Convert 16mm Film to Digital
What to do with your old 16mm film reels
Have you discovered that your parents or grandparents have left you reels and reels of old 8mm film from when they were young?
Most people wonder what to do with them.
As an industry veteran for several decades, I'm going to share with you how this all works. And I know because I've transferred millions of films to digital video files for every format you can imagine. We commonly convert 8 and 8mm films to hard drive, thumb drive, SD card, and DVD.
I have served everyone from small families to well-known Hollywood film studios and studio executives. And yes, it's true when they were working on the documentary about Steven Spielberg’s childhood, and they needed to convert his old film reels to digital video, they came to me and my company, Legacy Digital Productions.
So let's start with the things that people consider when converting the old 8mm films to digital media.
Where do we start? DIY or hire it out?
The first decision you have to make is:
Do I convert the film reels myself? Or, do I hire someone to do it?"
You may have already gone to Amazon and looked at buying a digital converter.
If you've already bought one, like most people, you've learned how time-consuming the process of converting the old home videos can be. Next you may have learned that the professional-grade film transfer equipment costs thousands of dollars when your digital converter was a few hundred dollars. Which will do a better film transfer job?
You guessed it...
So now, you are weighing costs, time, and also quality... And the choice quickly becomes obvious.
So now you need to find someone who will do it for you.
How to find the best company to convert your 8mm films to digital files
What should you look for in a digital film transfer company?
You may have family members or friends who have converted their film reels to digital format. They may be able to refer you to the company that converted their old home movies. However, because film conversion is such a specialized process, it can make finding the right film transfer company challenging.
Why referrals may not be the best option when finding a company to convert home movies to digital media
It's more confusing than ever. Ten years ago there were several dozen companies out there that do what we do. Now there are hundreds of film transfer companies that digitize reel-to-reel film and convert 8mm film to digital.
Not all film conversion companies are created equal
In fact, the worst of the worst companies use a projector to display the film onto a wall or a film screen. They then use camcorders or DSLR cameras to capture the images and make an analog or digital copy of the old film reels.
Sadly, they call this film transfer. And if you didn't know better, you might even be OK with this. You might assume that the blurry video files or media you get back are the best that could be recovered from the old film. Unfortunately, this isn't usually the case.
Some companies use older equipment. This film scanning equipment is the equipment companies like ours have discarded or sold as we upgrade our equipment to the latest state-of-the-art scanning equipment which we do regularly.
Again, unless you know what to look for when viewing the converted film reels, you won't know if what you have gotten is the best.
And when you are doing this, you want to do it once. You don't want to pay for it to be done, find that you aren't satisfied, and then pay us to do it again. And this happens all the time.
How to tell if a company transfers old films to digital properly
What are the most important things to look for?
- The right techniques - before, during, and after the film transfer process
- The right equipment
- The right options and digital formats for your digital files after they've been converted
Let's break down each step of the process.
The right techniques at the beginning of the film transfer process
Selected the right film transfer company is important. You want to make sure that they have their processes down, and do what's necessary to ensure the highest quality home movie product possible so that when you do share these precious memories with loved ones, it's as good as it gets.
So, what is the optimal process?
It starts with proper organizing, inventorying, and packaging of your 8mm film reels for delivery to the film transfer company.
Your 8mm film reels are then shipped to the film transfer company using UPS, FedEx, or another carrier. We strongly recommend that you use a carrier that offers tracking and that the package is insured.
Once your 8mm film has been received, each reel will be inspected to make sure that it can be scanned and converted. We need to make sure that it isn't too brittle or damaged and that the media can actually be transferred.
The next step in the process is to clean and recondition your film.
After the film reels have been inspected, the next step is to clean and condition each reel. This is a critical step. If it's not done correctly, and if the proper cleaning solutions and techniques are not used, your film could become damaged causing your precious memories to be lost forever.
Did you know that we actually invented and sell a cleaning system that's used by other film transfer companies around the world?
Like most things, the cleaning solutions used for film vary. They range in both quality in price. The best cleaning solutions aren't always used because they can cost two to three times as much as the cheaper alternatives. Be careful and make sure the best solutions are used because the cheaper cleaning solutions can actually harm your film.
During this process, the reels of film are cleaned of debris and lubricated making them ready for the best possible digital capture. If this step is skipped or done improperly, old 8mm reels are more likely to break when being transferred to digital media files and the quality of the captured image can be sacrificed.
The cleaning solutions that we use at Legacy Digital to clean and recondition your film will not only recondition the film you want to convert, but they will actually help to preserve them adding years to their life.
The right film transfer equipment
Now that your old film reels are ready to be converted to digital files, the next thing you want to understand is the type of film transfer equipment the company will use to transfer your old home movies to digital video files.
You want to know that they are using the latest, state-of-the-art digital conversion equipment available.
What are the important features and components of a high-quality digital film converter? And what's important to ask when you convert your 8mm film to digital?
We're going to skip the folks who project onto a surface and capture the old movies with a camcorder or DSLR camera. That's just a horrible option.
So the first, and maybe the most important feature you want to look for is how the 8mm film to digital converter scans the 8mm film. There are two common methods for this, continuous capture, or frame-by-frame scanning.
