Home movie questions answered

A few months back, I wrote a column about copying my home movies to DVD. It generated a lot of questions from readers, so this month I'm digging through my mailbag. Here are the answers to some of the questions you asked.

I've got home movies on Super 8mm film: How do I copy them to DVD?

Many families have old home movies on reels of Super 8mm film in the closet, and converting these to DVD makes a great Christmas gift. My wife's family did this last year, and it was fascinating to sit down and watch the movies with her. They used a commercial service that handles the conversion -- you simply send the company your films. This is probably the easiest solution. Companies like Digital Transfer Systems and Home Movie Depot will do it for you, charging around 10 cents a foot. As Super 8mm film runs at 15 feet per minute, that's around US$1.50 per minute.

Some companies will edit the film for you, adding titles and music. But if you want to save some money, ask about getting the film copied onto MiniDV tapes or onto DVD as video data files; you can then import this into your video editing program, edit it yourself, and write the edited video out to DVD. You can save money and have more control over the result.

You might be tempted to try just setting up your film projector and pointing the camcorder at the screen, but the results tend to be disappointing. The 18-frames-per-second film rate of Super 8mm film conflicts with the 24.97-fps rate of digital camcorders, producing flickery, jerky video. The pros use a device called a telecine to deal with this, but these devices cost more than US$1,000, so you won't want to purchase one unless you have a lot of video to convert.

The Super 8mm Wiki is a good place to get more information if you want to find out where you can get 8mm cameras, projectors, and telecine devices.

Can I use my camcorder to convert the video to DVD?

The answer to this is a definite maybe. Many camcorders (especially those from Sony) offer a feature called digital pass-through, where the camera takes an analog video signal on its input and converts it into a digital signal on its FireWire output, which you can then capture in any video editing program, edit, and output to DVD. Check your camcorder manual to see if this feature is offered and to learn how to use it. Different models use different approaches.

Some models (such as those from Samsung) may not offer this feature, but can still capture analog video by recording it to digital videotape. You connect the analog video source to the analog inputs of your digital camcorder, and then press play on the analog source and record on the camcorder. When the video is finished, connect it to the PC and import the video into your editing program in the normal way.

Many camcorders -- usually the cheapest models -- don't offer analog inputs at all, unfortunately. To keep the cost down (and perhaps to persuade you to buy the more expensive models), many manufacturers skip this feature on their lowest-end models. If you're looking for a good, low-cost model that can convert video to DVD, check out the Canon Elura 100.

How do I improve the quality of the video I capture?

Videotapes degrade over time, so the videos you shot years ago may not look as good as they used to. And the first video cameras and camcorders were nowhere near as good as today's cheapest models. To improve the quality of the video, use the highest quality analog video player you can find (you might want to think about renting a professional model for the day to get the best quality), use decent quality cables, and capture the video at the highest quality setting.

Once you've captured the video, try using the video enhancing tools offered by your video editing program. Most offer video filters that can help improve the quality, such as noise reduction filters (to deal with grainy video) and color correction filters (to correct off-colored video caused by poor lighting or damaged tapes). These tools also include filters for cleaning up the audio, allowing you to boost the volume and remove background noise.

Can I use the analog video converter devices like the one that you used to make backup copies of commercial movies and DVDs?

No. Most commercial movies include a copy protection system, called Macrovision, that tweaks the video signal to make it difficult to copy. Most of the converters detect this and will refuse to copy the video.

I have another question. Can you answer it?

Well, you don't know if you don't ask, so feel free to email me. Although I do read all of the e-mail you send, I don't have time to reply to each one. So don't take it personally if I don't reply, but I will consider it for inclusion in a future column.

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Richard Baguley

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