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Old June 24th, 2011, 05:17 AM
Ben Rubinstein Ben Rubinstein is offline
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Default Saga of a project to photograph ancient books.

Hi,

For the past 2 months I've been working on the preparation of a proposal to accomplish a project which involves the photography of some 3000 handwritten books which are hundreds of years old. These books are owned privately and consist of a huge wealth of Jewish thought, law and philosophy over the past 500 years. The vast majority of this work has never been seen or published.

I posted some photographs here of a large library collection held by an organisation which I have been working. This charitable organisation runs several colleges and research institutions. They own this incredible collection of work. One of the organisers met a photographer called Ardon Bar Hama who was one of the forerunners of concept of digitalising ancient works and has photographed the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as numerous other collections worldwide including some works for the Vatican where he was commissioned by the pope. He me this photographer at a wedding and afterwards gave me a call and asked me if I could put together a rough budget for them to open their own studio to digitalise their collection. I called back an hour later and suggested a budget based on a 5DII, copy stand and some simple lighting. When they heard the figure of $7000 they laughed at me and told me to come back with a quote for a lot better equipment than that. Not that they know anything about photography but they wanted high end.

I got in touch with Yair Shahar who is the Leaf representative for Europe and he immediately gave me an idea of what would be involved and arranged a meeting with me and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem to see their setup and get a better idea of what was involved. I went there, they are incredible people working there as you can imagine, and not only did they show me round but they arranged a shoot with some of these ancient books to show us the quality of the Leaf Aptus 22 they were using though they recommended we get a higher model. We did the shoot and I had plenty time to play with the files before arranging a meeting with the Leaf representative here. They actually took me back to Yad Vashem and demonstrated the 40 megapixel back with me as well as a long session where they agreed with my choice of a Mamiya RZ for the project.

A bit about the equipment. Yad Vashem were using an AFI but that of course is a practical dead end. The photographer there had also begged me to only buy into a system where I could afford to buy more than one lens! Yair had suggested an RZ as when shooting on a copy stand a WLF is a must for composing and photographing. The RZ's bellows system also allows much more close up photography than MF lenses usual MFD so that each lens could work harder. Last of all they're stupidly cheap! The Leaf representative showed me the Phase One DF camera however the MFD on the lenses is long, on a copy stand the 80mm Schneider lens wouldn't hold focus position (the focus turned under it's own weight when pointed down! Apparently the 110mm Shneider also does this) and what really suprised us was that the beat up el cheapo 110mm RZ lens was as sharp as the super expensive designed for digital brand new design Schneider lens. Even the Leaf guy was very suprised though after talking to some people they aren't surprised, those RZ lenses really are incredible, bellows focusing allows superior lens design and these backs are using just the centre portion of the lens.

I had posted my findings so far on a forum populated by MFDB gurus when two issues came up. Firstly Stefan Steib, the owner of Hartblei looked at the sample pictures we had made and was horrified at the use of a regular copy stand for such ancient material. Ancient (or even new) books are photographed when opened at 90 or 120 degrees but not open flat at 180 degrees as that will stress or even snap the spine. As the consultant for the Workflow of the Bavarian State Library who run one of the largest digitization departments in Europe he is a true expert on these issues. He nursed me along in general with many many other questions I had as well as pointing me to this incredible resource http://www.dfg.de/download/pdf/foerd...sierung_en.pdf, the work of the past 10 years of results, trial and error and daily work of several of the largest german libraries and museums. This gave me a far clearer picture of what was involved in a project of this size.

He pointed me also to Manfred Mayer head of the reproduction department of the University of Graz in Austria who manufactures book stands specifically designed for this kind of work. There are other options but the combination of quality, personal attention and custom build together with price made his Grazer Traveller unit the one of choice. I spent many long emails and a long phone conversation with Mr Mayer working out our precise requirements. Again an exceptionally nice individual who was not only willing to design a unit for our specific needs but also was far more interested in me making the right choice even if it meant a different manufacturer. As it was, his, especially the custom build, is perfect for our needs.

At the end of an exhausting month of research I had the following to recommend to the organisation. A Leaf 40 megapixel Aptus 7 II back on a Mamiya RZ system working with both a custom Grazer Traveller book stand, a Kaiser copy stand for documents, a pair of Profoto D1 lights (for consistency in power output and colour page by page). Oh and an imac with about a zillion terabytes of raid storage mirrored offsite for backup.

I presented the information in a meeting two weeks ago and was told this week that the project is approved but it will have to wait for funding and that is not so certain. As I will be the photographer doing the work (I'm trying to give up wedding photography as I am undergoing surgery 4 times this year and my body is just not up to standing for 12 hours any more) this is rather fustrating but I am waiting to see.

This has been a huge and in depth project just to investigate nevermind when/if it actually gets under way. I've not even gone into the many other options of copy stands and pros/cons that I had to decide upon. But I'd be glad to talk about it if anyone else is interested.

Oh and if anyone's going to ask why not have used a 5DII, sorry but even with the Aptus 22, night and day, no comparison. Heck it's made me think of a MF back myself though I'd have to sell a kid to even think about it! :-)

Couple of pics albeit with the Aptus 22:


crop

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  #2  
Old June 24th, 2011, 05:31 AM
fahim mohammed fahim mohammed is offline
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Ben, very interesting project. Carries a lot of responsibility. Involves a lot of technical perfection.

They have the right man for the job; of that I am sure.

Best wishes Ben.
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Old June 24th, 2011, 06:45 AM
Bart_van_der_Wolf Bart_van_der_Wolf is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ben Rubinstein View Post
Hi,
This has been a huge and in depth project just to investigate nevermind when/if it actually gets under way. I've not even gone into the many other options of copy stands and pros/cons that I had to decide upon. But I'd be glad to talk about it if anyone else is interested.
Hi Ben,

Congratulations with the outcome sofar. I would have recommended a similar setup, but had some reservations about using LED lights (for color consistency) and their proximity to the camera body (risk of specular reflections). I understand that you have chosen different lightsources and perhaps the modification also involved a different positioning (that's where 'light and magic' knowledge helps as well).

