Updated June 2022
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Buying guide for best document cameras

Once upon a time, your only option for presenting documents to a live audience was an overhead projector. Documents had to be specially created for the projector on transparency sheets.

Today, things are much simpler; you can use a document camera to give visual presentations. A document camera allows you to take an image from a sheet of paper and present it in real time. This gives you more flexibility in your presentation, as you can add documents at the last minute if you so choose.

If you’re in the market for a document camera, you’ve come to the right place. At BestReviews, we research products and provide readers with detailed information and shopping guides to help them make purchasing decisions. We never accept free samples from manufacturers, so our selections and product reviews are free of bias.

If you're ready to buy, please consider one of our highlighted more. Please continue reading this shopping guide to learn more about document cameras, including which camera features would best meet your needs.

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Other terms are synonymous with document camera, including visualizer and digital presenter.

How a document camera works

A document camera works a bit like an overhead projector in that it projects an image onto a display screen. It can project anything printed on paper, in fact. But you aren’t limited to projecting images from a book or other pieces of paper. You can use a document camera almost like a webcam, shooting photos or video and projecting them onto a screen during your presentation.

Here are some key components of document cameras.

  • Arm: The arm connects the lens with the base of the document camera. Some document cameras have a flexible arm that makes it easy to adjust the lens quickly. Others have a rigid vertical arm; with this type, you slide the lens up and down to reposition it.

  • Image sensor: As with any type of digital camera, a document camera’s image sensor is key to good image quality. Resolution is measured in megapixels; a greater number of megapixels equals sharper images. For displaying text, a resolution of about five megapixels is an adequate number. If you need to display photos or high-resolution graphics, a greater megapixel count works better.

"Document cameras may need to have driver updates installed to work with certain displays."
  • Lens: The document camera lens plays a crucial role in the quality of the display. A sharp lens allows you to dial in the focus, ensuring the document being displayed is easy to read on screen.

  • Lighting: Many document cameras have LEDs near the lens that light up the document being displayed. Adequate lighting is an important part of a high-quality display.

  • Motherboard and internal components: The document camera contains chips and a motherboard, all of which process the image signal. These components also pass the signal to the display device.

  • Ports: The base of the document camera has one or more ports. You use these ports to power the camera and to connect it to your display mechanism.

  • Storage: You can use a document camera to create slides for a presentation ahead of time. Some document cameras even include a means for storing the image files – this is nice if you don’t have a computer handy. Cameras with storage properties will contain a memory card slot or a USB storage port for a thumb drive.

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Did you know?
Some document cameras contain a flexible gooseneck design to adjust the lens. Others slide the lens up and down a rigid arm.

Document camera display options

When connecting a document camera to a display option, you must make a direct, wired connection with the display device. For this reason, it’s important to find a display that has the same ports as the document camera. Your device options include the following.


Connect your document camera to a projector, and you can display your imagery on a wall or large screen. When giving a presentation in a large area, you’ll want to connect to a projector. Most projectors use HDMI or VGA input ports.

Computer screen

If you plan to swap back and forth between digital documents stored on the computer and paper documents shown by the document camera, connect to a computer. A laptop display or desktop computer monitor screen works better in a small room where you’re giving a presentation. You will typically use a USB connection with the computer.

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Did you know?
If your document camera is connected to a computer, you should be able to switch back and forth between the document camera and the computer as the input device for your presentation.

TV screen

For a medium-size room, a large screen TV works well for giving a presentation. You can connect the document camera directly to the TV through a USB or HDMI input cable.

Document camera prices

You’ll find a few different price points available when shopping for document cameras. As with most tech devices, if you want more features, you’ll have to pay a bit extra for them.

  • Less than $75: Plenty of document cameras are available on the low end of the pricing spectrum. Most of these will have rigid vertical arms, so it will take a bit longer to adjust the position of the lens relative to the document. Low-price document cameras sometimes don’t include software or cabling, and the image resolution is likely to be limited. Be careful in this area of the market, as there are some hit-and-miss pieces of hardware available.

  • $75 to $200: A mid-range document camera would satisfy most people. The resolution tends to be good, and most have built-in LEDs to light up the document. These cameras usually ship with usable software and the power cords you need. Most have a flexible gooseneck-style arm that allows you to adjust the position of the lens quickly and easily. A zoom function or close-up lens attachment are also common.

  • More than $200: Top-shelf document cameras offer top-shelf resolution. You get the sharp images you need for presentations involving photos and/or graphics. Many of these units are extremely small and lightweight, making them perfect for travel. Some high-end units include the ability to store images to a memory card USB thumb drive as well.


Q. How are document cameras better than overhead projectors?
In the past, if you were giving a presentation with an overhead projector, you faced some limitations. The information had to be presented on a transparency sheet. You couldn’t use existing paper documents as you can with a document camera.

What’s more, an overhead projector required a darkened room, making subtle details more difficult to see. With a document camera, however, you can display paper documents on a screen. You also have the option of connecting to a high-resolution TV screen that can be seen even with lighting in the room.

Q. How can I create sharper images with my document camera?
If you notice a document looks blurry on the display, try moving the lens a bit farther from the surface of the document. Some document camera lenses have a focus ring. Some document cameras have a close-up lens attachment that you use when displaying small documents. However, if you’re viewing a large document with the close-up attachment affixed to the lens, the text may appear blurry. Dirty lenses can also cause a blurry text display.

"If your text isn’t appearing clearly on the screen, try zooming in on the document or using a close-up lens attachment."

Q. Can I capture and save images shot with my document camera?
Yes. If you’re using software or an app that allows you to insert images directly from a scanner or camera, you can insert images from the document camera, too. For example, if you’re creating a presentation in Microsoft PowerPoint, you can insert the document camera’s captured images directly into the presentation.

Q. Can I record video with a document camera?
Yes, as long as you have a video-capture type of software installed on your computer. You just have to set up the video capture software to use the document camera as the input device. Some document cameras even ship with video capture software included.

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