DIY Microfilm / Microfiche Scanner

Built a scanner? Started to build a scanner? Record your progress here. Doesn't need to be a whole scanner - triggers and other parts are fine. Commercial scanners are fine too.

DIY Microfilm / Microfiche Scanner

Postby thejeff » 03 May 2011, 11:33

Hello All,

I have a peculiar need: I am looking to build a DIY microfilm / fiche scanner. However, I have zero idea how to pull off such a feat.

Some have suggested using high end flat bed scanners with thin separators in order to capture scans. However, I've seen test output from high optical DPI scanners that were barely legible with this approach (and often not at all in the case of small texts such as footnotes).

I have encountered a *few* microfiche / microfilm readers that were able to digitize--but they did so poorly. Images were frequently appeared dirty due to fowled/scratched optics. I'm not a fan of this approach either.

Any suggestions as to a DIY fiche / microfilm scanner build?



Re: DIY Microfilm / Microfiche Scanner

Postby Misty » 03 May 2011, 12:49

Hm, interesting challenge. Flatbed scanners don't usually seem to be able to deliver detail beyond around 2400dpi, whatever their specs say - that's about the limit of the quality of the optics. The results might be even lower on lower-end models. I don't have any microfilm to test with so I'm not sure what resolution would be necessary.

This site shows someone scanning on an Epson V700/V750 and getting soft, but readable, results scanned at 4800dpi: What scanners did you try? Does it look like that might work for you?

Scanners like the V700/V750 have two optics settings - one to scan directly on the glass, and one to scan a few millimetres above it (designed for the film holders that come with the scanner). The lens on the film holder setting is sharper and can deliver more detail. That may be a route to look at, if you were trying to scan directly to the glass. The problem there is getting a film holder that will hold your microfilm - the scanner probably doesn't include one, and if you don't get the focusing height just right, you likely won't be able to take advantage of the superior resolution. The other problem is that the optimal height tends to vary slightly from scanner to scanner, and Epson's holders aren't adjustable, so you may need to look at either jury-rigging your own or buying a custom one for the microfilm format you'll be scanning.
The opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily represent those of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
User avatar
Posts: 481
Joined: 06 Nov 2009, 12:20
Location: Frozen Wasteland

Re: DIY Microfilm / Microfiche Scanner

Postby Ryan_phx » 03 May 2011, 15:08

This is just thinking out loud, but it seems to me that the cheapest way to do it would be to buy a lens and reel mechanism, mount a bright LED above it, project the image, and take a picture of the image. A lens should cost maybe $50 or so, and you should be able to build a reel-winding mechanism without too much trouble. Keep us posted--I'd love to see what you come up with.
Posts: 63
Joined: 29 Dec 2010, 14:51
Location: Sandusky, OH

Re: DIY Microfilm / Microfiche Scanner

Postby Pantagruel » 18 May 2011, 16:50

Our library still has a large number of ultramicrofiches from the early 1970s, when that technology was poised to allow more compact archiving of books. We still have the portable reader (a sort of bulky version of what would now be a tablet-sized reader). Since these 3" x 5" fiches were capable of holding up to 1000 pages, they seemed at the time to promise a convenient way of bypassing the access problems associated with reel-to-reel microfilm (trying to get from one page to a distant one) and the storage limitations of microfiches (fewer than 100 pages). However, the extreme image reduction required a 92-power lens to deliver a readable image on a microform reader. We have some ten-year-old microform scanners that have a scanning bar that actually picks up the image by moving vertically down the back of the rear-projection ground-glass screen, thus scanning a projected image of the page and then digitizing it and sending the result over an RS-232 connection to a computer. Individual scans take some time as a result, and the whole system, a decade later, seems rather cumbersome. Newer versions use a camera and high-magnification zoom lenses to snap a picture of the microform frame (or page, in the case of fiches) that is illuminated from behind. They're not very cheap; library equipment tends to be priced as part of the vertical-applications market.
In an attempt to find an affordable alternative, I have been experimenting with digital cameras and salvaged parts (platens, reel-spooling and other support mechanisms salvaged from defunct microform readers). With a combination of off-the-shelf closeup lenses, you can get quite satisfactory results even with a 5-metapixel camera like the ten-year-old Sony we still use for routine picture-taking. The key to sharpness at that resolution is filling the camera frame with the image of the page. Microfiches have a smaller page-image size than film, but I have still been able to combine enough of the screw-on type closeup lenses to have satisfactory results.
The ultramicrofiches are a problem, however. I have experimented with some inexpensive digital USB microscopes that plug directly into a laptop. Some kind of platen has to be devised to support and flatten the fiche, but the small, cylindrical types that can zoom from 50 to 200 times and deliver at least 2 megapixels appear to work well enough for our purposes. You might look into something like this, since if you don't have any ultramicrofiches, you won't need such a high magnification.
By the way, in a pinch I have actually set our camera on a tripod, darkened the room, and simply photographed the microfilm reader screen. The results have been good enough for our patrons to read article-length PDFs without too much strain. That said, it is a makeshift solution that won't produce anything like optimal results.
Posts: 24
Joined: 06 Jul 2010, 19:40

