Interview with Peter Ertl, Head of the Photo Studio at the Albertina Art Museum in Vienna.

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your work at the Albertina photo studio.

I have worked as a trained photographer at the Albertina for more than 30 years and I am now head of the photo studio. At first I worked with black and white photography; then we moved on to using scan backs. Now we work exclusively with the latest digital technology, including a high-resolution camera by PhaseOne and the SupraScan high-performance scanner (SupraScan Quartz A1 – Product) by i2s. I am assisted in the studio by my colleague Ms Pohankova, who is also a trained photographer.

Our work has two main focus areas. We are currently in the process of digitalising our own stocks for long-term archiving, online presentation ( and further processing, such as e.g. exhibition catalogues. And we also create high-quality scans of our stocks, which can be ordered by external customers for a fee.

We work with a wide variety of objects. The Albertina owns books, prints and paintings of all sizes. However, we mainly scan prints and newspapers up to a size of DIN A1. Almost all of the objects are unique and highly valuable. We therefore have to proceed very carefully during digitalisation.

How did you become interested in “book scanners”, given that you had previously worked very successfully with camera systems?

For a number of reasons, we began to work more intensively on book scanning.

At the Albertina, we are unable to suspend the camera directly above the material for safety reasons. As a result, we have to lean the material against a wall. Yet we still have to align the light and camera in parallel and ensure that the object does not slide. This process is highly problematic for some objects in terms of conservation. A scanner with a built-in camera allows us to lay the object flat and simply scan at a perpendicular angle.

As regards lighting, it was important that the object would be lit evenly and for a very short time. When we worked with scan backs and the attendant lighting technology we had to accept long light exposures.

We also looked for a process which would eliminate the need for image enhancement and other time-consuming post-editing work, thereby saving us valuable time.

Last but not least, we also wanted a book cradle, because the Albertina has a large collection of historical books which we would like to digitalise in future.

How did you search for and choose a suitable device? What actions did you take?

Before we decided on a device, we carried out an extensive market study. We wanted to ensure that we made the right decision and found the optimum device for our requirements.

The market study took more than a year. After I had obtained enough information about various solutions via the internet and spoke to the respective suppliers by telephone, I visited some of my colleagues and looked at the different devices in use and heard about their experiences. I also visited a specialist event abroad, to get a better insight into the functions of book scanners. Finally, we carried out and compared various test scans, as image quality is naturally a very important factor.

I should add that, during the search for a suitable device, I also kept in mind the “adhesive tape project” and its associated challenges. The machine not only had to work for current tasks, but it also had to be suitable for future applications.

Why did you choose the i2s SupraScan A1V and what were the key criteria in your decision?

I have already mentioned some of our major challenges above. Our decision was also influenced by the price-performance ratio and the image quality. Scan backs had set a very high quality standard and we were not willing to compromise in our choice of scanner. Our internal and external customers were used to this level of quality and we definitely wanted to continue to meet those standards.

Another major factor in our decision-making process was LED lighting. Our curators would only accept LEDs; the uniformity of the lighting and a very short light exposure were also important.

We need a certain amount of space for our work in the studio, as we often work with very large materials. We therefore had to find a scanner which could scan large materials, but which would itself take up very little space.

And finally, local support in Vienna was also an important criterion. We work with a high-performance scanner and have to process very difficult material. It is therefore important that I have a contact partner nearby, to help with any questions and problems. We are currently working with the curators to construct a holding device for extremely thick and heavy volumes and are looking forward to the final solution.

In comparison to the work involved in using a camera and its results. What are the three major advantages of the scanner in comparison to a camera?

  1. Low heat and light exposure.
  2. Flat and therefore harmless position of scanned object.
  3. Even lighting and therefore even scan quality, even for large materials.

Brief Portrait of the Albertina in Vienna

The Albertina has one of the largest and most valuable print collections in the world, including works such as Dürer’s “Young Hare” and Klimt’s studies of women. The new exhibition presents modern masterpieces, including examples by Monet, Picasso and Baselitz. Once the largest palace owned by the Habsburgs, the Albertina stands on the southern tip of the Hofburg on one of the last bastion walls in Vienna.

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