How about a copy stand?

When conducting research on documents pertaining to the Ashio Copper Mine Incident at Sano City Museum in late 2020, I was introduced to a humble tool known as the copy stand. I was well accustomed to taking free hand photographs of documents and to using portable and industrial book scanners during my archival visits, but this was the first place that I had been presented with a copy stand to aid me in digitising the documents before me.

The museum had a Canon Copy Stand Model 4, a very simple device – one would attach their camera, adjust for height, and take photos of the document laid out below. When necessary, a series of transparent weights were also available to steady the pages. It was surprisingly easy to use, and I understood the implications of its use immediately – I could swiftly take high quality photographs of the documents using my camera, determining their style and quality either through my camera’s settings or in post-production on my computer, and without causing any damage to the documents. Of course, some scanners share some of these advantages with the included benefit of automated OCR, but there was something about the process, something about only needing to press the shutter release, that made using the copy stand an easy and enjoyable process.

The Canon Copy Stand Model 4 at Sano City Museum.

After returning from the trip, I decided to invest in a copy stand. My hope was that a copy stand could be a permanent feature in my office, whilst my other book scanner the CZUR Aura X Pro (reviewed here) could be used on research trips to libraries and archives. I intended to buy the very same Canon Copy Stand Model 4, but whilst it seems they are occasionally sold on the second-hand market at very reasonable prices there is a very limited supply. As such, I looked at the other copy stands on the market settling on an LPL DSS-400S L18243 primarily due to the size of its platform which would allow me to photograph A3 and B4 sized documents. The model happened to come with lighting, which wasn’t something I particularly wanted or needed, but versions without lights turned out to be comparably more expensive. Sadly, any new copy stand seems to be much more pricey than one of the old Canon models, but luckily I was in the privileged position of having research funding that I was able to use to purchase the equipment.

The copy stand remains an easy and pleasurable way to digitise documents in my office, but it does have some drawbacks in comparison to a non-destructive digital scanner. I have already mentioned the lack of automatic text recognition which is particularly important if one wants to create searchable PDFs from their photographs and the problem of price (small book scanners are often cheaper), but there is also the matter of its size and set up. It is rather large, heavy, and static, which means that I leave it permanently set up on a spare desk in my office. This works fine for me but wouldn’t be suitable for scholars with smaller workspaces. Unlike the relatively small Canon models, the LPL DSS-400S L18243 is a piece of equipment that requires assembly and isn’t something that can be quickly set up and packed away before and after of each session. Indeed, it seems to be in one’s interests to leave it assembled and ready to use in one’s workspace. As noted, I love the simplicity of using a copy stand and the possibility of circumventing the often clunky software that comes with scanners, however, using a copy stand usually adds additional steps to our scanning process – we must upload our photographs to our computer after scanning, for instance. There is something to be said, therefore, for the ease of just plugging connecting a USB cable to one’s book scanner and being able to scan.

The LPL DSS-400S L18243 in my office.

Nowadays, my copy stand and book scanner have diverging and departmentalized roles. If I want to quickly scan something just for the sake of having a digital copy, if I need to do scanning at an archive or library, or if I need to scan in bulk, I will use my book scanner. If, on the other hand, I want to take better quality scans in a higher resolution and to have various options for tweaking the scans and their quality in pre- or post-production, I use my camera and my copy stand.

Acknowledgements

The acquistion of the above reviewed copy scanner has been made possible through funding provided by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

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