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Do you dream of digitizing your entire book collection? This book scanner can help

Review: If you want to convert your entire book, magazine, and resource library into digital form, then this is the device you need.
Pros
  • Corrects skew from bound books
  • Color and white-balance correction
  • Separates pages from open books
Cons
  • ScanSnap software can be clunky
  • USB-only interface
  • Max 11x17 footprint is a bit small for coffee table books

I've written before about how my wife and I have used Fujitsu ScanSnap scanners to manage our paper sprawl. We originally planned to scan in our giant book collection, but wound up instead managing the enormous document bequeathment from my parents, which came to us when they got very sick and I was suddenly responsible for all of their personal and financial affairs.

We took a few stabs at scanning in books. We even bought a paper guillotine, chopped off the spines of some her craft books, and ran them through one of the ScanSnaps' auto document feeders.

Why would we want to scan all our books? Well, they take up an enormous amount of space. We are both avid readers and love books, but there are practical limits. As time goes on, we keep getting more and more books, but our space doesn't expand at the same pace. Our large collection poses another problem because my wife has allergies, and books are a dust magnet.

Review: Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1600: Wireless game-changer

My wife wants all her crafting books available all the time, right on her iPad. We bought her a maxed out M1 12-inch iPad Pro with 2TB of storage so we could achieve this.

But those crafting books make a perfect storm of failure for document-feeding scanners. The pages are too big. Sometimes images traverse the spread across the spine. And some of the big coffee table book style crafting books are almost impossible to cut with the guillotine.

While products like the ScanSnap iX500, and even the enormously powerful and flexible ScanSnap iX1600, are great for scanning documents, they're just not really up to book scanning.  

The limitations aren't about how many pages-per-minute can be scanned. The iX1600 can chow down at 40 pages per minute. The thing is fast. But it can only handle flat sheets. And chopping books with a guillotine gets old, fast.

Enter the Fujitsu ScanSnap SV600 book scanner

While I was working on the iX1600 review, I noticed that Fujitsu also makes a scanner specifically designed to scan in books. It uses the same ScanSnap software we're already using, but has built-in smarts for separating pages, removing distortion, and optimizing the entire process of scanning in books.

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David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Fujitsu ScanSnap SV600 specs

Scanning Speed

About 3 seconds per page

Horizontal Scanning Resolution

285 to 218 dp

Vertical Scanning Resolition

284 to 152 dpi

Maximum Document Size

432 x 300 mm (17.0 x 11.8 in.)

Minimum Document Size

25.4 x 25.4 mm (1 x 1 in.)


So I reached out to my friendly neighborhood Fujitsu PR rep and explained our project. He was intrigued and sent us out an SV600 to review. It's very different from the other ScanSnap scanners we used.

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David Gewirtz/ZDNET

The device looks a bit like WALL-E and a bit like Johnny 5 from Short Circuit, especially once you tip it on its back and look at the array of lights and cameras under the hood.

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David Gewirtz/ZDNET

As you can see, the SV600 is a fundamentally different beast from the automatic document feeder ScanSnaps we've looked at before. Rather than a spinning platen that friction feeds pages through a small slot and scans them as they pass by an image capture mechanism, the SV600 features a base and tower structure that most resembles a desk lamp. In fact, you could be forgiven if you saw this from a distance and thought is was a desk lamp.

But it's not.

Instead of putting sheets through a scanner slot, you lay the book open under the camera and it shoots images from top down. Although you need to provide your own page-flipping muscle power, the device does its best to make the scanning process as smooth as possible.

There are two main scanning modes: automatic and triggered. When the automatic mode is set, the device will take a new scan every time you flip a page. The page flip itself triggers the shot. Alternatively, if you want a bit more control, you can set the ScanSnap software to wait until you press the blue button on the base of the unit to trigger a scan.

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David Gewirtz/ZDNET

A key feature of the SV600 is the software's ability to unwarp the page scans. This device is less a traditional scanner (where the sheet sits right on top of the imager) and more of a top-down camera. Each "scan" is really a photograph that the head unit takes and sends to your computer.

