The questionable benefit of transferring 8mm films to High Definition video on Blu ray disc.

We believe our customers should get the best possible outcome when considering an 8mm film transfer. Please read the article and let us know what you think.

At first assessment, one could infer that the transfer of small gauge 8mm film to HD video resolutions would work out quite well.  After all, utilizing a 2MP high resolving imaging sensor coupled with an HD quality optical lens will yield better than the film grain MTF specifications of the film stock itself, assuming the film body in general is up to the task of being digitized.

HomeDVD’s HD telecine system definitely excels in over sampling the smallest details in the 8mm film frames, but 8mm film for the most part has some nagging problems.  The big one being quality of presentation.  If the original images are poor to start with, what is really being accomplished, other than emphasizing the ‘warts’ of the film frame along with the recovery of the original image amid the emphasized ‘warts’?

High resolution sampling of the 8mm film frames certainly enables the faithful duplication the image contents, but in so doing also includes digitizing the many possible visually degrading elements embedded within the film frame itself just due to the nature of the poor film stock, its age and possible abuse factors.  These elements include varying degrees of film grain, scratches, poor exposure, possible poor lab processing, incorrect lighting conditions at the time of exposure and improper storage conditions.  Of the three consumer grade film gauges, 8mm, Super8 and homespun 16mm films, the 8mm gauge carries with it the chances of the greatest degree of visual impairment.  That being said of course doesn’t mean that all 8mm films being digitized for DVD or Blu ray media is of poor quality, the percentages of ‘good quality’ film are just low.  Of course, good quality 8mm film would indeed benefit from our high resolving HD conversion process.

The slightly larger film gauge like Super 8mm will definitely take advantage of our HD telecine system.  The film frames are larger, they are not as old as 8mm film and thus the chances of avoiding the aging issues of 8mm film, they offer a more stable emulsion from a color temperature point of view, and are made of better and robust film stock (smaller grain size and a wider distributed grain density).

In the 16mm case, the film stock is similar to the 8mm in its early days and has been improved over time.  The fact the 16mm film gauge is twice as large as 8mm (4x area), the film anomalies will show up but be correspondingly smaller and less dense just due to larger area of redistribution.

The conclusion here is that 8mm film transfer to true HD video would only be worth doing if the physical film is in great shape or one has deep pockets if the film is very important.  Certainly using the latest in digital filtering tools, film can be ‘repaired’ to a very nice output result, removing dust, scratches, visual gunge and rebuilding missing parts of film frames, but potentially at a great expense; –  add a few dollars per foot as the work is quite intensive.

Otherwise save some money and go with the pure SD service.  If one still insists on having a true HD result even for questionable 8mm film, we certainly would be pleased to do so using our HD telecine system.

Alternatively, right now, we can offer the best of both worlds.  Capture in HD and author in SD. Very clean solution.  As an option to consider see how this can be done .


5 Comments

  1. We desperately need your services in the UK, there is such limited market for this here. Is it something that you would be interested in doing… Or even online advice in the UK as it was hard to find you! Let me know. Joe

  2. Movie film,whatever the format has far greater dynamic range than current telecine systems are able to capture.
    There’s no difference between grading super 35 or standard 8 to bring out the best, but it’s a compromise since the
    contrast ratio of film is way higher than video, HD or SD.
    Most 8mm film received here for transfer is in very good condition. Sure, modern film has far better grain structure and so is simpler work with, but stunning results can be obtained with old standard 8 film emulsions, given expertise, artistic interpretation and patience.

    • Hi Patrick,
      Thanks for comment, but I differ with you on the dynamic range front. Film has high contrast ratio sacrificing dynamic range. If you look at the density curves of film, the highs and the darks are heavily compressed loosing lots of detail on the get go, just to bring out the mid tones. You can never get both high contrast ratio and high dynamic range at the same time. They are the ying and yang of photography. I think this was brought about to ensure the projection of rich saturated colors and keep the perception of high resolution, ie: dynamic range.

      Yes I agree, video conversion of film always presents a down grade of image quality without some heavy signal processing after digitiztion either in the imaging sensor front/back end circuitry or doing your best in post. It’s always better to get the most out of film conversion in the front end with the combination of very good optics, the imager sensor/electronics itself with proper gamma setting and controlled even backlighting.

      Great post, thanks for your input.

  3. patrick kirby

    I absolutely diaagree with your assumptions. Higher resolution scanning e.g; 1920×1080 of standard 8mm in particular, as well as super 8, undoubtedly provides
    better pictures – around 2.6 times better in fact. 10 bit
    HD scanning also provides wider chroma bandwidth for
    grading.
    Proof of the pudding is A/B tests and crucially, client viewing.

    Your view translates to only listening to vintage audio
    recordings on vintage equipment, lest better quality
    reproduction might ‘show up’ any defects!

    with regards and respects,

    Patrick Kirby
    PLANET TELEVISION LONDON

    • Thanks for your input Patrick.

      There is no doubt proper telecine and pro gear will bring out the best 8mm film has to offer, but the point is at what cost and benefit. This is amateur consumer stuff after all. Budgets are considered. Most 8mm film is in very poor condition and is missing the most important part of a good telecine conversion and that is dynamic range. That is just looking at the film itself, nothing to do with transfer system performance; 8mm just doesn’t have it, Super 8s show more promise. Most 8mm films I have converted even with my top notch SD archival system lack any native depth. I have to fix a lot in post to give the film transfer some life. There a few gems however when I get a batch of Fuji Velvia or some Kodak fine grain films. Results are just awesome in SD and incredible in HD.

      There will be another post soon comparing the various telecine methods and equipment from competitors, just to demonstrate my point. The equipment will range from $250K Spirit systems to average frame by frame HD systems. The results are not as expected.

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