Saturday, February 9, 2013

Microfilm vs. Digital -- Pros and Cons

Last week I cranked through a roll of microfilm at my local Family History Center (FHC).  This week I clicked through a roll of (unindexed) digitized online film images at FamilySearch.  While cranking I was thinking how much easier it would be if the film had been digitized.  While clicking I was think how much easier it might be if I could crank.  I decided to jot down the pros and cons -- just as a reminder to myself.

Microfilm - Pros
> can choose the speed at which to view the pages
> can choose positive and negative film images (depending on reader)
> speed of viewing is dependent on legibility of the records

Microfilm - Cons
> eye strain from scrolling images
> must crank
> must adjust lenses
> speed of viewing is dependent on legibility of the records
> must leave home to view film
> film available only during FHC's open hours
> can print only if viewing on a reader with a printer attached
> must photograph if no printer is available
> images may have dust specks from the microfilm reader's lenses

Digital - Pros (with internet connection at home)
> can view 24-hours/day
> can enlarge to look more closely
> can download and view offline
> can print  images
> images are clear
> images are usually clean and dust free
> can choose positive or negative views

Digital - Cons
> viewing may be slow depending on how long page loads take

The best option, in my opinion, is digital images that have already been indexed.  Of course there's always the possibility of indexing errors which could cause an ancestor to be missed (but page-by-page views would probably still be available).

Do you have any other pros or cons to add to this list?



  1. Another con for microfilm:
    Even if you can print it, you may have to print an entire article in sections, meaning when you get home, to digitize the entire article, you have to scan and stitch.


    1. Hi Dee,
      The new ST Imaging ViewScan Premium Software will allow you to merge articles onto on page or scan. This tool is called ST ClipMerge. If your location has the ST ViewScan this software will be made available free of charge in late March.
      Matt Anderson

    2. I forgot about that, Dee, since the printer at our local FHC hasn't worked for a few years.

      Thanks to the link for ClipMerge, Matt. I'll remember it when I need to stitch.

  2. At the Library of Virginia, the microfilm goes through new kind of reader and we no longer have to print and pay for the copies. We simply save to a flash drive. The new readers can adjust brightness, reverse the black and white, zoom, crop, etc. Not sure if this is a pro or con, but many of the old drawbacks have been eliminated.

    1. I have heard of these new readers, Wendy, but haven't seen or used one yet. Maybe our local archives will have them when I go back, since they're moved and updated their microfilm room. (I can hope!) Thanks for sharing, Wendy.

    2. Hi Nancy,
      Where is your local archives? Perhaps we could set up a demo of the ST ViewScan. With that system you will be able to ClipMerge as well as many great other features. Find out at

    3. Our local archives are at the Ohio Historical Society, Matt.

  3. I often get motion sickness when operating a microfilm machine!

    1. I was thinking of the dizziness I feel as eye strain, Yveette, but on thinking about it, I guess they are two different things. It's awful, isn't it? Thanks for sharing another con.

  4. Digital Cons:

    Even when indexed with a link to the image, the link can be wrong (such as often in Ohio County Marriages, and the uploaded images may be organized differently from they way described in the card catalog).

    Digital images can be accidentally deleted by the website operator (such as part of 1820 US Census, by, or at least the waypoint links to them deleted (to 2/3 of a browse-only collection of Civil War pension payments cards, by FamilySearch, a year ago--there is no way to get into the micofilm series for which the links are missing).

    Site owners may have given erroneous titles for uploaded images of records books, so it is unwise to trust card catalog or collection titles for developing citations to them.

    1. Thanks for sharing this information, Geolover. It helps to know we have to be aware of things like this happening.

  5. microfilm pro: context, not just one entry. Of course this also applies to whole registers digitised but one indexed how often do people loook at nearby pages. Like Wendy I like the scan and save option where possible.

    1. That's so true, Pauleen, and something I hadn't specifically thought about. It's often helpful to read before and after our ancestor's information in many of the old records. I'm still somewhat new to family history research and am just learning how helpful that can be.

  6. One pro of microfilm is that you can have someone else find it for you, for free! Can't seem to find anyone to find online records for me for free. For anyone who may not know about free FHL lookups, go to: Or if you don't use Facebook, access the request form at:

    1. Thanks for the tip, Rootsonomy. I appreciate it.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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