Journal digitization workflow with the iXG Camera System

After sponsoring a trip across the American southwest for a recent ebook, Phase One received a handwritten journal from landscape photographer Christian Fletcher that was kept during the journey. The journal contains drawings, stories from the road, thoughts about composition and color, and even snapshots with camera settings. We gave the journal to photographer and Phase One Test Engineer Marc Melgosa to digitize using the iXG Camera System.

In this article, Marc describes the workflow he used for this digitization project, and how he uses his position in Phase One to better understand our responsibility as photographers when it comes to our cultural heritage.

First off, let’s talk a bit about the iXG. What does the iXG contribute to a bound material workflow that other solutions do not?

One of the main differences between other solutions that I worked with is the fact I can position the lens in the same place accurately, which allows me to capture each page in a fast and precise way. Combined with Capture One CH, I have all the tools for a smooth workflow, allowing me to finish the job faster.

Can you walk us through the digitization process for the American West journal?

Before I get into the workflow, as a test engineer, the equipment I use greatly depends on what we are currently testing. This journal digitization was done as part of the testing for the iXG and PPI Assist functionality, so aside from the iXG (which was exactly the right camera for the job), we used a unique configuration of the copy stand, holder and lighting picked from our catalog of cultural heritage solutions. I used the Phase One RSP floor standing copy stand with the film capture stage for large format (18x24cm) film to keep the journal flat. This unique usage does show the versatility of a single solution to bridge between flat art, bound materials, film, and many other types and sizes of materials, but for the case of large-scale projects, a purpose-built solution will always give the most effective workflow.

As with any bound material I work with, I handled the journal in the most careful possible way. Due to the way books are made, they offer some resistance. It is important not to force the binding, and the tools provided by Phase One make it possible to create a flat surface without jeopardizing the integrity of the binding.

It was also important to get a uniform light, allowing the journal to be captured in the most accurate way. The flattening we did in the previous step also contributes to our ability to create uniform light. And uniform light combined with precise focus gives us an incredibly sharp image.

Once we had the journal and the lighting set up, it was a matter of capturing the image using the iXG tethered to Capture One CH. After capturing I generally use the color readout on each corner so that I have control over the color and luminosity on all corners of the document. The LCC tool allows me to normalize these values and create a uniform lighting. I maybe apply some basic exposure fine tuning and a small white balance compensation, but usually the colors that come out of the iXG are really spot on.

Once I am satisfied with the results, it is just a matter of repeating the capture process for each page of the bound material. Using the micro focus adjustment in Capture One CH, I was able to refine the focus for each page, ensuring a perfectly sharp image for each capture without sacrificing too much time. And with the ‘copy from last’ feature of Capture One, I was able to remain consistent with all images captured in terms of color, luminosity and exposure. You can additionally use the auto crop feature to easily batch crop images after they are captured.

While this was just a single journal, capturing page after page was fast and easy, making this workflow ideal for everything from small to large bound collection digitization projects.

Bonus tip: I could have used the AutoPPI feature with the Phase One Autocolumn copy stand, which helps to get the desired resolution in a super simple way, to further improve the efficiency of the workflow.

When working with hand-written, bound or otherwise sensitive materials, how do you take into account material safety?

Material safety always depends on the materials we are working with, but I always treat every document with care. At a minimum, I use gloves. This is really important when handling art, since the oils in our skin could damage the piece over time. For this reason, we should always avoid touching the materials with our bare hands. The use of cotton gloves or powder-free nitrile gloves is the recommended choice when operating with delicate materials.

It is also important to always be aware to not force the most delicate parts of the item. In the case of books, it is the binding. With handmade books, the binding is even more fragile than mass-produced units.

The copy stand comes with mechanical range limiters and they can be adjusted to stop the camera from getting too close to the object. They not only provide a mechanical stop, but they also cut the power to the column’s motor, for extra security.

What have you learned about CH digitization workflows that you have discovered through your position with Phase One?

By working with such high-end equipment, I often surround myself with industry professionals. From them, I constantly learn new things about how to improve the process of digitalization or how to work with specific pieces that need to be digitized. The Cultural Heritage industry is always open and ready to share their successes and methods within the industry, and this is a great opportunity to learn and expand on your own processes.

As a photographer and test engineer on the Phase One R&D team, what most excites you about the iXG?

As a photographer that also has a big love for art, I think it’s amazing what they achieved with this precise piece of engineering. I find it inspiring that the talent of two different worlds have come together to make a solution that fulfils so well the needs of an industry that is responsible for preserving the cultural footprint of humankind. It is really exciting that the iXG allows us to accomplish this important task in a much easier way.