Converting 8mm movie film to DVD

Upon my Dad’s death, I “inherited” several rolls of old 8mm film, both color and B&W, probably 30-45 years old.

I agreed with my sibs to have all of this professionally transferred to DVD.

So, now what do I do?


That should be several “reels” of 8mm “movie” film.

That should be several “reels” of 8mm “movie” film.

Now you take it to a professional. A company I used to work for did this service. The process was a lot more primative than you’d expect it to be… we had a small box with a mirror inside at a 45 degree angle. A digital camcorder went in 1 side and an 8mm projector went in the other side. The movie was played while the camcorder recorded it. The movie was fed into a media station, colors cleaned up as good as possible, then burned to DVD. I don’t know if there’s a way to convert “directly”, without the use of projectors and camcorders, but if there is, I bet its expensive.

I’d plan to spend around $300 per DVD.

A ‘professional’ setup uses a modified projector. Super-8 telecine projectors use a five-bladed shutter instead of the usual three-blade. This eliminates flicker. Telecine projectors tend to be a bit pricey, but if you get one (often on eBay, or available from Tobin Cinema Systems or ijm, INC.). The TCS machine does regular-8 or super-8.

If you really wanted DVD quality, you could send them in for the Rank-Cintel process, which uses flying spot scanning. Of course, it’s hideously expensive. :wink:

I’ve done a lot of research on this topic in the last couple of years because I’ve had a very large amount of 8mm and super 8 film from my family… over 10 hours worth easily… one of the small 3 inch/ 50 foot reels is about 3mins FYI.

Basically you have 3 options.

  1. Do it yourself w/ a standard movie player and filming it off the wall.
  2. Do it yourself w/ specialized equipment
  3. Send it out for transfer.

If you only have a small amount then it probably doesn’t make sense for you to invest in very expensive equipment and to just send it out somewhere. But I would highly recommend at least getting a cheap projector off of ebay and make some attempt at having a backup copy incase it gets lost or damaged.

There are a couple of things to consider when doing it yourself, but if you have patients you can get pretty good results…

Keep in mind if the film is really brittle or not in good condition running full speed though a regular project might not be the best idea, also be very careful with the film getting stuck – the bulbs are extremely hot and can melt the film very quickly

I recommend the Bell & Howell model projectors from the 70s – I have the models # of some good ones at home I can put up later.

First there is going to be a flicker when you try to film the movie film off the wall. This has to frame rate difference between the movie film and the video camera. With most miniDV cameras there is usually an option to change the “Shutter speed” playing w/ these settings can improve things. Additionally if you can find projectors that have “Variable Speed Control” settings that is the best – this will allow you to slow down or speed up the frame rate slightly so that your can get in sync and almost completely reduce the flicker. Although last time I looked those models are hard to find because people have been buying them up and selling them at a premium. I also found this software solution that runs a filter on the video and does a surprisingly good job at eliminating the flicker.

The next problem is that you will have a keystone effect. Because you there is really no way to line up the video camera directly inline with the projector you will have to have the camera below the projector and then tilt it up. This will cause the distortion of the image when you are recording it. Really the only way to compensate for this is to edit the footage in a video editing app like Final Cut Pro (or what ever the PC equivalent is )

If you do send it out, find out what your options are for the returned format. Under no circumstances do you want to get a VHS tape… many places still have that as an option for whatever reason. Even DVD isn’t ideal because it can be compressed too high/incorrectly and not look good at all. Try to get masters in MiniDV format and then if you want to also make DVDs you can either do that yourself (DVD burners are pretty cheap these days and you would have much more flexibility) or have them do that for you also.

I wasn’t completely happy with the results I got using the standard projector and some of my film wouldn’t play correctly in there. I found this company called moviestuff ( which sells custom projects at a fairly reasonable price. The system is kinda complicated but works very well… First you don’t project the film on the wall you project in on a condenser lens. This allows you to point the camera at the film directly so you don’t have to worry about any keystoning effect. For the system to work you have to have the DV camera connected directly to your computer via firewire, then they give you a special mouse which captures 1 frame at a time. Because it’s no longer being played in real time the computer gets every single frame and there is no flicker issue. If you don’t want to have this whole system set up they also have an option for you to send in there film to them.

bear in mind that in a few years/decades the DVD format itself may look as obsolete as 8mm

I’ve had a couple of dozen 50-foot reels converted to VHS thru Walgreen’s and Target and they (or their photo processing contractors) can easliy convert the vhs to dvd but I have not yet done that. I do not know if there is a direct process for transferring from film to dvd.

You need to number the reels you take to the processor and they will link them together into big reels in that order and then transfer them.

I’m a professional film archivist, and Brodsky & Treadway comes highly recommended from friends and colleagues. They’re in your neck-of-the-woods but a bit high-end, but they can also act as a good resource if you have more specific questions. They also support an 8mm site that may also answer some of your questions.

Even so, it’s best to get these movies converted to a digital format if you want to preserve them. When DVD drives and players start disappearing, you can just copy the MPEG files from the DVD to a Space Disc or Space Hard Drive or whatever we’ll be using then - while the DVD itself might become harder to read, the information stored on it will still be as good as new if you make a copy while you can still read it. 100 years from now, playing an MPEG file will be, at worst, a matter of finding and porting some old source code, rather than digging up an antique projector to watch film that’s been degrading over time.

I tried to copy dad’s 8mm films using a ‘box’. Since they ran at 16 fps, flicker was not much of a problem. However, the colours were horribly washed out. The film looked great; the video didn’t. So I tried using a white screen. Same results. I was using a Sony Hi-8 ‘prosumer’ camera, so it was a good piece of equipment. I think I’ll just send the films out to be copied.

It might be possible to contact a local film school if you can’t afford a service. They often have this sort of equiptment laying around and might be able to arrange something.