The Copy Camera

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The Copy Camera

Copy cameras used to be a very special thing. The term referred to a camera that was used to…well…copy things. It was intended for use in libraries and other institutions that needed to record flat plane images and store them on film. There were special models that looked like photographic enlargers in reverse that could reproduce whatever was on the enlarger baseboard onto Polaroid pack film. You can draw your own conclusions as to whether the reproduction was colour accurate, but at least it was quick.

Nowadays there is nothing quicker than digital, with the exception of a cat escaping a bathtub…you get to see what you captured as soon as you can see the LCD screen. For those people who still wish to use a camera to capture flat copy we have some advice:

1. Use a copy stand. Promaster make good ones that are derived from enlarger stands with additional lights on arms either side of the stand. They don’t cost a fortune. and they make it efficient – trying to make a stand out of a tripod and two stacks of old text books is a royal pain.

2. Use a digital camera that lets you put a macro lens on. Really. Even if you are not going to use it at close-up distances, the flat plane it renders will be a pleasure.

3. Use one that has a flip-up or flip-out LCD screen. You can position it so that you see the preview image right in front of your eyes – very comfortable working.

4. Match your capture to your intended storage volume and final usage. No need to have a 50 megapixel camera if you are photographing matchbook covers for small jpeg images.

5. Light the material with two tungsten, fluorescent curly, or halogen lamps. Get two bulbs the exact same and if you blow one get two more new ones and replace L and R at the same time. Assess your WB with a Datacolor SpyderChecker 24 and micro adjust your white balance to suit. Saves hours later.

6. Get the subject material as flat as possible. You can cover a wrinkled surface with a clear acrylic or glass sheet if you are careful with reflections. You can put a half-sticky piece of heavy card down and press a recalcitrant piece of paper onto it. If you are ambitious you can make a vacuum box and suck paper flat. Books are a problem.

7. Use a yellow or red filter if you are copying old smudged grotty paper as it will disguise the blotches and improve the contrast.

8. Be careful of reflections and stray light sources on the subject plane and on the camera lens. Use a lens hood. Wear a black tee shirt if you stand near the front of the copy stand.

9. Use a cable release.

10. Make sure the camera is squarely mounted on the stand and looks directly down – no skewed angles.

If you want to see an ingenious solution to the business of keeping a book flat for copying without breaking its spine, google up Linhof book copying holder. They don’t make it any more and you can’t afford it anyway but it was very clever.

1Comment
  • Diane Connolly
    Posted at 04:16h, 15 March Reply

    About to embark on digitising the Historical Society records and have been experimenting with equipment. bought an enlarger column, attached to a small desk but large enough to also have the laptop on it (total all in one work station), the laptop also runs the camera so once set up, there is no need to touch the camera again, laptop fine focus, wb, etc and operates shutter. still playing with this at present and waiting for lighting to arrive to try led 4×4 adjustable lights. while these may not work, the cost of buying was worth the experiment. the benefit of running the camera from the laptop is twofold, the first is that there is no need to touch the camera and the second is that the photographed item is then stored on the computer and not the camera. also note that I will store as both raw and jpeg formats, raw to retain details.

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