8mm Film Is Dying (Here's How To Preserve Your Memories)
Have you dug through the old boxes in your attic lately and came across a bunch of 8mm film rolls? Those film rolls probably have tons of irreplaceable memories on them. Your wedding day, your child's first steps, and that embarrassing pre-prom video that your mom made are all things that you might want to relive in your older years. The problem is, the 8mm format is completely outdated. Unless you saved your family's old projector, there is likely no way for you to enjoy the moments captured on those film rolls. Even worse, they will eventually deteriorate beyond repair.
That's where modern transferring techniques come into play. You can take all of those 8mm film rolls, and you can transfer their data to a more modern storage device. That includes DVDs, flash drives, SD cards, and any other modern storage system. Some are better than others, but we'll talk about that later.
At Video Conversion Experts, we specialize in converting outdated film formats to modern-day formats for the preservation of old film recordings, and we want to share some of our favorite techniques with you. Some of these are extremely simple, and they don't require any special equipment, but some of them are much more advanced conversion methods. In general, if a method is more advanced, it will produce better results.
Each method of film conversion has its own pros and cons. So, we recommend fully reading each guide we've put together to ensure that you have as much information available to you as possible. We'd hate for you to waste your time and money on the wrong method. Well, let's not waste anymore time. Let's go over the five best ways to transfer your old 8mm films.
The Easiest Way
The easiest way to preserve your old tapes is to simply make a recording of them playing. This method has a number of cons attached to it, but it'll work in a pinch, and it's extremely cheap to do. This isn't the perfect conversion method, but it works well for certain projects, and we would be wrong to exclude it from our guide.
To do this method, you'll need:
1) Your film
2) A projector
3) A suitable projection surface
4) A decent camcorder
Once you've acquired all of your materials, the actual transfer process is extremely simple. All you do is use your camcorder to record the film as it plays through your projector. In essence, you're doing the same thing that bootleg movie thieves do, but you're doing it with your own property. This method may be cheap to use, but it's far from perfect. On one hand, you can usually get a recording that is bearable to watch and cheap to make. However, it won't be a very high-quality recording, and it won't accurately represent the original recording.
This is due to a number of reasons. First, modern technology has made faster frame rates possible. So, your camcorder is likely going to record your projected film at thirty frames per second. That sounds great until you realize that 8mm film only reached speeds of 16 FPS, and that will cause your camcorder version to look jittery.
It's also impossible to fully restore the images on your 8mm tape with this method. You won't get a high-quality image from it, and that prevents you from using editing software to its full potential. A professional service can render a high-resolution image and restore it properly, but we'll get into that more later.
Another issue comes into play when you consider how old most rolls of 8mm or Super 8 tape are. The majority of tapes are over 50 years old, and they shrink over time. The shrinking makes it difficult for the tape to properly fit a projector, and that can cause the tape to rip. If you use this method, you risk ruining your tapes entirely. We recommend using this method for videos that you're not really worried about. It's not good for anything that you want to see clearly, though.
Modified Projector Method
This method is almost exactly like the previous one, but it uses a camcorder that is mounted to your projector to record everything. You'll have to modify your projector yourself or buy a pre-built model. The MovieStuff Sniper Pro is a popular model. The great thing about using a modified projector is that it removes the shaking that is present with the previous method. A modified projector will sync your camcorder to your projector, and that forces the two to work at the same frame rate.
The camcorder will also be able to record at a much closer distance, and that will remove some of the graininess that 8mm is notorious for when transferred. It won't remove it entirely, but you will be able to notice more details. However, all of the other issues are still present. You won't be able to fully restore the film, and the image quality can be pretty low. On top of that, you're still risking your valuable tapes because the sprockets can rip your aged tapes.
The process used to perform this method is practically the same as the previous method. You load up your film, start your camera, and begin playing your video. The machines take care of everything else. The two mechanical components are just synced better than when you do this method without modifying your projector to house your camera.
Scanning Each Frame Individually
Now we're starting to get into some more advanced transferring methods. This one isn't incredibly difficult, but it is more difficult than the other methods we've discussed so far. You'll need a little bit of experience with cameras to pull this one off. That's not to say that you can't use this method if you're an amateur. you'll just want to pay extra-close attention to the steps. It's really not that difficult.
Before we get into the actual process, let's talk about the pros and cons of scanning individual frames with this method. DSLR cameras can record in higher resolutions, and they work great for scanning individual frames. You'll get more detail and less grain with this method. On top of giving you clearer pictures due to resolution size, this method also prevents your projector's light from leaking out of the spaces between the projector lens and camera. This helps you capture the images more accurately.
Finally, it's cheaper than paying for a professional service like ours. That's not to say that professional services are over priced, but we'll talk about that in a minute. If you're low on funds and tech savvy, this method can give you a pretty decent recording cheaply. It's not a perfect method, though. Since you're still using a traditional projector, tearing can still be an issue. You also have to consider that even though image quality will be better with this method, it won't be the best, and you'll still have troubles fully restoring your data.
