FILM TRANSFER INFORMATION

Most people have questions regarding the film- to- video transfer process, and this page is the place to find answers. Please use the "quick links" below to find specific information, or simply scroll down to read the entire content. If you don't find the information you are seeking here, please feel free to inquire by email via the "Contact" page. I will respond to all inquiries absolutely as soon as possible- in most cases within 24 hours.

 

 

Super 8 And 8mm Film Explained

8mm and Super 8 film was introduced as a "consumer level" media for use by average folks in archiving their memories and experiences- literally for making their own home movies. The moniker "8mm" refers to the width of the film.

8mm Film

8mm equipment and film was introduced by Kodak in 1932. The company had spent many years developing an affordable and easy format for the home user, and despite the economic effects of the depression 8mm film soon caught on and became incredibly popular. "Regular" 8mm film can be identified by its larger sprocket holes and smaller printed image. Another identifier is the placement of the sprocket holes, which are positioned to index in the spaces between the individual frames.

Super 8 Film

Super 8 film was introduced in 1965- again by Kodak, who had been searching for ways to improve picture quality and ease of operation. Super 8 film offered several advantages including a larger picture size, more uniform response of the film to light, more reliable film cartridge performance, and eventually sound recording. Super 8 film features an image size that is about 1.25mm wider and .8mm taller than Regular 8mm. It can also be identified by the smaller sprocket holes which are centered at the middle of each individual frame. Super 8 film may also show a magnetic tape strip running along the edge of the film opposite of the sprocket holes. This strip recorded sound in the same way that tape recorders do. Because Super 8 sound film required different- and more expensive- cameras and projectors it accounted for only 5- 8% of all sales, and as a result is fairly rare today.

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Why Film Should Be Transferred To Video

Natural Disasters & Catastrophes

There are actually several very good answers to this question. The most obvious reason is to protect the content of the films from hazards such as floods, fires, hurricanes, tornados, and a host of other disasters that can befall the originals. Films that are archived to MiniDV cassettes can be more easily stored in fire safes and safe deposit boxes because they are smaller. A MiniDV cassette measures 2.9 X 2.1 X 0.64 inches when cased, and holds one hour of video footage. Compare that to the 3 X 3 X 0.49 inch dimensions of the smallest 8mm reel, which holds about 3:20 worth of film. It takes a total of 19 three- inch film reels to hold one hour of imagery, with a required storage space of 6 X 3 X 4.7 inches. This means that storing one hour worth of film reels requires 80.7 cubic inches more than a single MiniDV cassette. To put it another way, 11 MiniDV cassettes can be stored in the same amount of space as 19 three- inch film reels, yet the MiniDV cassettes have the potential to hold 10 more hours of imagery than the reels. Now, that is not to say that your film reels should be transferred and then thrown away. Far from it! Your films can still be enjoyed as they are for many years, but when it comes to preserving the important content of those films- family history, memories, and experiences- it's always a great idea to have copies stored in different locations as a sort of "protection through redundancy" against unforeseen and unfortunate events.

Vinegar Syndrome

Vinegar syndrome is another very good reason to archive films sooner than later. This condition is a naturally- occurring degradation of the acetate base of the film, and is often accelerated by improper storage. According to scientific studies, acetate film that is stored at 65°F and 50% relative humidity will last 50 years before beginning to develop vinegar syndrome. The effects of this condition are not reversible, and eventually cause the film base to become so brittle that it literally falls apart. If caught early, the emulsion on the film- the product that creates the images- could once have been transferred to a new film base, but this was an extremely costly process and the service is now all but impossible to find. The earliest symptom is a "vinegary," acidic smell which is the basis for its name. The best way to prevent vinegar syndrome is to follow the temperature and humidity guidelines for storage that are listed above, and to store film reels in ventilated cans- or no cans at all- as lack of ventilation has been shown to be a contributing factor to degradation. In any case, vinegar syndrome means the eventual loss of the film, making early transfer to video a very good idea.

Previous Transfers

Another consideration deals with previous transfers that may have been performed on the films. Film transfer services have been offered for many years now, and frankly the "early days" of affordable transfers are not necessarily remembered for their successes. One of the more common situations that I have encountered involves people who did the "right thing" and transferred their films in the 1980s and '90s, when it was a common practice to transfer film directly to VHS cassette. It's still common today, in instances where the customer prefers VHS over DVD, and it's even a service that Far Q Productions offers. In some of these earlier cases folks were lucky, and their service provider actually recorded the films to a digital video format before making VHS copies. In many cases, however, they did not and what remains now as an archive of those films is only a VHS cassette- which does not offer the high resolution or color processing quality of raw digital video. . . or even DVD, for that matter. To compound the issue, some of these early customers then sent their VHS cassettes in to have them transferred to DVD, but sadly there is no substitute for making a high- quality transfer in the first place. The result of VHS- to- DVD conversions of transferred film is often a heavily compressed video that shows lower quality than the VHS tape. If you couple this example with the obvious advancements and improvements in technology that have occurred over the past 30 years, it's easy to see why a person may consider re- transferring their films. You have my personal assurance that in the course of transferring films I will provide the guidance that is needed to avoid becoming entangled in situations like the one cited above.

