The best advice that I can give you when working with very old film is to handle the film as little as possible. The less that you handle the film, the less chance that the film will break or crumble to dust. I also recommend that any time that you handle film, you wear latex gloves so as to avoid getting skin oils on the film. Any time that you touch the film with your bare hands, you leave fingerprints on the film
Transferring film to video is actually a very straightforward process. Although you can purchase or hire special tools to help you, most people find that the simple screen projection method provides equally good results.
Screen Projection Transfers
To record film to video, simply project the film onto a screen and record it with a video camera.
The biggest problem with the wall-projection method is the frame rate difference. An 8mm movie can have a frame rate anywhere from 14 frames per second to 24 frames per second -- and this needs to be resolved into NTSC's 29.97 fps. Unless you have some sophisticated electronics to control film speed, you'll get flicker, which is when you capture half or part of a frame." To avoid flicker, any projector you use is going to need to be "variable speed" -- the 18 frames per second rate that 8mm film is shot at won't synch without flicker; however, 20 fps will.
While projecting your film onto a clean white wall (light gray works best to control bright differences in contrast) or piece of foam core, aim your video camera at it and slowly adjust the shutter speed on the projector until the flicker goes away in your camera's monitor.
If a variable speed projector is not in the cards for you, there is also a plug in called MSU Deflicker for VirtualDub, the open source freeware video editor, which will help reduce flicker by eliminating some frames and doubling up others. Your mileage may vary.
A second problem with simply videotaping a projected image is that that your camera and your projector cannot be on the same axis -- physically, there's no space for them--your camcorder has to be next to the projector, meaning, well, that your resulting image will be somewhat trapezoidal and possibly requiring some cropping.
Try the following steps to improve your results:
- Use a video monitor to keep an eye on the video recording. This will save a lot of time and allow you to make accurate adjustments.
- If possible, use a variable speed projector. Adjust the speed until you see no flicker on the video monitor.
- Position the video camera as close as possible to the projector lens.
- Do not make the room completely dark - this is likely to exaggerate contrast problems. Experiment with lighting until you see the best results.
- If possible, experiment with different screens. You may find that you get better results from a simple matte surface than a film screen. A foam core board is a good idea.
If you're making the effort to convert precious film to video, make sure you get it right. Use high-quality video tape, create a master copy and store it safely. Make copies for viewing.
Conversion & Transfer Tools
If you are willing to spend money, tools are available to make the process easier and more consistent.
A telecine transfer box is a device which connects to the projector and camera. The film is projected into the box, onto a mirror and rear image projection screen. The camera is connected to the other side of the box and records this image.
Telecine boxes fix the off-axis problem by projecting into a mirror which then bounces the images onto a rear screen so you actually are on the same axis. Clever. Hollywood films make it to video this way, but using very sophisticated devices. The simplest telecine units are very no-frills, and can be found at yard sales and online for $25 or so. (Of course, you'll still need to have a variable speed projector on hand.)
A multiplexer is a larger and more complex apparatus, in which the projector and camera are mounted on a table. A system of lenses and mirrors projects the image directly into the camera. There is no screen projection involved so the finished quality is very high. Multiplexers are not cheap.
Commercial Film Transfer Services
There are many professional transfer services available. Be warned that they can be expensive. The usual cautions apply - make sure you are dealing with a reputable company and that your film will be safe.
Film to DVD: Preserving Memories
You might want to listen to our April 24, 2006 podcast where Giles Perkins from onsuper8.org lets us in on the secret of transferring old Super8 film to non linear editing software and DVD.
Last update: 11:53 AM Friday, June 8, 2007