The best document cameras are the modern-day equivalent of a device some older lecturers (and their students) may remember: the overhead projector, though they are a more flexible alternative. Most can not only plug directly into a USB socket to display live footage of paper, books, or small objects using the display equipment in your classroom (or conference room) – going a long way to beating PowerPoint fatigue – but most can also capture images or video.
Whether you are presenting for education or commercial purposes, it’s well known that a more active connection with your audience yields better engagement, which is why these cameras are often know as visualizers.
Because the cameras typically connect like webcams, they are recognised by conferencing tools like Zoom and Google Meet, as well as being useful for live streamers using tools like OBS (Open Broadcaster Software). A live feed of your visuals makes tweaking a presentation on-the-go easier than with presentation software, helping you manage unexpected questions from students or colleagues and avoiding an ill-prepared mess.
If they are high enough resolution, they can also be used as a convenient document scanner potentially a lot more portable than a flatbed scanner. Some are supplied with software which will sequence pages automatically, and the resolution is often good enough for emailing contracts. Archivists will also appreciate the ability to capture uneven documents – handy for running OCR (Optical Character Recognition) on bound books.
When choosing the best system for you, you need to look at where you will be displaying your image. In cases like video conferencing it’s more convenient to use USB, so it appears like a webcam in the software. This is great for software like Zoom which allows for second webcams in video conferences. Some conference and classroom setup are better equipped for connecting using HDMI, which can be plugged straight into a video projector (opens in new tab) with no logging into computers or admin passwords.
Like any camera, size and resolution play a part. To capture a larger document, the lens typically needs to be higher up, and to get the same detail you’ll need more megapixels. On the flip side, smaller cameras can be more portable, so it’s a decision you’ll need to assess for yourself.
Best document camera in 2022(opens in new tab)
With an 8-megapixel CMOS camera, the M5 offers plenty of resolution for the HD video (at a slick 60fps), but its real power comes in AVerVision’s software, which makes it comfortably able to take on an area larger than A3 (tabloid) or address rotation (not just 90˚ by ‘Curve Flattening’) and sharpening on the fly. The app, AVerTouch, also offers cloud storage – a potentially useful function provide a useful function for some, though of course not from the goodness of their hearts!
For normal use, it isn't required though; it is straightforward enough to connect via USB (not least because that’s the only option available). On the plus side, the camera and 10-LED lamp array can draw their power via the USB lead so you really are looking at a very convenient device.
This isn’t the most expensive camera in the list, and lacks the HDMI option that the AVer M11 offers, but if you are able to use your computer to route your display there is a lot to like here.(opens in new tab)
This 2020 model from Ipevo is designed for simplicity and portability. A key attraction with this document camera is its great looks and functional design. It has a neat cable store within the hinged mechanism that ensures it folds away neatly; it also comes with a minimalist protective cover, secured with a stylish band. This is a USB affair that offers plug-and-play operation with a laptop – although this uses a standard USB-A socket, so if you use a MacBook, say, with USB-C sockets you will need an adaptor.
The supplied software is very clean, so it takes a little while to explore, but offers an extensive range of features.
The 8-megapixel camera itself has a button that allows you to flip the picture with one press – allowing you to quickly switch from the Do-Cam functioning as a document camera, to being a regular webcam. This is a really neat device - and if you want something that makes even more of a statement on your desk, opt for the yellow Creator's Edition (although a true creator might notice that a standard Do-Cam costs less!).(opens in new tab)
InSwan have stepped up to take on the other budget brands with what could easily be a knock-out product, offering as it does spectacular eight megapixel video at 30fps shared with your online teaching platform via Inswan’s Documate app. Rather than letting the device down, the tool is fully-featured and better realized than many in much higher price brackets, allowing live annotation during teaching.
So long as the camera head is at least 10cm (just under 4 inches) away from the surface, the camera’s autofocus is quick and the Sony CMOS seems to get adequate light even from just the small LED in the head. With its Anglepoise-like design, it does not fold completely elegantly, but it is still very portable and can also be used as a web-cam with in-built tripod & light; not at all bad for versatility, especially if you’re teaching from a new (or temporary) location.(opens in new tab)
Not the cheapest but certainly one of the most adaptable, this camera can be used on its own or with a Mac, Windows computer, Chromebook, iOS or Android device as well as via direct HDMI link. It can even be paired with an Apple TV. That is enough to put it top of many people’s wish list, but the feature list goes on; wi-fi helps reduce the clutter when pairing with these devices (though USB is still on offer).
