Is there any reliable do-it-yourself equipment to convert 8mm film? I have thousands of feet, both mine and stuff my father-in-law took as far back as the mid-1940s.
A lot is junk, but I don't know how I could edit it before it's copied given the age of film.
— Bob Stevenson, Ohio
I know of no DIY 8mm-to-digital converters, and considering how much film you have, I can see why you wouldn't want to take your footage to a specialist. We're talking hundreds of dollars here.
But a specialist will be able to treat your film to keep it from degrading during the conversion process, something that would be hard to do on your own.
If you still want to do it yourself, it'll be tricky, and the results might be unwatchable. You'll need:
-- a camcorder, preferably one that shoots to miniDV tapes
-- a tripod for the camcorder
-- an 8mm film projector (check eBay if you don't have one), and
-- a white bed sheet to project the 8mm film onto.
Project the film onto the sheet. The closer the projector to the sheet, the sharper the image and better the color. Set up the camcorder so that the film image fills the camcorder's frame. Start the projector, start the camcorder and hope for the best.
The problem is the projector and the camcorder will operate at different frames per second. The result: Your movies will have flickering from beginning to end. Also, the 60-year-old camera your father-in-law used probably operates at a different frame rate than your projector, so the 1940s film will appear faster than it was filmed. Not to mention the chances that age will mean that film – or any of your treasures – might be frail and irreplaceably damaged.
Specialists unwind the film at the same rate that a camera is capturing it, so there's no problem with mismatched frame rates — and no flickering. They also adjust the color and contrast on the digital video to make it look its best.
To find one in your area, Google "8mm to DVD" and your hometown and see what comes up.
The more you know about the process, the better your questions will be for any potential service. Start with filmtovideo.com, then choose a place that will:
-- give you a miniDV master copy of your film as well as a DVD from which you can make copies to share with your family (A DVD will eventually die. A miniDV will last much longer).
-- tell you how they will handle film that has broken pinholes. Those are the holes that the projector sprockets use to pull the film through the projector. If they're broken, how do they make sure your movies will still look great?
-- is honest about whether they do conversion work for broadcast. If they do, they will be better (maybe a tad costlier) OR they might see your "small" job as a nuisance that they try to get through quickly so they can get back to the big-money broadcast jobs.
-- do a reel for free so you can see their work. They'll be glad to do it since it'll be their resume to get your business (potentially hundreds of dollars, versus most people who have only a couple of hundred dollars worth of business).
Good luck, and let us know what you choose to do. Though lots of your film might be junk, there are probably some absolute gems in there that you didn't even know you had.
Do you have a tech question? Send a note to Eric Gwinn at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use this formhttp://chicagotribune.com/asktribu. Be sure to include your name, location and a way to reach you if we need more information -- and your question, of course.
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