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Digitally Reviving 16mm Memories

By J.D. Biersdorfer - New York Times - July 23,2009

Q. I have many 16-millimeter motion pictures I made after World War II. How can I convert them onto a DVD or CD? I have secured a projector and a high-definition camcorder thinking that I might project them onto a screen and record them, but to no avail. What other options are there?

A. While it is possible to set up a camcorder and position it so you can record a projected movie, the quality of the recorded film on video may not be particularly high. The angle of the camcorder, the lighting of the room and the condition of the original film are all factors. And once you record the playing film, you have to import the camcorder footage to the computer and then burn the digitized video to disc.

Some dedicated souls favor using a scanner to capture the film frame by frame. You can find plenty of discussion online, including detailed descriptions like that on Richard J. Kinch’s page at www.truetex.com/telecine.htm.

Q. I have many 16-millimeter motion pictures I made after World War II. How can I convert them onto a DVD or CD? I have secured a projector and a high-definition camcorder thinking that I might project them onto a screen and record them, but to no avail. What other options are there?

A. While it is possible to set up a camcorder and position it so you can record a projected movie, the quality of the recorded film on video may not be particularly high. The angle of the camcorder, the lighting of the room and the condition of the original film are all factors. And once you record the playing film, you have to import the camcorder footage to the computer and then burn the digitized video to disc.

Some dedicated souls favor using a scanner to capture the film frame by frame. You can find plenty of discussion online, including detailed descriptions like that on Richard J. Kinch’s page at www.truetex.com/telecine.htm.

To get your old film reels converted with maximum quality and a minimum of personal effort, paying a professional film transfer company is probably your best bet. Professional shops use special equipment and a method called telecine to transfer the film to video and make any necessary frame-rate adjustments so that you get a video that plays at the normal speed. Some film transfer shops also provide additional color correction and basic restoration services to faded old films.

It will not be the cheapest option. Some shops charge around 15 cents a foot to copy the film to a digital file, while others may have a flat fee per reel. A four-inch reel can hold about 100 feet of 16-millimeter film, which translates into around three to five minutes of footage. You can, however, fit a lot of converted film onto a disc — some transfer places will put 3,200 feet of converted film on a DVD.

If you don’t have a film transfer company nearby, plenty of them are doing mail-order business on the Web. Some of these include GotMemories (which shows a video of the transfer process at gotmemories.com/film-to-dvd.html), the Home Movie Depot (homemoviedepot.com) and Video Conversion Experts (videoconversionexperts.com). YesVideo (yesvideo.com) works with local drugstores to let you drop off your film reels in person.

Personal Tech invites questions about computer-based technology, by e-mail to QandA@nytimes.com. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually

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