The supply of buttons on the column is also much to be appreciated – it’s a simple task to zoom, or operate (or lock) the focus using the physical buttons. The exposure compensation buttons are also useful, and there is even an adequate microphone built in.
If you’re not tempted by Wi-Fi setup, the IPEVO VZ-R provides a cheaper edition with that feature stripped out.(opens in new tab)
Epson has been in the document camera game for some time, and while it has not refreshed their products for a couple of years, you could argue that’s because they have little need to. Their ELPDC21 (the top of their line) has a 1 / 2.7” CMOS sensor which can capture a full A3/tabloid area. More significantly, the device has been built with clear thought to usability, right down to the stand-out autofocus button. The remote offers manual control. Capture and Record buttons are also on hand, and a 12x optical zoom (further boosted, if possibly needed, by 10x digital) provides very close detail when needed. As a solidly-built product, this isn’t the most portable on this list, but at over 5lbs (over 2.5kg), and with a Kensington lock, it should survive a variety of classrooms.
It is Mac and Windows compatible, and will fit into classrooms with all manner of displays, and can present split-screen content. Traveling presenters might notice the weight, but that is off-set in part by an excellent travel-case included with the unit.
ELMO has created a system they call ‘Stem-cam,’ which layers their own software styling atop Android (just as phone designers do). This gives them the chance to add touch-screen controlled annotations, zoom and other features, as well as including software and stored videos and images (internal memory or via SD card).
Pre-loaded are QR-Code readers, a browser (Chrome, of course), Miracast, and a countdown timer to give an exam a suitably ominous note. Every unit comes with the STEM game Scottie Go (a modern-day ‘Logo’ for BBC Micro fans), in which kids build a simple computer program by arranging cardboard pieces on a board, the ELMO MA-1 camera can watch the student’s arrangement then perform the actions they represent on its local screen, and relaying it to the classes digital whiteboard too.
It’s also possible to add your own apps – Google Translate works via the camera, should you install it, which feels very science fiction. Connectivity is usefully modern; there is still VGA out if needed, but there is HDMI in and out so you can use it as a switching box, and the device can also act as a webcam.
Look for the ELMO MO-2 if you don’t need the screen, and want a less expensive Stem-cam option.
The Shine series of ‘book scanners’ from CZUR are more versatile than the company’s pure book scanners (like the ET16) thanks to the simple folding design (the mat isn’t attached). Nevertheless they still benefit from the company’s Windows & MacOS software which can eliminate page shaping, scan a batch of business carts, and of course do it all with the rapidity of what is effectively a camera on a stick rather than being a ‘scanner’ in the traditional sense. The software handles conversion to readable PDFs and the high resolution (effectively 440ppi at A4 or 320 at A3) must be a factor in what is excellent OCR. As long as your computer doesn’t become a bottleneck the supplied foot pedal means you can scan at over twenty pages a minute. The device also has two lights, either side of the lens, for an even light on the page which can be tweaked naturally with a brightness knob.(opens in new tab)
A flexible gooseneck design might make a 13-megapixel document camera a little trickier to get horizontal, but is very useful with non-flat subjects. The Ladybug-inspired appearance stands out in a classroom of drab equipment too, and it’s a refreshed version of a popular design (the DC125) bringing with it the choice of 4K HDMI or USB output; There is also pass-through for the HDMI so you can share your screen quickly and easily. The older Lumens DC170, which offered XGA pass-through and a light on a separate stalk can still be found, but needed a refresh after half-a-decade.
The USB connector can also play video and stored images directly, or to record your lesson (to a computer or up to 256GB drive). It can also be used to connect to a mouse so you can use teaching tools without needing a separate computer; highlighting, image rotation, etc. are all there. The camera also sports an ‘Auto Tune’ button, which isn’t for karaoke fans but automatically adjusts focus and contrast.(opens in new tab)
With an image sensor of 1/3.06” CMOS and 8-megapixels, this is a high quality and pleasingly compact (when folded) document camera which is boosted by some extra thought for teachers & presenters. If you flick through a book on camera, the 60fps will ensure it looks smooth; if you’re teaching card tricks (or spotting scams) this could come in very handy! That pixel count also affords decent digital zoom (though to be fair the 20x available is probably pushing it). An especially nice touch is that a USB mouse can be plugged directly into the device’s socket to add annotations on the presentation screen, no computer needed; shade and thickness of drawing line can be adjusted too.
