The digitization of 8mm and Super 8 films is a technique that transforms analog film into a digital format. Professional labs like mine accomplish this with scanners that capture frame by frame, importing them into restoration software to correct signs of aging.

I explain this process extensively in a guide I wrote for the website, with examples of different processing stages:

  1. Color and brightness correction.
  2. Grain, dust, and scratches reduction.
  3. Stabilization.
  4. Frame rate correction.

While it's possible to do it yourself, the result would likely be poor.

Achieving good quality requires:

  • expensive equipment
  • technical knowledge gained through years of study and practice.

Therefore, if you don't want to rely on DIY but choose a lab, it's important to select it carefully, as the scanner and experience greatly influence the final video quality.

The process of digitizing analog films, also known as telecine, not only makes viewing easier but also preserves the quality, which would otherwise degrade over time with tapes and films.

Tapes and films are two completely different mediums.

Tapes, introduced in the 1980s, are the technological successors of films. However, tapes degrade faster and have lower quality compared to film.

Digitizing videotapes

For those who have VHS tapes recorded in the 1980s and 1990s from VCRs or camcorders, if they can still view them, they'll notice that both the audio and images are heavily degraded.

The same applies to other types of amateur tapes:

  • Video 8
  • Betamax
  • Video 2000

They all suffer from the same deterioration and poor initial quality.

To avoid the disaster of losing them forever, it's best to act quickly and transfer them to digital format as soon as possible. Digital files are not subject to degradation, and if one takes care to store them in multiple locations (hard drives, USB drives, cloud storage) to avoid loss, they provide a perfect system for preserving their quality indefinitely, while awaiting the advances of artificial intelligence, which are not far off.

Unfortunately, my lab doesn't digitize tapes, as it's already a significant effort to stay updated on film treatment technology. However, there are reputable services that do so, perhaps not just limited to simple digitization, such as connecting the camera to the computer, but also offering restoration. If handled by an experienced operator, this restoration can already yield a significant improvement in image quality today.

Digitizing 8mm and Super 8 Films

By the way, let me introduce myself. My name is Daniele Carrer.

As the photo above, dated 1998, attests, I had the chance to work with Super 8 film as a short film director. It was more of an artistic preference to use it, as the market was already largely dominated by tapes. Whether amateur ones, like the VHS-C format I used, or more professional ones, like U-matic and Betacam.

Films, in the 8mm format since 1932 and the Super 8 format since 1965, were indeed used until the 1980s, peaking in the decade before.

Why Super 8 and 8mm were abandoned

Then, there was a gradual shift to tapes because they were:

  • Easier to use during recording and playback.
  • Cheaper.

To give an example from my memories as a twenty-one-year-old amateur filmmaker in 1998:

  • A 3-minute and 20-second Super 8 film cost 18 euros.
  • A 30-minute VHS-C cassette cost 3 euros, which is 100 times less.

Perhaps a few years earlier, when films were still prevalent, the difference was less pronounced, but tapes, being magnetic analog media, were always cheaper. Plus, there was no need to develop them, unlike films that had to be sent to a lab and, at best, could be watched a week after being shot. Unlike tapes, which could be played back immediately directly from the camera that recorded them.

As an artist, I would have liked to feel grand just once by opting for Super 8, but it was a small disaster. Not just because of the money, but also due to the difficulty of managing shooting and, especially, editing in an era when digital editing was already emerging in the world of technology.

Amateur telecine still used today

I was already working part-time in a studio that produced videos. Being the newcomer, I always got the humblest tasks, like telecine. I spent hours transferring film to tape, essentially doing something absurd: turning a high-quality medium (8mm and Super 8 films) into a low-quality one (VHS). The studio simply exploited the demand of VCR owners who once owned a film camera.

The procedure involved in telecine, which unfortunately some unprofessional labs still use today, was to film the image produced by a projector with a camera. This resulted in significant quality loss, including (among other things):

  • Distortion of the image.
  • Cropping of the framing.
  • Loss of resolution.
  • Color shifts.
  • Frame overlapping.

Apart from Hollywood and similar studios, the technology of the 1990s didn't allow for better methods, so I don't feel guilty for participating in that kind of devastation.

And I don't blame people who were happy to convert magnificent Kodak, Agfa, Fuji films into perishable tapes. Those who have never used Super 8 projectors struggle to realize how inconvenient they were (the last two in the photo below are the ones I sold on eBay over 10 years ago, and I don't miss them at all).

To use a projector you had to:

  • Take them out of the closet because they were ugly, heavy, and bulky.
  • Set up a white screen with a tripod.
  • Insert the film into the device, often risking it getting stuck.
  • Endure the loud noise during playback.
  • Change the bulb every 10 hours.

To avoid this, people accepted degrading the quality of their films, so those who opted for such a solution in the 1990s now find themselves barely able to watch their tapes.

The video below was shot over half a century ago, and I am publishing it with the permission of the owner, Mr. Casini, whom I thank for allowing me to compare the work that his family carried out about twenty years ago with what I have recently done.

In addition to the limitations of the technology of the time and the fact that the "restoration" relied solely on the automatic functions of the camera capturing the projector's image, there is also the issue that VHS tapes deteriorate quickly. So, those who chose that solution in the 90s or 2000s now find themselves with videotapes that they can barely watch.

And little changes if the transfer was done later using DVDs instead of VHS, as I explain in this guide. When DVDs came out, they seemed to be state-of-the-art. In reality, they have huge limitations, starting with resolution, compared to today's technology.

But if the original 8mm and Super 8 reels were not thrown away, we can still work it out, as films degrade, but much less than tapes. I have worked many times on films from the 1930s, which, if it weren't for the clothing, hairstyles, and perhaps the rare cars seen on the streets at the time, looking at the quality achieved after restoration would seem like they were shot yesterday.

Digitizing: Why It's Worth Doing Today

If films are digitized using a professional scanner like mine, the FilmFabriek HDS+, and the operator who restores them has a lot of experience, they can be brought back to their original state, and even improved compared to when they were first shot.

Many films I publish on the website are examples of this. The one below is a Super 8 film shot in Davos, Switzerland in 1973, depicting the city years before mass tourism. I publish it with the written release from the person who shot it.

The reason why digitizing today is worthwhile, without further delay, is that the performance of professional scanners cannot be surpassed by the next technology to be invented. This is because their resolution exceeds that of the original medium, and the professional optics used in the best devices are not subject to technological advancements like other kind of components.

Therefore, digitizing today, unlike what happened in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s, does not have any disadvantages compared to doing it in the future. On the contrary, it can rely on a level of film quality that is certainly better than what will be available in a few years.

The performance of restoration software will continue to improve, but the acquisition process, which captures all the frames that make up the film, has already reached an unsurpassable level of quality. If artificial intelligence works wonders in the future, it will be easy to apply them to the video files provided by a serious lab like mine, without the need to acquire the films again.

That's why it's worth digitizing your home movies stored on 8mm, Super 8, 9.5mm, and 16mm films today: restore them, share them with a click with those who can appreciate them, and preserve your family history.

Daniele Carrer

THE LAB IS BASED IN ITALY AND OFFERS FREE RETURN DELIVERY IN ALL THE EUROPEAN UNION COUNTRIES

The price to digitize and restore your 8 mm, super 8, 9.5 and 16 mm films in my laboratory is always 5 euros per minute of footage, regardless of the format or the fact that they are mute or sound.

If you want me to work on your home movies, please contact me with this form: