From the attic to your PC

Digitizing 8mm film

There’s a sense of nostalgia remembering evenings spent sitting cross-legged on the floor, listening to the whir and click of a projector as 8mm home movies came to life. The soundtrack was provided by friends and family gathered in the living room, narrating the vacations and weddings that flashed on the screen.

But as time passed, 8mm cameras and projectors were replaced by camcorders and VHS, which were in turn replaced with digital video cameras, DVD players, and computers. Soon setting up the projector became a chore, and the memories captured on film were placed in canisters and largely forgotten.

Now, with the availability of new consumer services and software programs, you can revive these old memories by transferring films to a digital format that you can edit and share easily. There are two options for digitizing 8mm film. The first is sending film to a company that can transfer it to digital media. The second is to do it yourself using either special equipment or a projector and a digital video (DV) camera.

Picture of 8mm film reels and a DVD
Transfer 8mm film to a digital format

Let someone do it for you

By searching online, you can find many companies that specialize in transferring 8mm film to digital files. To find one, search the Internet for keywords such as “8mm film transfer” or “transferring film.” From the list of results, research companies to make sure they are reputable and provide the services you require. Here are some questions to think about when searching for a film transferring company:

  • How much will it cost? Find out all of the costs associated with transferring 8mm film. Does the company charge by the length of film or by the reel? Do they charge to clean the film before the transfer? Are costs different depending on the format of the transferred film? What kind of shipping and handling charges are included?

  • What formats are available? Decide on a format (for example, a DVD of AVI files or WMA files) and find a company that offers transferring services to that format. For more information about how to choose a digital format, see Video import settings: frequently asked questions.

  • Are there any soundtrack options? Adding music or commentary might be a nice addition to the converted film, but might also cost extra. Find out if the company you're considering can add a soundtrack to your film and how much they charge to do so.

Tip

  • Most companies will not edit film. This means that everything on the film is transferred – cherished memories as well as less memorable ones. Once the film is transferred to a digital format, however, you can edit it using video editing software.

Do it yourself

There are a few different methods for transferring 8mm film yourself. You can either purchase special equipment, such as a telecine, or use a combination of your existing 8mm projector and a digital video (DV) camera.

A telecine is a special kind of film projector that coverts the image into a digital format. The telecine makes converting 8mm film at home relatively simple, but it can be expensive. Before you buy a telecine, think about whether it is worth purchasing a unique piece of equipment for such a specific purpose. You can also try using the Internet to find a company located near you that rents telecines and compare the cost of a rental with the cost of sending your film to a company for transferring.

A less expensive option is to use equipment you already own. Project the film onto a screen or a blank wall and set up a digital video camera on a tripod to capture the images. The quality of the images captured on the camera depends on a number of factors, such as the quality of original film, the surface onto which you're projecting it, and the light in the room. Here are some suggestions to help you capture the best image possible:

  • Set up the projector. Pick a dark room with a large white wall that is not textured or a room with enough space to set up a screen. Turn off the microphone on the camera or make sure it is relatively quiet in the room because the DV camera will record any background noise. Adjust the projector so that the size of the projection is about four or five inches, this will keep film details crisp.

  • Set up the DV camera. Use a tripod to make sure that the camera is stable. You also want to position the camera so that it is directly in front of the screen so that it does not capture the image at an angle. Focus the camera so that it captures the full frame.

  • Start recording. After you have set up both the projector and the camera, begin recording and start the film. Make sure that nothing disturbs either the film projector or the camera.

  • Review the results. Import the video from the camera into Windows Movie Maker and make sure the results are agreeable. Try viewing the video at different sizes to see if the image is distorted. If the results are not to your liking you can make adjustments to how the projector, camera, or room are set up and try again. For more information about how to import files, see Importing files into Windows Movie Maker: frequently asked questions.

  • Edit the film. When you are happy with the results captured by the camera, you can use Windows Movie Maker to edit the film. You can add chapter titles, transition effects, a soundtrack, and even narration to give new life to those old memories. For more information about using Windows Movie Maker, see Getting started with Windows Movie Maker.

Although this might seem like a less than desirable way to digitize 8mm film, you can use this method as an affordable first step and then decide if you’d like to investigate the more professional options. You just might be surprised by the results and decide that converting 8mm film using a projector and a digital video camera is exactly what you need to relive those classic moments.