Equipment Review: Digitization Solution for Lantern Slides and Glass Plate Negatives

During my site visit to the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen (GSMT), in preparation for on site work there, the Archivist presented some lantern slides and glass plate negatives that they were keen to have digitized. Our scanner, the Epson V600, has the capability to scan transparencies but is limited in scope in terms of size of transparencies it can deal with and I knew looking at the material, they were too large for our scanner.

Epson V600 transparency capabilities:
Transparency size:
2.7”x9.5”

Supported film size:
35mm mounted slides
35mm film strips
Medium format strips 6x22cm

GSMT lantern slide size: 8.5x10cm
GSMT glass plate negative size: 35x28cm

Lantern slides and glass plate negatives abound in archives everywhere. They’re easy to digitize (if they’re in robust condition); you just need the right equipment in order to do so. Knowing our scanner could not accommodate them and knowing that I wanted to digitize them during my time on site at GSMT, I spent some time researching additional equipment to add to our kit.

I quickly settled on the solution of camera, light box and Photoshop . We technically didn’t need Photoshop for the lantern slides (aside from some cropping) but we did need Photoshop for the glass plate negatives as it enabled us to turn the negative into a positive.

We already had the camera, tripod and Photoshop; we just needed to add a light box to our kit. However, in this instance we also purchased a new camera lens. We already had a lens that came with our Canon Rebel T5; an 18-35mm lens. We’ve had some issues with lens curvature that’s purely due to the construction of the lens; the curve has been noticeable in some items I’ve digitized and so I’ve been thinking for some time about adding another lens to our kit. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so and I spent time researching different types of lenses, settling on the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens for the job. This lens has a flat field of focus and so does not reproduce the curvature our original lens does. This will not only help with types of material such as transparencies but with other formats that are unsuitable for scanning. However, it does have a limitation in terms of the size of item we can photograph because it is a short macro lens, but overall, it’s addition to our kit really helps with our copy-stand digitization solution.    

Our new Canon Macro Lens

Our new Canon EF-S 60mm Macro Lens

We’ve used B&H a lot during the compilation of our mobile digitization kits and they’ve also given us good advice on a few occasions when we’ve had questions, so it was my first port of call in search of a light box. As with everything in our kits, I needed it to be portable – as lightweight as possible and small enough to fit in my backpack. This need definitely scaled down my available options but I was able to find a product that suited our needs.

Our light box and camera solution for digitizing lantern slides.

Our light box and camera solution for digitizing lantern slides.

I opted for the Porta Trace 10”x12” – it was large enough to accommodate the lantern slides that needed digitizing but small enough to be able to fit in my backpack for easy transportation. The lightsource is LED which gives a more even distribution of light and does not heat up as quickly as other light sources. Purchasing this particular light box discounted our ability to digitize the glass plate negatives as they were too large but luckily, GSMT had a light box that was big enough to accommodate them, enabling their digitization as well – a bonus!

The light box and macro lens worked extremely well for the lantern slides and all 78 were digitized successfully. We are glad of the opportunity we had to work with GSMT and are happy that not only were we able to expand our kit enabling us to accommodate the digitization of different formats but also that we were able to digitize GSMT’s material successfully and allow access of them to wider audiences.

One of the lantern slides digitized with our light box and camera.

One of the lantern slides digitized with our light box and camera.

Equipment Review: Wheeled Pelican Transportation Cases

The major components of any digitization equipment for cultural heritage materials (typically) involve a scanner, a copy stand and a computer. Our mobile digitization approach hasn’t diverged from this model – we have all of the above to help us carry out our digitization work.

Where we do diverge, is the mobile aspect of the project. And that is where our wheeled transportation cases come in. We have two cases per kit – one for the scanner and one for the camera and lights, and without hesitation we can say that these are the unsung heroes of our kits!

We settled on the Pelican brand for the cases and have the following;
– For the Epson V600 scanner we purchased the Pelican Storm Trak iM2720 (approx $200 at B&H).
– 
For the Epson V800 scanner we purchased the Pelican Storm Trak iM2975 (approx $235 at B&H).
– For our Canon EOS Rebel T5 and lights we purchased the Pelican Storm Trak iM2620 (approx $175 at B&H).