Preservation

One final consideration when deciding whether or not to transfer film reels is the protection of the original investment that was made in them. The reasons stated above- disasters, vinegar syndrome, and other calamities that can result in the total loss of films- don't just represent danger for the memories and experiences that are captured on the reels, they also represent a threat to the work and money that your relatives invested in the film and equipment that was used to capture those memories in the first place. A concern that I have heard from some people is that the transfer process seems costly; a concern that I shared for many years while my family's films sat in basements and attics. However, when our films were final gathered up into one location I was impressed with the sheer volume of film that was there. I realized at that time that a fair amount of money had been invested in those films, and an even greater amount of time had been spent in editing, repairing, and cataloging them. It occurred to me almost immediately that the only way to waste that financial and personal investment was to do nothing- to fail to archive and protect those images that would become some of the only visual representations that younger relatives would ever know of grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and family friends. I realized that these films contained images of our homes, our cars, our cities and towns, and that they would be a wonderful treasure for the youngest generation of our family- and I also realized that they were completely irreplaceable. It was then that I decided that it wouldn't just be "nice" if they were archived- it was absolutely essential.

Regarding the cost of transferring film, it's true that the equipment involved in the process is expensive. It's also true that the job requires knowledge, experience, and expertise. There are also material and operating costs to be considered. With that in mind, I have done my best to keep prices down so that this indispensable service can be available for as many people as possible. While you may find vendors out there who offer slightly lower prices, I think that you will also find that in many cases those vendors are cutting corners somewhere- or using "hidden fees" to discreetly raise their rates. Honestly, there is so much negativity in the marketing of this service that I really don't want to beleaguer the point. I would rather simply state that the services offered at Far Q are truly top- notch, and that there will never be any "surprise charges" or any situations where you feel that your film is being "held hostage" pending payment.

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The Transfer Method

There are many methods of transferring film out there- some of which date back to the 1980s. The most common methods involve video taping some type of "reflected" version of the original film, either with a video camera pointed at a projection screen or with the film image reflected through a "mirror box". These methods make some sense at a glance, but they fall far short of the goal upon further consideration. The reasons for this can be quite technical, but sparing a Physics lesson they can also be easily understood.

The "mirror box" method uses a film projector, a video camera, and a mirror box into which the film is projected. This method works in much the same way as the toy periscopes that some may remember from childhood. The inherent problem with this method is that light from the projector- which transfers the imagery- must bend and distort slightly upon reflection off of the mirror. This bending of light can result in lowered luminosity or brightness of the film, cause distortion in the projected image, and can impede the true reproduction of color. Mirror boxes also create a junction which is ideal for the introduction of dust, which can almost imperceptibly degrade image clarity and sharpness.

The "projection screen" method displays similar shortcomings. In this process, a projector is placed in front of a screen, with a video camera aligned directly beside it. Film is run through the projector while video is simultaneously recorded by the camera. The same rules regarding the bending of light apply here, although at a slightly less radical angle of reflection. There is still a loss of brightness in the picture, and color issues can arise much more quickly and detrimentally because the screen color affects the reproduction of the color from the film. Dust issues are an even greater concern because the distance between the projector and the screen is nothing more than open air, and that distance must be doubled to account for the return of the image from the screen to the video camera.

Probably the most noticeable- and unpleasant- side effect of both of these methods is a tendency known as "flicker". Almost everyone has seen film flicker at one point or another. Flicker creates a "jumpy", almost flashing reproduction of film when it is captured on video. Flicker is actually caused by the film projector itself, which is a principal instrument in both of the methods above. This makes flicker a nearly unavoidable side effect when film is transferred in either of these ways. The effect is caused by the shuttering systems that most projectors employ. The shutter system is made up of a series of "blades" that actually cover the the gate that the film is projected through, for the purpose of obscuring the transition from one film frame to the next. When projected onto a screen, the effect of the shutter system is minimized as the human eye naturally adjusts and perceives the flicker as motion. When film is transferred to video- which uses it's own "pulse" to depict motion imagery- the effect is compounded and flicker becomes much more noticeable. This amplified "flicker effect" leads quickly to eye fatigue, and gives the final video product an unnatural and unfamiliar look.

