Most 8mm film reels are around 40-50 years old. This particular reel was about 53 years old. The first thing we do when we receive film reels is to inspect them. Does the film roll out easily or does it stick? We have seen film reels that look like hockey pucks, all stuck together into one solid disc.
Next, we sniff the film for a vinegary odorthat indicates the emulsion has started to break down. Film in such condition will still transfer but you will find a yellowish tint on the resulting transferred video. You will think I am kidding, but it is the truth: Andy, our film transfer lab manager, has had to use a gas mask a few years ago for a very odorous film reel.
We also look at the film for debris and specks. Fortunately, the films are usually stored in a canister or capped so usually we don’t see a lot of dusts that can’t be removed. Cleaning and conditioning the film reel (by hand) with a non-chemical Kodak cleaner is essential to remove any dusts and debris before we feed it into our expensive film transfer projectors.
The owner of this particular reel discovered it in his father’s attic when his father passed away. However, it was in good condition. It wasn’t sticky, not much dust and no signs of mould, and most importantly, not a hint of vinegary odor at all.
When you watch the sample, notice how the quality of the video changes within the one reel. Film shooting in the 50’s required manual adjustment for everything. If your child ran under a tree shade, your camera didn’t automatically adjust from bright sunlight to sudden shadows. Outdoor shots always come out better. However, if you shoot against a bright background, and your subjects happened to be wearing white, it will look unforgivingly whitewashed.
These imperfections amplify with time as the media does have a shelf life. All magnetic media, that includes VHS, VHS-C, miniDV, Super 8 deteriorate with time. The sooner you your films and video tapes are transferred, the better your chance of getting the best transfer possible.
Our client was very pleased with the transfer. His mother was able to go through and identify family members, friends from the past and relive memories from over 50 years ago. The resolution on the DVD is even sharper and more vibrant than this website version.
Unfortunately, not so for the grandchildren of the bride in the film sample below. She must be a beautiful bride, I’m sure, but we’d have to imagine it since the film has degraded so much with time that it’s hard to make out her face. Don’t let your films get to this irreversible state. Do you know when is the best time to digitize your films and videos? Yesterday.