The cases have been subjected to NYC sidewalks, the NYC subway system and the delivery systems of the Brooklyn and Queens libraries – all with no incident. There are two handles on the scanner case (one on the side and one on the top), one handle on the camera case (at the top) and both cases have retractable extension handles for easy transportation. They are sturdy, robust and none of our equipment has been damaged in transit. I was cautious and curious to see if the case would protect the fragile glass components of our scanners and have been thankful to see that the case has.

We purchased the cases with the foam option – there are 4 layers of 1.5 inch foam. This gives you the flexibility to take out layers as needed and cut the foam to size depending on your requirements. You can also purchase replacement foam (although it’s quite expensive at $117.95 for the camera case). As the foam comes in 4 layers, we additionally purchased some spray adhesive to glue the layers together once the cutting was complete. The spray adhesive turned out to be extremely useful as we’re forever lifting equipment in and out of the cases, so this means we’re not also lifting a layer of foam out with the equipment every time too!

Pelican case foam layers

Pelican case foam layers

The finished, personalized template for our copy stand equipment (lights, lens and camera)

The finished, personalized template for our copy stand equipment (lights, lens and camera)

The cases have been extremely reliable and I think we’ve all subjected them to some pretty rigorous testing. They’re not cheap but are worth every cent – they’ve allowed us to offer a truly mobile digitization service.

The whole kit ready to go

The whole kit ready to go

Equipment Review: Epson V600 Flatbed Scanner

Throughout the project, we’re keen to share our thoughts on the items that make up our mobile digitization kits. So far, we’ve reviewed our laptop and our mobile copy-stand but not yet our flatbed scanner; although, we did post near the beginning of the project about a problem we had with one of the Epson V600’s.

As is noted in our kit lists – two of the scanners we have are the Epson V600 model and the other is the Epson V800 model. We purchased the V800 as Queens Library already had a V600 and so wanted to experiment with a different model.

In a nutshell, I have been extremely pleased with the V600. It’s produced consistent, high quality preservation TIFF files and it’s extremely robust given that I’ve wheeled it all over New York City with no problem at all. Below is an overview of what the standouts are for me of this scanner.

Lightweight, which = portable
The V600 is 9 pounds. Due to the nature of our project, I’m forever lifting it in and out of its transportation case and I’ve had no trouble with this at all. It’s weight and dimensions (11″ x 19″ x 4.6″ W x D x H) mean it’s easy to move around.

 

The V600 onsite at The Grolier Club

The V600 onsite at The Grolier Club

Silverfast is worth the added $
The Silverfast license is an added cost with the V600 (an extra $49 but it’s included with the V800). As well as better color management and more granular setting options than the built-in Epson software, Silverfast also has a great pre-scan and selection functions. We have written a guide on the ‘pre-scan’ function in Silverfast which demonstrates the just how useful it can be, as it allows you to set scan parameters before the actual scan (useful for when scanning a light colored document as Epson Scan can’t seem to find the border of the document and often cuts the margin out). The pre-scan parameters also come in handy if you’re digitizing a small item; you can set the parameters directly around the item, reducing scan time, which has been very useful on several occasions. You can also rotate the image in pre-scan eliminates any skew problems in your scans right from the beginning, a bonus for not having to undertake that work during post-processing in Photoshop, for example.

Negative scanning function is great
I used this function when I was onsite at White Plains Public Library. They had some great film negatives from the refurbishment of the city’s train station and some great glass plate negatives of people using the library in the 1950s (if you’re interested you can check them out here). The scanner comes with trays to hold negatives in and it was extremely easy to switch between the reflective and transparency modes on the scanner, which I did in Silverfast. The negative scanning features are a big plus for this scanner; we were considering purchasing a separate slide/film scanner, which we ultimately didn’t need to do because of the V600’s added functionality in this area. 

One of the negatives I scanned with the V600 from the White Plains local history collection

One of the negatives I scanned with the V600 from the White Plains local history collection

I’d recommend the V600 to anyone looking to start a digitization project in the cultural heritage field. It’s not prohibitively expensive ($200), it consistently produces excellent quality master images and has the added benefit of negative scanning. The only thing I can think of that may is a mark against it, is the scanning bed size (max 8.5”x11.7”) but given our need for portability, this isn’t too much of an issue for us. We have written about the difficulty of finding equipment that bridges the gap between having the functionality to output archival quality preservation files (so many lightweight and ‘fast’ scanners on the market do not produce TIFFs) and being lightweight enough to be portable and the V600 is definitely the perfect scanner for us for our needs.

