Transferring images on tape to a computer file is becoming harder to achieve given the physical quality of many of the tapes we see. Following our move to bigger premises we have expanded the tape transfer and digitisation service.
There are a bewildering number of formats. In addition, they come in various electronic flavours. Regardless of format, we now charge by the time taken to do the job.
PAL and NTSC are terms you may hear mentioned. They refer to the electronic system used to record the image. Our comprehensive resource can play all broadcast tapes and a good number of domestic formats regardless of the system used.
Millions of digibeta edit master tapes are to be found in vaults – what if you want a copy? Many older programmes recorded on U-matic tapes are still a very important source of archive material, that’s if the tape will play. Domestic formats will contain priceless personal images. So, there is plenty to keep us busy.
Tapes are made from plastic, glue and iron filings.
There are three problems with video and audio tapes:
Sticky tape shed and
Physical stretch and general mechanical deterioration.
There is only so much we can do about these. If the tape is unplayable in some ways that is easy, nothing can be done, or if it is in good mechanical condition we can do a lot electronically to get the best out of the recording. It is the middle ground that causes grief.
Mould leads to destruction of the tape so makes it difficult to play but usually we can get something. Sticky tape shed is where the binding absorbs water and the tape will stick to the play back head and make a screaming noise. It can quickly wreck a video recorder. Heat treatment can be effective, although is controversial. We have had some amazing successes (and I should add, failures). Physical damage is the most difficult as this leads to tracking errors, that no machine can cope with, but you hope that with fiddling you can solve – actually you can’t. Your optimism is misplaced and it is too easy to promise recovery when it can’t be done. Related is oxide shed when the recording medium comes away from the tape. This is easy to spot, usually you get a couple of minutes playback then video head clog and white snow. This then needs a realistic discussion with the client about how to proceed and the cost involved.
These days, before transferring to a digital file, we have found it best to produce a digital intermediate tape. The reason being that the computer capture card and software can’t cope with a poor quality signal.
There are very specialist firms that can attempt recovery, but the cost is prohibitive for the normal user and the results disappointing. They are most often used in a forensic setting where the actual information is critical, and the artistic elements rather less so.
So there we are, I know lots of firms advertise a doom and gloom message, to encourage you to transfer your tapes to a digital domain, and it might seem just a marketing gimmick. The trouble is that majority of our transfer work involves tapes with the problems I’ve outlined. And that becomes a tough sell.
We capture the pictures on our film scanner, but lifting audio off 8mm films can be quite tricky. We have several options, including using Heurtier sound projectors. The audio files are then synced up with the picture.
If you want, here are PDF copies of the instruction books you can download.
These projectors have survived well. The film transport mechanism remains solid and the film speed across the audio heads very steady. Considering the limitations of the recordings, which are now 50 years old or more, the quality we can achieve is surprisingly good.
Finding 8mm sound projectors that work well, that don’t chew up film and provide decent audio is not easy and this perhaps is another reason to digitise film. Although a premium brand half a century ago, unfortunately many very old 8mm Eumig projectors now cannot run at a steady speed. Multi-standard projectors sound good in theory but will often make damaged film worse, particularly if they only move the film with a claw mechanism.
Audio on Super 8 is easy by comparison. The machines are newer and many have electronic speed control.
The best way to watch a film of course is on the silver screen but there are many reasons to transfer film to a digital format.
You can have a cheap scan – watch this clip to see the difference, but be warned anything but the best will now leave you very disatisfied.
It is a process that is a lot more complex than might be imagined. For example, film speeds will vary – how best to convert say 16 frames per second to 25 frames per second for TV and computer use? The look of the image, sometimes referred to as the dynamic range, is something you will want to preserve. What about the audio? What about the physical condition of the film? These are just a few of the source factors to have in mind.
Then there are the considerations about the technology to use, but the key issue is what does the finished product look like? We have undertaken a lot of research on the matter and have found that acquiring the Muller Scanner to be a great decision. Let me tell you a little more about that, because we have been delighted with the results.
I’d like to think that our technical knowledge, skill and obsession with getting the absolute best result possible has a major part to play.
We check the film physically, it is then scanned and a digital file produced. The settings for the scan are critically important and this is where experience really counts. There are a bewildering number of digital formats and we will discuss this with you. In general, we recommend uncompressed formats at this stage.
Scanning is not something that you simply lace up and walk away from. We will watch your film very carefully and, if necessary, re-set the scanning settings scene by scene.
We run the uncompressed digital scans through image stabilisation, dirt removal and if required, further image enhancements. We ensure the software is used wisely to get the very best from your film.
If your 16mm film has audio we use a high end replayer that has been configured to get the perfect output from an optical or magnetic audio track. It has been specially built for us. By working in this way we don’t have to make compromises with your film when scanning. Sound can certainly be a challenge but we have never been defeated yet. We have several machines that can playback 8mm and Super 8mm audio. Remarkably some 9.5mm film had an optical audio track and we are rather proud of the fact that we are able to restore this as well. As far as we know we are the only facility in the UK to offer this service. The audio is delivered on a separate digital file for you.
