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Home Movies & Film to DVD & Video - Transfer Methods Explained

film to video transfer

What you should know before you transfer your 8mm and 16mm movie films to video & DVD.

  I've been surfing the internet a lot lately to see what other companies are saying about the film transfer process and have discovered several contradictions and bad information. I'd like to take a few moments to clear some things up for anyone who may be in need of these services.

  The first thing I noticed is that the cost of transferring film seems to be all over the place.  I've seen anywhere from 12 cents to $1.00 per foot of film.  Often the perception is that the more it costs the better the quality.  I've found that's not always the case.  In a moment I'll discuss some of the different processes that are currently available.

  There are essentially 2 parts to any movie film transfer.  The 1st involves the equivalent of shining a light through the film in order to retrieve the image.  Not exactly rocket science.  The 2nd part involves the use of a computer chip (often referred to a CCD chip or similar) that converts the visual image into video that can be stored on various types of media.  This is where the true quality of the transfer process presents itself.

  How do you decide which one to choose?  Let's look at each one of them.  Before we can begin, there's something you need to know.  As I mentioned above, there are two parts to the process that have to take place to make the transfer happen.  All of the methods I'm about to discuss are similar in nature, but the technology being used is what separates them.  Let's look at the steps involved in the process.

Splicing/Cleaning of the film

  Many companies will (without consulting you) splice together of your smaller reels of film onto larger 7" reels.  Combining these reels speeds up the transfer process and saves them money.  This process is NOT required for transferring film.  There are a few companies that actually charge extra for this "mandatory" part of their process.  Watch out for those.  You should never have to pay for having your films spliced onto larger reels.

  Cleaning is also optional and often not necessary for the transfer.  Some chemicals used in the cleaning process can actually damage the film.  If you had left your film laying out unraveled from the reel for an extended period of time, it would likely collect dust and need to be cleaned.  I believe most people keep their films wrapped up around the reels and stored inside a box or container where dust won't get to the film.  Again, you shouldn't have to pay extra for this service if you do not feel that it is a value to you.

Consumer Alert: Some companies will hype up the benefits of cleaning the film so they can draw your attention away from the limitations of their actual transfer process. 

Film to video synchronization

  Synchronizing the frame rates of video and film are also important to getting a good transfer.  Commonly, after film is transferred to video, the image from the video will cause the TV picture to "flicker".  This is due to the fact that most 8mm and Super 8 film was exposed at a rate of 16 or 18 frames per second and video records at 29.97 frames per second.  16mm film was typically shot at 18 or 24 frames per second.  "Frames per second" refers to how many times the camera's shutter opens (to "take a photo") and closes in one second.  Since, the frame rate of the film doesn't match the frame rate of video, it creates what we call "flicker".  To reduce this "flicker", the speed of the projector has to be changed to allow the frames of the film to "match up" with the frames of the video.  Usually, this adjustment in speed is practically unnoticeable.  The result is a smooth, easy-to-watch video. 

Improving the picture through better CCDs

  The picture quality of television is often represented by the quantity of horizontal lines (drawn across your TV screen) that make up the picture.  To give you an idea of the differences in picture quality, let's compare some common video sources.   A standard VHS videotape, that you've used in the past, contains 240 lines of picture resolution.  DVDs may contain from 500-700 lines of picture resolution.  CCD chips may contain anywhere from 240 to 1,080 or more lines of resolution.  The more resolution the CCD chips have, the sharper the picture quality.  Video cameras that use 3 CCD chips produce a better quality picture than cameras that use a single chip.

There are several different methods for transferring movie film to video

Projecting films onto a wall or screen

  One of the first methods used to transfer 8mm and 16mm film was to simply aim a film projector at a wall or screen and then aim a video camera at the same part of the screen.  Sounds simple.  There are several reasons why this method is not very good.  1) You need to be in a completely dark room.  Otherwise, any ambient light in the room will wash out the screen and you'll lose contrast in the picture.  2) Most consumer cameras do not have the ability to match up the frame rates of film to video. (See Film to Video Synchronization above.)  3) Most consumer cameras only contain one CCD chip. (See above)  4) It's difficult to get the projected film image to line up exactly with the video camera.  5) If you don't use a high quality screen, the image will look bad and you may start to see the texture of the screen in your picture.  And shooting off the wall is even worse.