The Austrian TCCS is a nice find, and it was a bit surprising to learn that there was focus sag involved in the other camera/lens systems, so the RZ with it's bellows was indeed a good find.

Perhaps another useful addition to the setup is a Babelcolor White target, which can be used to optimize the exposure short of clipping, and for white balancing.

Cheers,
Bart

P.S. I just saw that Babelcolor has currently suspended the sale of their white target, but if you're interested there are alternatives possible.
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Old June 24th, 2011, 07:04 AM
Ben Rubinstein Ben Rubinstein is offline
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Hi,

We were going to use the Profoto's instead of the LED's to be honest. The custom model we had speced used an A2 rather than the standard A3 platen and the resulting need for significantly larger and more powerful LED's and the lack of ability to use them on the regular copy stand or for when more versatility would be necessary (photographing large paintings of which they have a collection) made the Profoto strobe idea more feasable. I came across some significant discussions in lighting for these kinds of projects when investigating this issue, modern LED's seem to be very suited but the strobes seem to offer the 'easiest' way to provide versatility combined with price and both colour and power consistency.
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Old June 24th, 2011, 07:25 AM
Bart_van_der_Wolf Bart_van_der_Wolf is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ben Rubinstein View Post
Hi,

We were going to use the Profoto's instead of the LED's to be honest. The custom model we had speced used an A2 rather than the standard A3 platen and the resulting need for significantly larger and more powerful LED's and the lack of ability to use them on the regular copy stand or for when more versatility would be necessary (photographing large paintings of which they have a collection) made the Profoto strobe idea more feasable.
Yes, the Profoto's provide a more reliable and adjustable lightsource, and a larger size than A3 is what I expected. Some of those books can be quite large, I can magine. When paintings are involved, the added flexibility of the Profoto's also pays off. With paintings, the use of polarized lightsources can make life a lot easier.

Quote:
I came across some significant discussions in lighting for these kinds of projects when investigating this issue, modern LED's seem to be very suited but the strobes seem to offer the 'easiest' way to provide versatility combined with price and both colour and power consistency.
In my opinion, LEDs have too spiky an output spectrum for consistent color reproduction. A benefit is that they are not producing much heat, and they are compact, but they don't provide color consistancy.

Thanks for sharing your findings. I'm sure they are very useful for others who might consider such an challenge.

Cheers,
Bart
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Old June 24th, 2011, 07:43 AM
Ben Rubinstein Ben Rubinstein is offline
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Polarisation is of course a given. The question of course is whether a spiky spectrum (tungsten is of course the best but not a good idea for old materials due to the radiation) is a problem with document type material. In other words just how accurate does it have to be?
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Old June 24th, 2011, 09:19 AM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ben Rubinstein View Post
Polarisation is of course a given. The question of course is whether a spiky spectrum (tungsten is of course the best but not a good idea for old materials due to the radiation) is a problem with document type material. In other words just how accurate does it have to be?
Ben,

This is an amazing, highly challenging and worthy project. This work will put you in a new skill level and that is a sure outcome. As far as the Polarizing, (actually cross polarization is used), you will get increased contrast, which hear is a good thing and at the same time stronger colors. So the color card you use becomes increasingly important. As there is no shiny covering to the paper, then there should be less reflections anyway. A larger source and further away as possible is best to stop stray reflections. Do it with and without cross polarization to determine whether or not it's right for the text.

Betterlight has a useful PDF with great illustrations to download.

Asher
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Old June 24th, 2011, 09:47 PM
Maris Rusis Maris Rusis is offline
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Surely this wonderful project must culminate in eye-readable archival hardcopy.

Digital technology will give you super-detailed electronic files that are utterly opaque without some display engine nearby to interpret them and make them lookable. A hundred or a thousand years into the future when all current printers and monitors have not been seen for a long time, when electricity may have been superceded by dark energy, when a stray cosmic ray can mar a file so it won't open, your digital work could amount to nothing.

Barring disaster the original books will still be readable in the deep future by people irrespective of the advance or collapse of technology. If you make archival hardcopy it will live as long, be as strong, as the priceless originals. And, if disaster does come and the world goes primitive, your photographs may be the only backup.
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Old June 25th, 2011, 03:09 AM
Bart_van_der_Wolf Bart_van_der_Wolf is offline
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Originally Posted by Maris Rusis View Post
Surely this wonderful project must culminate in eye-readable archival hardcopy.

Digital technology will give you super-detailed electronic files that are utterly opaque without some display engine nearby to interpret them and make them lookable. A hundred or a thousand years into the future when all current printers and monitors have not been seen for a long time, when electricity may have been superceded by dark energy, when a stray cosmic ray can mar a file so it won't open, your digital work could amount to nothing.

Barring disaster the original books will still be readable in the deep future by people irrespective of the advance or collapse of technology. If you make archival hardcopy it will live as long, be as strong, as the priceless originals. And, if disaster does come and the world goes primitive, your photographs may be the only backup.
Hi Maris,

Another benefit of digitization is that one can study the content of these books without having to physically handle them, thus adding to their usable age. It also becomes easier to share copies. It also becomes possible to, by means of OCR techniques, search in the texts much faster than humanly possible.

By capturing high detail versions of these books, one can repurpose the images or lower resolution versions of them. Making hardcopies is not excluded.

There are also other aspects, although I don't think they are the current goal. One could think of authentication or dating, for which multispectral analysis could provide insights.

Cheers,
Bart
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