Far Q Productions uses only true telecine equipment to produce High- Resolution, and absolutely flickerless NTSC digital video of your film. Our method employs a shutterless projection system and real time frame- by- frame scanning of your film, which is projected directly into the lens of a high- resolution camera that provides the truest and best reproduction without distortion, loss of brightness and color, flicker, or the introduction of dust and speckling. Our telecine equipment is designed and manufactured by leading industry professionals, and this ensures not only astounding video quality but also safe and gentle handling of your film.

Definitions for the more "technical" terms above can be found on the "FAQs" page of this website.

There are several different telecine systems that are available for use in this process. I chose a real- time method for several very specific reasons. The first is that real- time transfer allows for the capture of video onto MiniDV cassette, the advantages of which are discussed in a later section. Other systems capture video directly to a computer, but use slower or faster films speeds to accomplish the task. This means that the digital video must be sped up or slowed down to make it appear as "returned" to its original frame rate, and that necessity can lead to problems in reproduction- such as people walking at faster or slower speeds than the film actually depicts. You never have to worry about film speed problems with a real- time system, as your films are projected exactly as they were intended to be. What you receive in the end is video that behaves exactly as you remember it, with picture quality that is actually improved due to the removal of variable factors such as the effects of screen reflection.

Another issue that arises from computer- based transfers is the "hands- off" approach that it encourages. The post- production computer processing of video files is time consuming, and is often left unmonitored through completion and unreviewed at the time your DVDs are shipped. The real- time method requires operator involvement through every step of the process, which means that every minute of your film is reviewed for quality and accuracy and that no harm can befall your films due to automated mechanical damage. Your films are always returned in fine condition- actually in better condition than when they left your hands.

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The Process

The process used at Far Q is a fairly simple one, and is designed to provide the best care for your original films while rendering the best quality video possible.

Step 1: Film Preparation

When your films are received, you are contacted to confirm delivery and your order. Your film is then carefully inspected. Temporary front and back leaders are installed, and any necessary repairs are made using cement splicing techniques. Your films are then cleaned and lubricated to provide for improved picture quality and smooth operation through our equipment and your projector. Our cleaner and lubricant were selected for their gentle effect on your film, and also for their environmentally- friendly tendencies. There is nothing caustic or poisonous in the products that are used, and the carbon footprint of their manufacture is considerably lower than that of other products.

Step 2: Film Transfer

Once it is repaired, cleaned, and lubricated your film is loaded onto our telecine and transferred to MiniDV cassette. The MiniDV recording that is created in the process is known as a "Master," and serves as the high- quality backbone of the telecine product. The master becomes the archive of your films, and can be used for decades to make copies onto VHS tapes, DVDs, Blu- Ray Discs, or any other format that is introduced in the future. The video on the MiniDV master is then recorded to DVD, and from that DVD any number of additional copies that you have requested are rendered. These DVDs are not copy protected in any way, so they may also be used to make copies for friends and relatives without the need to return to Far Q Productions for further service. The temporary leaders on your films are then removed, and your reels are returned to their original boxes and condition- with the exception of having been repaired, cleaned, and lubricated.

Step 3: Delivery

Once your reels, cassette, and DVDs are compiled, you are notified regarding return shipping. A "redundancy protection" protocol is used to ensure that the content of your original films can not be lost in its entirety. Your first delivery will contain your MiniDV cassette, DVDs, and an invoice for your payment. Once you have confirmed receipt of your first shipment, your second delivery- containing your original films- will be sent. The two- package system ensures that you retain either your original films or your MiniDV master should something drastic happen during shipment. These types of incidents are actually rare, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. If for some reason your MiniDV and DVDs fail to arrive, we know at least that your film is safe. If your film fails to arrive, we know that you at least have your MiniDV master.

Step 4: Enjoy your films and videos!

Complete details regarding shipping and payment are available on the "Film Transfers" page on this website, along with various package pricing options.

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Why MiniDV Cassette Is So Strongly Recommended

For many years now, various companies have offered film- to- DVD services while assuring their customers that DVD is a true, "archival" media type. While this approach has been accepted by many consumers, there is one small problem with it- DVD is not an archival format. I could begin quoting piles of data at this point, but the explanation of why DVD doesn't make a good archiving media really comes down to one element that is central to video itself- compression.

As the term infers, compression is a method for converting large amounts of data to a smaller overall size in order to allow it to fit in a smaller space. By definition, "compression" is not necessarily a bad thing. In the world of computers it is used all the time, for example in WinZip or Adobe Reader files where a large document is temporarily reduced to a manageable size then "unpacked" for use. The problem with compression as it relates to video actually begins with the size of video data itself. Video requires a lot of information, and the higher the quality of the video the more information it needs.

