Campus ID News
Card, mobile credential, payment and security

How do I select the right camera for my campus card office?

Video explores available options, costs, and if you even need one anymore?

CampusIDNews Staff   ||   Jul 18, 2024  ||   

When it comes to getting a photo onto a campus card, a lot has changed in recent years. In many offices, high-end SLR and video cameras have been replaced by web cams or other technologies. There are many options, so how do you decide what is right for your environment.

In a recent episode of our IDk series, we talked with David Stallsmith from ColorID about the current state of cameras and photo capture options for ID offices.

Webcams cost a lot less, they do a great job, plug straight into Windows, and are supported by all the newer ID software products. They just work.

Stallsmith, Director of Product Management for ColorID, has helped hundreds of card programs explore camera options, and he shares his insight in this video series that is "Always 15-minutes. Always free. Always fun."

Check it out to discuss image quality, web cams, remote image capture and more.

Specific topics include:

  • For card offices using traditional photo capture and issuance models, what are the camera options?
  • How does this change for distributed issuance or in-the-field use?
  • What peripherals – tripods, lighting, cabling – should you consider?
  • How much should a card office budget for a camera of acceptable quality?
  • With photo upload, what are the options for in-person stragglers that show up without approved photos?

Join us as we learn about something IDk.

Want to be notified about future IDk webinars? Or have an idea for a topic? Shoot me a note to [email protected].




Hello and welcome to another installment of our IDk series. I'm your host, Chris Corum, publisher of Campus ID News.

These are fast, fun, 15-minute webinars, and they're called IDk because I get to learn something that I don't know. That is as long as my friend here, David, does his job.

So today's topic is how do I select a camera for my Campus Card office?

I am joined by David Stallsmith, Director of Product Management for Color ID. He's been in the industry a long, long time, just like I have, and many of you out there have.

He's a true expert on issuance equipment for campus card programs. You’ve probably helped many hundreds of campuses and other card issuers evaluate camera options over the years. Is that accurate, David?

Oh yeah, hundreds, yes. More than you can imagine.

I like to start off with an interesting fact about the presenter to keep this fun and let you get to know him.

David's a musician, played in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra for about 25 years.

Let’s get on to our topic, because we keep this to 15 minutes, and we guarantee you're out of here so y'all can get to lunch or whatever's next in your day.

I've been doing this a long time, 30 plus years, so I remember Polaroid cameras where you take the picture, it prints on a little Polaroid thing, you cut it out with an X-Acto knife and you laminate it on there.

Then we went through SLRs and video cameras, big expensive pieces of equipment, moved on to all kinds of smaller, faster, better things. But since I'm not in card offices every day, I really don't know what's the latest and greatest on these things. So that's the goal for you here today, David.

To start, can you give us a brief history of ID cameras for card production, and then talk about the modern options?

Sure, a brief history. Well, you kind of gave a brief history of the first 25 years of the thing.

You're right, cameras were expensive, and you know, we're talking about a little tiny postage stamp size photo. So to spend thousands of dollars just to get a little photo to put on a card, we did it. Everybody had to do that back then. But now, cameras have just gotten vastly better than they used to be, and the costs have plummeted.

And if you walk into a lot of university card offices these days, you'll see an SLR camera on a tripod, or you'll see a Canon PowerShot, because those things just go and go and go.

And they used an interface called TWAIN, T-W-A-I-N. It stands for something, I don't even know what it is, but it's really old, and it's still used. And it works with Windows, Mac, Linux, and it's still very popular for connecting scanners. If you connect a scanner to your PC, there's a good chance it'll use TWAIN.

It’s an open interface. There's nothing proprietary, and Windows has a hard time messing it up as long as they support it at all.

Although most card offices use Windows machines, so they are now often using cameras that are supporting Windows media of some sort.

But that is what has gone on.

And so there are still cameras out there using TWAIN, and with ID works.

But with the change to True Credential and Instant ID, Card Exchange, a lot of the newer ID software products, they support devices that Windows supports.

So the Windows media thing now opens all that up. Anything Windows supports in terms of the camera can be used.

The other thing that happened is there was a company in Russia, of all things, they made, they took the SDK that Canon released with their cameras, their SLR and their PowerShot cameras, and they built a little connector between that and some of the ID software.

And so we sold a little package.

ColorID, you'd sell the camera, and you'd sell the thumb drive with the software on it, and that would use the SDK to connect it to a TWAIN interface on the computer.

Well, Canon, I think, stopped making the SDK for some of the models, and the folks in Russia who, I don't know, stuff gets funny with Russia these days.

So we're not offering that anymore, and I don't know if many are, if it's even available.

So that's gone away.

And so that leaves us with a more streamlined product line in terms of cameras.

And we're still getting questions though. Hey, I wanna buy a camera, what should we buy?

I'm gonna share a screen here and just show you, this is a ColorID marketing piece, but it just shows you the four, a few cameras here that we represent, and I can talk about that.

So the pro image, this thing here is a camera that has pan, tilt, zoom. It's very expensive. It's a conference camera. But if you wanna put a camera on the wall or up on the ceiling and take shots from far away and control it by remote control, then this thing will do that, and it is a webcam. You just plug it in, USB to Windows.