Finally, it does require that you invest in a DSLR or Flatbed camera to use as a scanner. Those can be more expensive than the price of hiring a professional service, and you're still not getting the best image quality. This is a good if you have a lot of home films to transfer or already have a nice DSLR scanner, but it's not practical for a lot of projects.
Now you know the pros and cons. So, let's talk about how you actually go about doing it. If you're not a reader, you can check out this tutorial video by James Miller.
1) You'll need to remove the lens from your projector. This method requires you to make a small modification to it before attempting to transfer images.
2) Attach an element to your projector's lens. This will help the lens filter and focus its light output.
3) Reinstall your projector lens. You'll obviously need it to finish the process.
4) Place your DSLR or Flatbed scanner right in front of the projector lens, and make sure that you turn the camera on.
5) Gently drape a cloth over the lens of your camera. It should cover the points where the camera and projector lenses meet, and it should be dark enough to prevent light from shining through it.
6) Finally, thread your 8mm film tape and start recording. Make sure your scanning device has enough memory to store your entire film.
Buy A Transfer Machine
If you're not comfortable messing with old machinery, you might want to consider buying a low-end transfer machine. They're not as good as what the professionals use, but they'll get the job done for a lot of projects. Most of the low-end transfer machines can record in 1080p. They also remove the need to worry about light leaking between cameras and lenses.
Perhaps one of the most attractive features of these machines is that they're self-contained machines. You don't have to run around looking for a camera, projector, hardware, and other parts. The system comes complete and ready to go. Since these machines come with all of the parts you need to start converting 8mm films, there isn't much to tell you about operating them. You typically turn them on, load up your film, and allow them to do their job. However, there are some intricate details that you should know before you commit to buying one.
The biggest issue with these machines is that they run at 20 frames per second (fps). 8mm film was shot at 16 fps and super 8 at 18 fps. So, the video you get from these machines will run too fast. You will notice people are walking and moving too fast. They run at 20 fps to avoid flicker issues which by and large they do but you have to live with the video running too fast. These machines are extremely easy to use, and they do a good job of scanning your old tapes accurately. However, you might want to tinker with the exposure settings and contrast before you start recording them. This will require you to perform a few trial runs. You won't be able to tell if an image has too much white in it until you view some film that the machine has converted.
We recommend transferring a short film first. It can take you a few tries to see how well your machine is set up by default. There are also some manufacturing issues that the most popular models suffer from. They're not problems that have soured the majority of user's opinions about them, but they do make a difference. For instance, the Wolverine MovieMaker Pro's supply wheel is known for having a tension issue. The wheel will sometimes allow too much film to exit the wheel at once, and when it corrects itself, it often causes a long jump between different parts of a film. That means that you'll have to sit there and monitor the device while it runs.
Other issues that seem to affect the most common models like the Legacy Digital and Wolverine are minor, too. If you're really wanting to try one of these out, you can find some tips and tricks online to get you through any problems you come across. As we stated in the beginning of this section, this is a cost-effective option for people who want to convert a lot of films. However, it's not very efficient when you only have a handful of family videos to convert. If that's the case, it's best to use another method or a professional service.
How Do You Pick The Right Format?
In the 60's, 70's, and 80's, 8mm and Super 8 were what the film industry used. Towards the latter part of that time period, families started using the format to create videos that captured special moments. In a way, it's almost sad that those days have passed. Now, pretty much all films are created and stored with digital equipment. Digital equipment can record or store data in a multitude of digital formats, and you'll have to choose one when you go to transfer your tapes.
Here are your main options:
A DVD is technically more of a storage device, but it's still considered a format. Pretty much everyone knows what a DVD is, and they are convenient ways to store video files. However, they're becoming obsolete very quickly. Microsoft and Apple have already dropped DVD playback support from their new computer models, and DVD players are becoming difficult to find in stores. Since DVDs are quickly becoming obsolete, it's best to keep from transferring your old 8mm films to DVD. What's the point of moving your films from one obsolete format to another?
AVI and MOV formats are popular with people who use Windows MovieMaker and other editing programs, but they are more compressed than other options. They'll work well if you plan on using one of the many free editing programs out there, but you'll want to go with something else if you plan to just watch your files exactly how they exit your transfer machine.
Finally, the HD-MP4 format is the one that we recommend the most. There are a lot of different advantages to using it, and it's simply the most flexible option around. HD-MP4 allows you to record in much higher resolutions, and it's accepted by nearly all editing programs and platforms.
That means a lot more than what it sounds like. Higher resolutions will allow you to view your old videos exactly how they were recorded, and they make it possible for you to fully restore your videos. For instance, we use equipment that allows us to convert your 8mm videos into 4K digital MP4s. That allows us to perform color correction, remove the graininess, and a lot of other restoration tasks.
