Low-budget DIY microfiche scanning?
April 25, 2013 11:32 AM   Subscribe

In the next day or two, I'll be getting some microfiche via ILL for an academic project. Ideally, I'd be able to digitize portions (50-100pp, probably) of them for future use in a way more efficient (and cheaper...) than printing out paper copies and scanning them. I have a Nikon D80 with a 50mm f/1.8 and a 105mm f/2.8 (I think) and a tripod, an iPad 3, a MacBook Pro, and a grad student budget. My campus has photocopiers that are also flatbed scanners; I'd be able to use one for an extended period of time if necessary. Any suggestions about the best ways to do this?
posted by naturalog to Technology (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also, if there are other pieces of technology (film scanners or whatever) that might be around a university campus that might be helpful, let me know.
posted by naturalog at 11:36 AM on April 25, 2013

The microfiche reader itself might be able to output to file rather than print to paper - not sure if you've investigated this.

I don't think a regular scanner would be any help - you wouldn't get good enough resolution. Basically take the max resolution of your best scanner and divide it by about 20 (since the pages on the microfiche are shrunk down to about 1/20th of their original size - I'm guesstimating here). So if you had a 600 dpi scanner, using it on the microfiche would get you something like 30 dpi.

A slide or negative scanner *might* be sufficient, but I think you would get pretty low-quality scans since, again, it's meant for stuff at a bigger scale. Also a lot of microforms are fairly low-quality scans in the first place, so you can't afford to sacrifice a lot of resolution on retrieval.

Hate to be a downer, and I hope someone has a better idea, but I think you may be out of luck.
posted by mskyle at 11:54 AM on April 25, 2013

Have you checked with your university library? It's pretty common these days to have a microfilm reader connected to a computer, so instead of printing out your image, you just save it digitally, like this.
posted by Fichereader at 11:56 AM on April 25, 2013

Is the 105/2.8 the "micro" (what everyone else calls "macro")? If so, that can apparently get you to 1 to 1. The D80 should have a frame size of about 22.5x15mm, which only gives you a little over 4kDPI, which doesn't seem to be enough to really grab microfiche.

But I've built a simple slide scanner with a DSLR, macro lens, and a small light table to give me a relatively even backlight, and it let me digitize slides as fast as I could slide them into the holder. If the lower res would work, maybe hacking something like that together?
posted by straw at 12:10 PM on April 25, 2013

Oh man we JUST got a new microfilm scanner and it is AMAZING-- do any colleges or universities around you have a PowerScan 2000? There are other nice new scanner systems like the Crowley UScan, but I know that ours comes with OCR capacity and the ability to create multi-page PDFs. Have you spoken with your ILL person to see if they know of any more advanced systems on campus or nearby? I suspect that might be easier than hacking a system together, as much fun as that sounds.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:22 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Every library that still has microfilm should have a reader that prints. (At least) The older ones might even be better than the newer ones, since they are completely optical and you can make your adjustments to perfection. Then scan the pages.

To photograph them, you'll probably want an old school enlarger, or an extension tube for a normal lens. That should bring the focus up close and get close enough.

*maybe* you could get away with an overhead projector that can focus really long, a dark room, a tripod and a good screen.
posted by gjc at 1:55 PM on April 25, 2013

Your librarians on campus have likely had this question before and would probably love to help you answer it if there is a MF to digital scanner on campus. It doesn't hurt to give the reference desk a quick call.
posted by codacorolla at 1:58 PM on April 25, 2013

Oh, the "duh" answer: D80 on a tripod, take pictures of the screen (Never under-estimate the value of ultra low-tech solutions...)
posted by straw at 2:02 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Most university libraries will have the microfilm/fiche reader with a digital save option; if not, they probably know which nearby college does or if a specific department/professor at the college does have the equipment. Your mileage may vary if you try to take photos of the screen with a camera...sometimes I have found the prints of the screen are much more readable in print than on the microfiche reader screen itself. Your mileage may vary.

The staff in the ILL department may know about the equipment available to students, or not. So, I second talking to and/or emailing the reference librarians too. There may be more options available to graduate students for research than to the random undergraduate or public user who wanders into the library, so be sure to explain some background to them...that you are a grad student doing this for research in XYZ department, for example.
Happy digitizing!
posted by bessiemae at 5:59 PM on April 25, 2013

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