Transferring 8mm & 16mm film to DVD
We get a lot old format film transferred to DVD work and I wanted to take the time to discuss this service and our perspective on it.
Lots of you have boxes of old film laying around in the closets. Some of you have projectors but most of you don’t and therefore haven’t viewed the film in many years. Some of you may be reconciling the estate of a parent and didn’t realize how much footage they actually had.
Regardless of the circumstances and whether you have the projector or not, you’ll likely want get this footage transferred at some point and put on a medium that is easier to view and share with other members of your family. While we live in a digital age, our family history is sitting in shoeboxes under beds, or stored on closet shelves in formats that are difficult to access. We believe that these mementos should be viewed and enjoyed regularly by all family members so that the past family home movies aren’t some special item like Grandma Rose’s fine china, dusted off and trotted out on rare occasions, but a living and well tended family history that is known by all.
Now, how to accomplish that. There are a lot of services that specifically focus on the conversion of these videos, typically 8mm and 16mm film, but also some of the newer formats such as VHS and VHS-C straight to DVD. These services can be very competitive in price and if you are looking at this service strictly from the perspective of the lowest price, there are some good options available on the internet as well as through some large-chain drugstores and wholesale stores. Many of these send the film off to other locales, sometimes as far as India or China. You get the footage transferred to a DVD. Usually there is a thumbnail menu of either each reel or a thumbnail image at 10 minute marker points. Some companies will add a soundtrack of their choice, usually some innocuous classical or contemporary acoustic pieces. We recommend that if you do this type of transfer, you make sure to have an extra copy made to put away somewhere in case your original copy gets damaged. While DVDs can hold a lot of data and have a fairly long shelf life, you get one good scratch on them and you may as well use it for target practice.
The transfer process: Most companies use a Telecine projector which converts the analog film into a digital signal. The data is then authored directly to a DVD where it undergoes some high quality compression. Some companies claim to clean the film, which while sounding impressive, usually isn’t necessary if the film has been stored well over the years. Cleaning can also damage the emulsion. I have heard stories of companies projecting the footage onto a screen and then recording the playing footage onto a video camera. I think this was probably more prevalent 20 years ago when transfer to VHS was the only option but I haven’t really heard or seen much evidence that this is still going on.
At Legacy Multimedia, we have a bit different process. Since it’s our belief that if you’re going to spend the time and expense to transfer your old 8mm, 16mm or super8 film reels, it should be done in a way that both takes advantage of the current technology so that everyone can enjoy it easily, but also puts the film in a context so that your family knows what the footage is, when it was taken and who the people in the film are. You may know that information now but when your grandkids slip the DVD into their players, unless the footage has identifying data, it will just be old relatives and nobody will be quite sure who anybody is.
We do the first process, the transfer of the 8mm, 16mm and Super8, pretty much the same way as our competitors. However, rather than outputting the footage directly to DVD, we transfer the footage to a miniDV tape. This is a high quality digital tape that has minimal compression. Then we build what we refer to as a “viewing tape.” This is either a VHS or a DVD with a large time code in the upper right corner. This time code, and the edit sheets we provide, allow you to view all the footage, move the clips around so that they are in the correct chronological sequence and then start putting some information around each clip. You can put all the clips from one year or one decade into a chapter and title that navigation point in the menu with the year or decade. Likewise, you can organize the footage into events so that your menu would look something like this:
* 1967 – Our trip to Yosemite
* 1968 – Christmas at Nanna’s
It’s your choice how you organize and clump the footage. You can also provide us with information to put on a chapter card at the beginning of the chapter. So, for example, if you were to click on the first example above, “Our trip to Yosemite”, you would then see a card with your choice of identifying information. For example – “Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice, June 1967, we stayed at Yosemite Lodge and climbed Half Dome.” (I’ve taken some liberty with the chapter card text but I think you get my drift.) You can also request that we put music with each chapter or section; our choice or yours or we can provide you with an authentic sounding projector soundtrack.
Once you get these edit requests back to us, we author the DVD for you with all this additional information on it. We also provide you with the converted miniDV tapes. We hope you’ll get an additional copy of your DVD to archive but should you decide at a later date to have a different type of presentation built using some of the converted footage clips, you’ll have them in a fairly uncompressed format without having to re-convert the old 8mm film again. The miniDV digital tape is a good source for the backup storage of this data and should your 8mm film be degrading, you’ll have the footage on a new high grade DV copy.
Please feel free to call (281-381-9550) or email us about helping you transfer your own film.
Stefani Twyford is a personal historian and video biographer sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.