So, you have decided to take the big jump and convert lots of old film to digital format. That means you’re going to need a digital service if you don’t have the equipment yourself, and most folks don’t.

The Basics

It’s important to understand how digitizing film works in the first place. Similar to if one ran the film on a projector and played it on a screen, film conversion uses equipment that literally plays the film so that its images can be recorded digitally. As the film produces its content, the images are captured frame by frame with a High-Definition digital sensors and translated into computer bytes representing the collection of color and change information happening from one panel to the next. This is an intensive process, generally utilizing a heavy processor to do the work. Then, all that data is simultaneously transferred as it is created to a storage medium.

Usually, this is some kind of high-density hard drive that can run at high speeds or, today, a flash memory drive which can operate even faster. Then, the data file in components or an entire file, is transferred to a portable storage device for delivery. Probably the slowest, most time-consuming part of the job is the actual playing of the film, monitoring it for mistakes or errors, and confirming the images are being transferred correctly.

Given the above, it would seem natural that all one needs to do is just bundle up the film and take it over to the service, drop it off, and then wait to be called when it’s ready. That, of course, is how many digital services want customers to think as well. The easier it is to get started, the more likely a customer is to engage and hire a conversion service order.

However, there are some tips everyone should follow with their old film before handing it off to an unknown service provider to handle, operate with, and possibly end up handling in a risky manner.

Do a Bit of Research

When converting, it’s not so simple to just take a film reel and let it rip. In fact, there’s a big difference between a small reel film, a big reel film and many other choices. A number of digital services only work with one machine, the one that addresses the most common consumer film or video people have today. Talk to the service provider and ask what film formats they can digitize, if that includes audio, cleaning, and what file standards they use. Can they repair and recover damaged film and video tapes? Unfortunately, some services outsource their production to another contractor possibly in another country and charge a markup on top. Had a bit of research been done, a customer could have made sure the work would be done professionally in house. Speak to a person at the company first.

Don’t Request Editing, Wait Until Digitized and Reviewed

It’s a temptation for people to want to combine videos together, even if they are different formats. This is a mistake. Typically, there is no way for you to view all of the old material. Wait until it is digitized so that editing decisions can be made and material properly organized. If, one makes the mistake of trying to do it all up front, get ready to pay through the nose for a product that uses an editor’s best guess.

Organize Your Content

Organization helps prioritize what you want to digitize first. It also helps sort items from what is easy to do or makes sense to the more difficult items that might need extra care and cost more to work on. For instance, 8mm films from the 1940s-1970s have a long life if stored properly while VHS tapes from the 1980s are breaking down and becoming unplayable. So do a bit of extra work, organize up front, and that way you know what’s worth working on first. If you do not have the ability to play the media, check to see if the digitizing service will work with you. They should be able to review the film and video footage and remove any non-family recording such as Tv shows for no extra fee. A bit of elbow grease will pay off in the long run, so do your homework.

The Temptation of Do-it-Yourself

Yes, it is quite possible to get equipment online and convert your movies yourself. There are a lot of options on big retail sites that might seem affordable. But what’s not being mentioned is the experience as well as the quality such discounted machines provide. Professional services use professional grade machines. They are high speed and high-quality in capabilities. They should provide High Definition 1920×1080 files at a minimum. Consumer machines don’t compare, take much longer, and run the risk of rookie mistakes. And, with memories, once damaged, you may never get them back.

Physical Care with Old Film

Be very careful with old films. Not only does it become very fragile with age, if stacked in large numbers of quantities, it can be dangerous to handle. Old film tends to have Vinegar Syndrome, a chemical reaction when the film breaks down. Open in a well-ventilated area and digitize ASAP to be safe. Additionally, some old film can be highly flammable. Keep it always stored in a and cool but dry place.

Anticipate Digital Storage Needs

Videos and films converted to digital format are going to produce very, very big files. If you want to store them properly, they should be in 3 locations for disaster recovery. You’re going to need a robust storage drive as well as backups. The digitizing service should include one Flash Drive or External Hard Drive with your order and keep a backup for no extra fee. It will be up to you to securely store a third copy preferably in a fireproof safe or safety deposit box. 

Secondly, don’t anticipate once things are digital, that’s it. Even the digital world evolves. A professional service will have a migration plan and standards set by organization such as the Society of American Archivists and the National Library of Congress.  

Help is Available

ARS Video, Inc. has worked with film and video conversion for over 35 years, handling all format types. We are a family owned and operated national company located in Ohio. We are members of the Society of American Archivists. We answer our phones and will talk to you about your project when you call. We review all the material before we start and provide an estimate with quantity discounts. We can help you with preparation before migration as well as how to plan for afterwards and long-term digital storage as well. Contact us! Give us a call or email to discuss what you have in mind. We’d be happy to discuss it and help your digitization start off on the right path.