It also allows you to easily use your video files. YouTube, Facebook, and many other platforms accept HD-MP4 files. This can be useful if you want to share your 1968 birthday party with all of your buddies on Facebook, and it allows people to share their earliest film projects on YouTube. You can also store MP4 files in nearly any modern storage device. That includes SSD drives, flash drives, SD cards, and DVDs. The format works extremely well, and it can be reliably used regardless of what you have at your disposal.
There are other file formats, but they're not commonly used, and they're not really worth using unless you work in a niche field. In that case, we doubt that you'll be using any of those formats for 8mmm film videos.
How Do You Want To Store It?
You should have picked a transfer method and a format by now, but how do you store your videos after you've converted them? That can be a tricky question to answer. To be clear, you'll need to decide this before you actually start transferring. Don't wait around. That leaves your files open to being deleted or lost. You want to transfer your films to the long-term storage device of your choice as fast as possible.
A lot of modern storage devices are only designed to last about a decade and sometimes less. 8mm tape and Super 8 tape were designed to last up to 75 years. If you pick the wrong storage method or take care of your device wrong, your preservation efforts won't mean much within a few short years. So, let's start with which options are available.
3) Flash drives
4) SD cards
5) SSD drives
If you read the previous section, you already know that it's a bad choice to store your films on a DVD. They just won't be available much longer, and you'll be converting your films all over again. If you can, we suggest staying away from the DVD format.
BluRay discs are a little less risky to use. Their more durable nature makes them pretty popular with a lot of manufacturers, and they shouldn't be disappearing anytime soon. However, it is a little difficult to find a computer with a BluRay drive installed. So, you'll have to use devices such as the PS4, Xbox One, or BluRay readers to use your discs. At least those are more common than DVD drives.
Flash drives are a great option. They're cheap, reliable, and now they have more room on them than ever before. You shouldn't have any trouble storing several films on a single flash drive. The only reason flash drives aren't the best is their lifespan. They can last a long time when they're not used, but you shouldn't expect to get more than a few years of use out of one if you constantly mess with its files.
SD cards are similar to flash drives, but they're a bit more long-lasting, and they're becoming the cheaper option very quickly. They're essentially replacing flash drives, and they do the same thing. You can even find SD cards with more than 120GB of memory in them. That's more than enough to store the average collection of 8mm films.
SSD drives are a good choice if your selection is huge, but they aren't nearly as reliable as flash drives and SD cards. They use similar technology, but the average person only has the SSD that stores everything else in their computer. If you're using your computer to manipulate files often, you'll destroy your SSD well before a DVD would fail. You can always get around that issue by using the SSD to store your films and then removing it for safe storage, but the average person probably won't do that.
Regardless of which method you use, you need to replace your storage device at least once every decade. If you're using the storage device a lot, then you'll want to replace it even sooner. The modern storage devices give us a lot of great advantages, but they don't last anywhere near as long as 8mm, and you won't be able to dig them out of a box 75 years from now. You should also remember to transfer your videos from your scanning device's memory card to your long-term storage device as soon as possible.
What Do You Do If This Is All Too Complicated?
If all of this talk about converting images, storing data, and choosing formats was a bit too much for you, that's perfectly okay. There are a lot of different professional services available that will do the work for you. We know because we're one of them.
We can't speak about the services that other companies offer because we don't work for them, but we offer full 4K scanning, and we're the leading film-conversion service in the industry. We can convert 8mm, Super 8, 16mm, and 35mm films with ease, and we'll make them look better than they did when you first recorded them. While we did just toot our own horn a little bit, this isn't a sales pitch. There are a lot of different companies out there that are willing to convert your old films, and asking for professional help is perfectly fine. That's what the pros are there for.
Before you decide to take the easy route and hire professionals, you should consider a few things.
1) How Many Films Do You Have?: If you have a lot of films, it will almost always be more cost-effective to convert them yourself. It can get expensive to have every long video you have converted professionally.
2) What Shape Are Your Videos In?: The condition of your films impact the price of professional services quite a bit. It's more difficult and time consuming to convert something that is ridiculously deteriorated, and that service comes at a premium price.
3) Do You Know What You're Doing?: If you don't have a clue what you're doing and don't have the time to research, it's best to call an expert. Otherwise, you may save a lot of money by doing it yourself. Just don't blame anyone else if you mess it up.
However, we would like for you to take a glimpse at the DIY methods we've provided, and maybe you can give them a try. They're legitimate film-conversion methods, and they might just be what you need.
If you're looking to preserve your precious memories or old movies, you don't have to spend a lot of money to do so. There are several methods that you can use to convert your old 8mm tapes to digital formats at home. They're not always the better option when compared to professional services, but they are great options that anyone can take advantage of. If you have a bunch of dusty tapes in your attic, we suggest you start converting them today. You never know when they'll deteriorate beyond repair.
Thanks for taking the time to read our guide on 8mm film conversion. If you're ever in need of a professional conversion service for your precious films, feel free to give us a call or shoot us an email.