Yesterday I went with a colleague from the University of York Library and Archives, Lucy Jaques, to visit the open day of the CODEX Project at John Rylands University Library, University of Manchester. The project, which is in the same JISC funding stream as the LIFE-SHARE Project, aims to set up a centre of excellence for heritage digitisation, embedded within the University of Manchester. The project website is here.

The team had set up their Traveller’s Conservation Cradle with a Mamiya 645AFII high-end digital camera with Phase One P65+ digital back hooked up to an Apple Mac in the historic reading room. They were also showing off their Phase One 645AF III camera with P25+ back, which, along with a third Phase One camera with a P45 back, make up their collection of cameras. In terms of quality, the P65+ is the best, followed by the P45 and P25+ respectively.  They also have another copy stand for larger items in their studio, which we did not see (the Conservation Cradle looked as if it would handle books up to about quarto size). They had a facsimile of an early book on the cradle, which they used to demonstrate the set up and image capture. The image quality is extremely impressive – the handout they gave us states that the full output is 60.5 million pixels, with file sizes up to 100MB. The software, Capture One, which is specifically for Phase One camera backs, allows the camera to be operated from the computer. Post processing, such as colour balance adjustment, seemed, from the demo we saw, to be easier than in Photoshop.

The photographer who we spoke to, Jamie Robinson, told us how they had tackled digitising very large items, such as maps. These were photographed on a larger stand, but still had to be photographed in sections and then knitted together afterwards. The results looked very good – it wasn’t at all possible to work out where the join had been. He also told us about the Project’s work at Petworth House in West Sussex, where they digitised a bound manuscript of Chaucer, resulting in over 600 images.

The John Rylands also had on an exhibition of Persian artefacts and manuscripts of the Shahnama, which included digital images produced by the team. All in all, it was an interesting morning and relevant to some of the work we have been doing on the LIFE-SHARE project to do with digitisation in the Borthwick Institute. In particular, it is informative to see different approaches to digitisation and it’s always fun to ogle super-duper equipment!

-Matthew Herring