Using a film transfer box

  Various retail stores have sold a plastic box referred to as a film transfer box where you aim a film projector into one side of the box and the video camera points into another side of the same box.  Inside the box there's a mirror to reflect the projected image into the video camera's lens.  I've experimented with this method and I can tell you the results were horrifying.  On one side of the box is a plastic "frosted" surface where the film projector will project the film image.  When I tried it, the texture of the surface came through onto the video making it appear like your were looking at the films through a shower door.  They weren't very clear.  You'll also encounter many of the same problems discussed in the previous section "shooting off a screen", including the limitations of the video camera.

Telecine machines

  Over 25 years ago, a company by the name of Elmo began manufacturing a device often referred to as a Telecine projector.  It looks very much like a regular film projector but, instead of projecting the image through a lens, it would project the film image directly into a video CCD chip contained inside of the projector directly in front of the film where the lens would normally be located.  Then a vcr is connected to the Telecine machine to record the video information received from the CCD chip.  The main drawback of this method is that it uses old, out-dated technology.  The CCD chips were made 20 years ago and only contained about 240-270 lines of picture resolution.  Over the past 15 years, the technological improvements in CCD chips have far surpassed the chips produced so many years ago.  Look at how much consumer camcorders have improved in just the last 10 years.  A lot of film transfer companies are still using these 240-line CCD Elmo Telecine transfer machines for their transfers even today.  In fact, another San Diego-based company using this method is claiming to offer the "best quality in California".  You'll see in a moment why this doesn't make sense.  Some of the companies that use this outdated technology include Costco, Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and RiteAid  among others.  These aforementioned companies all send out their customers' films to another company that actually performs the transfer.  With this one company handling so many orders, I don't know how they keep from losing them.

What you should know before you take your films to large chain retailers like Costco, WalMart or Walgreens for transfer to DVD

 

Some of the large national chain retailers like Costco and WalMart have started offering film and video transfer services.  We thought you should know that NONE of these chains actually perform the transfer of film or video to DVD.  Instead they ship them out of state to a large warehouse firm that handles thousands of projects.  This firm uses the outdated telecine method (described above) for their process.  And they will splice your film reels together without telling you.

 

You will find a copyright stamp on every disc you receive from Costco

 

When you take your films or videos to Costco (and WalMart) to have them transferred to DVD you will receive a DVD containing a copyright stamp on the disc bearing the name of the company performing the actual transfer.  Are they attempting to discourage you from copying the disc? Are they claiming the rights to the materials?  What does it mean?

(Click here to see larger image of the DVD)

   

All of the film and video transfers brought to Sunray are transferred in-house and never shipped out.  We handle each and every film, videotape, and DVD as if it were our own.  We do not copyright your footage and you're free to make copies if you choose.  We suggest your read our DVD FAQ page first to learn more about labeling discs. 

 

We've had several customers bring their films to us after going to Costco first and how they were disappointed.  Not only were they disappointed with the quality of the Costco transfer, but now they had to pay to have it done a 2nd time.

 

Frame by frame

  There are a few companies touting that the frame by frame method is the best.  This is just not true.  This method uses a process similar to that of the Telecine machine except that the film has to stop running through the projector long enough for each frame to be projected one-at-a-time into a camera and "photographed" much like taking pictures with a still camera.  Most of the cameras used in these systems have one low-resolution CCD chip containing usually no more than 450 lines of picture resolution.  It doesn't matter if the frames are captured one-at-a-time if the CCD is a lower resolution, the quality will be inferior.

Consumer Alert: Some companies are offering "frame by frame" transfers and claiming that this process offers the best quality for transferring film.  Keep in mind that a camera or camera CCD still has to be used to convert the film image to a video format.  The resolution quality of this CCD will be the final determining factor as to the quality of the transfer.  Sunray is one of the VERY FEW companies using a $10,000.00, 800-line, 3 CCD video unit. 

Before you turn over your precious films, ask them about the resolution of their transfer process.

 

Film Scanning

  One of the better methods available for the transfer of 8mm and 16mm film involves the use of a Rank Cintel film scanner.  Hollywood movies have been transferred using one of these machines.  This process can run as much as 4 times the cost or more of the other methods available.  While it does provide a decent product, it can be prohibitively expensive and usually unnecessary for 8mm films.  8mm films contain such a small image and are often very grainy.  Therefore it may not be worth the additional cost of using this method for those films.  16mm on the other could benefit, if you can afford the higher fees.

