Transfer 8mm Film to Video

A common way to transfer 8mm film to video is to use a projector and a video camera. This strategy creates a number of problems that must be addressed to make a good transfer.

Frame Rate and Flicker

In countries that use the PAL or SECAM video standards, 16 and 35mm film with sound that is intended for theatrical distribution or television has generally been photographed at 25 frames per second. PAL video broadcasts at 25 frames per second, so the transfer from film to video is easy. For every frame of film, one frame of video is captured. Simple. There is no flicker.

Similarly in NTSC countries where the 16mm and 35mm film sound standard is 24 fps, the transfer to video is easy since many video cameras and DSLRs can shoot 24 fps. Again it is a simple process.

But in NTSC countries 8mm film was shot at about 16 fps and Super 8 at about 18 fps. This creates a problem when you want to transfer 8mm film to video. Most home projectors use a three-shutter system, which displays each frame three times. This means 48 on-screen images for every second for 8mm film or 54 for Super 8.

A typical video camera, on the other hand, captures two interlaced fields per frame, one containing the odd scan lines and the other containing the even lines. It captures images at 60 fields per second which is 30 frames per second times 2 fields. Ideally you can synchronize the film projector and the camera, but if you can’t, the resulting video will show some amount of flicker. Some of the fields will catch one of the projector’s shutters in operation, and those fields will be darker than the rest.

To minimize this flicker, set your shutter speed to 1/60 second, and adjust the projector speed to either 20 fps, which produces 60 images per second, or 10 fps, which produces 30 images per second. Most projectors with variable-speed adjusters do not have defined speeds. So when shooting the projector screen, watch for flicker and change the projector speed until the flicker disappears. This only works with a projector that has an infinite adjustable speed, rather than fixed speeds.

Not all video cameras can adjust the shutter speed and if yours cannot, the conversion will have a lot of flicker which ruins the transfer.

Manual White Balance

Make a manual white balance on the white light from your projector as it projects on the screen. Projector bulbs are generally tungsten rather than daylight.

Use Auto Iris

Manually adjusting the iris is difficult to get right and risks jarring the camera. Auto iris seems to do a very good job. I found that changing the ISO of the video to a low setting helps keep the lens open a stop or two. This is closer to the sweet spot or best aperture for the lens.

Manual Focus

Manual focus is better because autofocus will try to adjust for shots that are not in focus on the screen, making the matter worse. Zoom in and focus, then zoom out to frame.

Monitor

You need to use a monitor to check your framing and focus. A smaller monitor that is big enough to clearly see focus is helpful because you do these transfers in a dark room and you don’t want a large monitor lighting up the room. Face the monitor away from the screen so you don’t get light from the monitor reflecting on the screen.

Projection Directly Onto The Sensor Of A DSLR

Terry O’Brien skips the screen and does a real time projection directly onto the CMOS sensor of a Canon 60D. He has modified the projector by: using old lenses, converted the bulb to a dimmable LED with glass diffuser, removed the 8mm/super8 film frame to reveal 100% of the film (then he reframes in the computer), modified the projector motor to make it run quieter and for smoother speed control. See video of his setup.

DIY Telecine

A step up from using a projector on a white screen is the Telecine. Using a standard 8mm projector – a Eumig MKS 810D, this dude enlarged the gate with a file so the entire frame was visible. He added two new light sources, one for focusing and a second diffused light source for the transfer. To complete the light circuit he added a transformer and a dimmer switch. Next he added a condenser lens and a mirror to laterally invert the image. Then add a camcorder on a track. It’s helpful to have a large monitor to make framing and focusing easier. The results are pretty impressive.

Transfer 8mm Film to Video By Scanning

Scanning has several advantages over a telecine. The film is aligned digitally so there is little or movement of the frame. The computer can also detect and reduce dust and surface scratches without blurring or altering the image. But film scanning can become expensive and complicated as we saw in the Digital Restoration of the Zapruder Film.

A Open Source Film Scanner

Kinograph (http://kinograph.cc/) is an open source film scanner/telecine for digitizing all gauges of film. It currently supports 35mm and 16mm. 8mm is in active development. It’s done with a DSLR, special hardware and software. This is an exciting development. Be sure to watch the video on that site. However, it may not be a viable solution for the small transfer business in the immediate future, but I would definitely keep an eye on this system.

There are many DIY scanners around, but be warned, many of these projects take a year. Here’s a Raspberry Pi based 8mm telecine that will transfer 8mm film to video

Wolverine 8mm and Super8 Reels Movie Digitizer with 2.4″ LCD

Transfer 8mm Film to Video

A very interesting concept is the Wolverine Movie Digitizer which scans frame by frame directly to SD card. It’s completely automated. You don’t have to fuss with focusing or framing. It has an LED bulb which should last for many years. It takes about two seconds per frame so a 50 foot 8mm reel will take about 30 minutes and will create a file size of 128 MB.

The Wolverine Digitizer transfers 8mm and Super 8 movies into MP4 files at 720P/ 30 fps. Unfortunately, it can only record at 720p and 30 fps. If the 8mm film was shot at 16 fps, you’ll want to slow it down a bit in a Non-Linear editor. And the largest film reel it accepts is 5 inches so a 400′ 7 inch reel will have to be spliced into two smaller reels. People have jury-rigged solutions. Dividing the reel into two smaller reels is not really a big deal if you have a splicer and rewinds.

I wish they had taken more time with the design. I can think of a number of improvements I’d like to make to this product, but for the price it is not a bad deal. It sure beats using a projector and camera.

Whether you want to transfer 8mm film to video, super 8, 16 or 35, there are many options for the Do-it-Yourselfer. And if you want to make it a business, there’s a guide to help you do that – Start Your Own Video Duplication and Transfer Business.


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