It may be that now we hand the project back to yourselves, and by convention we talk about this being the scanning and restoration stage.
It is likely that you will want to undertake a little more work on your film to include colour grading, and fine tuning some of the audio. We now make digital files suitable for editing. We would love to do this as well for you, and think we are rather good at it.
There are many delivery formats and every job is different. However, at each stage the project is saved, so that, in the future, you will be ready for the unforeseen.
Some more technical details
Do feel free to skip this bit, but if you want more technical detail about our machines and facilities read on.
The scanner was built to our specifications to ensure the very best results possible. It has a high resolution scan area and adjustable LED light source. There is full control over the RGB levels and general exposure at source. Knowing how to adjust it along with the camera settings is rather important as well.
The camera is capable of delivering 2K and HD scans. It has 36-bit RGB colour output with 8, 10 or 12 bit output per channel.
It is important to remember of course that any editing format will add compression and data loss in some form. I think everybody has their own preferences for which type of file format to use for capture and editing. What should work in theory can be very different to what works in practice. We find that running uncompressed AVI files works well in our system. However, The Film Room can produce Quicktime and a wide variety of other formats along with .dpx files at 10 bit and image sequence files such as TIFFs. It depends on what you need in the end. There are technical questions of course about how much information is actually resolvable beyond 2k because of the grain size of the film stock.
Digital cameras can offer area image or linear scans. Area image is best for film scanning, ours is area image and being high resolution it is best to scan with a variable capture rate, unlike with telecine which is committed to real time.
Black and white is as good as colour with our system. Have a look at the HD samples on our Vimeo home page and see what you think. We handle show prints, negative, inter-pos, anything out of the ordinary; it is just not a problem for us. Format sizes include 16mm, 9.5mm and 8mm. Interestingly, we do have some domestic clients who want the very best transfer possible of their families’ golden memories and they are very pleased with the results and feel the extra cost is well worthwhile.
A real innovation with scanners is that the film transport is via a capstan drive with continuous movement of the film and sprocketless optical registration – that is now achieved by the laser triggering the image capture. Telecine can put huge tension on film and ‘kick’ on cut material. This does not happen with our scanner. In addition, if your film is shrunken and warped or with broken perforations we can scan it without further risk. The film travels over 4 soft rubber PTR rollers that absorb dirt and dust. We can also use a pre-wet gate system if your film has vertical scratches, although the restoration software is usually a better option.
Registration pin scanning is extremely beneficial where the camera originals were captured with such registration but the vast majority of 16mm. 9.5mm, or 8mm cameras never had pin registration resulting in the film having weave movement. In the past, no telecine or scanning registration would cure that, but we overscan the frame allowing the software to do the job of image stabilisation. This technique also works well for tape or butt edged cement splices.
You can opt for your digital files to be returned to you on platforms such as Bluray, LTO tape or hard drive. Our facilities meet the British FiIm Institute digital archiving standards and we are happy to explain these specifications to you as they provide a helpful baseline.
This is quite a question. Video tapes do not last forever and can be affected by mould and damp. Some makes are particularily affected by sticky tape shed where the physical structure of the tape disintigrates. Then there is dust and magnetic drop-out. Hard drive and solid state media can also become unplayable.
We make digital tape back-up copies in addition to DVD and Blu-ray archiving. Time will tell whether this is good enough or not. Another option that some of our clients like, such as the British Film Institute, is to back-up on to LTO tape, which has been designed for the job. We have invested in a plug and play USB3 LTO 6 drive which is available for hire. In truth, it is a bit of a hassle to set up but we can show you how to use it.
We can transfer most vintage PAL and NTSC tape formats to a digital tape or digital file. We have a good number of different machines and usually can find one that will play a tape in poor condition. Quite often there are tracking errors on recorded tapes so it is useful to have a choice of machines for that reason as well.
We cover all types of U-matic formats and have been fortunate to have sourced machines in good working order. Betacam also comes in a variety of analogue and digital formats and we can offer several playback machine options to cover Betacam, Betacam SP, digibeta and beta SX, in PAL and NTSC.
We regards to non-broadcast formats we offer transfer from Betamax, S-VHS (PAL and NTSC), and Hi 8. In fact we often have most trouble with these tapes. In part, because they are fragile and in part because of the way they are often stored. However, to date we have always managed to recover vital footage.
Our machines are maintained in first-class working order, at times it seems to me regardless of cost.
As well as physical issues with tapes, often the image quality and electronic stability are problematic. This is where timebase correctors are so helpful. We have several, all doing things a little differently. We can also convert NTSC to PAL, using proper NTSC video recorders and 4 field standards converters. These enhancements, used wisely ensure that the image is as good as realistically possible.