High Definition

  At this time, a few companies have chosen to offer high-def transfers for films.  To obtain true High Definition product involves the use of a video chip capable of capturing images at 1,080 lines or more of resolution.  This process can run as much as double the cost (or more) of other methods.  While this may sound great, transferring an old low-res medium to a high definition format does not make the original material high-def.  In order to achieve a high definition picture, the original footage would have to have been recorded in high-def to begin with.  As with the film scanning method (mentioned earlier), I personally don't feel that the grainy "low-def" images of 8mm film would benefit much from using a high-def transfer.  In fact, I believe the sharper picture quality of high-def will amplify the graininess so much that it would likely detract from the pleasure of viewing the films.

Transferring Film with Sound

  Some films happen to also contain sound.  For 8mm film it probably only accounts for about 1% of the films out there.  16mm tends to have a little more.  When it comes to transferring 8mm film with sound, some new challenges emerge.  For example, if you don't capture the sound at the same time the picture is recorded (such as in the frame-by-frame process), you'll have to try to re-sync the audio with the picture and that's not easy to do.  Using a process that removes the flicker causes the audio to either sound like it's been sped up (Alvin & the chipmunks?) or slowed down.  It is possible to restore the audio to close to it's original sound by digitizing the footage into an editing program and adjusting the speed.  This is the best way to remove the flicker and have normal speed sound, but it does often cost a little more due to the extra labor involved. 

Mastering the transferred image

  Once the images from the film have been converted to video, they need to be stored onto some form of media.  Years ago, during the original "telecine" era, VHS was the format of choice.  VHS only could handle 240 lines of picture information resulting in a poor finished product.  Today's DVDs support more than double that resolution.  Unfortunately, transferring those VHS tapes to DVD now will only yield the same quality.  If you want to take advantage of the higher resolution of DVD, you would need to have those films retransferred using a process that provides a higher-resolution than the old telecine machines.  Using a digital tape medium like DVCAM, MiniDV or even Digital8 makes a great source for producing a master of your films.

Consumer Notice:  Most film transfer companies do not offer digital masters at all, only the DVD.  If something happens to your DVD and it no longer works, you'd have to pay to have all of your films transferred all over again.

Digital Video tape Masters

  What is a videotape master?  Let's use an analogy using photographs.  When you take photos using a film camera, you have to take the film to a processing lab to be developed.  When you receive your pictures back, the lab also includes the "negatives" that were used to make the photos.  If you decide to get extra copies of a particular photo, you would take the negative back to the lab and they will make another print.  Prints taken from the negative are usually better quality than if you try to make a copy from the print.  A videotape master works similarly to the "negative" in that it provides the highest quality source to make a copy from.  (The digital master is put onto an industrial digital videotape that you probably won't be able to play.  (If you have a MiniDV or Digital 8 camcorder and you specify that you want a MiniDV or Digital 8 master, then you will be able to play it in your camcorder.)

  Sunray was the first company to begin offering digital videotapes for film transfer masters.  The greatest benefits of having these digital masters are:

  1. Should a new format come along to replace DVDs, all you will need is your master to have your movies put onto the latest video format and you'll save the cost of having your movies re-transferred again.
  2. If you happen to drop, scratch or damage your DVD, you can have a new one made from the master for a fraction of the price of re-transferring your movies over again.
  3. You may want to store the digital master in a safe-deposit box or somewhere outside of your home in case something should happen to your home.
  4. Anytime you make a copy from the master, there won't be any quality lost as a result of the "copy of a copy" syndrome.  (Just make a copy of a fax message and you'll see what we're talking about.)
  5. Whenever you need an extra copy, just bring in the master.  You won't need to bring the films back in.

  Digital masters are on a professional digital videotape format, DVCAM, and not on a DVD.  You have the option of putting your digital master on MiniDV or Digital 8 tapes if you prefer.  NOTE:  Digital8 tapes are rapidly disappearing so if you prefer having your videos on this format, you'd better act soon.

 

Beware of phony digital transfer claims

  Many companies are stating that they transfer to digital.  Be VERY careful here.  What most companies are doing is first transferring the film to a VHS tape and THEN putting it on a digital tape (i.e. MiniDV) or DVD.  By this method, you are only getting an image quality of 240 lines of resolution, even though they're putting it on DVD or other digital format.  When we perform a digital transfer, we send the image from the film DIRECTLY to the high-resolution digital videotape master (DVCAM, MiniDV, or Digital8), maintaining the higher resolution of 500+ lines.  Then, if we produce a DVD, it will maintain the high resolution we originally obtained.