As we bought both the V600 and V800, I thought it might be useful to see the specifications of the two models. This isn’t a comparative table as these two models are quite different in their offerings – for different audiences (I won’t go into further detail about it as I’ve not used it extensively throughout the project).

Specifications V600 V800
Price $199.99 (Epson website price, March 2016) $739.99 (Epson website price, March 2016)
Maximum Scan Area
  • 8.5″ x 11.7″
  • TPU: 2.7″ x 9.5″
8.5″ x 11.7″
Transparency adapter Type: Built-in lid

Transparency Size: 2.7″ x 9.5″

Supported Film Size:

  • 35 mm mounted slides (4 frames)
  • 35 mm film strips (12 frames)
  • Medium format strips 6×22 cm (2 frames)

Dust/Scratch Removal: Digital ICE for Film

Transparency Size:

  • Transparency adapter: 8″ x 10″ (max size)
  • Transparency adapter using film holders/fluid mount: 5.9″ x 9.74″

Supported Film Size:

  • 35 mm slides (12 frames)
  • 35 mm film strips (18 frames)
  • Medium format film (1 frame, up to 6 x 20 cm)
  • 4″ x 5″ film (1 frame)

Dust/Scratch Removal:

  • Digital Dust Correction via Epson Scan
  • Digital ICE Technologies for Film and Prints
  • Optional Fluid Mount (scanning fluid and supplies not included)
Software
  • Epson Scan included.
  • Silverfast license additional cost.
  • Epson Scan and Silverfast included.
Optical resolution
  • 6400dpi
Hardware resolution
  • 6400 x 9600 dpi
  • 4800 x 9600 dpi
  • 6400 x 9600 dpi with Micro Step Drive™ technology
Effective pixels
  • 54,400 x 74,880 (6400 dpi)
  • 40,800 x 56,160 (4800 dpi)
  • 37,760 x 62,336 (6400 dpi)
Scanning speed
  • High-speed mode: 6400 dpi
  • Color: 21.00 msec / line
  • Monochrome: 21.00 msec / line
  • High-speed mode: 4800 dpi
  • Full Color: 12.3 msec / line (approx.)
  • Monochrome: 12.3 msec / line (approx.)

So, What’s in the Bag?

Equipment is one of the main facets of our project. We’ve used this blog as our key communication tool to talk about our mobile digitization kits, what they comprise of and how they’re working out for us. We’ve given a good overview of our mobile copy-stand and how portable the kit really is. But, what we haven’t touched on yet is; what is actually in our backpacks and is it all useful? The backpack holds the laptop and all of  the items that complete our scanning, copy stand and outreach kits. Some of which are heavily used; others not so.

Our backpack that holds all our supporting kit equipment.

Our backpack that holds all our supporting kit equipment.


The backpack itself was a great find and we all love it. We got in on sale from B&H for only $35 (it’s
currently $54.95). It has a laptop compartment at the back and then five other compartments – two side pockets, two front pockets and one main compartment. One of the advantages is the main compartment opens out fully (as you can see in the image below). This is really helpful for packing and unpacking.

The list below is a compilation of everything that makes up the ancillary items in the kit – not everything is in each kit due to divergence of needs between community and institution scanning. Also included, is information about whether we would buy that piece of kit again, given what we know about it now and how the project has evolved since we compiled the kit:

Laptop: Dell Precision Mobile Workstation M2800
We wrote about our laptop, which you can read here.
Buy again? No – we’d opt for a similar model but lighter.

Beike tripod fits nicely into the backpack.

Beike tripod fits nicely into the backpack.

Beike BK­555 Foldable Tripod Monopod with Ball Head for DSLR Camera
A key advantage of this tripod is the fact it folds down small enough to fit in the backpack – great for portability! The tripod for the institution kit is too large to fit into the backpack – you can read about the different tripods we have for the kits here.
Buy again? No – too flimsy for our requirements.

