Document cameras are devices that capture an image in real time so that you can display that image to a large audience, such as conference attendees, meeting participants, or students in a classroom.
These devices are also referred to as digital overheads, docucams, visualisers (in the UK), and visual presenters.
Whatever their name though, they all do the same job. They operate a bit like a high-resolution web cam, where they magnify and project images of objects. They also can project transparencies, just like an opaque projector.
Document cameras are the modern equivalent and replacement for overhead projectors and epidiascopes. Overhead projectors are limiting in that you have to use transparencies to show your work. Epidiascopes display opaque materials by shining a light down on them from above, and using mirrors to provide other angles of view. You have to be careful with whatever you put into an epidiascope because of the heat coming from the light source.
What does a Document Camera Look Like
Document cameras are typically mounted on arms so that you can move them to place the lens right over the page you want to project. Some come with a flexible arm so that you can adjust the height and angle.
Typically, there is a platform or clip underneath for you to place your documents or objects. Then all you have to do is place the object under the camera.
Larger objects can be rotated in front of the camera so that you can show all aspects and comment on them in real time.
Some document cameras are mounted on the ceiling, which allows you to show much larger objects and working areas.
Many document cameras can be used in conjunction with videoconferencing to give participants a greater sense of participation and engagement.
Types of Document Cameras
Desktop Document Cameras
Any printed material can be placed under the document camera. Fine print books, worksheets, anything goes.
You can read to your students, or get them to take turns reading to you. Anything you would normally do with a text in a classroom you can do here.
Portable Document Cameras
You can model for your students how to make notes or annotate a piece of writing.
Students can also send their work to you for you to then share in a following lesson for live feedback.
Ceiling-Mounted Document Cameras
Document cameras are great for brainstorming around a topic: put a blank piece of paper underneath the camera, and make notes as students come up with ideas.
You could create a mind map together as a springboard for a discussion on social issues, for instance.
Who Uses Document Cameras?
Teachers make great use of document cameras for their students, as do presenters for meetings or conferences, and lecturers in lecture halls.
What’s brilliant about a document camera is that as a teacher or presenter, you can present a piece of work or a presentation and make notes on it as the audience watches. You can present a 2D or 3D object for everyone to see.
Another useful aspect of document cameras is that, unlike overhead projectors, you don’t have to darken the room to use them. This is very useful, particularly in a classroom setting. In fact, document cameras can also be connected to an interactive whiteboard, which enables you to combine the uses of both.
A lot of document cameras can also send a video signal to a computer via USB, so you can edit a piece of work on your computer in real time and in presentation mode.
Document cameras have a zoom feature which enables you to take the small print of a book, for example, and magnify it so that everyone can see it, even at the back of a large lecture hall.
Document cameras can also be used in a courtroom to present evidence.
There are also applications for the medical profession, such as the display of x-rays. Some document cameras can be connected to a microscope.
In terms of resolution, as of 2020 most document cameras provide 1080pHD (1920×1080 pixels).
Where Do Document Cameras Come From?
The first document cameras were launched at a trade fair in 1988. They were developed to meet the increased demand to present drawings, documents and other materials directly rather than have to take the extra step of creating transparencies.
As PowerPoint presentations became more and more common in businesses, schools and all types of lecture settings, people wanted to be able to show books, documents and slides alongside their prepared presentations.
The first document cameras were essentially video cameras on a stand. But with the rapid development of photographic equipment and technology, the cameras became smaller and with higher resolution. The need to operate from a darkened room essentially disappeared, as video cameras became more and more sophisticated.
How Much is a Document Camera?
There are simple models available for as little as $70. More elaborate models can cost as much as $1000.
If you decide you want a document camera, here are some features that you may want to make sure are included.
- A remote. You can move around as you speak, as well as pass the remote to any participant for interactive portions of your presentation.
- A zoom lens. The zoom feature is what enables you to present the fine print of a book, for example.
- A scanner. You can snap a quick picture and store it on your computer for later use.
- Split screen. This enables you to show before-and-after scenarios which have a wide range of applications.
- Connection to a computer or monitor. Some models are stand-alone, so if you want to hook your document camera to your computer, make sure this feature is included.
Conclusion – What is a Document Camera?
There you have it, you now know exactly what a document camera is, and how you can benefit from it, as well as what features to look out for.