35 mm microfilm / manuscripts

Gunthard Mueller gm at ANTHOSIMPRINT.COM
Wed Dec 27 21:21:06 UTC 2000

Dear Claude,
thank you very much for your thoughtful suggestions.
Your idea about having a contact film done sounds like a good way to go.
before I go that way (after all it's another copying process), I'll try
explore the other paths.
Unfortunately, we have already looked into the input part of our film
scanning system (Nikon), and it doesn't look modifiable. But you are
right, one
should follow that alley a bit more. I'll get in touch with Nikon and
check if
they have an idea.
Dr. Feistel (director of the Oriental Department of the Staatsbibliothek
has also informed me today that Xerox is thought to make a product that
work for 35mm rolls. I'll explore that tomorrow, too.
In the meantime, I have been told today that I might be getting a film
made with the same or very similar film type, and we are going to cut
that up
and check if our scanning system yields the expected quality. If that is
so, we
might get a second edition of the Baroda microfilm and then cut that one
I am not sure how often we will have this problem, so I think I'll wait
investing in a customized scanner solution at least for the moment, and
as long
as we haven't fully explored the above alternatives.
I'll keep you posted!

What we have access to:
we have put together a state-of-the-art digitisation system and
special publishing software for digitising and publishing original
manuscripts and prints. We normally digitise directly, without
microfilm. The
quality with direct digitisation is infinitely better than microfilm--no

comparison in fact (full colour, very high resolution, no or minimal
loss of
contrast, minimal light intensity, etc.).
We have also developed a special algorithm for digitally blackening palm
that were not physically blackened. The result looks eerily like a
blackened leaf, but without the damage that physical blackening normally

And: we can now finally PRINT unblackened palm-leaf books! We digitise
blacken them digitally, then print them. The result is so good that some

scholars to whom we showed colour prints of physically blackened palm
leaves and
some of our digitally blackened ones could not discern which one was
We are able to digitise through glass panes, which was very difficult
photo cameras.
We digitise without flash, in other words we don't "bomb" the material
with very
high lux levels. (The flash has the danger of starting chemical
reactions in the
material, which has so far prevented the digitisation of many sensitive

We publish both the authentic (unblackened) and the digitally blackened
together on digital media. We publish two types of media: (1) normed
versions (normed data carriers, especially ISO-9660 CDs), (2)
multimedia versions including special software for high-resolution
moving the leaf on the screen, an autoreader that reads the palm leaf
(great for learning Grantha or Sarada, coming soon), flipping the page
etc.; for
Macintosh and Windows. We also commission scholars to write
introductions and
other contributions for the CDs.
We pay royalties to the institutions or individuals who preserve the
manuscript, and to the scholars who contribute academic input.
To make all this affordable we prize the CDs at only US$10,-- for
scholars, and US$100,-- for an unlimited internal-use license for
(university libraries, research institutes, etc.).

We are currently digitising many thousand manuscripts in India itself.
Some of
the manuscripts are very exciting, many of them never published before.
We are
expecting the first CD-ROM editions from these around mid-March. We are
an Indian organisation, and we are very lucky in that many Indian
who preserve original manuscripts have already approached us and have

We have also got good relations with the German National Library in
Berlin, and
we hope that next year we will be allowed to publish some of their
treasures, among them for example the probably oldest existing palm leaf
have already digitised it). They also have beautiful material like
gold-and-colour miniature paintings, very exquisite, from the Jehangir
collection. We have already digitised a sample. There are also wonderful

birch-bark texts in Sarada script. We might also publish other
especially Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian. Possibly also some very
exquisite Jewish

Similarly, we are in touch with other libraries, museums, archives and
organisations around the world for possible cooperation.

Currently available are:
(1) The Tattva-viveka by Pillai Lokacharya (13th century, Sanskrit, in
script), discovered by Prof. M. A. Venkatakrishnan, University of
Chennai in a
manuscript from Melkote. With a preface by Dr. Srilata Mueller,
University of
(2) A hitherto unpublished manuscript, a commentary on the Mudal
Tiruvandadi of
Pogai Alvar (100 Tamil verses), thought to be by Nampillai. With a
preface by
Dr. M. A. Venkatakrishnan, University of Chennai. This edition is in the
check now, available from January.

In preparation: a multimedia edition of the gadyatrayam, and a
and a translation of the above Tattva-viveka.

>From the Indian input, we think we might be able to publish roughly 10
to 30
palm-leaf manuscript editions per month, starting around March.

We are also trying to help with digitising photographic material
(positive and
negative slides of all the sizes in common use), and we can also offer
microfilm digitisation.

Microfilm durability:
Most microfilm material used so far has a life expectancy of around
fifty years.

The problem is that it is an analog material, which means: it is out of
i.e. parts of the film decay without anybody noticing. There is no
checksum or other method for checking quality. The material simply
slowly, not unlike bad paper. Under good conditions it might last sixty
under bad ones maybe only thirty.
16mm microfilm makers have recently pioneered new film types that are
now said
to last much longer.
But as it is still analog material, I am skeptical. There is no way to
such claims with analog material.
There is also the problem of quality. Microfilm photography is a far cry
direct digitisation. Even now, most new microfilm material has a very
resolution, no colours, and rather limited gray scales.
Some initiatives have sprung up that now place digital data on
microfilm. That
would solve the quality problem (i.e. digitise directly, then put the
result on
microfilm), but personally I am still to be convinced that these very
new film
materials really live up to the promises. We have had so many such
about new film materials ("tapes"...) in the computer world already,
with new
magic tape types being advertised all the time as being super-reliable,
but, as
you probably know yourself, these promises were all very unrealistic
indeed. In
actual fact, no tape manufacturer in the digital world has enough
courage to
give a warranty of more than five years. Ssome DLT material makers give
such a
warranty, but some digital film makers only give a six-month warranty.
It is much easier to claim amazing durability life spans if you reckon
people will put analog material on the film, rather than digital. If
material decays, the user knows it has decayed the moment he tries to
read the
tape and it fails. If analog material decays, nobody can prove the
decay. The
manufacturer will claim the photography was what the film shows, and
users don't
have the technical material to disprove it.
The other problem with microfilm is that publishing materials on
microfilm is
expensive, slow, and few people have continuous access to a microfilm
reader. At
best, you can get access in a library, museum, etc.; further, microfilm
can be printed on reader-printer machines, but not edited any further,
the way
you can with digital material.
We have recently digitised a piece that was made of leather, turned
black over
the years, with Hebrew writing in black ink on it. Material like that
cannot be
microfilmed. But it can be digitised, and we were able to already read
some of
the text on the screen directly after digitisation, and with a bit of
work we turned the black leather into silver or light gray, while
keeping the
black ink black. Now we can read it beautifully, and we could print it
on our
digital four-colour printing machine. This kind of editing requires

If you want, I can keep you up-to-date on our latest publications. They
are very
useful for scholars who are working on critical editions, for e-texting
(you can send the same manuscript around the world to your typists, for
just a
few dollars a piece), for learning Grantha, Sarada or other scripts, or
just for
fun if you like to see the "original manuscripts"!

Happy New Year!

gm at e-ternals.com

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