Genealogy: Photographing microfilm

Photographing microfilmBy Barry J. Ewell

For over 40 years I have used the camera to capture the lives of my family and friends.  The camera has been a very important tool in my professional career in public relations and advertising.  I first started with a film camera and spent hundreds of wonderful/fun hours in a dark room developing and printing my on prints.

Since the late 90’s I have used the digital camera extensively in to aid in my genealogical research in places such as local courthouses, libraries, genealogical societies, family cemeteries, and long-ago home sites and the homes of those who have a portion of the family record.

The following is the process I use with my digital camera to photograph micorfilm.

Note:   These are the backlit or rear projection readers that shine a light through the film and use a series of mirrors and/or lenses to display an image of the film on a vertical or flat surface. The image displayed on either style can be easily photographed.

  1. Depending upon your circumstances, you may or may not need to mount your camera on a tripod.  I have been able to raise my camera up near the projection lens and click the shutter button and gain a clear photo with no distortion. If you choose to use a tripod, place your camera on a tripod located in front of the reader screen.
  2. Place a white paper on the reader surface as the target area for shooting. Try other blank sheets of colored paper (e.g., pink, blue, yellow) to see if these colors help you with readability of the image.
  3. Adjust the camera/tripod position so that the information you want to copy fills the LCD frame, not the viewfinder.
  4. Set the macro mode if necessary. This will depend on your camera model and how far away it is from the microfilm reader.
  5. Make sure the flash is turned off.
  6. Set the camera’s self-timer if needed.
  7. Gently press the shutter button halfway to lock the exposure and focus.
  8. Press the button completely down.  If using the self-timer, move away from the camera and wait for the self-timer to trip the shutter.
  9. Take several shots. Consider using the “best shot selector” and/or auto bracketing your shots if your camera has these features, or manual bracketing if it doesn’t.

The following is graphic depiction of how I set up the tools I discussed above to digitize slides, film, and microfilm.

Photographing microfilm