Archival research photo Q&A: iPads, big documents
I recently received a very nice email from a colleague who read my piece on using a digital camera for archival research. That talk’s several years old, though, and technology has advanced. My correspondent asked a question that I can’t answer, so I pitch it to you, dear readers. Slightly rephrased:
You recommend a camera and a monopod. What about an iPad? One of my students is using hers to make digital copies and prefers it to cameras because she can immediately see the image and evaluate its quality. But….can an iPad be mounted on a monopod?
Here’s what I wrote, along with my answer to another question about photographing legal-size and larger documents using a monopod:
Using an iPad for archives research photography
I don’t have an iPad (version 1 or 2), so I can’t comment from experience. I do know that there are starting to be tripod-mounting adapters for smartphones, and a quick Google search (“ipad camera mount tripod”) reveals at least one tripod mount for the iPad 2.
When someone gives me an iPad and the money to purchase a tripod mount (hah), I’d happily write a review. Until then, I’ve put out the question to Twitter and to my blog’s readers. I would say that with the weight and cost of an iPad, you’d be best off with one of the higher-model monopods (MP-16A or MP-20) because they support heavier cameras than the MP-16 I’ve recommended. [Edited to add: @annamcnally reminded me to point out that many archives don't allow any kind of tripod, monopod, or portable camera stand in their reading rooms; in which case you're left with holding a heavy device over your archival material all day. Tiring, and part of why I like smaller, lighter camera options.]
Some cameras also can be connected to your laptop with a USB cable for previewing and remote shutter triggering; that would be another option if you want to be able to see the image quickly, but sometimes it’s slower.
(Part of this hardware choice depends on one’s taste in photography and time use. I find that I prefer to shoot lots of images without looking at them in the archives, because otherwise I get fussy about the framing of the shot and waste more time than I’d like.)
Have you used an iPad for photographing archival documents? What kind of camera mount or stand did you use, and how did that work for you? Please comment below.
Photographing larger items with a monopod
On Amazon, one of the customer reviews of the monopod in question complained that it could only elevate the camera a foot off the table. Do you find that to be true? If I need to copy legal-sized and over-sized items, won’t I need to back up more than a foot, at times?
The distance you need to be from the document varies depending on the zoom level of your camera. If you’ve got a reasonably wide lens and a camera with a macro mode, I’ve found that the 16-inch column of the basic MP-16 is good enough to get most legal-size pages– but I also have sometimes shot 2 images (one of the top, another of the bottom) just to be sure. If you shoot a lot of 19th-century legal documents or other large pages, the MP-20 model has a 20 inch column and might be a better choice.
For poster-size pages– like old-style naturalization certificates and passports– I just unmount the camera from the tripod and raise it up with steady hands. I shoot multiple images to increase the likelihood that one of them will come out crisply, and I sit in the brightest location available so that the shutter speed will be fast (and less likely to be blurry). At NARA College Park, which has little vertical dividers between the desks, I mount the monopod on one of the dividers to get another few inches of height.
When I was photographing these images. I set the zoom of my camera so that it would easily get all of a letter-size page, with a clear border around the page that usually includes the folder label for use in my citations.