The base is weighted, so the camera is unlikely to topple, and the camera can be rotated 180 degrees so it’s easy to get your subject in shot without obstruction. The device can also record video up to 120 images internally, though you’ll want to add a MicroSD card to beat the 2MP resolution. There is an embedded LED lamp and built-in microphone, though if you want portable power you’ll need a laptop power bank (opens in new tab).(opens in new tab)
With an 8-megapixel Sony sensor, this is a good quality capture device which works well as a document camera or a webcam. A built-in microphone, with AI driven noise cancellation, means it can be angled as you choose and still successfully filter out background noise, which means it can be used in a normal office environment. If you’re used to having a camera look up your nose from a compact laptop, there is much to be said for using this device, with a high resolution camera and the ability to stand tall on the table.
As ever, users of recent machines will need a USB-A to C adaptor, but the device is plug-and-play and requires no additional power which is still reasonably convenient; Mac, Windows and Chromebooks should recognise the camera without issue, though Ipevo also offer software for some extra functionality. We appreciated physical exposure buttons on the camera unit and a switch to disable the mic; reassuring if privacy is a concern.(opens in new tab)
What makes the V500S such a good choice (aside from the feeling that JoyUsing’s portmanteau branding doesn’t imply too much cash is wasted on marketing) is that the device is built to meet the needs both of users who will be pointing the camera downward and those using it as an alternative webcam. To that end, the pillar features five wisely-placed folding joints, more than one LED light, and a microphone to make webcam use as painless as possible. The 30fps mode is also a big plus here, as is the very capable autofocus; it can all potentially folding out to look down on – and illuminate – an A3 area of table or go in close on something for a lesson and hold its balance. Despite this, it comes in at under a kilogram, and can fold into little more than a half-length stick on a table weight (with a camera protected in a ready depression).
We also appreciated that the software was made available for Windows, Mac and Chromebooks and even allows digital zoom up to a wholly unnecessary 100x (almost asking for a place on the best microscopes (opens in new tab) list).(opens in new tab)
If it falls on you to organize a large-scale switch to remote learning, then you’ll certainly have to provide equipment for users who don’t own – or have the means – to equip themselves with even the more modest priced document cameras in our list.
IPEVO’s Mirror-Cam offers a solution you can buy in batches and ship out to those who need it; a clip on mirror which re-directs the webcam downward. For a bit of show-and-tell the connected student can then simply rest their contribution on their keyboard for a moment. IPEVO also provide a keyboard cover and whiteboard and their Visualizer software will work though you shouldn’t expect too much of high-res dependent features like OCR. That’s because laptops don’t all have great webcams; Apple only offers 720P on their in-no-way-cheap MacBook Pro, for example. Users also need to position their laptop screen to a quite specific angle and, of course, can’t use the webcam at the same time!
How to choose a Document Camera
Following the advent of home working and the digitization of the classroom and meeting space, a bewildering array of document cameras have emerged. The trick to finding the right one is to look at just a few key aspects:
- Connectors: If the device sports a USB connector, it’ll likely be very convenient to set up because the computer will detect it as a webcam. This, in turn, means live meetings will be a possibility.
- Lighting: If you’re working in a well-lit room, this might not be worth seeking, but if you’re aiming to capture consistent, evenly lit views of open pages then built in lighting will be essential.
- Image sensor: Bearing in mind a standard 1080P TV image can be described as two megapixels, that is enough for viewers to see type (and in a lecture theatre might well be the limit of the projection quality available). Eight megapixels (4K) and above are better choices if you’re looking to capture and keep graphics / archive pages.
- Autofocus: Cameras which can focus (as opposed to fixed focus) tend to get the sharpest images, so a focusing lens is worth looking for.
- Frame rate: If you’re looking to use live-streaming, we’d recommend a camera capable of 30fps – a common standard. Many offer a lower 15fps, which is still not a problem, but might look a little jerky to audiences.
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