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photographing documents

Park Trot , Mar 12, 2009; 07:27 p.m.

I need to photograph a collection of old documents that cannot be run through a copy machine. The documents are standard letter size and will be on a flat table. I have a Canon EOS30D. I need to get a lens that does not distort the image. Further I am not sure what the lighting conditions will be at the location. I really do not want to buy a EF-S lens as I am hoping to upgrade to a full frame Canon soon. I have been told to get the 50mm macro lens. I was also looking at the 24-70mm F2.8L wide angle zoom. Any thoughts?

Responses

Arlen C. Elkins , Mar 12, 2009; 07:58 p.m.

The Canon 50mm F:2.4 Macro is an excellent flat field, low distortion lens for this exact use. The Lights should be set up at 45 degree angle (90 degree total) to illuminate the image. Be sure your camera is on a tripod or copy stand and perpendicular to the copy,

Do NOT use the zoom lens, it will not have the flatness of field or resolution of the 50mm macro, and has considerable barrel or pincushion distortion depending on the focal length used.

Geoff Francis , Mar 12, 2009; 08:29 p.m.

Canon EF 50 f2.5 CM is perfect for this task, although it is an old design. However, the EF 100 f2.8 macro is an all round nicer macro lens, though comes at a greater cost and weight. But for the task you describe the EF 50 f2.5 CM is perfect. I have both.
Don't use a zoom as they all sufer from distortion that will show with printed documents.

Mark Harrison , Mar 12, 2009; 08:47 p.m.

What lenses do you have now? There was a good comment on the lighting already.

Take what you have, set up the lighting as suggested and run your image through DPP to adjust any lens aberrations. If what you have does not quite do it, then there are some thoughts already shared.

Test what you have already before you buy a lens specifically for that use. I had excellent success with my 28-135. Some minor adjustments and no distortion.

Tom Watt , Mar 12, 2009; 09:27 p.m.

Definitely NOT the zoom... in a pinch, I had to photograph a couple of small documents prior to passing control of them elsewhere and had to use my zoom. Only after a Photoshop fix was I able to get the image squared up.

John Bellenis , Mar 12, 2009; 09:28 p.m.

Regardless of which lens you use - and I think either the 50mm or 100mm macros would work fine - the two parts of this job that you really need to nail are alignment and lighting.

It's not easy to get absolutely level and dead central to a document which is lying on a table, without some kind of arm for your tripod - you can do it on the floor with a reversed column or shooing down between tripod legs. - just be careful about light placement. I would take all the time you need to get PERFECTLY lined up on the first document, then you can just mark the spot and switch them out quickly. One trick is to put a small mirror in the dead center of the document. If you see the lens reflected in the middle of the mirror, you are central to the document. Use a level to make sure the document and the camera are level on all axes.

Arlen's lighting advice is spot on - if you see any flare of the sides of the document, move the lights back. Then it helps to take five light reading (if you have a handheld meter) from the four corners and the center, and make sure all readings are within 1/10th of a stop.

Good luck. Do it right and it's extremely satisfying - do it wrong and it can look awful, so take your time and be methodical.

Gary Ertle , Mar 13, 2009; 01:08 p.m.

Another vote for the 50mm f2.5CM. I would add that to Arlens advice and say that, on a tabletop setup, you might find the working distance of the 50 more convenient than with the 100.

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