Re: DIY Microfilm / Microfiche Scanner

Postby DDavid » 20 May 2011, 14:18

I have a lot of experience with microfilm at quite a few locations,
and lots of machines, not so much with fiche. The Canon Microfilm Reader
(printer) and up have the best digitizing capability. They are better than any other
I've seen and digitize better than they print due to being gray scale
scans as opposed to black and white prints. I've found I can get a much
better copy just making a photo on a good reader (not printer). That only
applies to readers that project the image onto a board. The readers that
project onto a ground glass screen are useless for good copies from a
camera. I do get serious key stoning doing that though.
The dirty spots you are seeing is likely due to poor maintaince of the
reader/printer or the camera used to make the film and most
film available to the public is scratched (usually they will be parallel to the
edge of the film).
I've owned over 4 machines both fiche and film readers and currently
have a Canon Microfilm Reader (printer) 400 and a good reader.
I once used a Besler photo enlarger which I had machined the film
carrier opening larger to take the wider image on microfilm. You might
be able to adapt a scanner with a film holder to do that but I would be
very careful and make a temp holder to be sure it would work before
investing much money.
What type of subject manner are you looking to copy?

Re: DIY Microfilm / Microfiche Scanner

Postby exlibris » 28 May 2011, 22:42

I am a doctoral student that works quite a bit with rare books and microfiche of rare books. I have tried the project-the-image-and-then-photograph-the-projection method, and though it may work for some on a tight budget, I was working with very fine print (think size 6-8 font on the original page that was a full folio of about 16 x 20 inches; this is a two page spread so the original image was huge and there is loss in quality for the reduction to the microfiche image alone), and that was not a satisfactory option for me.

One way that I found to do it started when the college library got rid of an old Bell Howell microfiche reader (similar to a ABR VII). I took the top off using a swiss army knife and used the base; complete with tray, stage, lighting, and so forth ... by the way I had to use an opaque filter of white paper or such over the light so that the camera would focus correctly. You can find these sometimes for 50 bucks or so online. I then used a manfrotto articulating boom (dual rail system) with clamp to an overhanging shelf or to the counter top. I have used the Canon Rebel XTi and XSi with a 60mm macro lens to very good effect. For good measure a 12 or 25 mm extension tube will help with much smaller fiche sizes. The fiche images I was photographing were somewhere between 12mm x 16mm. With the extension tubes I can photograph 8mm x 10mm. You will also want a remote of some sort to fire the camera. As you can imagine with macro photography, vibrations in the camera or on the countertop will affect your shot dramatically. So stabilization is an issue, though not insurmountable. As to speed, with the auto focus, I can snap a fiche of about 50 images with high quality in about 3 minutes. If you think in a five cent per copy sort of way, you will break even after about 200 slides of fiche for the lens and boom stand, or about 10 hours; if you include the camera system, call it about 30 hours. For me it was an issue of finding old articles and reference entries for the dissertation without having to keep track of so much paper or spending all day on a painstaking fiche scanner of one image every 15 to 20 seconds (who has that kind of time?).

Oh by the way, if you have some sort of live view option (standard on Canon XSi and higher) then it may go slower, but you can easily control the camera with a computer, and then the space bar functions as your firing mechanism. Also, I would highly recommend getting the AC/DC adapter for the camera so you don't have to lose your composition when you change the battery. . You can go with a manual bellows and the kit lens, but gravity is a cruel mistress and the bellows will creep over time. Also, you lose autofocus and aperture control. Same goes with the lens reversal trick and ring. If you stick with the Canon extension tubes (yes they are more expensive than others, but you are guaranteed to retain communication with the lens, other extension tubes may not) and a macro lens, you retain full lens control, which is the primary determinant of quality and speed.

the 60mm lens:

That's one approach

Return to Scanners and Build Threads

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Yahoo [Bot] and 2 guests