Old Home Movies
Many years ago, about 1983 or 1984, I used an old projector and a rented video camera to transfer all of our families home movies to VHS tape. As I recall, it took me about a day. Later, in 2004, I converted the VHS tape to a DVD. The image quality after a couple of transfers is not nearly as good as the original film. There was some loss of colour quality in the initial transfers and I didn’t do a really great job of focusing.
For quite some time now, I’ve wanted to do a new transfer from the original film to digital files. Our old super 8 projector isn’t very reliable and I’m reluctant to use it. I did some video transfers for “Contingency” using a 16mm projector and a digital camera. The quality was poor, but good enough for what I wanted to do.
Film Transfer Options
I looked into what it would cost to get the film transferred by a professional outfit. It looked as if I’d need to spend in excess of $1,000 at least. I couldn’t justify that kind of money to myself.
I came across an 8mm/Super 8 film to video transfer unit made by a company called Wolverine. It cost about $450 Canadian, so a lot less than what it would cost to get some one else to do the transfer. I figured that it would be cheaper to do the transfers myself, then I could resell or even give away the unit.
There were quite a few videos posted on YouTube by people who have used the unit, so I watched those before I decided to buy. People seemed to be quite happy with the image quality, so I decided to go ahead.
I got the unit a couple weeks ago and tried it out with the original version of “Weekend in Calgary”. I was disappointed with the image quality. It looked very noisy. Because I had paid for it, I decided I would experiment with it before I gave up on it.
The unit allows you to adjust the framing, exposure and sharpness. Sharpness appears to be the same as contrast. I adjusted the framing a bit, but it doesn’t affect the image quality I am concerned about. The exposure can cause the image to look too dark or too light, but it didn’t apear to affect the noise much.
The sharpness did make a difference though. With high sharpness, the noise is worse than with low sharpness. The low sharpness setting didn’t eliminate the noise entirely. However, with low sharpness the image tends to look fuzzy.
One of the videos I watched earlier suggested that the video compression may be a factor in image quality. I contacted Wolverine to asked if I could adjust the compression. They got back to me quite quickly. They said the compression cannot be changed. They added that the unit is set to the lowest level of compression that the chip allowed.
Bypassing the Video Recording
After considering the reply from Wolverine, I felt that either this was as good as the unit could produce, or that I had a defective unit. The unit does have a line out to a TV monitor, so I decided to try that so I could record the video with my computer. I wouldn’t get a usable video because the computer would record continuously and not just the still frames. It did allow me to isolate individual frames and compare.
I could see very little difference in quality that I could see. The frames from the computer recording seemed a little fuzzier. If the unit is defective, it isn’t because of the video recording.
As I worked with the unit, I started to feel more comfortable with the image quality. It may be that because I have paid for professional quality transfers for my films in the past, that my standard may be higher than I need for our family home movies. I used one of my own films as a basis for the tests, so it may not give me a clear indication of what the home movies would look like.
I plan to transfer some of our home movies and then compare the image quality against the images from the earlier transfer. As long as the quality is better, it makes sense to go ahead with the transfers.
Wolverine did suggest that the image could be improved with some professional video editing software. I have Premiere Pro and Lightworks, so I plan to use those to experiment with them.
One of the difficulties I had was that I didn’t set aside the time needed to properly test the transfers. Partly this was due to my other commitments, but I am also struggling with motivation these days. In future I should ensure I have the time to follow up before I buy new equipment.
I also feel that I didn’t do enough research before I decided to buy this unit. There are many video reviews available on-line, and I only watched a few of them before I decided to go ahead. I am not sure if I would have gone with this unit if I were more aware of the limitations.