It is very useful to have a digital tape copy of your material. In addition to archiving, experience shows that play-in from analogue tape is more likely to be successful when done in this manner. We offer capture to digital files via Serial Digital Interface (SDI), as this usually offers the best quality. There are almost limitless possibilities as far as which format to use, in general capturing in the format you propose to edit in makes most sense. Although you may want an uncompressed archive version to keep for future use.
We have kept the pricing simple, based more on time involved rather than which formats are involved etc. Also, you are most welcome to be around during transfers.
Here at Cardinal Broadcast we often get asked to record children’s shows and there are few problems that we haven’t encountered! The first thing to say is that it is much harder than it might appear at first sight. The audience have expectations based on their experiences of watching broadcast TV. In addition those involved are often unable or unwilling to make any compromises to the needs of those recording the performance. It doesn’t look good does it?
So how can you achieve the best results? To start, let’s just look at a few of the technical issues. You may be surprised that I would mention audio first. If you can’t hear the performers you will soon get complaints.
Built-in camera microphones are not really suitable. As an absolute minimum a directional microphone as near as possible to the stage is required. Another good practical compromise is a stereo microphone hung above the performers. It won’t be perfect and some of the children with quiet voices will be difficult to hear.
After that, it does get a bit more complicated with a need for a sound mixer, and somebody to operate it. The advantage is that you have much more flexibility and can make allowances for the softly spoken. Radio microphones are pretty much ideal, but they do need careful placement.
Set your camera to wide angle – can you get all of the stage in? That is where you want to place the camera. Some favour square-on to the stage from a mid-point. My preference is for a little off-centre placement as it can lead to more interesting framing. You will need a tripod. You will discover practical constraints dictate where to place the camera and you just do the best you can. Anyone sitting behind you will not be happy so some forward planning is required to ensure that doesn’t happen!
Frame the shots carefully. Depending on the show, it might well be impossible at times to have all the relevant speakers in the shot and is a compromise that has to be made. Close-ups are good, but think what your next shot will be. Often a mid-shot with several players is the best. Smooth pans and slow zooms are essential.
Don’t forget the purpose of the recording – to bring immediate pleasure to friends and family and a record for the future. So make sure you give weight to the more minor roles. It is not a dramatic production for TV. If you miss some children (easily done) you will cause a lot more distress than you might imagine.
If your camera has manual settings this is moment to use them! Fix the white balance to tungsten (indoor) and adjust the aperture manually because on automatic there is a real risk of the background being completely black. Lighting suitable for recording is very different to lighting for theatrical effect. It’s a problem.
Have enough tape and plan ahead for your tape changes, likewise batteries. Used constantly, you will find that they don’t last as long as you would like. You might well want to run on mains power. Some cameras using solid state media have a limited file size, so read the camera instructions for how to manage extended recordings. I cannot stress enough how dangerous trailing leads are. It is dark, people are excited and not looking out for where they are going. Whilst we are thinking about setting up safely you will discover that people will constantly come over and talk to you about what you are doing, can they have a copy, or to discuss the camera you are using. Distractions you can do without! This is another good reason for getting there early and setting up in a calm unhurried manner so you have time to deal with unexpected technical problems. Then, treat yourself to a cup of tea, sit by the camera so it doesn’t get knocked over, and you can be sociable!
Copies on DVD are the norm, and I expect you know about that. Some minor editing and a simple caption add to the professional image.
Ok – so you want something a bit more ambitious. You can use two or more cameras and that will change how you frame the shots. My preference is for cameras left and right with a central camera at the back, kept on a wide-shot. Depending on the performance style, a central camera for medium to close shots from the same position as the wide-angle camera allows for easy editing. This does get complicated to do and you have set yourself quite a task for editing. It is a complete non-starter to think you can mix amateur shows as they are performed and get every single cut correct at the time. Although the technology exists I wouldn’t advise it, and it won’t save time.
How much to charge? I wish I knew! Although people will pay twenty pounds for quality stills there is a lot of resistance to paying a similar amount or more for the DVD of the whole show. Strange isn’t it? I think it is because a small DVD doesn’t seem quite as valuable as a well presented still photograph.
A simple recording with two cameras and some editing will easily become £1200.00 plus. So you will need to have a market for at least 50 to 60 copies. You will have to offer some sort of fixed price deal to the school or club. They will not want to underwrite a shortfall.
Cardinal Broadcast has a lot of experience in recording shows; sometimes it is more about seeing what can be done with the funds available. We can offer camera and microphone hire, DVD authoring and technical support. What is not a good situation though is to be asked to edit something that is poorly shot with badly recorded sound.
I should also mention copyright – in practice recordings for private enjoyment aren’t going to be a problem. Commercial exploitation is a different situation and if it is a play with restricted rights, then that is another article. Even with children’s shows it might be worthwhile establishing on what basis you are making the recording – are you a “hired hand” and the school or club feel they own the recording, or are you a producer selling copies?
Communication about realistic expectations is the key to this!
Have a look at this clip from an old recording, made with two cameras and directional microphones. This is a reasonable technical standard without being too intrusive for the children.