Western Digital My Passport Ultra 2TB Portable Hard Drive
A great, lightweight, small and portable external hard drive used to back up our master images, derivatives and metadata whilst we’re on location. Affordable too, at around $90 for 2TB of space.
Buy again? Yes

Belkin 6-Outlet Home/Office Surge Protector with 2.5 feet Cord & Straight Plug
Essential if there’s not many power sockets available – the laptop and scanner will need power and there may be times the camera batteries need charging on location.
Buy again? Yes – but would opt for a longer length lead.

Extension Cord
Extremely important for community events, as it’s not always possible to set up close to an outlet.
Buy again? Yes

Classics Stainless Steel Ruler with Cork Backing
For measuring dimensions of items to be digitized for metadata.
Buy again? Yes

White Nylon Gloves
Useful for handling photographs.
Buy again? Yes

Rocket Air Blaster Air Blower, Large
Bought as a handy way to ensure lint and dust are not on the documents or scanner glass before digitization.
Buy again? Yes

Kinetronics Digital Scanner Glass Cleaning Kit
One of the most used and treasured item in the kit! When on location, it can be used to ensure fingerprints and other marks are cleaned from the scanner bed glass.
Buy again? Yes

Extremely useful piece of kit.

Extremely useful piece of kit.

Kinetronics Anti-static Microfiber Cloth, 10×18-Inch Tiger Cloth
Always useful to have a backup cleaning cloth.
Buy again? Yes

Phone Cables (iPhone & Samsung)
Used for community scanning when donors bring in images to donate from their phones. We recently wrote about the experience of using them at community events, which you can read here.
Buy again? Yes (depending on circumstance).

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5-Inch Tablet (16 GB)
Excellent for community scanning settings. The large screen tablet is used specifically for outreach activities to display historical slideshows to event participants as a move towards interactive community scanning events.
Buy again? Yes

Close up of the historic slideshow tablet.

Close up of the historic slideshow tablet.

Wireless Computer Mouse
Useful as an alternative to using the laptop touchpad.
Buy again? Yes

Spare Battery: Watson – LP­E10 Lithium Ion Battery Pack
We’ve written about the need for spare batteries when using the copy stand as shooting remotely through the laptop drains the battery very quickly.
Buy again? Yes – an essential!

Backdrop: ePhotoInc 10 x 10 ft Solid Grey Muslin Backdrop Studio Background
The color of this backdrop is great but the material is muslin and as it is carried in the backpack everywhere, it creases very easily which can cause problems when digitizing the material to try and keep the creases out of the master images.
Buy again? No, would likely try and find a material that doesn’t crease as much.

Clamps for Backdrop: Heavy Duty Muslin Clamps
These clamps are used to secure the linen backdrop to a table for copy stand work. They are quite hard to open but extremely useful.
Buy again? Yes

Clamps for securing our muslin into place.

Clamps for securing our muslin into place.

Lens Filter Kit: 58MM Professional Lens Filter Accessory Kit for CANON EOS Rebel
Initially bought to use with the copy stand as a way to filter unwanted light out of the shots but has not been used in any of the kits.
Buy again? No

Color Balance Cards: DGK Color Tools Optek Premium Reference White Balance Card Set
This is a well used piece of kit for setting the white balance on the copy stand before each item is digitized.
Buy again? Yes

The camera remote switch was not a huge success.

The camera remote switch was not a huge success.

Remote Switch for Camera: Vello RS­C1II Wired Remote Switch for Camera
Bought to use with the camera as another option instead of remote shooting through the computer.
Buy again? No. Not this particular model, as it didn’t really work. It could be worth investing some more research into alternative solutions or simply relying on remote shooting through a computer if that option is available.

USB 2.0 Extension Cable
Used as an extension lead to plug the camera into the laptop for remote shooting. Very useful as it allows us to position the laptop away from the copy stand.
Buy again? Yes

Small Spirit Level
Ensures the camera is correctly positioned on the copy stand to allow for an even shot.
Buy again? Yes

Color and Grey Scales: Kodak Color Separation Guide and Gray Scale (Q­13, 8″ Long)
An important piece of kit and whilst quite expensive, is worth the cost.
Buy again? Yes

Kodak color guides

Kodak color guides

Book Cradle
Initially bought for use in the institution kit for small books/pamphlets. Has not been used and unsure if it would prove useful in future scenarios.
Buy again? No

