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25 October 2013

King Uke's Scanning Contraption

This post chronicles a little more of my journey into figuring out the best way to digitise some of my sheet music. I've had a couple of attempts already; My first involved a scanner and though the results were pretty good, it was just too much effort. My second attempt also involved a scanner, but this time I had the benefit of proper ereading devices to test the finished product. Again, the results were very good, but it was all too hard. Today I'm going to tell you about my latest thoughts on the subject. The big difference this time around is that I'm trying a camera instead of a scanner...

I rifled through "the Crate" the other day to see if I had any cowboy-related tunes to look at. I certainly do! Aren't these fantastic! :-)

I'm pretty new to Smartphones. I used to have a Windows 7 phone, but that doesn't really count: you can't do a great deal with Windows 7 smartphones. I've now got an iPhone and my eyes have been opened to the possibilities of these little devices. I didn't want it, but now I've got it, I'm a convert. The power of the iPhone is in the Apps you can get for it.

If you've got me circled on Google+ then you'll know that I've been trialing some scanning apps recently. Genius Scan and CamScanner are the best two that I've come across. They're much of a muchness. They allow you to take photos of things like pictures in books, TV screens, letters, sheet music, etc. and to stretch the perspective to turn them into rectangular images.  Once processed, you can then turn them into pdfs and upload to somewhere like Google Drive to enjoy elsewhere.

In terms of features and look and feel, there's not much to separate them. I reckon CamScanner wins on usability (it has brilliant image selection), but Genius Scanner probably wins on quality of image and pdf options (it's a close call). Both unfortunately don't really cut the mustard - the final pdfs are huge! They're both obviously reprocessing the images rather than to wrap them up in a simple pdf container.

In the picture above I'm showing you both apps as I scan the front of the same sheet music. You can see that they've both tried to guess the dimensions of the page with a view to then stretching this out square. Genius Scan guessed wrong, but I have the ability to reposition the selection using the handles. I find that Genius Scan tends to get it wrong, though to be fair in this little trial, I think I gave it a harder picture to work with. CamScanner guessed right, but if I had got it wrong, it's repositioning handles have smarts that would have made it all so much easier to fix on the little iPhone screen.

Notice the sheet music? It's "The Man From Laramie" by Ned Washington. Hear Jimmy Young's version of the song below. To my ear he sounds like a bit of a cross between Elvis Presley and Morrissey. What do you reckon?

This picture was produced using Genius Scan. I tried to take as square a shot as possible to prevent the app doing too much to it. It's not too bad, but I'm just not happy with the quality of the picture generated. What I've discovered is that the processing that stretches the picture also degrades the image quite significantly, so it's something to be avoided; It blurs the bits it's had to stretch and the resolution is downgraded. This combined with the large pdf sizes, rules scanning apps out for me. Boo!

I reckon that the camera might still be an option though. A problem I've found with the iPhone is that it is difficult to hold it steady at just the right angle to get a square-on shot. I've been considering what options I might have to deal with this...

Earlier this week +Martin Nutbeem brought my attention to a nifty little DIY rig that allows you to do macro photography using your smartphone. You can read more about this interesting project on PetaPixel. I started wondering whether a larger rig might allow me to take pictures of sheet music.

A quick Google uncovered this ScanDock for iPhone that looks like it might be the sort of thing that I'd need. It's made out of cardboard. I could make one myself! Nice!

And how about this one? The Scanbox started life as a Kickstarter project. You place your camera on the top and take pictures of the inside through a hole. The Scanbox Plus even has LED lighting. Nice! 

Here's my special King Uke Scanning Contraption inspired by what I'd seen above. This has been made out of an old wooden dolls house that was gathering dust in my garage. I've pieced it together in a slightly different arrangement to what the designer intended. It's appears to be a pretty good size for sheet music! See on the top that I've found another use for my clever router jig! Yay!

Here's a shot of the front of a piece of sheet music that I'm testing the contraption out with. It's a copy of "Somebody's Thinking of you Tonight" the 1937 song by Teddy Powell and Ira Schuster. Check the video below to hear what this song sounds like. See that I'm resting it on a white background in the hope that it will help the camera  to process the picture as clearly as possible. The lighting is simply the room's ceiling lights.

This is a picture of the first page resized for iPad (768x1024). I took the picture using the standard camera feature on the iPhone (no apps) and I've done nothing but resize and auto adjust the contrast on my laptop. It doesn't look too bad does it. You can see the warps caused by natural bends in the paper are distorting the print slightly, but I could probably live with this. Everything is looking pretty clear and legible.

I do wonder what some of the more tatty pieces I have would look like. Perhaps laying some non-reflective glass/plastic on the paper would sort this problem? I don't have any to give it a try unfortunately.

Is this a partial thumbs up? I think it might be! This option has potential!

Before I close off, I just want to call out a nifty little program called JPEG to PDF you can download that does what it says on the tin. The key things to note is that it doesn't reprocess the images and if you you use the "Match Image Size + Margins" option, you can create pdfs without any annoying borders.

There you have it... another small avenue covered. I'd love a quicker, easier solution, but at the moment I can't think of what else I can try. Better keep thinking... ;-)

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