I have a:

  • DSLR camera (Canon EOS) + no tripod
  • Latest commercial version of Adobe Acrobat
  • A computer with Internet connection
  • Frugal character

I also own a physically printed and bound book of over 600 pages I would like to convert to PDF.

What are methods/technologies/software features I can use to accomplish this

  1. without buying any new hardware (no extra physical tools one wouldn't have lying around the house)
  2. without destroying the book
  3. with as little time and effort as possible

Additional information (rather: clarifications) from reactions I've gotten:

  • It's my book. I'm not going to sell or give away the copy. Not planning anything illegal.

  • Having the end result pleasantly readable on digital screens is the striving.

  • The point is to make heavy/clunky books portable. Nobody wants to open (nor carry) 600-page books onto planes.

  • OCR is not a requisite -- even if it was, I can do that with Adobe Acrobat.

  • 6
    This may be a duplicate of Easy way to scan a book. – michaelpri Jul 8 '16 at 1:36
  • @michaelpri The hardware requirements offered in the answers example 1, example 2 really abuse my request to not incorporate any extra physical hardware. One of them even requires me getting a second dSLR camera to weld shut into the DIY specialized book-scan contraption. Check it out: while impressive, the time, effort, money, and expertise spent on it is astronomical. – Frudell D. Jul 8 '16 at 2:04
  • I think it would be incredibly hard to do this without buying extra hardware. With your requirements it seems the easiest option would be to flip by hand. – michaelpri Jul 8 '16 at 2:12
  • @michaelpri I'm sure it is. Now I need to know what the best way is to do this -- while flipping by hand. Not just the best physical set-up (and maybe lighting ideas): the camera settings, and once I have the images in the computer, how do I best make it into a pleasurably readable book-PDF. That means (within reason considering time/effort) getting rid of the shadows by the binding, splitting it into separate pages instead two-per-view and unless someone had a good suggestion for the physical set-up, probably cropping. By the way if you know of a better place to ask this, please let me know. – Frudell D. Jul 8 '16 at 2:32
  • The process of actually digitizing the books is off-topic here. I'll see if I can find a site that is better suited to answer this question. – michaelpri Jul 8 '16 at 3:09

You can convert your book to a PDF in about as much time as it will take you to read it through, maybe a bit longer.

You will need a sheet of glass to hold the book, spread open, facing downward. Photograph the book through a sheet of glass to keep the spread pages flat. The glass becomes the subject image plane.

Here's a diagram

  1. Your camera will face toward the open book reflected in a mirror placed at 45° to the surface of the glass from beneath the glass. The mirror, although not first surface, should not have objectionable reflections when it is aligned. Using this set-up allows you the maximum amount of freedom to move things independent of one another.

  2. Alternately, you can put the glass "image plane" between supports such as an inverted stool using the legs to support the glass sheet. The camera will lie on its back facing directly upward (without a mirror).

Light the book page spread from either side of the camera at 45° to the surface of the glass to avoid glare and reflections. This is standard lighting for copy work.

On the glass you will put marks to align the book after you lift the book to turn the page after each shot.

After the capture, you would import, crop, and paginate your page series for reading.

The set-up while simple will take you some time to align and test. Your biggest challenge will be the counterintuitive positioning of the lighting to be even. You will need a means of making your set-up solid enough (tripod/duct tape, etc.) to remain in alignment throughout the project.

A shutter release will be handy. A tripod will be handy. Maybe you can borrow or rent.

The reason for doing this "upside down" is to compensate for the different thicknesses of each side of the book as you progress through it. The middle is no problem since the thicknesses are the same at that point. The weight of the book will keep it flat most of the time.

Optimal lighting will be even on either side of the book facing upward toward the centre of the page spread.

Good luck, You probably won't try to do this twice.