Archival Polyester Book Strips (1″ x 500″ Long Roll)
Used alongside the weight bags to flatten material, if needed, ahead of digitization.
Buy again? Yes

pH Neutral Tape (3/4 x 72yds)
Used for securing book strips to muslin cloth, if needed, to provide greater stability for holding items in place during digitization.
Buy again? Yes

½ lb. Weight Bag (4)
Used to secure book strips down for flattening material during digitization.
Buy again? Yes

Outreach Materials: Forms, Brochures and Leaflets.
Community scanning events require a lot of administrative material such as metadata forms, donor consent forms and donor feedback forms. We also bring brochures about the project and personal digital archiving, as well as flyers with a list of upcoming events.
Buy again? Not an upfront cost but an ongoing administrative cost for printing and development.

Outreach Materials: Pens, Pencils.
Pens and pencils are needed at community scanning events to complete consent forms, metadata forms and feedback surveys.
Buy again? Yes.

You can access our equipment lists here and here which provide links to the products from the websites we purchased them from and also the cost of individual items.

Our Mobile Copy-stand: The Review

This post is largely based on my experience of using the copy-stand for Culture in Transit’s work with institutions. Maggie & Sarah’s experience of using the copy-stand in a community event setting varies and they’ll address their thoughts/experience separately.

A copy-stand is a device used to capture images or text with a camera. It is used by cultural heritage institutions as an alternative to book scanners or flatbed scanners to digitize historical material.

Generally, a copy-stand is kept in one place, hence is static and (broadly speaking) thought does not need to given to weight or portability of the equipment. A copy-stand usually consists of a baseboard with a center column affixed to it, to which the camera can be mounted. Photographic lights are mostly also used as part of the set-up.

From the outset, we knew we needed to get creative with our interpretation of a copy-stand that could be transported as part of our mobile kit. Heavy baseboards and center columns would just not be feasible, so our attention turned to tripods and material backdrops as alternatives.

The CIT team, as well as some colleagues at METRO have prior experience digitizing historical material, so we knew broadly what pieces of kit we needed. What we didn’t have, was experience building a kit whose first requirement was to be mobile. In today’s age, with all of the advances made in developing lightweight materials, you’d think it would be easy to compile a kit of super lightweight components. As we soon learned, this is not the case.    

After research and a bit of trial and error, we settled on a Canon digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera, a tripod that inverts, so the camera can be mounted to it pointing downward, a grey backdrop and daylight balance compact fluorescent desktop lamps.

Our copy-stand set-up

Our copy-stand set-up

 

Since we first compiled the kit back in June, it’s undergone a few modifications and the community and institution kits have diverged slightly. The two differences, are the tripod and the lights. We’ve chosen to only make the changes to one kit because the copy-stand has not been used as readily at community scanning events as it’s been used at METRO member institutions.

Here’s the kit review breakdown;

CameraCanon EOS Rebel T5 DSLR Camera with 18­-55mm Lens

The Canon Rebel T5

The Canon Rebel T5

  • Positives:
    • The camera comes with good software to allow for remote shooting through computer. This has the advantage of not needing to touch the camera whilst affixed to the tripod, negating the risk of accidentally moving it from its precise, perfect angle!
    • In an institutional setting, I have produced good, clear images with the camera. The only caveat to this was at the Wildlife Conservation Society (METRO’s pilot institution) some images of text based material came out slightly unfocused. We hadn’t refined our QA processes yet so unfortunately a few images were unusable. We quickly realized we needed to allow for the step of ensuring the camera is focused for every single shot and not relying on the camera to autofocus itself. Whilst using the EOS Utility software for remote shooting, the focus adjusts from auto to manual, requiring the additional step of ensuring the focus is accurate before image capture every time.
  • Negatives:
    • The biggest obstacle/downside to the camera is lens curvature. This will always present as a problem due to the nature of the construction of the lens. We looked into purchasing a wide angle or macro lens as an alternative but after a bit more in-depth research and asking the advice of the creator of the website Preserving History, we chose to continue on with the lens we have. The Canon EOS T5 has a 1.6 crop factor, meaning the lens mm gets multiplied by 1.6, thus the maximum zoom of 35 mm on the Canon lens is equivalent to 56 mm (35 x 1.6) on a traditional film camera. If we ensure we shoot at 35mm, we diminish the lens curvature issue. The tripod also allows the ability to move the camera closer to the equipment if necessary, instead of zooming with the lens. This issue hasn’t completely gone away as I’ve learned whilst using the copy-stand at Yeshiva University, digitizing posters. I would still be interested in experimenting with a different lens to try and combat this issue and reduce the need for heavy post-processing image editing.      
    • The software used for remote shooting drains the battery very quickly. After an hours work with it onsite at the Wildlife Conservation Society, the battery was dead. We had already purchased a spare camera battery, so we just added one more spare battery to the kit so whilst one is charging and one is in use, we still have a spare to rely on.

