Readability & Richness: Why Low Magnification is Essential in Microfilm Scanning

What is Low Magnification?

Low magnification describes a type of image enlargement that preserves the resolution of the image without blurring or pixelation. This process is also referred to as ‘optical zoom’. By contrast, ‘digital zoom’ uses high magnification to expand an image by reducing the number of pixels, leading to a drastic loss of image clarity.

Why is Low Magnification Important for Digitized Microfilm Archives?

Microfilm collections that are commonly digitized include historical newspapers, statistical records, photographs, and genealogical documents, notably birth, death, and marriage certificates. Low magnification allows users to appreciate the entire richness of these archives. The smallest fonts, for example in newspaper collections, can be enlarged while maintaining a razor-sharp quality. Fine details of images can be thoroughly inspected too, strengthening the role of multimedia in research.

Consider a rare manuscript. A low-resolution scan of this manuscript may render the words on the page perfectly readable, yet the full value of this artifact lies in so much more than the text itself. By consistently protecting image clarity, low magnification optical zoom enables a close and multi-faceted exploration of elements such as illustrations, binding, scribal practices, and provenance marks.

The possibilities for image digitization have empowered researchers to widely disseminate knowledge of topics as diverse as New York historical newspapers and the Antarctic Bibliography polar research records! This extensive access to scholarly knowledge and resources would not be feasible if the images remained in the unwieldy form of microfilm.

However, equally important to remember is that the digital scans must be of sufficient quality. Otherwise, a difficult trade-off can arise between the digital availability of materials and their actual research benefits. High-quality digital images facilitate convenient access to resources whilst offering a level of readability and detail that sustains, even enhances, the ‘feel’ of immersive research in physical or microfilm archives.

It is essential to commit to image quality at the very beginning of microfilm digitization projects, in order to preserve the research value and usefulness of collections. Digitizing microfilm images at the highest possible resolution is always advisable. This is because high-resolution files can be compressed, but reversing this process and attempting to increase resolution after image scanning will produce poor-quality images.

Failing to collect quality, high-resolution images may restrict the future application of software and research tools to archival collections. For instance, optical character recognition (OCR) software requires a minimum resolution standard of 300 dpi, or higher if the text size is unusually small. Text scanned at lower resolutions will have limited findability in OCR-operated search functions.

Technologies for optimizing the research value of archival collections are constantly evolving. As just one illustration, there is currently an exciting effort to develop OCR software that will recognize handwritten manuscripts rather than only printed text. Ensuring image clarity and quality in digitization projects will future-proof collections so they are ready and waiting for these technological advancements.

How Can You Maximize Collection Quality with Low Magnification?

Achieving high-resolution images with low-magnification optical zoom technology starts with your choice of a microfilm scanner. Key factors to look for include the optical zoom range, which impacts the clarity of fine details within digitized microfilm images. Furthermore, a high optical zoom range makes a microfilm scanner versatile; the scanner will be able to handle both different types of microfilm and the heterogeneity of many microfilm image collections.

The ScanPro 3500 and i9500 feature an optical zoom range of 5x-105x, the highest of any microfilm scanner on the market. This impressive zoom capability is combined with a 26-megapixel camera to produce stunning image clarity and archival-quality scans. The ScanPro 2500 model comes with an optical zoom range of 5x-32x as standard that can be increased to 5x-105x simply by adding a ScanPro Advantage Membership.

As well as the resolution of individual images, uniformity of image quality and presentation throughout collections is also vital, particularly in large-scale digitization projects. Uniform images will harmonize the archive, giving the impression of a holistic collection rather than merely a series of disparate materials. With ScanPro, quality and consistency can be delivered with minimal user intervention, using the much-loved ‘magic button’ AUTO-Adjust™ tool that will automatically straighten images and optimize the brightness and contrast.

Numerous other innovative ScanPro features make it intuitive to generate and use high-resolution, readable digitized microfilm images. The FOCUS-Lock™ maintains image focus even during optical zoom, which facilitates fast look-ups and efficient research. Moreover, the software creates high-resolution images without the awkward compromise of unwieldy file sizes that slow down systems – file sizes remain small and easy to manipulate.

Schedule a demo to see how ScanPro can maximize the quality of your digital microfilm archives.

ScanPro Advantage Membership

Get the most out of your ScanPro microfilm scanner with access to the ScanPro Advantage Membership. Alongside the ‘No Fine Print Warranty’, members receive additional cutting-edge features to make working with microfilm an effortless and enjoyable process.

AUTO-Scan™ Pro offers high-speed automated scanning of up to 100 images per minute, resulting in super-efficient digitization. Meanwhile, AUTO-Scan Quality Assurance ensures total image capture and eliminates the need for time-consuming quality control and checking procedures.

Register for membership today and streamline your microfilm digitization projects.


Andrew Prescott and Lorna Hughes, ‘Why Do We Digitize? The Case for Slow Digitization’

Rob Wells, ‘NYS Historic Newspapers’

Polar Libraries Colloquy, ‘Preserving the Legacy of Polar Research’

Margot Note, ‘Archives: Digital Imaging and Resolution Recommendations’

IMPACT Improving Access to Text, ‘Strategic FAQ Answers’

L.W.C. Van Lit, ‘Digitized Manuscripts and Their Repositories, an Ethnography’

Emily Lapworth, Sarah Jones, and Marina Georgieva, ‘Microfilm, Manuscripts, and Photographs: A Case Study Comparing Three Large-Scale Digitization Projects’

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