If you are looking for a microfilm reader, this article is the best place to start your quest. You will learn everything about what is a microfilm reader and how does a microfilm reader work.
As a bonus point, we will also give you examples of an old microfilm reader and also a new microfilm reader. You can afterwards decide what is the best microfilm reader currently available on the market.
What is a microfilm reader
A microfilm reader is a device that allows you to magnify microfilm, microfiche and other microform media, such as COM fiche or aperture cards. They use a back light as a contrast for the film, and this facilitates better accuracy and sharpness on the screen. More or less, you can consider it as a microscope but better developed to suit roll film and fiche film media better and in an optimized manner.
Microfilm viewers can be either analog or digital. The difference between them is that the digital microfilm reader uses a digital camera and converts the film to digital images. In this case, the microfilm reader images can be stored and transferred through digital means. The analog microfilm viewer on the other hand works just like an analog projector, featuring a light source, a magnifying glass, some mirrors and a pvc panel on which the image is projected.
How does a microfilm reader to computer work
Just as with any film viewer, it all starts with a very powerful lens. I would almost call it a microscopic lens. Given that microfilm is an analog reproduction of a document at a very small scale, you will need a lens that is powerful enough to magnify it. Mind you, besides the magnification, the properties of the lens will have to be very low levels of distortion and impressive sharpness characteristics.
The second film you will need is a lighting source. This will be used as the background and is very important, no matter if your film is positive or negative. We recommend a color temperature of minimum 4000k, which is considered to be daylight. I would say cold light is actually the best color temperature to view microfilm.
The third thing involved will be the projection mirror, or mirrors, depending on the type of device you are using. Given that the film is usually horizontal, and the projection screen is vertical, you will most likely need mirrors to do the actual projection. In most cases, a higher quality mirror is required, but it will also do with a normal mirror you can buy from a hardware store. Mind you, the higher quality mirrors will increase the overall sharpness of the image.
Last but not least it’s the projection screen. While in the past we have seen heavy frosted glass being used, lately PCV sheets that are matt white or gray will also do. These are much cheaper and also lighter, therefore it will be less dangerous than actual glass.
What we’ve explained in this paragraph is an analog microfilm viewer at work. Digital microfilm readers are much straightforward and don’t have the apparent complexity of analog devices. Compared to these, you will still need a high quality backlight, a very good lens, but won’t require mirrors and a PVC sheet for the actual viewing process. Instead, the camera will just transfer the image to a computer or a computer monitor.
If you are thinking about a scanner, this is practically what we usually call a microfilm reader to computer. Practically it has all the features of the analog devices, plus a solution to transfer the image into digital format. This allows us to explore the capabilities of the digital era, having all the functions in the world to process those images and convert them to just about any format you can think of.
Benefits of a microfilm reader
Besides the obvious benefit of actually being able to read a microfilm, using a microfilm reader also provides other advantages. I would start with the ease of use. While a magnifying glass and a backlight would allow you to read content from microfilm or microfiche in some cases, doing this repeatedly would obviously get you a bit tired. The average microfilm reader has certain features that allow you to easily read rolls or fiche.
For example the spool holders and reel advance features. First of all, the film transfers from the main roll onto a second roll during the reading process. This means the film is stretched well constantly, and you don’t have it lying around your room in the process. One of the main advantages of this is that you risk less to damage it, and also it means that it’s easier to use in general.
Second of all, for microfiche, given that all the frames are pretty small, you need a very smooth movement process, so you move from one frame to the other. Doing this by hand could prove to be a bit of a handful, given that you would have to be very delicate in the process.
There are also other advantages, such as the light and the lens don’t move and they’re pretty well fixed in place. This means the entire process is smooth, and you need that, given the very small details in a 24x reduced document. All in all you can see that a microfilm reader machine is actually pretty well optimized to read film with very small and fine print. It’s not so much as an innovative product, rather than a very well optimized one.
Types of microfilm readers
There are a number of microfilm readers we can thing about, but the most important ones are the analog and the digital microfilm viewers. Therese is also another category, the handheld or the portable microfilm reader.
We will talk less about this one, and more about the first two. Those are the devices that have dominated the microfilm reader machine market, and probably the ones that will dominate it from now on.
Analog microfilm reader
It’s also the classic option, as these devices started appearing just about when microfilm was invented. If you’ve already read the first part of our article, you already know what this device requires to properly work. It’s the famous combo of projection light, lens and mirrors to a projection screen.