Tripod:

Original (and still part of community kit) – Beike BK-555 Foldable Tripod Monopod with Ball Head

  • Positives:
    • Lightweight.
    • Folds down to fit into backpack neatly.

      The original Beike tripod fits neatly in our kit backpack

      The original Beike tripod fits neatly in our kit backpack

  • Negatives:
    • As it’s so lightweight it wasn’t as sturdy as we’d have liked.
    • The tripods were low-quality and began to fall apart quickly.

Alternative (and part of institution kit) – Oben AT­3461 Aluminum Tripod With BA­117T Ball Head

  • Positives:
    • Legs extend out more than original tripod so gives greater flexibility on size of material we can digitize.
  • Negatives
    • Longer legs means it no longer fits into the backpack and needs to be carried separately.
    • Heavier than the original tripod and more expensive.
    • This is a broader negative that would concern any tripod used for a copy-stand, not just this one; as the support column on a static copy-stand is mounted perpendicular to the base, you are able to get the camera perfectly parallel to the base every time. With a tripod – you cannot. We overcame this issue by purchasing a spirit level to check the camera’s angle before every use. 
IMG_5357

The tripod on the left is our Oben tripod, used in the institution kit – one of the positives is the greater leg length.

Verdict: I prefer the alternative tripod we purchased because of its greater stability and leg length. We purchased this as an alternative because when the first tripod arrived, we were concerned it wasn’t robust enough – the positive of it being lightweight, meant the negative of it seeming quite flimsy. I contacted B&H (whose expertise we relied on quite a bit for different pieces of kit) and asked what their best tripod was that inverted and was lightweight and they suggested the Oben. Yes, it is heavier than the Beike and more expensive but on balance, for the sort of work we are doing and the need to produce high-quality output, the extra money and weight has been worth it.      

BackdropePhotoInc 10x10ft solid grey muslin backdrop

  • Positives:
    • Excellent color for photographic work.
    • It works for our purposes as it can be folded up and transported in our backpack.
  • Negatives:
    • Large, very large! It was quite unwieldy to use at first due to its size, so we cut it up into three more manageable pieces.
    • The biggest problem with it is material type. It creases extremely easily and the creases are hard to get out. This can affect the quality of the master image if the creases can be seen in the background.

Verdict: The problem with this bit of kit is I don’t know what a good alternative for use in a mobile kit would be. A backboard, however lightweight would not work as well, as it would need to be limited to a specific size to be packed into our photo case or backpack. We did also give some thought to grey seamless paper (example) too, however because of our need to be portable, paper would not travel well and would be far too easily damaged and creased/possibly ripped. So, on the whole, whilst it’s frustrating that the material creases, it is an excellent colour and adequate backdrop for the work.   

Lights:

Original (and still part of community kit) – CowboyStudio Photography Table Top Photo Studio Lighting Kit

The original lights, still part of the community kit.

The original lights, still part of the community kit.

  • Positives:
    • Easy to put together, comes in multiple parts which allows for easy transportation.
    • Affordable – the kit cost $42 (price correct as of June 2015) for two lights including the bulbs.
  • Negatives:
    • Not very robust – a screw already lost on one kit.
    • Bulbs get hot quite quickly.
    • Even though these lights come equipped with the most suitable bulbs for digitization work (5000K Daylight Balance Compact Fluorescent), they seemed a little to dim to light the material adequately. The material I have digitized with the lights, has had to be lightened a touch in Photoshop.

Alternative (and part of institution kit) – Genaray SpectroLED Outfit 500 Daylight LED Light

The Generay LED lights now part of the institution kit.

