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Professional transfer of 16mm movies to digital?
September 4, 2007 3:11 PM   Subscribe

I inherited some 70-year-old, 16mm home movies (not 8 or Super 8) and am looking for a reliable expert to transfer them to digital video. Many vendors say that they can do this. Can you comment on any from personal experience? (I have seen this thread and the links therein.) Are there any issues I should particularly look out for? Thanks.
posted by Dave 9 to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you want professional transfers of 8mm or16mm film to video then I suggest these companies:

West Coast:
Film Technology

East Coast:
Cineric

The only reason to use one over the other is to save yourself in shipping costs. (However, if your film is lenticular (which was "popular" about 80 years ago, then send it to Film Technology)

I worked at a national recognized film/video archive for a couple of years and we sent 8mm and 16mm films to these guys for professional wet gate, color timed, telecine transfers. They also did some lab work (film to film color correction, 8mm to 16mm blow ups, etc.) for us.

These were two of the companies that we chose to send materials that were being preserved through grants from the National Film Preservation Foundation. The results were amazing - you will not believe how beautiful the transfers will be (especially if the person who originally shot the film knew what they were doing)

Also, there is Brodsky & Treadway in Boston. I have never personally utilized their services, but I have heard good things.

None of the companies above will be cheap, but their prices will not be outrageous. The results will be worth the money...

Those other companies that "specialize" in home movie transfers will be cheaper but they do not have the level of equipment found in professional film/video labs nor the trained personnel. In many cases, these vendors will shoot "off the wall" with a DV cam for the transfer of 8mm films. You can do this from home and achieve the same quality. Used 16mm telecines are relatively easy (read: cheap) to come by, so many of the "home movie transfer" vendors may advertise their special telecine equipment - the reason they have this equipment is that it is no longer state of the art and labs and television stations threw them out the back door...

Make sure whatever lab/service that you utilize has a wet gate telecine (if they say they have a Kinetta Film Recorder/Scanner then you should seriously think about sending your films there), will clean and repair (replace bad splices) the film before transfer, add new leader to the film. and have a live individual that will do the color correction (or contrast correction for black and white film) live while the transfer is being made. All of these are vital steps in getting a great transfer and in taking care of your film so that you can store it properly and keep the film ready for future advancements in film to video transfer technology.

The main issue to look out for with film of this vintage (and any film that has not been stored properly) is that there could be some shrinkage - the labs above can handle shrunken film. Another issue is that there may be some emulsion damage (scratches, molds eating the emulsions, etc) - and wet gates do nothing for emulsion damage... (Wet gates make scratches in the base side of the film invisible). I gather that your reels of film are from the thirties and are probably black and white - so you have to worry about color fading. (Color fading is actually rare in home movies of this era.
posted by cinemafiend at 4:50 PM on September 4, 2007 [4 favorites]


Depending on how good you want it to look / how much you want to spend, there are different options. Here is a link I just found that does a reasonable job explaining. (The link talks about 8mm film - 16mm is transferred the same way, but will be more expensive.) Your phrase "reliable expert" makes me encourage you to do a proper telecine transfer if you can afford it. It is expensive. A good colorist with the right tools, who will take the time, can make rather ugly old film look surprisingly good, including focus and color. (The "grading session" the link abouve mentions I've always heard referred to as a "supervised session" or "supervised transfer", FWIW.) Whatever route you go, certainly hold on to the film, and get any tapes created by the vendor prior to burning DVDs or whatever your final product.
Wikipedia on telecine.
posted by zoinks at 4:52 PM on September 4, 2007


Someone already said it in that earlier thread, but it needs to be shouted from every rooftop:

Whatever you do, please, please, please do not throw out the film. No matter what format you transfer to, that film is going to outlast it. A lot of people made this mistake in the 80's and 90's during the VHS boom, and consequently there are a large number of documentaries that have had to resort to crappy third- or fourth-generation video dubs of historically significant footage.
posted by Reggie Digest at 5:00 PM on September 4, 2007


I meant, "you will likely not have to worry about color fading."

And yes, make sure you properly store/archive the original reels of film - so that one day your great grandchildren's great grandchildren's great grandchildren (and so on!) will be able to inherit them...
posted by cinemafiend at 5:42 PM on September 4, 2007


No matter what format you transfer to, that film is going to outlast it.