Continuous capture basically records a video while the film is being played back and viewed on a small LCD screen. There are several problems with this method including timing and overall frame capture. At times, the playback of the film reels is not done at the proper speed. Sometimes the films are played too fast, and other times they are played too slow. This gives the video an unrealistic and sometimes cartoonish appearance. When sound is involved, the defect can be particularly noticeable. This can sometimes be partially corrected using editing software.
True Frame-by-Frame Scanning
Ideally, you want true frame-by-frame scanning. This method takes an individual picture of each and every frame of your film reels. Capturing the 8mm film using this method ensures that the final video product will be displayed at the proper speed and that audio will playback as accurately as possible. Using this method also gives us the ability to color correct each individual cell, or picture, but we'll talk about that later.
At Legacy Digital, all 8mm film conversion is done using frame-by-frame scanning. Every cell of every film reel is captured independently for the highest quality output possible.
Let's Talk about Scanning Resolution
Next, and probably just as important as true frame-by-frame scanning is the resolution that the 8mm film is captured at.
We won't talk about resolutions captured by old equipment. Let's look at what you want when considering having your film transferred which is either Full HD resolution beyond 1080, or 2k.
Both of these resolutions are the highest quality resolutions available. The captured media can then be exported to multiple video formats that are compatible to watch on most TVs or computers.
The high-resolution files can be stored on a thumb drive, hard drive, or DVD.
At Legacy Digital, we only scan beyond Full HD resolution and up to Premium Quality 2k resolution, with or without audio. It's the industry peak and nobody does it better.
Two Other Important Things to Look in the Film Transfer Equipment Companies are Using
Now that we've covered frame-by-frame scanning and capture resolutions, let's discuss two additional things that are important with regard to protecting your film during the film transfer process.
First, let's talk about how the scanning system moves through the system. There are two common methods used when recording the film reels and converting them to videos.
Touchless scanning system
Cold LED lighting vs Incandescent
Older digital film converters used incandescent light bulbs to illuminate the film. The bulbs were very hot, and heat has a tendency to damage your film. The latest state-of-the-art equipment uses Cold LED bulbs. These bulbs are not only cooler than incandescent bulbs but the brightness of the bulbs can also be adjusted to enhance picture quality.
At Legacy Digital, all of our film to digital conversion machines use cool light LED technology. It's better, and just safer.
Your film has been digitized, but we're not done yet! Let's load it onto the computer and start editing!
Now that all of the frames from your film reels have been captured, it's time to load the videos up on the computer and start the editing process.
Now it's time for editing!
Most companies stop without editing. You get what the digital converter recorded. You shouldn't skimp on these two items though. They can really make a big difference when playing the footage on a computer or a TV.
What are the two additional processes? Scene by scene color correction, and advanced grain reduction.
Scene by Scene Color Correction
A couple of things. First, scene-by-scene color correction is done. If the video appears to be too bright we will lower the brightness. If the video is too dull, we'll enhance the colors. If the colors are too faint, we'll increase the contrast. We'll do whatever is necessary to make your old home movies look as close as possible to the day the recording was made.
Advanced Grain Reduction
The final step in the process is to load your video and use our intelligent computer software and advanced grain reduction algorithms to soften any grainy or pixelated edges that may have been scanned. This is a crucial step as it makes the videos appear more natural when watching them on a big screen TV.
As our customer, we can't stress enough the importance of both scene-by-scene color correction and advanced grain reduction services. Plus, we provide both at no extra charge with our Premium Quality service level.
Transferring movies in your desired format; MPEG (mp4/m4/mpg), Quicktime/ProRes (mov), Matroska (mkv), Divx/Xvid (Avi)...
As a customer, there are several destination file formats to choose from.
Which digital format is best for you? It depends on what you plan to do with your new video files.
The desired format is usually determined based on how the video files will be used later. Some video conversion companies will give you the opportunity to select which format or formats you'd like to have your files delivered in. Others will provide you with the format that is most compressed and uses the least amount of space.
Here's a breakdown of each file type and the positives and negatives of each.
Blah blah blah...
And if you are planning on editing the files using Adobe Premiere, or another video editing software, blah blah blah
At Legacy Digital, after we digitize your film, we give you the opportunity to select which formats you'd like to have your converted digital files delivered in based on your specific need.
Don't know what will be best for you? Just ask and we'll help you determine which format is best for you.
To the desired device type; SD Card, Thumb Drive, Hard Drive, Blu-ray Disc, DVD, or Cloud
We're almost there... Return shipping to you!
The second to last step in the process gets your original 8mm film reels back to you along with digitized copies. Just like the first trip to the film transfer company you chose, everything should be properly packed and sent via a shipping company that provides tracking and insurance.
The Final Step? An old home video family and friend watch party!
Now, the moment you've all been waiting for. The moment when you, family, and friends turn on the television so that you can play your newly digitized old home movies and share the precious memories that they contain.
So break out the popcorn, sit back, and relax while you take in what life was like for them at these special times in their, and maybe even your, lives.
About Legacy Digital Productions
Legacy Digital Productions has been trusted by families throughout North America to convert their 8mm film memories to digital media since 2001. We use the same equipment and processes used by the Academy of Motion Pictures in Hollywood (MPAA), the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television.