In the past couple of years, I have received a number of phone calls and emails asking me when is the right time to scan my microfilm. The answer is “right now”! I know that sounds like an obvious response from a company that manufactures film scanners but in fact it is very sound advice.
Microfilm was considered an excellent alternative to paper documents since not all paper is created equal and some deteriorates quicker than others. This conversion to microfilm really got going during World War II when the sheer volume of letters sent from families to soldiers and back was so heavy that there were not enough ships or planes to carry all these letters. Microfilm made all this correspondence possible. Also, for anyone who has seen movies about espionage, microfilm became a potent weapon to find out the secrets of the enemy.
One of the beliefs about microfilm back then was that it would last at least 500 years and this continued to be the thought process until about the 1990’s. It turns out that without storing this film in an area that had excellent temperature/humidity control, the film started to degrade. If you go to the area where your film is stored right now and you smell vinegar, you already have a problem called “redox”. In all likelihood, when you took out a roll of film and inspected it, you would notice these little red dots or what I call “measles” on the film. You can’t get rid of these red dots but you can prevent it from spreading further by going through what is called a “brown tone” process. A better alternative would be to scan the film and make it available on PC’s and/or laptops.
If you have any microfilm prior to 1985, it probably is on Acetate Film. This film tends to get brittle over time and tears very easily. Depending on how responsible the filming operator was to check and make sure the camera was always meeting specifications made a big difference in the quality of the image. If the film processing technician didn’t follow spec and make sure the chemicals were at optimum levels and the water pressure was correct to wash off all the chemicals, you might see varied results in density on your film. One downside to this is that the images may be starting to fade away.
The opportunity to scan this film in 2014 is the best yet. Many upgrades in scanning products and lower storage costs offers people a cost effective way to preserve their data that is currently on film.
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Let’s look at how labor costs are affected
- A film conversion project that used to take a year can now be done in half the time.
- New compression algorithms allow for smaller image sizes without affecting the information on that image.
- New Strobe (Stop Action) LED Light Systems allow for higher quality images and crisper edges on the characters for better OCR results.
- Ribbon scanning eliminates the need to do costly rescanning of the film. This effective tool scans from edge to edge the film so that nothing is missed during scan time.
- A newer offering in higher quality cameras and high precision lenses means high image quality requiring less labor intense QC time.
- New software solutions such as Virtual Film helps reduce the total cost of film conversion.
- New and more accurate OCR products allows for quicker retrieval of data (think Google).
So you see, now is the perfect time to convert your film library. In the meantime, more helpful features and products are on the way that will help support further your investment in film scanning.