Transferring Old 8mm Film Movies to DVD or VHS

Put your old 8mm movies on DVD or VHS

Close-up of strip of photographic film
Rossana Henriques / Moment / Getty Images

Before smartphones, and analog and digital camcorders, memories were preserved on film. As a result, many have inherited a box or drawer full of old 8mm Film home movies (not to be confused with 8mm videotape).

If not stored properly, the film will decay and eventually, those old memories will be lost forever. However, all is not lost as you can transfer those old films to DVD, VHS, or other media for preservation and safe repeated viewing.

The best way to accomplish the task of transferring old 8mm movies is to take your films to a video editing or production service in your area and have it done professionally as this will ensure the best results.

However, it is possible to do this yourself.

What You Need to Transfer 8mm Film to VHS or DVD

  • A good 8mm movie projector, preferably one that has at least a three-bladed shutter and variable speed control.
  • A camcorder (not your smartphone!) that has variable exposure and shutter speed control.
  • You need either a White Card or Film Transfer Box.

If you use the White Card method, the film projector projects the image onto the white card (which functions as a small screen).

  • The camcorder needs to be positioned so that its lens is lined up in parallel with film projector lens.
  • The camcorder captures the image off of the white card and sends the image to a DVD recorder, digital file, or VCR.
  • The video and audio outputs of the camcorder are connected to the corresponding inputs of the recorder or VCR (you don't have to put the tape into the camcorder unless you wish to make a simultaneous backup copy).

With the Film Transfer Box method, images are projected onto a mirror inside the box that is positioned at an angle.

  • The mirror reflects the image into the camcorder lens.
  • The camcorder captures the image reflected off the mirror and sends it to the DVD recorder or VCR.
Sharples film transfer box

Frame Rate and Shutter Speed

The reason you need a film projector with variable speed control and multi-bladed shutter and a camcorder with variable exposure and shutter speeds is that the film rate for 8mm film is usually 18 frames per second and the frame rate of the camcorder 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 frame rate, you also need to adjust the aperture of the camcorder to match the original film brightness more closely.

Additional Considerations

  • Film to video transfer can be a fun project, but be prepared to spend some time. Be prepared to do several test recordings before you get it right.
  • You have the ability in this process to view the end result as you are recording by connecting the video outputs of your DVD recorder or VCR to a TV or monitor. This will show you how the signal is actually passing through to the recorder(s). However, it is a live image; the recording itself may not be quite as good, as your end result on tape or disc may show a slightly lower resolution, especially if you are using a VCR instead of a digital recorder.
  • If you use a VCR, make sure you record in the 2 hour SP speed, which will give you the best results in the VHS format. If you use a DVD recorder, make sure you use the One or Two-hour recording modes, as this will ensure the best picture quality.
  • If possible, make your transfers to DVD and not VHS or even save them on a PC and then copy those files onto a portable flash or hard drive for backup storage. To save space, you can compress the raw DVD video files, which can be gigabytes in size, to a more manageable size.
  • In 2016, Funai, the last maker of VHS VCRs for the U.S. market, ceased production. Also, DVD recorders are getting harder to find should you need to purchase one. However, once you are able to transfer your film to DVD, you will be able to play your preserved films on DVD, Blu-ray, or Ultra HD Disc players (which can also play DVDs).

Using a DSLR for Film-to-Video Transfer

Another option that you may be able to take advantage of for a film to video transfer is a DSLR or Mirrorless Camera that can shoot video with the added ability to access manual shutter/aperture settings.

In place of a camcorder, you would use the DSLR or mirrorless camera with the white card or transfer box method.

However, if you are tech-savvy and really 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, or, if the DSLR has the ability to send out a live video stream via USB to a PC, 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 to do further editing using the appropriate software. You can then transfer the edited version to DVD, save it on your hard drive or memory card, or even to the Cloud.

Super8 Film to Video Conversion

If you have a collection of Super 8 format films, another 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 doesn't project an image onto a screen. Instead, it captures Super 8 film one frame at a time and digitizes for transfer to a PC or MAC for further editing for either hard drive storage or burning onto a DVD or transferring to a portable flash drive. Two examples of product 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, you should preserve them onto another medium before they fade or decay due to age, mishandling, or improper storage.

The best option is to the transfer to DVD, VHS, or PC Hard Drive professionally, but, if you are adventurous and patient, you can do it yourself – The choice is yours.