Burning onto DVD

  Once the films have been converted to video it's time to burn it to DVD

Labeling the DVD

  I recently came across a company that chose wisely to use the better DVD discs but then ruined them by attaching a sticky label on it. What made it worse was that the label was in a rectangular shape about the size of a return address label.  Not only will the disc not play properly in some DVD players, but it's likely to damage the disc and maybe even someone's DVD player eventually, when the label starts peeling off.

  Using labels that attach to a DVD are a bad idea.  For more information about this, read our DVD FAQ page.

Saving on Hard Drives and Portable Storage Devices

  With the technology we have today, it seems everything is going digital. Between the internet and mobile smart phones, more people are switching to saving their important memories in digital files.  While it may be more convenient to have a digital file than a DVD or a tape, there is still a chance the file can get deleted forever.  Master tapes and DVDs provide piece of mind for backing up your precious memories.

  When it comes to digitizing your films onto a computer hard drive, it's important to know which file format will be the best for your purposes.  Often I'm asked, "Will I be able to edit the files from the DVD?"  When films are transferred to DVD they are put into a structure that is designed to be read by a DVD player connected to a television.  Even though the video information on the disc has been compressed into MPEG2, the files on the disc have a .VOB suffix which most editing programs do not recognize.  There is software available that can "rip" these VOB files into something your editor will recognize.  However, if you want to work with the best quality version of your films, there are uncompressed file types that most programs can use.  The most common file formats being used today for editing are .AVI files for PCs and .MOV for Macs.  There are numerous editing programs out there to choose from and each one has its own list of file types that they will recognize.  We recommend that you check the list for your software prior to digitizing your films so you won't waste time and money putting them into the wrong format.

  There are two choices for digitizing your films, you can do it yourself or have someone do it for you.  We recommend that you purchase an external hard drive or memory to put your films on and preferably keep it separate from your other computer files.  It's not a bad idea to make backup copies of the files on a separate hard drive in case something happens to the first one.  At this time, there is no certainty as to how long information stored on a hard drive will last.  Another good reason to have a copy on Gold Archival DVDs.

Sunray's Movie Film to DVD Transfer Process

Sunray Video is the only film transfer company that offers ALL of the following:

Splicing/Cleaning - All broken sections of the film will be re-spliced.  We don't combine your films on to larger reels without your permission.  The films will be returned to you in the same condition as we received them.  We don't use harsh chemicals to clean your films.  We prefer to keep the process all natural and green for the environment.

Film Synchronized to Video - Our process syncs the film and video frame rates to reduce flicker as much as possible.

High Resolution CCDs - Using high-contrast imaging, our "mid-air" process projects the film image directly onto a $10,000 800-line, 3 CCD chip video capture device.  This process also allows us to transfer more of each frame of film than most of our competitors.

Every Foot of Film Personally Transferred - No Automated Transfers - We never leave the film unattended during the transfer process.  Every foot of film is personally monitored throughout to ensure the film does not get damaged.  This allows us to be able to manually make adjustments to get the best image we can. 

Digitally Mastered - After capturing the film images with the 800-line chip, the video information is mastered on a high-quality, professional-grade digital master tape.  Once the process is complete, we give you the digital master tape at NO ADDITIONAL COST!  Sunray was the first film transfer company to offer this service.

100-Year Gold Archival DVD - They're now estimating that the average basic DVD may only last between 3 and 15 years, based on the manufacturing process used.  Made from real gold that doesn't rust or corrode over time, the process used to manufacture the Gold Archival DVDs enable these discs to last as much as 100 years making them ideal for archiving purposes.  Sunray was among the first companies to offer a Gold archival DVD for film transfers.  Read more about the Gold Archival DVDs here

Custom Titles within the video & DVD Chapter Titles - We can add custom titles within the video itself (i.e. before a given film reel or reels) and custom chapter titles on the DVD menu.

Narration, Music, Projector sound - We can add your own narration describing what's happening on the film, music, or even the sound of a projector if you're feeling nostalgic.

Label Printed Directly on the DVD - We print custom disc label information directly on the DVD itself. We don't attach any sticky labels to the disc that render the disc unreadable after a few years, not to mention the possibility of coming off and damaging someone's DVD player beyond repair.  Our labels are even resistant to smearing if any moisture happens to fall on it.  And they have a nice glossy professional finish.

Digitizing Your Films to Flash or Hard drive - More and more of our clients have asked us to digitize their films to AVI, MOV and other file formats so they may edit them more easily on their own computers.  We can encode them to other formats as well.

Digitize Your Films for your iPad, iPod, smart phone or upload them to YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, etc. - You choose how you want it.

