Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, July 30, 2017

What is Present Situation with Microfilm?

By Valerie from Atlanta - SC Archive, CC BY 2.0,
Microfilm is described as follows in the Wikipedia article, "Microform."
16 mm or 35 mm film to motion picture standard is used, usually unperforated. Roll microfilm is stored on open reels or put into cassettes. The standard lengths for using roll film is 30.48 m (100 ft) for 35mm rolls, and 100 ft, 130 ft and 215 feet for 16mm rolls. One roll of 35 mm film may carry 600 images of large engineering drawings or 800 images of broadsheet newspaper pages. 16 mm film may carry 2,400 images of letter sized images as a single stream of micro images along the film set so that lines of text are parallel to the sides of the film or 10,000 small documents, perhaps cheques or betting slips, with both sides of the originals set side by side on the film.
I have been writing about microfilm recently because of the announcement that rental, duplication, and shipment of microfilm will cease as of September 1, 2017. See "Official FamilySearch Press Release re Discontinuing Microfilm Shipments." In following up on my earlier writing, I decided to see if I could come up with the current cost of microfilm. I am sure that some company somewhere has a price list, but I could not find anything about the sale of raw microfilm online. I did find where Kodak was going to start remanufacturing Ektachrome film sometime in 2017 so the film camera buffs can buy slide film again. But several searches for the price of raw microfilm turned up nothing.

Apparently, genealogists are almost the last people in the world to depend on microfilmed records. I did find a huge selection or new and used microfilm viewing machines online. Some of the large record repositories, such as the National Archives, are apparently continuing to supply microfilm copies to their patrons. It appears to me that this is a cost issue. If a microfilm image is digitized, the image can be distributed essentially for free, although there is a built in cost of producing the online images, storing them online and then marking them available to patrons. But once the digital images are online there is a very low cost for maintaining the digital images of each roll of microfilm.

If it is so hard to find a price for raw microfilm online, I am guessing that the price is not subject to a lot of competition.

Now let's get down to brass tacks. Is microfilm a viable archive media? If yes, how much longer will microfilm be viable? I mentioned Ektachrome film above because that is a film used in film cameras. A few years ago, I picked up a little bit of income from buying and selling used cameras. Over about a two or three year period, the selling price of almost all used film cameras dropped to essentially zero. Only the most expensive Leica and Hasselblads retained any kind of value. Today, for example, I could buy an Argus C3 Rangefinder camera in good condition for under $10.00 on and I couldn't sell it for a penny more. Other common cameras are selling for similar prices. I could buy a 1979 Pentax ME Super Camera with 50mm & Vivitar 28-200mm Lens (Papers Included) for under $40.00 and there are no bids on this camera on

More important than the price of microfilm is the issue that almost all the film cameras for taking high-resolution microfilm images and then developing the film are no longer being manufactured. We are caught between two out-moded technologies: film cameras and microfilm. Now, before you write and tell me that there is a "film" camera resurgence going on, I already know about it. But the people who are still interested in taking photos with film cameras are not making the cameras. If the cameras are not being made then there will eventually be an end to microfilm even if someone continued to make the film.

I quite taking film images years ago. I now use Canon and Sony digital cameras as well as my iPhone for all my photos. That is enough for me to see that digital images will replace film generated images almost completely at some point in time. When film cameras are no longer available then film will disappear. That may take a long time, but will be inevitable.


  1. While I appreciate the issues with microfilm, I wish that the decision to stop distribution would have been put off a little longer. The records from Eastern Europe will likely be among the last to be digitized, if at all. Without the ability to travel to SLC, my research will be severely hampered.

    1. I guess I don't understand why you think that the Eastern European records will be among the last to be digitized. I started looking at the records listed as digitized from Eastern European countries and found most of them already in the Catalog as digitized with images available. Perhaps you could be more specific about the country and records you feel will be the last to be digitized?