What Is A Microfilm?
This word is a combination of two very distinct ideas – micro, which means very small and film, which is a way of capturing images. In very basic terms, microfilm is like photographic film but smaller in size. It is generally used for creating visual records of such things as bank documents, old newspaper editions etc. The key benefit is preservation of important information.
Microfilm was first developed in the 1800s, so it is hardly a new technology. However, it wasn’t widely used until the first decades of the 20th century – about 1920. Microfilm machines make film copies of documents and records, using a specific type of camera. Because the film lasts a long time and is quite small this format saves a lot of space and expense.
One of the major differences between the use of microfilm and standard camera film is the way we view the final product. Microfilm images are viewed on a specific type of viewing machine. Generally, people don’t have printed copies of microfilm images. This technology became more popular in the late 1920s when the camera/film company Eastman Kodak bought the rights.
It wasn’t long before newspaper companies used microfilm to make images of past editions. Large corporations and major universities found that microfilm technology was an excellent way to preserve records. Putting newspaper editions on film saved thousands of square feet of storage space in libraries. It was no longer necessary to worry about the paper copies deteriorating.
Some people might ask why this couldn’t be accomplished with regular camera film. The major benefit is that microfilm cameras and film are designed to reduce the document image up to 99 percent of original size. Yet when this tiny image on film is inserted into the microfilm reader the person viewing the document can see it at life size.
Those who want to know a little more about the science and chemistry of microfilm will need to know about silver halide film, which is much like classic camera film, and vesicular film, which places the image on a strip made of polyester. This latter type is much less sensitive to light and is widely used to create small, storable document images.
How does this tiny, tiny image get back to life size for viewing? Think of the microfilm viewer as a huge microscope. The lens is designed to enlarge the image so it can be read easily. Most of the new types of film can last hundreds of years if stored properly. Temperature and light conditions are crucial in properly storing microfilm.
The history fanatics among us might want to know that a guy named Dancer is credited with invented microphotography (1839). A few years later people began to see the potential in this technology, yet people still used it sparingly. Expense may have had something to do with this limited use. It wasn’t until Eastman Kodak got involved that microfilm became the preferred method of storing and preserving records. This method is gradually being replaced by computer technology.