Editing available - We can help you edit or rearrange your films after they've been transferred without any loss of quality.  You can provide us with a list of edits or sit with our editor to make the DVD just the way you want it.  We can even add photos and clips from videotapes if you like.

Color-correction - Some color correction occurs during the transfer process. Enhanced color correction is also available.

Blu-ray DVDs available - Blu-ray discs can hold more than 5 times as much as a DVD in standard definition.

16mm film with sound - No additional charge!

Super 8mm film with sound - No additional charge for transfer with normal sound and some flicker.  Small additional charge for transfer with no flicker and normalized sound.

Gold Archival DVDs

  Sunray is one of only a few companies that offers the Archival Gold DVDs for preserving your films much longer than basic standard DVDs.  There have been numerous reports of cheap DVDs that started coming apart after just 3 years.  Often the result of using poor quality materials to produce the discs.

They're now estimating that the average basic DVD may only last between 3 and 15 years, based on the manufacturing process used.  If your transfer your films to DVDs that fall apart quickly, the money you spent on transferring becomes wasted and the memories will be lost forever.  This is the very reason we strongly recommend using Gold Archival DVDs, as they are rated to last up to 100 years.  This brings me to another observation I made.  I noticed several companies claiming to be using a 100 year archival disc from Taiyo Yuden.  As of this writing I have not been able to locate any information (even on Taiyo Yuden's own website) about any such 100 year DVDs.  They're your memories, choose carefully how you wish to preserve them.

Read more about the 100 year Gold Archival DVDs

 

Get up to $100 off your Film Transfer and a 2nd DVD copy FREE when you join Sunray's VIP list Today!

Be sure to check the box for 8mm or 16mm film

 

How do you know if it's too late to transfer your 8mm, Super8, and 16mm movie films to DVD?

 

We’ve been transferring 8mm, Super8, and 16mm films for our customers for over 16 years now and we’ve been noticing some problems we think you should be aware of.  If you have any important home movies that have not been transferred to DVD or video yet, you may want to get them out and check them. 

 

We’ve been noticing a fair number of 16mm reels coming in that have a very strong vinegar-like smell to them.  It’s very common for this to happen with 16mm film stored in metal cans.  If you happen to notice this smell coming from your films, it’s time to get them transferred to DVD or video right away.  In some cases we’ve found that it’s already too late and the film was brittle and had already begun to warp and curl to a point that we couldn’t transfer it.  Don’t wait any longer on these.

 

Some of the 8mm reels we’ve been transferring have faded to a point where the colors were dull or the image is hard to make out.  Some climates can be particularly hard on film.  Areas near bodies of saltwater like the ocean are higher risk zones due to the salt in the moisture in the air from the sea spray that converts the water to a form of aerosol-like mist that dissolves into the moist air.  Climates that are high in humidity or hot temperature areas can also be hard on film.

 

The film to DVD transfer technology we have available to us now is better than ever before.  We can achieve a level of picture quality with more than twice the resolution of the VHS transfers that were done as recent as 5 years ago.  Did you know that many companies are still transferring film with VHS quality, even today?  In addition, we have the ability to preserve home movies on DVD, Gold DVD, and a digital videotape master that can be used to put them onto future technologies without losing any quality.

 

Advantages of a backup DVD copy

We know how easily discs can be scratched and damaged, sometimes just by accidentally dropping them on the floor.  So we recommend getting a 2nd set of DVDs that can be stored away in a safe place.  If any of your discs should become damaged beyond the ability to be played, you'll be able to make another copy for a fraction of the cost of having your videos transferred all over again, assuming you still have them.  Many victims of the fires in California who have lost their priceless filmed memories, could have saved them if they had placed a backup DVD in an off-site safe-deposit box or alternative location.

 

Film to Video & DVD resources:

Start your movie film to video transfer now

Main Film to DVD / Video Transfer page

Movie Transfer FAQs

What you should know about other film to video transfer services What you should know about other film to video transfer services What you should know about other film to video transfer services What you should know about other film to video transfer services What you should know about other film to video transfer services What you should know about other film to video transfer services What you should know about other film to video transfer services video transfer services

Acetate film base degradation (vinegar syndrome) -_National Film Preservation Foundation website

 

 

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How much does it cost and how do I place an order?

For instructions on how to get your film to DVD transfer process started, go to our Order Page.  

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Currently, our turn-around time is 7-10 business days for 8mm film and 8-10 business days for 16mm film.

 

 

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