Do you have a collection of microfilm and are wondering to yourself, “why did someone make all this stuff?” 

Nowadays that’s a good question, with electronic images and data available everywhere. But not so long ago microfilm was one of the premier ways to store vast amounts of data in a small space – and it still is!

There are both advantages and disadvantages to microfilm, which we’ll cover here, and then we’ll give you an idea of how you can enhance your microfilm records through digitization.

What Is Microfilm?

Microfilm is a record format that stores small reproductions of images on film. These images are captured by photographing the original documents and reproducing the images at a greatly reduced size. Microfilm enables large quantities of images and vast amounts of data to be kept in a relatively small space.

It typically comes in reels—also known as rolls—of varying width and length. A reel or roll can contain any number of images depending on its type, although the number is typically between about 500 frames for 35mm film and 2,500 frames for 16mm film for 100’ length rolls. 

If you happen to have 215’ microfilm rolls, you could have anywhere between 5,000 and 20,000 images. Because of the varying ways that microfilm was created, there are numerous variations that affect the amount of images and data contained on a roll.

Advantages Of Microfilm

Space Efficiency

A reel of microfilm is rather small—about 4 inches in diameter—but can hold incredible amounts of data. For example, a single roll of 16mm microfilm typically holds around 2,500 images. This is around the number of pages that would fit in a standard banker’s box of records, and for comparison, you could fit about 90 such microfilm reels in that same banker’s box.

That’s a significant reduction of physical storage space compared to traditional hard-copy documents, making microfilm especially beneficial for organizations that need to archive lots of records while minimizing storage requirements.

Cardboard boxes of different sizes in a row


Microfilm is among the most durable storage media for physical records, and it can withstand many environmental impacts better and longer than paper. If stored properly, microfilm has a shelf life of about 500 years. This makes it an extremely reliable long-term storage solution, particularly when it comes to things like historical records.

Blacksmith striking a horseshoe


As an analog storage method, microfilm is completely immune to hacking, cyber attacks, and electronic data loss. This makes it a good candidate for sensitive or confidential information for which security is a major concern.

Disadvantages Of Microfilm

Access and Retrieval

Finding and retrieving information from microfilm requires special equipment like microfilm readers and scanners. While digital databases provide quick search and retrieval options, microfilm has no such options, and accessing data stored on microfilm can be a slow process.

Additionally, if your microfilm equipment breaks down or otherwise becomes unavailable, you’ll have no way to access your data until the machine is fixed.

Frustrated businesswoman at computer

Quality Issues

Although microfilm offers exceptional shelf life if stored properly, there are very specific storage requirements to achieve this. Improperly stored microfilm can be affected by moisture, chemicals, light, and physical wear and tear, all of which lead to degradation over time and often result in data loss. If deterioration is caught early enough, it can sometimes be mitigated, but if it’s allowed to progress, your information may be lost forever.

Another note on quality: even microfilm that’s stored perfectly and not subjected to any environmental stresses can have image quality issues if it wasn’t photographed just right. Issues with exposure settings, focus, and similar factors might mean you end up with poor-quality microfilm from the beginning.

Enhancing Microfilm Through Digitization

If you’re looking for other ways to utilize data from your microfilm and don’t want to use the physical copies, digitization is a great way to enhance your data access.

 The first step would be scanning your microfilm into an electronic format. This often involves selecting a digitization partner, who will scan the microfilm for you and provide the digital images upon completion of the project.

Group of business people shaking hands

How these images are provided is completely up to you; the traditional method is to receive the images in a PDF or TIFF format. Today, however, many digitization companies are turning to hosted applications like Digital ReeL

This secure platform lets you access your scanned images from any web browser, and it replicates your microfilm in a virtual format so you have the familiarity of the original hard-copy data but with the benefits of the latest technology. Digital ReeL goes beyond image access, making your data more accessible through OCR text search as well as grayscale image enhancement, which lets you optimize each image to obtain the needed level of legibility. Additionally, if your data is sensitive or confidential, Digital ReeL is built with security features to protect your records based on permission levels, IP address blocks and filters, multi-factor authentication, redaction, and more.

Next Steps

Reach out to us today! Click the “Get Your Quote” button below, fill out the form, and we’ll quickly reply to you to discuss your project.

Further Reading

Preserving Your Microfilm Records: Backup Disaster Recovery
Don’t let your microfilm records & data be one of the things you can’t replace when the unexpected happens. Learn how you can protect your records with a backup disaster recovery plan.

Types Of Microfilm
Microfilm comes in various types, formats, and lengths – knowing what you have is essential to crafting a successful digitization project.

Using Digital ReeL With Your Microfilm CAR System
Got a CAR system that’s critical to finding records on microfilm? Combining your existing CAR system with Digital ReeL is not only possible but can greatly improve your retrieval workflow.