Classroom document cameras come in all sizes and shapes these days, but Samsung’s SDP-760 just might offer the best balance between size, price and capabilities. It’s small, has a simple control panel and a single LED light. With a resolution of 1,920 by 1,080, it can capture 30-frame-per-second HD videos and its gooseneck arm can get the camera head into places that a rigid arm can’t. It sells for $500.
The latest document camera is the ActiView 522 from Promethean, which ups the ante with HD operations. The system has a 6X optical zoom, 30 frame-per-second video and a pair of LED lights on flexible gooseneck arms. On top of VGA and Composite video ports, the ActiView 522 has an HDMI connection, enough storage space for 240 high quality images and a great new feature if the device will be used by different teachers throughput the day: It can automatically erase any new items when the system is turned off.
You can be forgiven for being just a little satisfied and complacent after successfully outfitting a school with rooms full of computers, projectors and a school-wide network to tie it all together. Unfortunately, your work isn’t quite done yet. Sooner or later, every effective digital classroom needs a document camera to project physical things – like a newspaper article, a page from an atlas and even the class pet.
Also known as visualizers, document cameras are for when you need to show the class something that goes beyond a digital image. It’s all about teaching with items that exist only in the real world. Every teacher has found that there are plenty of times when you either can’t find the right digital image of a flower petal or a video of sodium burning. That’s where a document camera comes in.
As the name implies, think of a visualizer as a self-contained digital camera that can turn anything from a piece of paper to a petri dish into a lesson that the entire class can see with a projector. While it might make sense to use a cell phone or digital camera, don’t bother.
That’s because a doc cam has something ordinary cameras don’t: a long arm that holds the camera steady so that it can be bent, rotated and swiveled to aim it at a variety of objects.
GANG OF SIX
The good news is that document cameras are not all that expensive and you only need one per room or projector. In fact, many districts get one doc cam for every three or four classrooms that are shared, moved around and used as needed.
The bad news is that there are so many doc cams available that it’s hard to decide which is right for your classrooms. To cut through this, we’ve gathered together six of the newest, coolest and most capable document cameras available and ran them through the digital wringer at Scholastic’s TechLAB testing facility.
Over the course of 6-weeks, we subjected them to a variety of tests, doing to them what you would in a typical school day. After looking them over, measuring every aspect of their operations and trying out their key features, we used them in several mock lessons to see how they perform in the classroom.
These visualizers vary from large systems that take over a desktop to ones that are so small that they can be folded up and put in a drawer or a jacket pocket to take to the next classroom. They all have their own lighting for use in a darkened classroom, but they vary greatly as to how bright they get. They can all zoom in and out on a detail and have a variety of special effects, but the output of some look better than others. In other words, they all are able to put sheets of paper or physical objects on the classroom screen.
One does a cool educational trick. Using sophisticated 3-D modeling technology, Smart’s Document Camera 330 allows the teacher or student to manipulate a little cube whose moves are mirrored with a 3-D image on the screen. It can be an image of a flower, a geometric figure or just about anything and is the closest thing to classroom magic.
It stimulates curiosity and opens pathways of understanding, but cool as it is, many teachers and administrators will find this technology overkill. What they really want is the ability to inexpensively put a physical object on the classroom’s projection screen.
While none of these devices hit a grand slam, they are all solid hits. The best overall performer was Samsung’s SDP-860, which put the sharpest images on the screen and was extremely flexible in what it could show. It’s not perfect because the SDP-860’s black-on-black color scheme is hard to use in the dark.
Still, Samsung’s SDP-860 can turn just about anything into a lesson.
Optoma’s first document camera, the D300, was worth the wait. Selling for $250, it has an adjustable neck, LED light and a 9X optical zoom lens so only what you want shows up onscreen. It creates a 1,280 by 1,024 resolution video stream, works with both PCs and Macs and connects via either a VGA or USB cable. It comes with a remote control and a school-friendly 5-year warranty. It’s at booth125.
Califone has upgraded its Diggiditto Smart Document Camera to run on Windows 7 computers. It has a 12X optical zoom lens and a unique backlit document area so it can be used with slides and transparencies. It’s easy to annotate items it comes with a remote control. The best part is that the $1,300 document camera can fold up and be taken from room to room as needed.
Tired of cables everywhere on your desk? AVerMedia has a new document camera that is wireless so that it can be set up anywhere in the class. It can either save its work on an SD card or beam it to a receiver that plugs into the computer. Capable of high-resolution still images as well as 30-frame per second video, the W30 works with either a Mac or PC and can go for a full 8 hours of teaching on a charge. The software that comes with the W30 can create split screens as well as picture in a picture for incredible instructional flexibility.
If the idea of spending $1,000 on a document camera for your classroom makes you a little sick to your stomach, you’re not alone. There are just too many doc-cams that cost as much as – or more than – the PC it’s connected to. The inexpensive Epson DC-06 document camera is like a breath of fresh air in this area, with a price of $400, but all the features and abilities you need. Plus, it can do one thing that the others don’t. On top of being able to connect with a PC, the DC-06 can connect directly to Epson’s new PowerLite 86, 825 or 826W projectors. Its 10.7- by 14.3-inch document area is a little skimpy but should be fine for most uses and the camera can put XGA resolution on the screen. It comes with a LED light, 4X digital zoom and a one-touch focus button. It’ll be available in May.
When you’re showing how to dissect a frog or a page from an art book, there’s nothing like a document camera to put it all on the big screen. With its 1.3 megapixel camera, auto focus and an amazing 64X zoom lens, Elmo’s P30S can show anything from a science experiment to everyone’s signature on the Constitution in super-sharp high definition. A flexible articulated arm allows the camera to be angled in a variety of ways to catch the right angle. It has its own 3.5-inch LCD screen so you don’t have to continually look over at your PC to make sure you’re showing what you want and not you elbows.
If digital microscopes don’t have the optical quality you need to show what you want and document cameras don’t have the magnification, Nikon has an alternative: use a Nikon digital camera with the Fabre Photo EX hybrid. The microscope snaps onto the Fabre Photo EX stereo microscope to produce stunning photos. At $1,200, it’s pricey, but it can produce professional looking images of everything from a biology dissection to what minerals look like up close. It can be adjusted among 20-, 45-, 56- and 66-times magnification and it has its own LED light and the microscope runs on a single AA battery, which Nikon says lasts for 10 hours of use.