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How to use a digital camera to print images when a FHC does not qualify for the Digital Imaging System
Symptoms (Problems)

Questions asked:

  • How can we get a replacement microfilm reader or printer?
  • Our family history center doesn't qualify for the Digital Imaging System.  What else can we use?
  • Can we use a digital camera to take pictures of microfilm or microfiche images and print them out?

Many family history centers (FHC) do not qualify for the Digital Imaging System (document 100737), which includes a film scanner, flat bed scanner, computer, and laser printer, and it requires that the center meet the "three twenties rule" (open a minimum of 20 hours per week, serving a minimum of 20 patrons per week, ordering a minimum of 20 microfilms or fiche per month).


The FHC may have an old microfilm or microfiche reader or printer that is broken and cannot be fixed because of unavailable parts and service, or it is too expensive to be repaired.  If the viewing part of the reader or printer still works, the flat screen is perfect for taking straight pictures with a digital camera on a tripod. Or the FHC may not have a reader or printer at all and wants to be able to print copies.

Answer (Resolution)

An inexpensive alternative to having reader or printer equipment, such as the Digital Imaging System or Scan Pro, is to use a digital camera with a tripod, monopod, or other camera mounts described herein.  The digital camera is used to create the digital image, which is then loaded into a computer from a card. Once the image is in the computer, it can be printed, put on a USB flash drive, written to a CD, or e-mailed.


Items Needed: (Total cost to a family history center should be about $200 or less and is paid out of local budgeted funds.)

  • Digital Camera--At least 3 or 4 megapixels (note that a patron-owned digital camera can be used at a family history center).
  • Tripod or monopod.
  • Card that works in the digital camera (commonly an SD card).
  • Computer with card reader slots or an external USB card reader. (Make sure the slots match the card that the camera is using!)
  • Editing software, such as Irfanview. (See document 110692 for more information about this free software.)

Suggested steps:

  1. Get the image on a microfilm or microfiche reader.  (The flat screens on the old microfilm readers or printers work really well, since there is no distortion.)

  2. Put the camera on a tripod or monopod to steady it.  (A tabletop monopod will work on the regular readers that have the slanted tops, because it can be adjusted to be flat with the slanting surface so there is no distortion.) Here are two possible suggestions, which can be purchased with local budgeted funds:  

    Tabletop Monopod model MP-16 clamps to the side wall of an NMI 2020 microfilm reader.

    Table-top camera stand (legs slip under the base of an NMI 2020 reader). See the PDF attachment for more details.


  3. Take the picture with the camera. It may take some experimenting with the equipment that the Family History Center has in order to get all of the equipment working together successfully (see Suggested camera settings and tips listed below).

  4.  Remove the card from the camera.

  5. Insert the card into the computer slot or USB card reader slot.

  6. Open the image in a graphic viewer such as IrfanView, and then navigate to the card and find the file.

  7. Make any adjustments needed to the image (optional).

  8. To save the image, click File, click Print or File, and then click Save. The images may be saved to a patron's USB flash drive instead of, or in addition to, printing (see document 104031 for flash drive information).

 Many FHCs are reporting great success with these simple tools. 



Suggested camera settings and tips:

  • Try it with flash and without flash.

  • Try it with lights on and with lights off.

  • Try different settings on the camera, such as macro, etc.

  • Try putting a yellow or light blue poster board on the viewing part of the microfilm reader for better contrast.


A video has been independently produced that describes how to use a digital camera to take photographs of projected microfilm images and how to use free downloadable software to enhance and improve these images. The video is found on the Internet at:


Another website that may be helpful in editing photos is


FamilySearch does not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement or other information provided by the owners of these websites. They are linked only as additional resources for family history centers.


Also see the following attachments: Digital_Camera_Setup - Austin TX FHC.pdf


Digital Camera Setup - Austin TX FHC.pdf

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