Film Transfers – Saving Film Memories with Telecine
There have been an enormous range of methods to transfer film to video or file over the years. Some have delivered stunning results while others have not justified the time taken to transfer the film.
Should you capture your film footage now?
Most film that has now been stored in anything other than ideal archival conditions will be showing some signs of degradation. Fading, broken splices, shrinkage, warping, mould, dirt and scratches are all outcomes of degradation. A vinegar smell known as “vinegar syndrome” affecting acetate-based films is a sign of advanced deterioration and will ultimately render the film unusable. Projectors and the parts for maintaining them are becoming scarce, as are the technicians to keep them operative.
If your content is valuable and justifies the cost to transfer to a more modern video format or file we recommend you consider the move sooner than later. You will benefit from being able to share your historic or family footage electronically over the internet with friends and family.
Common Film Formats
Standard or regular 8mm film is a motion picture film format where the film strip is 8mm wide. It was developed by Kodak in the 1930s, reconfiguring 16mm film to reduce cost and create a home movie format. The frame size of standard 8mm is 4.8mm x 3.5mm and 1 metre of film contains 264 frames. Common length film spools allow filming for 3 to 4.5 minutes at 12, 15, 16 and 18 frames per second. Standard 8mm is more commonly shot at 16 frames per second.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Standard 8mm film length comparison table
Super 8mm Film
Super 8mm film is a motion picture film with an 8mm wide film strip. It was developed by Kodak in 1965. With smaller perforations than standard 8mm the frame size could be increased to 5.8mm x 4mm and contained 236 frames per metre of film. It had perforations on one side only and an oxide audio strip was added to the side opposite the perforations. Standard 50 foot film spools allowed professionals to shoot 2.5 minutes at 24 frames per second or amateurs 3.5 minutes at 18 frames per second.
Super 8mm film length comparison table
16mm film consists of a 16mm wide film strip and was generally used for non-theatrical or lower budget film making. It was introduced by Kodak in 1923 and with the addition of optical sound tracks in the 1930s use expanded quickly post World War II. Use grew quickly as a television production format for news and shooting outside the confines of the television studio where 35mm film cameras were not terribly portable. Standard 16mm film has sprockets on both sides of the film, a frame size 10.3mm x 7.5mm and an aspect ratio 1.37:1. Super 16mm film has sprockets on one side of the film, a sprocket size 12.5mm x 7.4mm and an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Standard 400 foot film rolls allow approximately 11 minutes of footage to be shot at 24 frames per second.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
16mm film length comparison table
35mm film is the most common film gauge used for motion pictures and is 35mm wide edge to edge. It was introduced in 1892 and became the internationally accepted motion picture film gauge by 1909. The standard negative for movies has 4 perforations per frame along both edges and 52 frames per metre. It had a 4:3 aspect ratio with a frame size of 22mm x 16mm. Film is shot at 24 frames per second and at this speed a 1000 foot roll runs about 11 minutes. For still photography the standard frame has eight perforations on each side.
The early acceptance of 35mm as an international standard had an enormous impact on the motion picture industry. The standard gauge made it possible to show films in every country of the world. It provided a uniform and reliable format for production, distribution and movie exhibition giving rise to the rapid acceptance and spread of movies world-wide as a form of entertainment and communication. Stereo analogue optical sound tracks were included on the 35mm prints. During the 1990’s to enhance the movie experience three digital audio surround soundtracks systems were released. Dolby Digital stored between the perforations on the sound side, SDDS stored in two strips along the outside edge and DTS audio supplied on separate CD’s synchronized by a time code track on the film.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
35mm film length comparison table
Comparison of Telecine Methods
1) Filming an image projected onto a wall or screen with a video camera
This is the cheapest method of capturing motion picture film and the results usually reflect it. The camera is manually aligned to the projector and because they cannot be in exactly the same position there will be some angular distortion. The image captured from the screen is grainy. As a cheap form of transfer, it is offered to people transferring 8mm home movie footage shot at 12 to 18 frames per second. The video is recorded at 25 frames per second. The result is an annoying flickering video created by two processes running at different frame rates.
2) Capturing an image projected onto a translucent screen with a digital device with a macro lens
For years simple film transfer setups have been used to provide a controlled environment to cheaply capture footage at real time. Again this solution is offered to customers wanting to transfer 8mm home movie footage shot at various frame rates.
The film is projected onto a series of mirrors and focused onto a translucent screen. A digital capture device fitted with a macro lens is focused onto the other side of the translucent screen and the image is recorded. The result is slightly better quality than method 1 above. There is less grain, less angular distortion and hot and cold spots caused by inconsistent lighting across the image. The transfer will still suffer from the jittering effect caused by the two processes running at different frame rates.
3) Frame by frame capture
This transfer process involves capturing each individual frame of the film with a frame by frame transfer technology and is currently the best “consumer” conversion process available for 8mm film without moving to the very expensive Rank Cintel systems. The method is slower, more expensive and the quality is better than methods 1 or 2 above. 8mm film has a native SD resolution, so don’t be fooled by companies offering HD capture of 8mm film.
4) Rank Cintel Telecine
The best film transfers will be achieved by using a professional telecine machine designed to handle motion picture film. At FATS Digital all film is transferred on a Rank Cintel Ursa Diamond Telecine machine that was designed and built to service the motion picture film industry worldwide.
It is more expensive to operate and maintain than the above domestic transfer methods, however the improved picture quality is definitely worth the additional cost. No flicker, hot spots, burnt out frames or fuzzy darkened edges. It transfers uncompressed whole frames (pixel by pixel) whereas video camera devices compress the video.
The telecine machine uses a CRT (“flying spot scanner”) rather than backlight illumination and a state of the art Optical Path system for distortion and noise free image transfer. The film cannot be damaged by radiated heat.
A soft rubber covered servo controlled capstan is used to smoothly move the film through the transport system of the Telecine rather than sprockets physically dragging the film through the gate. Sprockets are only used to identify each frame. This light constant drive system ensures that film suffering from shrinkage or damaged sprocket holes is handled with minimal effect on the film transfer and without damaging the film.
Transfers can be performed at a variety of speeds locked to the recording video with the machine inserting additional images (fields) at the correct place for film recorded speeds slower than 25 frames per second. The telecine scans the film in frames and the frame store re writes the frames for the frame rate and video system output desired
If the transferred footage is going to be edited, and the editor has the capability of changing the speed in the final output post edit, it is best to transfer the film at 25 frames per second giving pure frames with no interlaced images.
Our frame by frame film transfer is the best you can get. Frame by frame transfer is available in SD and HD for 35mm, Super 16, 16mm, Super 8 and 8mm film with optical or magnetic audio. Transfers can be supplied in almost any file format, Blu-ray or DVD.
Learn more about FATS Digital’s film transfer services, here.