Over many years of development in the field of video technology there has been one hurdle that the industry can't seem to overcome, and that is the fact that no digital video format to date has proved itself capable of holding or processing as much video information as video tape- including DVD! Video tape uses the DV format, which is an acronym for "digital video". As with most of the digital video formats, DVD uses compression for the purpose of creating the video files that will be transferred to the discs and recognized by DVD players. The difference is really in the amount and type of compression that DVD uses, which follows various protocols and in all cases requires a lot of compression. This means that DVD video files are compressed by their nature, and that there is no way around compression when creating a DVD. It is possible to limit the amount of compression applied to DVD video, but it can not be completely eliminated.

Compression is such an important element in digital video quality that much calculation and research has been devoted to it. Data transfer rates are a good way of comparing various video storage methods. The data transfer rate for a given media is an expression of how much information that media can transfer per second. In this instance, data is measured in Mb/s, or "Megabits per second". As mentioned earlier, the amount of information a video file contains determines the quality of the video it displays- meaning that more information creates better video. Several examples of media types and their data transfer rates include-

DVD: 9.5- 10 Mb/s, or approximately 4.5GB per hour of video

Hard Drive: 25 Mb/s, or approximately 13 GB per hour of video

MiniDV: 25 Mb/s, or approximately 13 GB per hour of video

This is where the MiniDV format serves its best purpose. MiniDV, like all video tape, uses the "DV" format- which is a compressed video protocol. However, it is a very sophisticated format that uses much less compression than DVD and is actually "at par" with the data transfer rates of the vast majority of broadcast television that we see today. The rates above show how MiniDV compares to DVD. This low compression rate makes it the best high- quality system for storing the true archive of films. Digital video as stored on these cassettes can be edited in a non- destructive manner, and since MiniDV is one of the newest formats of true digital tape there will be machines for playing and recording the cassettes for decades to come. Even consumer- quality video cameras that use this format can intuitively interface with computers, which opens up an entire realm of archiving and editing possibilities for those who choose MiniDV as their archival media. Nothing looks better or is easier to use than MiniDV- with the exception of uncompressed hard drive transfers that offer data transfer rates between 170 and 270 Mb/s, but are also prohibitively expensive to say the least.

This beckons the obvious question, "Why transfer film to DVD at all?" The answer is simple. DVD is a universal format, capable of playback on standalone players and computers, and most people agree that it offers better picture quality and more features than earlier formats such as Beta and VHS. It also delivers better quality than many modern computer- based formats like QuickTime, Windows Media Player, and Flash video. DVD video- when processed properly with minimal compression- really does look very good, and the DVD quality that I offer stands up to any other service provider out there. But between the compression that is applied to the files and the destructive nature of DVD editing protocols, it's hard to refer to DVD as an "archival format". In short, DVD is the best choice for viewing; MiniDV cassette is the best choice for archiving- and that's why I provide both formats in every service package that I offer.

Incidentally, I use quality MiniDV cassettes manufactured by Sony, Panasonic, and various other makers. The photo at the top of this section is for demonstration purposes only.

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Reel Sizes, Running Times, And Media Info

The most common questions that I field have to do with reel sizes and running times, so I've assembled the chart below to help simplify things. 8mm and Super 8 film utilize a very similar standard, with identical reel sizes and capacities. Please note that every reel is unique, so your reels will probably contain more or less film than is listed below. This chart reflects approximations based upon the original capacity recommendations from Kodak and other manufacturers, and presumes a filming speed of 18 frames per second- the standard frame rate for consumer level filming. For film shot at 24 frames per second, the professional level frame rate, the running time is reduced by approximately 25%.

8mm & Super 8 Film

Reel Size
Film Footage Running Time
3- Inch 50 Feet 3:20
4- Inch 100 Feet 7:00
5- Inch 200 Feet 14:00
6- Inch 300 Feet 21:00
7- Inch 400 Feet 28:00

MiniDV Cassette Capacity

The MiniDV Cassettes that are created by this process will hold up to one hour of video each. This is because higher video quality is achieved by recording more video data onto longer lengths of video tape, which has the effect of shortening the running time of the cassette itself.

DVD Capacity

DVDs that are created by this process also contain one hour of video. This is for a similar reason as with MiniDV Cassettes, but one that serves more of a "mirror image" purpose. Since the DVD video format uses compression by it's very nature, it is impossible to "turn off" the compression and record raw video. In order to get the lowest possible compression level- and by extension the best DVD video quality- shorter video times are recorded to the disc, which in turn requires less compression. The absence of a higher compression level naturally produces better video quality.

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