Really? A digital copy of a film will last indefinitely, whereas film itself degrades after a century or so, perhaps faster.
posted by zardoz at 6:28 PM on September 4, 2007


so my cousin had some super 8 film from the 40s transferred to video. being kind of a video maniac, i ripped the video from the DVD and analyzed it.

for some unknown reason, the resultant DVD was 29.97fps interlaced. coming from a progressive source such as film, this was a total crime. i guess perhaps they must have done the "shoot off the wall" method described above.

so i'd take cinemafiend's advice and try to find a place that can do a proper transfer.
posted by joeblough at 9:19 PM on September 4, 2007


for some unknown reason, the resultant DVD was 29.97fps interlaced.

I thought that was normal for film being telecined to NTSC color video. Is it not? Please explain.
posted by chillmost at 4:56 AM on September 5, 2007


Oh, I see.
posted by chillmost at 4:58 AM on September 5, 2007


>>No matter what format you transfer to, that film is going to outlast it.

> Really? A digital copy of a film will last indefinitely, whereas film itself degrades after a century or so, perhaps faster.


Digital longevity
in my experience can be on the order of five years, though this is improving. Cause #1: Physical data rot, such as delamination, decay of dye used on homemade CD-R & DVD-R, nearby magnetic poles inexorably seeking equilibrium, etc. Cause #2: obsolescence of reader hardware & software.
posted by gregoreo at 7:03 AM on September 5, 2007


Thanks everyone. Very helpful. If you're still hanging around, can you clarify the issue that some of the sites raise concerning frame rate and "flicker" in a transfer? Will the speed of my 16mm films have to be altered slightly, upon transfer, in order to avoid flicker in mini-DV or DVD?
posted by Dave 9 at 2:03 PM on September 5, 2007


Digital longevity in my experience can be on the order of five years, though this is improving. Cause #1: Physical data rot, such as delamination, decay of dye used on homemade CD-R & DVD-R, nearby magnetic poles inexorably seeking equilibrium, etc. Cause #2: obsolescence of reader hardware & software.

I see your point, and you're right if we're talking only about CDs and DVDs. But I can copy that CD and DVD to my computer's hard drive and it will last indefinitely. Anything digital will (unless there's something about hard drives or copying I don't understand).
posted by zardoz at 7:18 PM on September 5, 2007


yeah, the "nearby magnetic poles inexorably seeking equilibrium" part. i have plenty of hard disks from which data has evaporated.

the wikipedia page indicates that 16mm film is usually shot at 24fps. in that case you should be able to get a clean copy to DVD, since DVD supports 24fps natively. or is this film so old that the frame rate is lower?
posted by joeblough at 10:50 PM on September 5, 2007


Dave 9, if you're still hanging around - the flicker may be a problem with "shooting off the wall." The "pulldown" performed by a telecine prevents this. In fact, you may actually want the speed of the films to be altered simply to make them run at the proper speed, avoiding the sped-up Charlie Chaplinesque look of a lot of older films. This is something I had to do often, and it's really a matter of the colorist paying attention, caring to get it right, and eyeballing the action while adjusting the speed of the film.
On preview, the video tape produced from the transfer will be at 29.97, but the pulldown allows everything to look smooth, whatever speed the film is run. Sometimes 16 fps for very old film, sometimes somewhere random under 24 fps or 16fps for film that was simply shot too slow and needs to be adjusted as I mentioned above.
posted by zoinks at 11:03 PM on September 5, 2007


zoinks, thanks. I think it’s 16 fps film and I thought it wasn’t so simple. Can you recommend a transfer service, or cite to a fuller explanation of exactly what needs to be done to achieve the proper frame rate without causing flicker, or “judder”? In any event, thanks for your help.
posted by Dave 9 at 6:52 PM on September 6, 2007


i dont think you can eliminate judder unless the framerates in question are even multiples of one another. in the end you have to repeat some frames more than others. my eye is very sensitive to this, at least for the 24->60 conversion that's done for a lot of HD tv shows that are shot at film rate. if you are lucky you won't notice the judder, but once you do, your brain will never be able to un-learn it...
posted by joeblough at 12:48 AM on September 7, 2007


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