Film to digital

Introduction

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. We provide this service under the banner of The Film Room.

Film Room

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.

9.5mm film has a sprocket hole in the middle.
9.5mm film has a sprocket hole in the middle.

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.

Muller HD Scanner
Film scanning produces great results.

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.

What happens?

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.

Scanner
Taking care of your film

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.

We can scan all types of 16 mm film.
We can scan all types of 16 mm film.

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.

Do you remember your films coming back through the post?
Do you remember your films coming back through the post?

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.

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