Preserve moving pictures

16mm moving film, 8mm & Super 8mm 

Home movie making has been around since the 1920s with 16mm celluloid film—an expensive process. A decade later, the more affordable 8mm film and equipment were introduced and later still Super 8mm. Film was later replaced with the more convenient format—video. Viewing celluloid film movies requires hauling out the projector and screen. Hopefully, you still have those. Transferring your home movies to video tape has many advantages. It’s convenient to watch, easy to edit, inexpensive to share, and saves wear and tear on the original film. It is not a good preservation strategy, however.

Magnetic videotape does not have a long life expectancy, and the format (VHS, digital tape, DVD. . . ) keeps changing. Properly stored, your old 16mm, 8mm, and Super 8mm film will last much longer. I recently watched a 45-year old 8mm projected movie that was in fairly good condition.

Store moving film upright (not lying flat) in cases or boxes that pass the Photographic Activity Test (PAT). Maintain the same storage conditions as photographs—clean, low relative humidity, dark, cool environment.

Digitizing home movies There are a number of online production houses that will transfer your film to video, or you can do-it-yourself. Set up your movie projector and screen along with your camcorder. Make sure the film and equipment are clean. Use a soft brush (photographer’s negative dust brush) to dust off the film and projector parts.

You can’t just point your camcorder at the screen and record without some distortion. In order to set your camcorder so that it is centered in front of the screen, it will be in the way of the projected image. Solution:  rear screen projection unit (about $60) placed in front of the projector. Set up your camcorder so that the projector and unit are between the camcorder and the screen. You will be able to center it.

Most NTSC video camcorders record at 30 fps (frames per second)/PAL and SECAM at 25 fps. Moving picture film rate is 18 or 24 fps. The difference will cause a slight flicker effect when you videotape a projected moving picture. Adjusting the projection speed to compensate for the difference can solve the problem. If your film is 24 fps, recording with a 24 fps camcorder is another option. Or, you can send the film out to have it professionally transferred ($15-$50 an hour). Many companies offer cleaning and repair services as well. Check with the company to make sure their process does frame-frame speed adjustment.

More Preservation


“Preserving Family Papers”  National Archives.

Digital Preservation of Moving Image Material?  Howard Besser,UCLA School of Education & Information Studies.

Kodak  Maynard, Garret C “How to Transfer 8mm, 16mm, 35mm or 65mm Film to Video Tape or DVD Videomaker Magazine, November 2004

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Copyright September 2009 Family History Coach. All rights reserved   Last update April 27, 2010


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