There’s nothing quite like the nostalgia that comes from watching old home movies. These precious films capture precious moments in time and memorialize friends and family members who may no longer be with us.

Film formats like 8mm film made it possible to immortalize these moments with its creation over 90 years ago in 1932 by the Kodak-Eastman film company. But with the passage of time, these memories could degrade and become lost forever. 

That’s why converting 8mm film to a digital format is so crucial. You want to ensure that these beautiful memories stay around for as long as possible. Knowing how to best convert 8mm tapes to digital is key to their preservation.

If you’ve been thinking about converting 8mm film to a digital format, this guide can help you. Keep reading below for more helpful tips and tricks for saving your priceless home movies and converting your 8mm film. 

Understanding the Different Film Formats

Before you start attempting to convert 8mm tapes to digital, you need to have an understanding of the different types of film formats first. Film is referred to by its literal width measurement. This width is measured in millimeters and is followed by the abbreviation mm. 

There are several different film formats ranging from very narrow to wide. The most commonly used film formats are: 

  • 8mm
  • 16mm
  • 35mm
  • 65/70mm

35mm film was actually responsible for starting the movie industry as far back as the 1880s. The development of this film lead to the first-ever short movie in 1895. It is entitled “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory” and was shown to an audience of only 10 people. 

However, this modern advancement set the stage for creating a booming entertainment business. It showed that it was possible to create moving pictures on a grander scale.

16mm film also actually pre-dates 8mm film. It was created in the 1920s by Kodak Eastman. Its purpose was to offer a more affordable alternative to the more expensive 35mm film for amateur filmmakers and low-budget projects like commercials and educational films.

The different film formats are also in reference to the number of perforations each film strip contains. A 35mm film has 4 perforations on each side, while a 65/70mm film strip has 5 perforations. 16mm film has 2 perforations and 8mm film has one perforation on each side of the frame. 

The Development of 8mm Film

With the creation of 8mm film in 1932, there was yet another alternative available for amateur filmmakers. This film format offered a cheaper film than even the 16mm variation, which was ideal in the Great Depression era when many individuals were experiencing financial hardships.

8mm film was also available in a Super 8 format in the mid-1960s which offered a better resolution by using more of the exposed area on the film strip. This made it a great resource for families wanting to document their special occasions, as well as budding filmmakers who wanted to shoot their next project.

Even famed filmmaker Steven Spielberg picked up an 8mm camera in his youth and began to make movies. His first amateur 8mm film came about when he was 12 years old and was entitled “In the Last Trainwreck”, a 3-minute silent film featuring his model trains crashing into one another. From there he went on to create a 9-minute film in 1958 titled “The Last Gunfight” for his Boy Scout photography merit badge.

8mm film can sometimes appear as a grainy and soft image. This can increase with the passage of time. If the 8mm film is stored properly, there is still a chance that it can be converted to a digital format before it is too late. 

Selecting the Right Format for Saving Your Films

Before you start the process of converting 8mm film to a digital format, you will want to examine your options for the different film formats you can save them to.  

Some popular options are:

  • DVDs
  • MP4
  • AVI
  • MOV

Digital file options like MP4, AVI, and MOV are becoming increasingly popular options. They allow you to share your files online much easier through Youtube, social media, and email attachments. 

Although DVDs seem to be going out of style for the general public, they are still a viable format for storing your vintage home movies. As long as you have access to a DVD player, you can still watch these films over and over again. You will also have a hard copy backup of your movies if anything ever happens to the digital version.

Choosing the Proper Storage for Your Digital Films

Once you have decided on the format of your digital films, you will also need to decide how to store them. You can opt for several different ways to do this like:

  • Flash drives
  • SD memory cards
  • SSD drives
  • Cloud services
  • DVD and Blu-Ray discs

Which storage method you choose once you convert your films will vary based on your unique needs. You may opt for multiple storage options to make certain your movies are adequately backed up and preserved. 

DVDs and Blu-Ray discs can be copied and given out as memorial tributes. Cloud services store a copy of your movie in a digital cloud service that can be accessed from nearly anywhere with an internet connection. While SD cards, flash drives, and SSD drives store them on portable encrypted internal devices. 

Methods for Converting 8mm Film to Digital

Methods for converting film vary based on the quality of the output of the 8mm film, its overall condition to start with, and your individual level of expertise. Here we will examine, in detail, different methods on how to convert 8mm to digital

Method #1- Recording the Film As it Plays

This method for converting 8mm film to a digital format is the easiest and most straightforward approach. However, it may not yield the most high-quality results. You will also need to make sure the area you do it in is quiet and free from distractions.

