Advice on transferring 8mm film to digital video.
December 4, 2004 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Transferring 8mm film to digital video advice (+)

I have several hours of 8mm and super-8 film from 30 years ago and it's high time I got it digitized. I know that there are lots of companies that convert old films to DVD, but I'm looking for a company or service package that includes the relatively uncompressed video files from the first scan in addition to the MPEG-2 compressed DVD that's usually on offer. I want to be able to play with the video myself.

Does anyone here have experience with 8mm film digital transfer? Can you give me an estimate or too-high threshold for transfer cost per foot or per minute? What should I look for in a service? What should I expect in the quality? Bonus points for anyone who can tell me what format these companies typically scan the films into before compressing in MPG-2. I'm hoping that the lightly compressed format (e.g. DV or DV-Pro50) creates files small enough to fit onto a data DVD.
posted by squirrel to Technology (9 answers total)
I just had something similar done at a place here in San Francisco called the Video Transfer Center at 395 South Van Ness, so depending on whether you're at 94117 or Hanoi, it may be close to you. (415-558-8815)

I had an unusual transfer (needed to go from an MPEG on a CD to a VHS tape), and I called bunches of places, and these guys were the only ones who seemed to know what they were talking about. The guy I dealt with was named Buck. They did a good job, so I'd check them out for prices and all. For my job there was a base hourly rate of $65 (my job took a half hour)
posted by jasper411 at 12:35 PM on December 4, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks, jasper. I fear AskMe is moving so fast now that yours will be the only response. I appreciate it, though.
posted by squirrel at 6:01 PM on December 4, 2004

I doubt they'd give it to you in an uncomrpessed format - they'll likely give you it in DV format - DV is cheap, usable at home, but realistically? 5:1 compression and a serious reduction of color space

This just came up on a mailing list I subscribe to:
"I have heard good things about , but I have not used them myself. they do transfers as well as sell conversion equipment. This is a very interesting site and I have heard they are quite legit. I believe their prices are $20 per 50 roll of 8mm."

"For Regular-8 telecine, I would suggest Pro-8mm in Burbank. I don't know anyone else who does R8, plus their prices seem reasonable to me."

Hope that helps
posted by filmgeek at 6:37 PM on December 4, 2004

I recently used to transfer a short super8 film to DVD. They did a good job for what I wanted (decent DVD-quality transfer for mucking about with amateurishly at home), but it doesn't sound like they're what you're looking for -- very consumer-oriented, very basic.

Also, are you looking specifically for a shop that does frame-by-frame optical scanning? As I understand it, most transfer companies just use a variable-speed super8 projector and a digital camcorder to do the transfer, which is obviously a bit lower-fi (but probably much cheaper) than actual scanning. You sound like you've put more thought in to the process than I have, but if you haven't actively explored that end of things, do.

I've been satisfied with the DVD material for my own editing and retouching in Premiere, for what it's worth -- but then, I'm a budding amateur with no grand plans for this particular bit of student film.
posted by cortex at 11:38 PM on December 4, 2004

Response by poster: Wow, I hadn't considered projecting the film onto a screen and just taping the screen with a digital camera. That seems unsatisfactorily lo-fi. If I'm going to go through the trouble, I might as well do it right. Ten again, the cost difference may be extreme.
posted by squirrel at 10:02 AM on December 5, 2004

How else do you suppose the video-transfer services do it? The only alternative would be directly scanning the film digitally, which is likely very expensive.
posted by neckro23 at 12:39 PM on December 5, 2004

The biggest problem in doing it yourself is the flicker from the varying frame rates. The higher end services will individually capture each frame of film and then convert the captured footage into the correct frame rate for recording on to video.
posted by spaghetti at 6:02 PM on December 5, 2004

To be clear, even the lower-end services do a better job than you can do yourself with a consumer-level projector -- instead of projecting at a straight 18-frames-per-second and recording at (ferexample) NTSC 29.97 (which leads to the ugly out-of-sync flicker), they'll use a well-calibrated variable-speed projector to slow the film down just a tiny bit and eliminate the flicker.

Chances are you'll still see a little bit of darkness around the corners of the projected-and-recorded video, unless they're using a projector with a really great lamp.

It may also behoove you to just contact some of the folks that come up on Google and ask them point blank if they (1) provide frame-by-frame scanning, (2) offer low- or no-compression files as a final product, and (2b) are willing/capable of providing such files even if it's not a standard offering.

One nice thing about super8 transfer shops is there is often a helpless film geek doing the actual transfer work, who may care enough to go above-and-beyond out of sheer nerdish enthusiasm.
posted by cortex at 7:52 PM on December 5, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks, cortex, and all.
posted by squirrel at 12:12 AM on December 15, 2004

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