  • The only downside to this is having to move the entire book with each shot by picking it up, flipping, and re-aligning. I can't think of any way to bypass this. Can you? Aside of that issue, I could set this all up in 20 minutes. For the image plane I will use an end table which is rectangular and has a glass "in-lay" surface. – Frudell D. Jul 8 '16 at 21:27
  • @FrudellD. On the upside, you'll only have to do it 300 times or so. I think it will take you considerably more time to set up to your satisfaction than you expect. Strive to keep all angles horizontal, vertical, or at 45°. – Stan Jul 8 '16 at 23:32
  • It's a genius idea, and not that hard. Before this, I tried a few set-ups of my own, and ran into the exact problems putting it upside down on the glass would fix. Did you come up with the idea yourself? In the regular improvised-by-me set up I could set an automatic timer to take a shot every 4~5 seconds as I flipped the book. Having it upside down increases that immensely. Really, if I could only find a faster way of flipping it, while keeping the kept-flat-by-gravity-and-glass idea, I would've hired you on the spot if I this was business. Great job. – Frudell D. Jul 9 '16 at 1:06
  • Of course, I already did, sadly it won't show yet. (see link) – Frudell D. Jul 9 '16 at 1:36
  • Hey Stan, I'd like to send you something (a file or a link) in private, do you have an e-mail address or other way I can send it to you? I can't find a PM-function here on StackExchange. – Frudell D. Jul 9 '16 at 17:51

Here's what I did recently:

  1. Photograph every page individually in the sunshine with a digital camera/ smart phone. Make sure there are no shadows on the page, and hold them as flat as possible with your finger. Photograph the pages from the first page to the last page
  2. Copy all the jpg files from the digital camera to a single directory on a computer.
  3. Download a trial version of Abby Fine Reader OCR
  4. Use the Abby Fine Reader OCR to convert all the images to MS Word.
  5. MS word (or open office) can convert it into a PDF or other file type. You can also confirm that the words were converted correctly.

For me, it took me about 20 seconds per page to take a photo, for 50 pages, so about 15 minutes. Then, about 3 minutes to copy the images to my old computer. To convert the images to MS word, it took me about 5 minutes to figure out how to do it, then maybe 3 minutes for the software to complete its work. So About 25 minutes for 50 pages? That means for your 600 page book, it will take about 6 hours or so.

Abby Fine did a nice job for me, even when the pages were bent near the binding, and the letters were distorted, it was able to OCR fairly well. I'd say that if the print is clear, there are about 10 mistakes in a page. I am generally able to determine how to correct the text as I read it; maybe once in 5 pages I can't figure out what is correct from context, and need to refer to the original image. For equations & images in the text, it is able to stick a bitmap image in the word file.

Using this method gave me a reasonably small file size with a limited number of errors.

Honestly, it is fairly fun. Not a horrible chore.

(I am not affiliated with Abby in any way, with the exception of being a trial software user.)


Take the picture of every page or both (taking it using DSLR should take small amount of effort). Ideally when second person will change the pages, so you don't have to take your finger out of the trigger (or setup the right environment and use the remote trigger).

Then having a curled photographs, you can use special softwares which can deal with these pages automatically. For more details, please check:


My method is simple and CHEAP. Not costly. Did I mention cheap?

Get thou a piece of non-reflective glass from an art supply place like Micheals. Size should be about 12" x 16" or enough to cover the open book. thickness - at least 1/4". 3/8" will hold pages flatter. If glass sheet edges are sharp, use masking tape over the edges for safety.

Find a table near a window with blinds. You want the diffused light to minimize reflections.

Handhold your camera and start the shooting. Note that you will have to use smaller books under 1 or both sides of the book to get the pages fairly even.
A polarizing lens will help reduce reflections.

Use Adobe Acrobat 11 to convert to pdf. To reduce file size, print the file to pdf. It will reduce the size by about 75%.

If you still get reflections, get a sheet of non-reflective acrylic (found on eBay).

Yes, your back will probably hurt, but not your wallet as much.

You could, of course, use a tripod, but it is slower as you have to turn each page and then check the camera to see if the book is aligned. Hand holding is much faster and good enough if the pdf is for your own use.

I have copied dozens of books like this, including paperbacks.

Good luck.

  • 2
    Your back will hurt within a few pages if you are not a young person and might get long lasting damage on a 600 page book. Find a solution where you do not have to hand hold the camera. (A stool might be all you need, a tripod does not need to be expensive, you only need a basic one.) – Willeke Oct 28 '17 at 9:07

If I were tasked with such a onerous task. I would use a low cost no frills document scanner for consistent quality. I then couple that with a laptop or a tablet. The document scanner set for PDF 600 pages later and less vision problems reading a blurry document. Also no need for the full commercial version of Abobe Acrobat as there is a free version basic version on the net as well as open source and free software that replace several different types of software.

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