The Generay LED lights now part of the institution kit.

  • Positives:
    • Easy to put together and come in their own carry case.
    • As they’re LED, they produce less heat and UV emissions than fluorescent bulbs.
    • Directly comparing them to the other lights I’ve used, they produce a much brighter, more even distribution of light across the material to be digitized.
    • They have a 100-0% dimming function which is extremely useful functionality as it enables you to adapt the lighting dependent on your circumstance. A drawback of a mobile digitization service is you cannot control what environment you will be digitizing in, hence can be limited in your ability to control any natural/artificial light. Having the dimming functionality allows a little more control over lighting of material onsite.
    • Light enough to be picked up and moved around to suit the needs of the digitization. Related to this, they are battery powered, so are no power leads to contend with when positioning and repositioning them.
  • Negatives:
    • Very expensive ($419 per light – price correct as of December 2015). They also do not come with a stand, so that is an additional cost (n.b. we purchased these light stands for the lights on the advice of a B&H rep and they’re great, no complaints).
    • The batteries lasted a total of 2.5 hours of continuous use before they began dying.
    • Related to the previous point, the batteries take a long time to re-charge, around 4 hours. This has the distinct disadvantage of leaving you unable to use the copy-stand for a significant period of time. Knowing this, I adjusted my workflow to work on image editing and metadata whilst the batteries charged, so no real time was lost. An alternative, if workflow adjustment isn’t an option, would be to purchase spare batteries. However, they are expensive ($60 each as at January 2016) and you would need four, which significantly bumps up the cost the lights overall.  

Verdict: Directly comparing them to the original lights we purchased, I prefer these. They produce a better, brighter and more even light for digitization work and I prefer that they are battery powered rather than mains powered so they can be can easily moved around with no wire repositioning. They do come at a cost though. I would recommend purchasing spare batteries for the lights and so for a light set (a light, two spare batteries and a light-stand) you’re looking at over $550 (approx price accurate as at January 2016).  

Solving the problem of not having any glass to flatten rolled posters with book strips and weights.

Solving the problem of not having any glass to flatten rolled posters with book strips and weights.

Other observations
One challenge I faced at my latest host institution, Yeshiva University, was digitizing rolled posters. The ideal solution to rolled material and a feature of traditional copy-stands and book scanners is plexi-glass or a variation of that. I have always had it in mind we could face this issue during the course of the project but again, we have the problem of transporting plexi-glass or variant as part of the mobile kit. As with a copy-stand backboard, it would need to be a certain size to fit into the camera carry case or backpack. This would limit the size of the material we could digitize to the dimensions of the case we were using. Another option could be to purchase a carry case – similar to this – large enough to accommodate plexiglass but again, adding more bulk to the kit. I’ve overcome this obstacle by purchasing thick archival quality book strips and book weights (these and these) to hold the item down at the top and bottom. It’s worked well with the rolled posters at Yeshiva – you have to be careful to angle the lights so the book strips do not catch any light reflection but overall, I’m very happy with this solution.

Conclusions
Is the copy-stand kit mobile? A dictionary will give you the following definition of mobile; “capable of moving or being moved readily”. Based on this definition alone, yes the copy-stand kit is mobile. However, this does not take into account the weight of each item and the transportation case, which hampers its ability to be truly lightweight and mobile.

Putting personal emotions about the copy-stand aside – the kit we have compiled is perfectly functional and more than adequate at digitizing and producing archival quality master images of historical material which is the crux of our needs for it.

The problem, I think, comes with comparisons. We (I know I do) are comparing our kit to a more traditional, in-house copy-stand setup, that can be used in a controlled environment. The two scenarios – in-house and out in the field – are just too different with too many variant factors to be worth comparing. Whilst we’ll never be able to truly replicate an in-house model, what we’ve compiled gives us the ability to provide a service to assist those who have neither the means or the capability to digitize their materials.

Perhaps the key lies in switching careers to design and manufacture high quality, lightweight, and affordable cultural heritage digitization equipment!

**This post has focused on the most important parts of the copy-stand kit – the camera, tripod, lights and backdrop. We will be writing another post reviewing our ancillary kit items that are used with the copy-stand and/or scanner.**