Apex aerial film scannerMERIDIAN, ID, Sept. 28, 2022 – NextScan, the world’s leading maker of high-speed digital microfilm conversion equipment, has completed delivery of its new ultra-wide film scanners to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). The groundbreaking Apex by nextScan™ machines, capable of digitizing film up to 10.23 inches (260mm) wide, were produced specially for the NGA’s aerial photography archives that contain millions of frames’ worth of oversized negatives taken over the past several decades.

Scanning 10-inch wide film in high resolution required the development of new technology to operate four line-scan cameras at once, and stitch the overlapping images into a pixel-perfect composite in real time. For reference, the larger aerial negatives in the NGA archives are about 50 times the size of the standard film that was used by movie studios for major theatrical releases. No single digital camera is currently capable of capturing the entire width of that film in one pass at the required resolution.

“From a mechanical engineering perspective, as well as a software development perspective, we faced a tremendous challenge in solving the problem of how to accurately move and capture media of that size,” said Kurt Breish, lead engineer on the project for nextScan. “Much of the technology we used simply didn’t exist before this project; while other tools that had been proven on our smaller devices needed major modifications to work at such a scale.”

Chicago aerial photo from USGS.

Aerial photos, such as this image taken over Chicago in 2002, were often shot on special film measuring up to 10 inches wide. (source: U.S. Geological Survey / public domain)

In addition to its role within the military and intelligence communities, NGA possesses photo archives containing troves of historical data related to topography, hydrology, and aeronautical charting. Such data has become increasingly valuable to historians and researchers studying phenomena that range from erosion, to population growth, to natural disasters, to climate change.

Due to the vast size of its archives, NGA ordered the first four Apex devices, each of which is the size of a small office desk, and capable of processing up to 10 feet of film per minute at 6,500 dpi resolution. While some existing microfilm scanners were capable of reading the film, the process was much more labor-intensive, meaning that it was only practical to digitize a small fraction of the film as specific projects required it.

“Prior to Apex, the amount of manual effort needed to digitize oversize film was so high that it just didn’t make sense to do unless you really needed to look at a particular image. Digitization was done on demand, not as a preservation effort for the archive,” Breish said. “Our hope is that the Apex will be the new technology that opens the door to large-scale conversion that can preserve these important historical records – not just at NGA, but at other government agencies, universities, and even private organizations all over the world.”

About nextScan
Originally incorporated in 2002 and acquired by Digital Check Corp. in 2015, nextScan gives the microfilm and microfiche conversion market a high-performance alternative to older technologies. nextScan’s innovative patented products incorporate the latest advances in cameras; lighting; image correction; scanning speed; and nextScan’s pioneering “Ribbon” scanning software, NextStar PLUS. nextScan products provide a full conversion solution that far exceeds the speed, functionality and return on investment of other scanners in the market.

About Digital Check
Digital Check is the leading worldwide provider of check scanners and peripherals for the banking industry. Our TellerScan®, CheXpress®, and SmartSource® lines of scanners provide the industry’s most reliable performance with superior MICR and image quality. Digital Check’s software delivers image enhancement and deposit-processing technologies that help clients reduce costs and improve efficiency. Learn more at www.digitalcheck.com.