What’s a better deal when transferring your films?

…a professional film transfer or a DIY?

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Having a lot of film to digitize before it deteriorates any further raises two choices to think about. One, getting the film transferred by a professional transfer facility or two, doing it yourself or DIY for short. Whether the choice is a Standard Definition (SD) or a High Definition (HD) transfer the concept is the same. The HD choice however will usually present a higher cost depending on the telecine method you choose.

So, what does going the DIY route mean? There are two main points to consider. First, researching the various telecine processes where you must figure out which method will work for you along with the related cost of that method. Secondly, investing the time necessary to learn and to develop a workflow process that gets the results you expect. You will have to learn the software tools and the hardware setups to get a good film transfer to work at all. There will be lots of experimentation.

But before all that happens you must first do a cost/benefit analysis before you spend a dime. That is, the cost of the telecine related hardware and the necessary software investment vs the cost of getting the transfer done by someone else represents your tipping point. You should have these figures already available as part of your research. Let’s assume your time for doing the actual transfer process is not included in your cost estimates. Do the differences in the numbers work for you? Is your time well spent on a project “go ahead”? Are you up to the task of the meaning of this project?

You may find your hard costs are way too high compared to getting the transfer outsourced and are faced with downscaling your expectations. Equally, you may break even or even save money. It all depends on what result you want out of the whole process and that will largely hinge on the telecine hard ware (scanner and camera) you are thinking about buying. There is very expensive telecine gear out there. You could rationalize that once the job is done you can always sell the equipment on Ebay and get a chunk of your cash back.

Made up your mind yet?

If you choose the cheapest real-time telecine method like shooting “off the wall”, you will certainly get your films digitized but don’t expect results that could have been had. Investment is simple and cheap: get a variable speed 8mm or 8mm/S8 combo projector from Ebay and a camcorder that has some form of digital out: for SD that would be Firewire and for HD; HDMI. Capture and processing software can be as simple as some freebees available on the web. You may want to try trial software where you would get a good bang for no bucks.

Expect output video to be cropped of up to 20% of the potential frame size just by the natural gate size restrictions in the projector. The video will be softer due to real-time frame blending going on. Additionally colors could be out and have slow rolling flicker if you didn’t get the speeds between the camera and the projector harmonically matched. Of course a biggie is to never freeze the projector playback in any way, as the hot bulb will destroy the unfortunate chunk of film that is stuck in the gate at that time. Using systems that use extra condensing lenses and mirrors in the optical path, will be slightly better, but the same issues of cropping and blending still exists.

Alternatively, you may choose a telecine method that gives very good results where investment in the necessary hardware and software could run you between $2,500 to $10,000, depending on where you put your nickels, the scanning device or the lens and camera and where you buy it, used or new.

Just as valid, it may very be that a project of this type does not have a consideration for cost at all as it does about learning and accepting a challenge.

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