8mm Film to DVD Guide: What You Need To Know

February 26th, 2009

Today, a 8mm film to DVD transfer can be done in several different ways and written to several different digital formats like DVD, Blu-Ray, AVI or HD-AVI. Depending on the film transfer process, quality can range from poor to excellent.

Video has several characteristics that determine how good it is. One of the most important characteristics is the number of lines of resolution. The resolution determines how detailed and sharp the video is. If you’ve ever watched a standard definition video channel on an HDTV and then switched to the HD version, you notice that the HD version is much sharper and detailed. The reason is that standard definition video has 480 horizontal lines while HD has 1080 lines.

In a similar way, your old 8mm movie films have a maximum resolution. The maximum resolution for a 8mm film to DVD transfer is limited by the film grain size and the size of the frame. Research has shown that 8mm film has the equivalent of 800-1000 lines of horizontal resolution. So, a standard definition 8mm film transfer will only be able to capture 480 out of the 800-1000700 lines of resolution on your film. A high definition 8mm film transfer will be able to capture all 800-1000 lines of resolution on your 8mm film since it is a 1080 line video format.

In addition to resolution, the type of the 8mm film to DVD transfer is equally important to the final video quality you receive from your 8mm film transfer.

There are a few basic types of 8mm film to DVD transfer processes. Today, over 95% of the film transfer companies use a real-time transfer process. A real-time process means the film is captured at the same speed you would normally run it if using a projector. In fact, most real-time transfers use a projector or a modified projector with a camcorder. You could even setup a crude real-time transfer system at home using your projector and a camcorder. As you can imagine, using a camcorder to record the film is not the best method. In fact, you loose about 30% to 50% of the quality during a real-time transfer. Some companies use a high definition camcorder instead. It might make it look 5% to 10% better. The problem isn’t the camcorder but the transfer method, meaning that the camcorder is recording the film as it plays. Because of the transfer speed and nature of a real-time capture, the resulting video frames are usually slightly blurry and the colors are faded and washed out compared to the film.

In a true frame by frame process, the camcorder used for capture is used like a live feed. Each time a frame gets into the gate it sends a sync signal to the computer to capture the frame. As you can imagine, capturing each frame separately takes much longer and requires high-end equipment. This is why there are only a few companies offering a frame by frame process. Beware, there are a few companies that use the term “Frame by Frame” with the term “Real-Time” in the same sentence. These are two difference processes that don’t go together. What’s happening is the companies are using a real-time process but trying to capitalize on the term frame by frame. Once the video is captured, any editor allows you frame by frame access to the video. So, be aware. If they use the term real-time anywhere then they are using a real-time process and not a frame by frame process.  A frame by frame process will result in video that is 20-30% better than a similarly configured real-time process.

Using a film scanner is the ultimate 8mm film to DVD transfer process. Just like you scan a photograph into your computer, our film scanners scan the film. Instead of using a camcorder to capture the film (like a real-time or frame by frame process), a scanning device reads the film at a fixed length. As you can image, scanning a photograph will give you much better quality than using your camcorder to video tape a photograph. The same is true for film.  Using a film scanner will result in video that is 30-50% better than a similarly configured frame by frame process.

About the Author: Brad Hinkle has been involved in film transfers (like 8mm film to DVD) and restoration since he opened his company in 1980. Video Conversion Experts is one of the premiere 8mm film transfer and restoration labs in the United States today.