The difference between using your smartphone to snap a picture and this is that the SV600 provides lighting and actually moves across the scan surface stitching images together. It also calibrates white balance and color to the little white rectangles on the sides of the base, so color is much more accurate than it might be if you were doing it with your smartphone. So, it's taking pictures, yes, but it's doing it in a way particularly tuned for book and large page scanning.

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David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Since you're taking pictures of book pages, which often lift up at the spine and then flow down, each page photo arrives somewhat distorted. Where ScanSnap shines is in its ability to see the curve of the page and unwarp the page, producing a clean and level scan.

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You can adjust the scan zone to handle the skew of your books.

You can choose to store both pages side-by-side in a finished PDF, or split the pages and store them as individual pages. ScanSnap has an option for that as well.

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You can also adjust where the page separation is applied.

I was a little disappointed to discover that the SV600 must be tethered by USB to your computer. As you can see from the back of the device, the only ports are power and USB.

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David Gewirtz/ZDNET

I would have preferred a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth interface. That said, since you're probably going to interact a bit more with each scan than you would if you were using a bulk sheet scanner, it's probably not too much of an inconvenience to require a USB connection to the computer.

In the pros and cons at the beginning of this article, I described the software as "clunky." That's a subjective opinion, because the software does all it's supposed to do, and more. But I find it a little more cumbersome to use than I'd like. One example is that the software regularly asks if you'd like to upgrade. That's not unusual, but if you decline the upgrade, you have to confirm the decline. The scan and edit process can be fussy and if you want to go back and re-edit a scan (defining page boundaries, etc.), you'll need to do it before you save the PDF. Fundamentally, the software does everything it's supposed to do. It just feels like each task requires one or two extra steps than should be necessary.

Additional thoughts and tips

In addition to books, this will scan large flat documents up to 11x17 inches in size. So if you have a map or a small poster, this will capture it.

There is no need for the device to touch the scanned pages. This means that it's ideal for archival, historic, or delicate documents that require special handling.

You can scan multiple documents at once (like business cards, receipts, etc). Just lay them out and the scanner will separate them into individual PDFs.

The scanner comes with a black mat that defines the size of the scanning area. It makes it easier to place those smaller items and be sure you're in the scan zone.

If you're scanning a book with a non-removable dust jacket, you might want to put a piece of black construction paper over the inside part of the dust jacket that the scanner's optics can see. That way, when each page is stored, ScanSnap won't get confused by what's on the page vs. what's on the inside cover.

Although the device will watch for page flips and automatically scan, I prefer pushing the button to tell it to scan. That's because pages sometimes stick together and it's a pain to have to go back and correct scans when a page flip doesn't go right. It's no real additional effort to turn the page and push the button, and you know you're scanning when you have a clean page flip.

It takes about 3 seconds to scan a page. If you have a good rhythm going, you can scan a 200 page book in about 10 minutes. In terms of decluttering, that's about one to two cartons of books a day. Not bad.

Have you been digitizing your book collection? What methods have you been using? Let us know what you're doing with scanning and your book collection in the comments below.

Bottom Line

This is a product you're likely to spend a lot of time with, and as such, its minor quirks can seem like big annoyances. If all you're doing is scanning in a book or two, you're probably not going to want this. But if you're trying to scan in 50 or 100 cartons of books, or if you're trying to migrate an entire collection to digital form, you're going to be spending a lot of days, day-after-day with this product.

In that context, would I prefer it was smoother, faster, and a little less cumbersome? Sure. Nearly any product you spend a lot of time with (and I mean a lot of time) has room for improvement. But does this get the job done? Yes, absolutely. Is there a better product out there? Not that I've seen, certainly not for the price. 

Would I recommend it? Yes -- provided you really need a product that does what this product does. If you want to bulk scan loose pages, get an auto-document feeding scanner like the previously reviewed iX1600 ScanSnap. But if you want to convert your entire book, magazine, and resource library into digital form, then this is the device you need.

I'm certainly very glad to have it in my scanning arsenal and if you're a librarian, an archivist, or a dedicated declutterer, this is a worthwhile investment.

Alternatives to consider

Besides the Fujitsu ScanSnap SV600, here are some other book scanners you might want to consider:


You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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