Rollout cameras have existed since early in the history of photography, many decades before rollout cameras were used to photograph Classic Maya vases. Then National Geographic developed a rollout camera in the 1970's and included rollouts in their circa 1978 book on the Maya. Later, Justin Kerr developed a rollout camera using a Hasselblad.

Then there were several rollout cameras developed in Europe. These differed significantly because the European rollout cameras allowed you to do a much more precise rollout. If you look at an enlargement of a "manual tabulated" rollout, the enlargement is fuzzy to the point of being embarrassing. This is because a manual tabulated rollout is based on estimating the speed and estimating the circumference (by tabulation).

So you sometimes see distortions even on a photo which is not enlarged past 1:1. These distortions ruin the aspects of style. Of course there are other issues as well, such as most of the rolled out vases being ruined by repainting (repainted in the guise of "restoration"). But the only restoration which is valid is rejoining broken pieces. It often appears that repainting may be simply pretending to repaint to make the vase look complete to raise the price on the art market?

The Swiss camera maker Seitz had a panorama system and we were able to do rollouts with this. Being Swiss-made it was precise.

Then came digital rollout cameras. Michael Collette, who developed the tri-linear scanner CCD system for panoramas and rollouts, was not familiar with the Maya-related rollout cameras (a benefit, since he did not fall into the problems of only averaging and estimating the circumference). Collette could use the benefits of digital technology.

By about 1997-1998 Dr Nicholas Hellmuth and FLAAR were selected by Better Light to be beta testers both for the panorama version and the rollout version. So we spent many years testing this remarkable system. We already had experience with the Seitz and with the European system. We developed a method to physically (optically, digitally) measure the rollout and to allow us to set in the software the parameters needed to have the rollout not distort the image. Aspects of this were built into the next generation Better Light system.

So Nicholas and FLAAR have used four rollout systems to record Maya vases:

  • sophisticated 70mm film system, made in Europe, and much more accurate than earlier cameras made elsewhere.
  • Seitz panorama system with adaptations, using a Hasselblad  (Zeiss) lens
  • First generation Better Light tri-linear scanning rollout system.
  • Second generation Better Light tri-linear scanning rollout system.

We wanted to show some examples here of the 70mm film results. These were scanned on an Israeli scanner, Scitex brand, Eversmart model Frankly this was the best scanner technology in the world (first Scitex, then Creo Scitex, then Kodak bought Creo and did not know how to market the scanner so they are no longer made).

The sides of the vase are at an angle so there was no easy way to scan the entire surface from the same distance. So there is some distortion (or weak focus) to be expected at the base of the rollout.



Section of a rollout of a Mayan Bowl in the Museo Popol Vuh, Universidad Francisco Marroquin, Guatemala City. Rollout by Nicholas Hellmuth, FLAAR.




Another segment (one of nine figures) on this large Late Classic (Tepeu 2) Mayan bowl. The hieroglyphs at the top are part of a PSS (Primary Standard Sequence). Universidad Francisco Marroquin, Guatemala City. Rollout by Nicholas Hellmuth, FLAAR.

The actual file, of the entire rollout, is about 392 MB, which is pretty high quality.

Here is a link to a list of other Maya vase rollouts accomplished with the high-resolution rollout cameras of Nicholas Hellmuth, FLAAR.

Most recently updated December 30, 2015.

First posted October 31, 2014.

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