And then at the bottom right corner is a very simple webcam, which a few years ago, we would be reluctant to recommend anybody use a webcam because the image quality wasn't all that great. But as we all know, webcams have gotten really good.

So for not very much money, you can buy a camera that's better than probably what you would have bought five years ago as an ID photo camera.

It costs a lot less, does a great job, plugs straight into Windows, is supported by all the newer ID software products, and it just works.

The DSLR there in the bottom left, there may be some dealers that still offer software packages to support that, but really, you don't need to spend $1,000 on a camera to get a decent image to go on an ID card, the thought that you did, unless you're shooting from a good distance.

Your counter is here and your wall is 10 feet away and you need that zoom, perhaps you do wanna go in that direction.

And then there's a company called Videology that makes imaging devices or cameras for industry, for all kinds of things, for manufacturing processes. And they make one and now they have a newer model, I think. It's relatively small. And it mounts on the stand, it has a flash.

It's a dedicated camera and it both has twain and window-supported output. So you can just plug USB from this into your PC and it'll work.

But you don't necessarily need to spend the extra money to buy that, compared to the webcam.

At ColorID tech support, our guys back there constantly saying, why aren't people just buying webcams?

Well, and here's what we get. "Our IT people said don't buy a webcam, those are junk."

Okay, well then we'll happily help you buy a much more expensive camera that you actually don't need. It is how that turns out.

And it's because webcams have increased dramatically over even just the last few years. And a lot of people don't buy that.

So that's the long and short of IT cameras right now.

Perfect, so it sounds like webcam typically is the winner.

And I think what we've also seen over the years is, typically we're not taking our pictures from 30 feet away.

So you don't need even a super high-end zoom feature and things like that, because we're usually shooting within five or so feet of the subject, because we're taking that little face shot there.

So, okay, awesome.

How about real quickly, because we gotta keep these things moving, peripherals, do we need tripods, do we need lighting, do we need high-removability setups that we used to have in offices? Is all that really necessary?

Well, if you're gonna take a picture in the office, background matters a lot to people. We don't want pictures of trees or animals in the background, or people in the back of the office.

So yeah, you're gonna have them standing in the backdrop. You could still buy all kinds of backdrops, pull-down, motorized, static, pin them to the wall.

Tripods, a lot of times now in card offices, people are just using small tripods, sitting on the desk. It looks like the DSLR is about to topple the tripod at any moment, but it only falls six inches anyway.

But yeah, you do need those things, but those haven't changed for a hundred years.

Okay, good.

Now there's more of instances where we're sending someone out into the field to capture images to be sent back in for distributed issuance, or things like that. How are cameras working in those environments where you're not stuck in the card office?

Well, you have several options there.

If you wanna drag your ID software laptop out there and plug a camera into it, you're effectively reproducing what you're doing in the card office.

If you wanna just grab a camera of any kind, or even a phone, or a tablet, take a bunch of pictures, come back and download them, and then load them in as files.

You can do that.

And then the last way that requires a service, because either, somebody's gonna do the work. Either the operator is gonna capture the photo, load it, process it, do all that stuff, or you can buy software.

And now there are photo capture software services that can do this for you, and if you have one of those, you go out in the field, you can capture on a tablet, and then automatically those photos will go right into the software service and be processed just as if they were part of the normal self-service photo upload.

Yeah, you jumped ahead to my next question. So let's go into that a little bit further. Photo upload programs are everywhere now. So many campuses already have them, and many others are in the process of implementing.

In those cases, the students are uploading their own photo, or through a phone, or through another interface. But what are people doing in the card office for people like me who forget to do that kind of thing?

So I haven't uploaded my photo, I show up at campus, and I need a card.How are they handling that? Are they making me take it via my phone there? Are they still maintaining a camera setup? What do you commonly see or recommend?

Yeah, well, like I said, you go into pretty much any card office, there's a camera in there somewhere. They're prepared to take photos almost always.

I really haven't been in a card office for a while where they've lost all their cameras. There may be only one in the corner, it may be a little dusty, but it's still there.

The fact that you're showing up at the card office and they do have a photo upload service, that means you didn't respond to the email they sent you repeatedly once a week for the last six weeks, so you're a slacker.

So who knows, they could just resend that invitation to you and then you have to take it yourself there in the card office.

If it's one of the services, like Remote Photo has background removal, you stand in front of whatever you want, and the service will actually remove the background and put whatever is standard in there.

So that's a real possibility there.

Perfect, okay, so let me think about this and see if I can summarize what we've talked about here.

So the days of SLR are probably past us unless I've already got them running in my office.

Webcams are more than sufficient in most cases to take a good photo ID picture in the office and the costs are nothing like I'm used to paying back in the days when we were spending multiple thousands of dollars for SLRs or bigger cameras like that.

And Twain, which in my mind was still probably an absolute necessity, is not the case anymore.

As long as you're using a Windows PC and applicable software, you can run without Twain drivers in those cameras.

Did I get it?

This guy has a quick study. Check that I don't know box.

I think I got a good teacher.

All right, well, that means, David, thank you for joining us. We're keeping y'all to your 15-minute window.

Congratulations, David. I know one more thing or I don't know one less thing than I did before, so.

And thank you all for listening. Please, if you have ideas for a future episode of the IDK series, let me know. Email me at [email protected]. There's plenty of stuff, I don't know, so send them my way.

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