We won’t go into detail again on this, but most important for this is to have a good quality and easily adjustable lens. The lens will allow you to move through different size of film, of film or fiche frames. It will be the best thing to have when trying to read really small documents or even small print in different sized films.
I guess I am still a fan of analog microfilm readers, although I must admit they don’t make as much sense as they used to. Probably the most interesting thing is that they are unbreakable. I really don’t know what could go wrong on them. Besides the motorized roll carrier, something in it could go wrong, the rest is really difficult to break. A light swap might be required, but in most cases it will be something off the shelf.
Digital Microfilm Reader
Lately, we’ve seen a tendency to head to digital products. I guess microfilm and microfiche readers are no strangers to this, so expect to see less and less analog products. Personally, I am a fan of digital readers. They bring so many thinks to microfilm viewing that analog readers were just not able to.
For a start, with most readers you are more flexible in between film and fiche sizes. Given that you are working with pixels and lenses are sometimes more versatile, the size of your screen is the only physical limit. You can connect them to just about anything, from your PC monitor, to a large screen TV or even a digital projector. The HDMI connectivity is a must, and for reading, 1920×1080 pixels should be good enough.
Then, we head to the various options. From digital image rotation, to automatic mirroring and even changing between positive or negative. It’s just so many options at your fingertips, and running the device with a remote makes it much easier to go through documents.
The only downside I can see is that the camera is something that can break from time to time. I guess it doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, you will have t0 contact the camera supplier to give you a swap. But cameras are just getting cheaper as time passes, so I guess it won’t get crazy expensive.
How much does a microfilm reader cost
The cost of a microfilm reader will depend on many aspects. The old analog microfilm viewers were not cheap, not even relatively speaking. They sometimes cost as much as a decent motor car. Nowadays, you won’t want to spend over 5000 US dollars on something that reads microfilm. But I would say that no matter what you buy to view microfilm, it will cost you around that amount.
Although we at Scannernote are working on a digital microfilm reader that will cost around 3000 dollars, it will take some months for that to come out. So stay tuned to this website, as we will be releasing the digital microfilm reader begining of Q3 2022.
As we were saying, currently, based on the optional extras, a microfilm reader will definitely set you back 5000 dollars and going up. Some devices will cost well over 10000 dollars, but those are developed for mass digital archiving of images from microfilms.
We can definitely say that most entry level microfilm readers will cost anywhere between 5000 and 10000 US dollars. While most of them are digital, some will be able to batch scan images and others will only allow reading. We will have the 3000 US dollar microfilm reader launched very soon, which is definitely something interesting for archives and libraries who want to offer readers the ability to view their microfilm archives.
Best Microfilm Reader
In this paragraph we will focus on describing what the best microfilm reader should have and what kind of equipment it should be. We will first start with optics, and then go through the rest of the options, such as fiche and roll, or even aperture card scanning.
- Light source – We always say that for microfilm viewing, a color temperature of at least 4000k should be used. Some prefer cold light temperature, of 6500k, but I guess 4000k should be more then enough, even for color film.
- Camera – Because the best microfilm viewer is digital, we think that using an area sensor camera should be your choice. Linear cameras are indeed much better, but they are suited to scanning only. SO getting back to the camera, an 18mp camera is more than enough for your reader, and if you can capture, you will also have some decent sized images. Always go for a color camera, because this will allow you to also read DIA and standard film.
- Lens – Well, for lenses you have to focus and 2 specific aspects. Large ranges of zoom and very low levels of distortion. By low distortion we mean being able to have at least 75% of the surface non distorted. By zoom we mean that you should easily be able to move between 10x and 50x, sometimes even outside of these values.
- Reading capability – The device should be able to read microfilm, microfiche, com fiche and even aperture cards. If you are missing one or more of these, you will have to pay extra to read them as well. So always focus on the most versatile devices.
- Film carrier – While most say that you should have a motorized carrier, besides the rewind, I have always found myself moving the film manually between frames. It’s either much slower, not precise enough, or even takes too long and too much concentration to work the motorized carrier. So I would say having a motorized carrier is definitely good, but it’s by no means a deal breaker.
These are just some of the characteristics you should focus on, when buying a microfilm viewer. I guess price is one of those extra aspects, but price itself is easier to understand, the lower the better, if specs are identical.