Transferring Old 8mm Film Movies to DVD or Digital Media

Put your old 8mm movies on DVD or digital media

Before digital cameras and smartphones, memories were preserved on film. As the transition to digital is still within memory, many people have inherited boxes full of old 8mm film home movies (not to be confused with 8mm videotape).

If not stored properly, the 8mm film will decay, and, eventually, those old memories will be lost forever. But all is not lost, as you can transfer those films to DVDs and other media for preservation.

The best way to preserve old 8mm movies is to take the film to a professional video editing or production service, as this will ensure the best results.

What You Need to Transfer 8mm Film to Digital Media

Before transferring your 8mm file, you'll need the following:

  • A good 8mm movie projector, preferably one with at least a three-bladed shutter and variable speed control.
  • A camcorder or digital camera with variable exposure and shutter speed control.
  • Either a white card or film transfer box.

White card: With this method, the film projector projects the image onto the white card, which functions as a small screen. Position the camcorder or digital camera so that its lens lines up parallel with the film projector lens. The camera captures the image off of the white card. It then sends the image to a DVD recorder, a digital media platform, or a computer. The video and audio outputs of the camcorder are connected to the corresponding inputs of the recorder or media device.

You don't have to put the tape into the camcorder unless you wish to make a simultaneous backup copy.

Film transfer box: With this method, images are projected onto a mirror inside the box that is positioned at an angle. The mirror reflects the image into the camcorder or digital camera lens. The camera captures the image reflected off the mirror and sends it to the DVD recorder or media device.

Sharples film transfer box

Frame Rate and Shutter Speed

You need a film projector with variable speed control and a multi-bladed shutter, as well as a camera with variable exposure and shutter speeds because the frame rates for the two media are different. The frame rate for 8mm film is usually 18 frames per second. The frame rate for most video-capable digital cameras is 30 frames per second.

If you don't compensate for the frame rate difference, you will see frame skips and jumps on the video after it is recorded, as well as variable flicker.

In addition to the frame rate, you need to adjust the aperture of the camcorder to match the original film brightness.

Additional Considerations

Keep these additional considerations in mind:

  • Film to video transfer can be a fun project. Still, you should be prepared for the process to take some time. Be prepared to do several test recordings before you get it right.
  • You can view the result as you record by connecting the video outputs of the DVD recorder to a TV or monitor. This shows you how the signal passes through to the recorder. However, as it is a live image, the recording may not be quite as good. The result may be a lower resolution, especially if you use analog tech like a VCR instead of a digital recorder.
  • If you use a DVD recorder, use the one or two-hour recording modes, as this ensures the best picture quality.
  • If possible, make your transfers to DVD or save them onto a PC and then copy those files to a portable flash or hard drive. To save space, compress the raw DVD video files, which can be gigabytes in size, to a manageable size.
  • DVD recorders are increasingly harder to find. Still, once you can transfer your film to DVD, you can play your preserved films on DVD, Blu-ray, or Ultra HD Disc players (which can also play DVDs).

Use a DSLR for Film-to-Video Transfer

Another option is to use a DSLR or mirrorless camera that can shoot video. However, if you are tech-savvy and adventurous, you may be able to capture the film images coming out of the projector's lens directly into the camera. This would allow recording directly to a memory card. If the DSLR can send a live video stream, you can save the video onto your PC hard drive.

Whether saving on a memory card or to a PC hard drive, you have the added flexibility of editing the content with software. You can then transfer the edited version to DVD, save it on your hard drive or memory card, or upload it to the cloud.

Super 8 Film-to-Video Conversion

If you have a collection of Super 8 format films, one option is to use a Super 8mm film-to-digital video converter.

One type of Super 8mm film-to-digital video converter looks like a film projector, but it doesn't project an image onto a screen. Instead, it captures Super 8 film one frame at a time and digitizes it for transfer to a PC or Mac for further editing. It can then be stored on a hard drive, burned onto a DVD, or transferred to a portable flash drive. Two examples of products that can perform this task are the Pacific Image Reflecta Super 8 Film to Digital Video Converter and the Wolverine 8mm/Super8 Moviemaker.

Wolverine 8mm/Super8 Film Scanner/Digitizer

The Bottom Line

If you have a collection of old 8mm film movies that contain important family memories, preserve those movies onto a modern, compatible medium before they fade or decay due to age, mishandling, or improper storage.

The best option is to transfer to DVD or digital media professionally. However, if you are adventurous and patient, you can do it yourself. The choice is yours.

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