery life, whether or not the scanner is plugged into mains electricity, and which mode the scanner is on. The back of the unit contains sockets for the power adapter, foot pedal, and USB cable, as well as a reset button. The base of the unit is trimmed with anti-slide material to increase its stability. In my opinion, the unit has a simple, but functional design and feels like it is a high-quality piece of equipment.
The unit’s primary button and lights indicating battery life and mode.
The scanner’s lights and camera are housed in an arm which folds away into the body of the scanner when it is not being used. When folded away, the unit measures 180 x 130 x 443mm, and it is therefore very compact. On the upper side of the arm is a small screen that can be used to view the live image of the book or document that one is scanning (much like the rear display of a digital camera). Additional sidelights magnetically clip to the back of the unit and can be turned on or off by a small power button. Unfortunately, although these sidelights are functional, they feel quite cheaply made in comparison to the main unit which is made of a sturdy aluminium. CZUR‘s Aura model scanners feature:
- A 14 megapixels camera.
- A 1/2.3-inch CMOS Sensor.
- A 32-bit MIPS Processor.
- Low-power consuming, glare-free LED lighting.
For those who are interested, more details on the scanner’s specifications can be found here.
Although the CZUR Aura X Pro is compact and has a powerful internal battery, I find it difficult to imagine taking it to libraries and archives. It is quite heavy and at the time of writing there is to the best of my knowledge no carry case for the unit. Furthermore, whilst the battery is a welcome feature it only lasts for 100 minutes whilst scanning, therefore, the unit would require recharging during a long day at the archives. Given all this, it is difficult to image the CZUR Aura X Pro replacing my camera or my mobile phone when I travel to distant libraries and archives (unless I can confirm that the destination’s desks have power sockets).
The CZUR Aura X Pro produces good quality images and is quick and easy to use. Its software (CZUR Aura), compatible with both Windows and Mac, provides a number of colour and processing options for scanning. Basic colour options include scanning in colour or in black and white, but the software also offers auto enhancement and special modes for photographing stamps and other items. For processing, the user has the option to allow the scanner to automatically select the area to be scanned (either a single page or both pages individually), to manually select the area, or to photograph the whole surface of the scanning mat. When scanning two facing pages (and selecting the matching processing option), the software automatically flattens the curvature of the pages. This usually produces quite nice results as in the below image. It must be noted, however, that tests written in right to left scripts should be scanned upside down, otherwise one’s images will be ordered incorrectly. (There may be a function in the settings to resolve this issue, but it seems that the software is preset to deal with books and documents written left to right).
Automatically flattened page scanned from Shōgaku naikokushi 小學内國史 by Shinpo Banji 新保磐次 (Kinkōdō 金港堂, 1900).
One can scan manually by using the foot pedal or clicking the scan button, or set the unit to scan automatically. Sadly the automatic scanning option tends to result in the capturing of a lot of unwanted photographs including repeated images of the same page, images of pages being turned, and images of the user’s hands. As such, I have found that using the automatic scanning option tends to significantly increase the time one spends processing images after they have been scanned.
Scanning the blurb of a book.
After one has scanned a text, one can edit images either individually or in batches. Options include cropping, rotating, and tinkering with the colour of images. The user can also export the images (individually or batched) in PDF or TIFF formats and compress them as JPEG, LZW or Group Four images. Options are also given to use the software’s optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities to export scans as Microsoft Word, Excel, or PDF files.
Editing an image taken from from Shōgaku naikokushi.
The set of finger cots that come with the scanner are designed to allow the user to stabilize the pages of an open book. The software automatically removes the finger cots from the scan. This removal process generally works best when the material that one is scanning is on white paper. Nevertheless, in most of my trials I have found that I can still see the vestiges of the cots. There is a chance that this is the result of poor method on my part, but I’d rather not have these sorts of marks left on my scans. Additionally, using the finger cots requires the use of two hands, which isn’t always desirous. As such, I have purchased a number of other types of weights and stabilizers to use with the scanner.
The finger cots.
The remnants of the finger cots on an image from Stephen Turnbull’s The Kakure Kirishitan of Japan: A Study of Their Development, Beliefs and Rituals to the Present Day (Routledge 1998). Please note that I accidentally covered some of the text on this sample image.
Overall, scanning with the CZUR Aura X Pro is a simple and efficient task. The images are of a high quality, and the user has some basic pre-scanning and post-scanning processing options. Features such as automatic page flattening work well, but others such as automatic scanning and to a lesser extent the automatic removal of the finger cots do not consistently work well.
CZUR Aura‘s OCR capabilities (its ability to turn scanned items into searchable text documents) will likely be attractive to many potential buyers. The software ostensibly supports 186 languages including languages as divergent as the C/C++ Programming Language, Korean, Kpelle, and Yiddish. Through experimenting with the scanner and its software, I found that it recognizes and transcribes modern, printed English and Japanese language texts fairly well. Below one can compare part of a scan of page 128 from Turnbull’s The Kakure Kirishitan of Japan and the scan after it was exported as text to Microsoft Word.
The scan of Turnbull’s The Kakure Kirishitan of Japan.
Text exported to Microsoft Word.
Using the software’s OCR function on scans of Japanese language texts bears similar results, however, as one can see in the below examples the software makes some unusual choices when transcribing punctuation in Japanese language texts and this negatively effects the aesthetic of the exported file. The below example is from Sugawara Yoshio 菅原義男, Michinoku junkyō monogatari みちのく殉教物語 (Seishin no seibokai, 2014).
Scan from Sugawara’s Michinoku junkyō monogatari. For this scan, I used a paper weight to hold the pages in position.
Text exported to Microsoft Word.
Despite functioning well with modern, printed texts, the scanner and its software are not able to adequately transcribe texts from scans of historical materials printed or handwritten. The below text was exported from the scan of Shōgaku naikokushi included at the beginning of this post – the reader will note that although some characters are accurately transcribed, the text contains a large number of mistakes.
Text exported to Microsoft Word from a scans of the Shōgaku naikokushi.
Despite its limitations, CZUR Aura‘s OCR function will prove useful to those who want to turn their collections of modern-day texts into searchable documents and PDFs.
The CZUR Aura X Pro functions well as a scanner and can be used to take high quality images of books and documents. Although some of its functions such as its automatic scanning capabilities leave much to be desired, the scanner’s primary functions work well. The scanner’s ability to flatten the curvature of pages and its use of OCR to accurately transcribe modern, printed materials into searchable PDFs and text files are amongst some of its most powerful features. Alongside this the CZUR Aura X Pro has a wonderfully simple design and its software is very easy to use. The brave among us will find this scanner a useful piece of equipment not only for the office, but for our trips to libraries and archives. Although the CZUR Aura X Pro is not without problems and limitations, I would recommend the product to anyone looking for a new, simple, and functional book and document scanner.
The History of Christian-Muslim Relations in China and Japan, 1549-1912 research project and the acquistion of the above reviewed scanner has been made possible through funding provided by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.