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FROM: CowDoc
SUBJECT: Telecine 8MM transfer: Who is the best and cheapest?

Hi Carol,

I'm in the process of doing the same thing.  Please beware of companies using older techniques and equipment.  "Forever on DVD" has a good comparison of telecine techniques on their "Get the facts" page.  Transfers using old 5 blade shutter / variable speed techniques are cheap ($0.06 to $0.16 / ft) but give horrid results by todays standards.  Insist on a true "frame by frame" transfer ($0.20 to $0.40 per ft) using a 3CCD camera, as you noted.

Also, please do not settle for just an MPEG DVD.  MPEG files are small and good for TV viewing, but they are lossy and difficult to edit.  With a computer, you can easily edit the original DV (Digital Video) files (add music, correct color, add effects, etc) and make a new MPEG DVD yourself.  It doesn't work the other way around.  Ask for the original DV files as well as the MPEG DVDs.  DV files can be stored on tape or DVDs just like MPEG files.  About 1.5 to 2 hours of MPEG files or 15 to 20 minutes of DV files will fit on a DVD.

The DV format has a resolution of 720 x 480 (346K pixels).  So make sure the 3CCD camera they use has at least 1037K pixels (i.e. 3 times 346K).  More pixels is even better due to noise reduction and image processing within the camera.  Some cameras output DV files but have far fewer pixels.  Image quality suffers.  Just saying "a 3CCD camera" may not be specific enough.

Several companies use the "Sniper Pro" transfer system from Moviestuff and it appears to give good results.  PCMagazine compared the Sniper Pro to a wet gate Rank system and it did very well.  Search online for "Cinepost, Moviestuff, comparison" or something similar to find the article.  Be sure to click on the comparison pictures.  Beware, the Sniper Pro can use various cameras.

Moviestuff appears to charge a bit more than other companies who use the same equipment.  Forever on DVD, CJS Technologies, and Movies to DVD may be examples of companies using Moviestuff equipment... but I haven't confirmed that.  Other frame by frame transfer companies I've looked at are Digital Transfer Systems, Simply Digital Video, Digitalley, and Digital Pickle.  One company, Carolina Transfer Service, uses an endoscope camera and a machine vision lens to directly image the film emulsion.  

If you can afford a little more, consider a Rank transfer.  Rank Cintel systems use a CRT as a flying spot scanner.  We're talking $500,000 + equipment.  Rank transfers are used on Hollywood films and transfers are typically charged by the hour ($135 - $275 /hr) plus a film prep fee ($0.08 - $0.12 / ft).  Additional enhancement is about $40 - $50 /hr.  On time, figure 3 to 5 times the film run time for film transfer and color correction.  Cinepost, Pro8mm, The Transfer Station, and My Movie Transfer are examples.  My Movie Transfer is quite a bit different.  They appear to be extremely reasonable and charge by the foot only ($0.20 to $0.40 /ft).  Unfortunately, it's an unsupervised transfer with minimal image enhancement.  Again beware.  These companies may use Rank telecines of 1980's vintage.  If upgraded, they can still do amazing things regarding color, noise, scratches, etc.  However, I think they also only produce "broadcast quality" resoultion.  I haven't confirmed this, but they do not seem to output files with DV resolution.  What they may be able to do is to deliver a color corrected, noise filtered, Standard Definition product that looks more like film than video.  There has to be a reason Hollywood uses it.  Newer CRT systems (Spirit & Shadow) can deliver 2K or 4K resolution which is way beyond 8mm needs... and my price range I'm sure.

After saying all of this, I don't think any of it fits my own needs.  I not only want the convenience of viewing my movies on DVD, I also want to save them for future generations at their full quality.  Film fades and gets brittle.  Computer files don't.  However, the computer files must be as close to film quality as possible.  DV and MPEG formats don't even come close.  High Definition does... at least for 8mm film.

Kodak 40, 8mm film has a resolution of about 80 cycles per mm.  The resolution is mainly limited by the grain size of the film emulsion.  Picture 80 white lines and 80 black lines (i.e. 80 cycles) all squeezed together onto 1 mm of film.  Over a full 8mm wide film frame there would be 1280 black and white lines (80 times 2  times 8).  Assuming a perfect projector, you would just barely be able to see the seperate lines on a movie screen.  If you added any more lines, everything would blurr together and the screen would just appear grey.  It wouldn't matter how big you made the image.  The film physically can't hold any more information.  Well actually it can, but you can't see it.  This is somewhat similar to pixels in a digital image.  The point is, most 8mm film has a maximum resolution of about 1280 x 960... assuming perfect lenses and lighting.

High definition TV is either 1920 x 1080 (called 1080i) or 1280 x 720 (called 720p).  Both have a widescreen 16:9 (width : height) aspect ratio.  Standard TV and 8mm film have an aspect ratio of 4:3.  So, if we use the full height of a high definition TV to show an 8mm film frame, we get an image that is either 1440 x 1080 or 960 x 720 (1080i or 720p respectively), with black pillars on either side of the widescreen image.  Since the maximum 8mm film resolution is 1280 x 960, only the 1080i format (1440 x 1080 image) can display all of the information.  The 720p format (960 x 720 image) would lose some definition.

I know I've side stepped several technical or subjective arguments.  However, in my opinion, currently, the best way to save 8mm film is to store it as 1080i high definition files.  Once you have the 1080i files, you're set for the forseeable future and can even print back to film.  For now, just downconvert the 1080i format to DV for editing and MPEG DVDs for TV viewing.  High definition DVDs will be common soon and you can then watch your films at full quality on TV... more or less.  With color and noise correction, I personally think HD can look much better than the existing 8mm film.  Forty year old, color shifted, grainy, 8mm film is not my idea of beautiful.  I can see filmophiles lining up to flog me.  So I better stop there.  I will admit that film is indeed the best long term storage medium.  Some form of optical film projector will still be available 100 years from now.  HD files, computers and TVs as we know them won't.

As far as I know, other than Rank transfers, there are only two companies in the US that claim to do high definition telecine, Video Conversion Experts and Larsen's.  They appear to be the same company.  I think the cost is about $0.45 /ft.  I also located a compay in England, Excelsior Film & Video, that only charges $0.12 - $0.17 /ft.  That's cheaper than any frame by frame company in the US even at standard definition.  Shipping and communication shouldn't be a problem to the UK and they accept PayPal.

I am certainly not an expert.  So please excuse me and feel free to correct any mistatements I may have made.  I'm still wading through all of this information and I'm really not concerned with a "film look" or a "video look".  I just want viewing convenience and a good quality archival medium for great great grandkids.  They can take it from there.

I have about 5000 ft of film to convert and cost is a factor.  So, I'll be looking at overseas high definition options further.  My bottom line recommendation is go high definition.  I hope this helps... or confuses you further.

Best of luck


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