To attempt this method you will need:

  • A digital camcorder or camera with a video recording function
  • An 8mm film projector
  • A clean and smooth projection surface (i.e., a plain wall, a sheet)
  • Your 8mm film

Set up your projector on a flat even surface and load the 8mm film into it. Point it at your projection surface. When you’re ready, push play on the projector and record on your camera to capture the images from the film to your camera.

You may notice upon playback that your film does not translate perfectly between the 8mm film and the digital version. This is because 8mm film only has a speed of around 16 FPS (frames per second) while the average modern digital camera will record at an average of 30 FPS. This may cause your 8mm film playback to appear jumpy and choppy as a result. 

You will also be unable to directly edit the film or restore the film. What you record is what you get. For older 8mm film reels, you also run the risk of damaging your film with this method. Old 8mm film can get ripped or torn in the projector.

If your film is old and delicate, it is best if you do not attempt this method on your own. This will ensure that you help preserve your family legacy.

Method #2- Scan Each Film Frame Individually

This method of converting 8mm film to a digital format is just a little more complex than the first method, but it may produce slightly better film quality results. It does require some more moderate knowledge of how to use a camera though. 

You will use many of the same items you did for the first method, except you may wish to swap out a standard camera or camcorder for a DSLR camera. Using a DSLR camera will give you a much clearer and crisper high-quality picture. You will also need a lens element to attach to your projector.

Start by taking the lens off of your projector and attaching the element to the projector lens. This will help you focus and filter the projector lens’s output. Then, put the lens back onto the projector. 

Take your DSLR camera and place it in front of the projector lens and turn it on. Next, you will need to drape a dark cloth over the camera lens, ensuring that it is dark enough to prevent any light from shining through. 

Thread your 8mm film into the projector and start recording. Make sure your camera has enough memory to handle and store the full film or you will have to start all over again. 

You will see that there is less grainy footage with this method but it still may not look like a professional film transfer. Again, you may also run the risk of the projector tearing or damaging your 8mm film in the conversion process, especially if it is old or warped in any way. 

Method #3- Buy or Borrow a Transfer Machine

A transfer machine takes the guesswork out of converting film for you. These self-contained units are a projector, scanner, and digitizer all in one. You can also edit the contrast and exposure settings prior to recording. 

If you buy a transfer machine, it can be a little costly. However, if you have a large treasure trove of family movies to convert, it may be a good investment.

There is a concern that some of these machines operate within a 20 FPS parameter versus the 16 FPS speed that 8mm film uses. This can result in your digital playback being much faster than the original film format. It is an unfortunate drawback of converting film.

It is also recommended that you supervise the process to troubleshoot and prevent any issues like film jumping or the reels locking up. You should start by converting a shorter and less important film first as a trial run. 

Despite some side effects, converting 8mm film to a digital format can be done with the push of a button on a film transfer machine. You will be able to preserve and enjoy your 8mm home movies digitally for years to come. 

Method #4- Go With a Professional Film Conversion Service

For many individuals, the thought of using a professional service for converting 8mm film to a digital format may invoke multiple dollar signs. This may prevent them from acting on starting the process sooner. The longer you wait to start converting your films, the more they will degrade and make the process even more complicated.

But the truth is, a professional service may not be as pricey as you think. With new advances in technology, converting film is less expensive than it used to be. This cost also gives you access to professional editing and restoration services for your 8mm film. 

Professional film conversion services can enhance the colors of your 8mm film. They can reduce graininess to give you a clearer picture and a better window into your past. They work painstakingly to transfer and digitize each film frame by frame to give you the best quality results. 

A professional film conversion service can even help you with transferring 16mm film to digital. They can also convert 8mm tapes to digital from Super 8 film formats.

You can also choose to transfer your 8mm film to a wide variety of storage options and film formats such as:

  • DVD
  • MP4
  • Blu-Ray
  • Cloud-based services
  • Other digital formats like AVI and MOV

A Film-to-DVD transfer is a lasting and standard way to keep and share your memories. However, if you opt for the MP4 option, you can more easily share these videos online on websites, social media, and online services.

Your vintage home movies are priceless memories and you don’t want to leave anything to chance. You want to know that they are in skilled hands that can give you the quality results you want. That’s why a professional film conversion service is worth it. 

Trust Your Precious 8mm Film Memories to Envision Video Services

Your home movies are one-of-a-kind memories that are irreplaceable. Once they’re gone, so is your unique family history. Don’t let these treasured movies fall prey to the passage of time, turn to Envision Video Services.

Envision Video Services in New Jersey has three locations in Hasbrouck Heights, Mahwah, and Kenvil to serve your video needs. We specialize in converting 8mm film to digital formats so your memories stay well preserved for future generations to enjoy. We can also digitize photos, convert audio, and transfer video to DVD. 

Contact us today to start the process of preserving your treasured home movies.