Working with old video and film

Digital video allows PC users to produce high-quality movies with ease. But what about all that archived analog video that you shot on 8mm or VHS tape, or even 8mm film reels?

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Analog to digital

A wide range of products is available to people who want to transfer video from VHS or 8mm tape to their hard disk — a process known as digitising. Video capture cards with analog inputs (usually composite or S-Video) allow you to connect your VHS player or 8mm video camera to a PC and capture video that’s ready for editing.

Canopus has a couple of solutions to suit anyone working with analog video. At $499, the ADVC 50 comes with FireWire in/out (also called i.LINK or IEEE 1394), plus analog video with stereo audio in. For an extra $100, the ADVC 100 adds analog output to the mix for those of you who want to send a finished video back out to an analog source such as a VHS tape.

Alternatively, you might want to look at products like Pinnacle’s Studio 9 AV/DV Deluxe ($649 from Like the ADVC100, it offers both digital and analog capture and output, but also includes Pinnacle’s intuitive entry-level editing software, Studio 9 (see the May issue, page 30).

Images to video

Incorporating individual slides, negatives or photos is becoming a popular option for archiving and showing occasions for which no video record is available.

Using a high resolution scan from a flatbed or slide scanner will give you an individual image file for each slide, which can be stored on your hard disk or burned onto a CD/DVD. This is ideal if you want to print them out, but it’s also handy if you’re looking at introducing them into your video, too. The advantage of high-resolution images is that the quality allows you more versatility, but scanning them can take time and will use up a lot of disk space for storage. If you just want something to use in your video project, then a low-resolution image (1024x768 pixels) is ample.

The most common use of images in video is to create a slide montage. This can be as simple as a rolling slideshow, or you can experiment with effects and transitions to create a more animated production. Most video editors support still image import, but programs like Ulead’s DVD Pictureshow ( are specifically designed to organise your captured images for playback on most home DVD players. You can even add background audio to suit the production.

8mm film

The lack of analog signal outputs on an 8mm film camcorder makes it tricky to digitise your archives. However, there are a couple of options. First, a video transfer box (around $200) allows you to project your 8mm film into a box where the film is reflected onto a mirror and recorded by the camcorder. Unfortunately, with companies such as Raynox discontinuing production of its video transfer box several months ago, this equipment can prove difficult to source, so a quick trawl on eBay might be required.

A more accessible alternative is to project your 8mm footage onto a small white background, and then record the image with a tripod-mounted DV camcorder. You’ll be surprised at how well this simple transfer method works, but be sure to keep the texture of the screen to a minimum and try to use a matt surface rather than a glossy one.

Also consider that film is shot anywhere between 18fps and 24fps, whereas PAL video scans at 50 interlaced fields per second to make 25fps. This means that you need to adjust the frame rate of your camcorder to avoid flicker. Depending on your camcorder, you may be able to do this by setting it to manual and adjusting the shutter speed to get as close as possible to the frame rate of the projected movie. It’s important to make these adjustments at this stage, because you’ll find it’s much harder to correct flicker in post-production.

Make your projection relatively small, as this provides the most intense light source possible for the movie and keeps blurriness to a minimum. Also, if presented with an exposure dilemma during the shoot, go with underexposure, which is easier to correct in your edit.

Some adjustment may be needed once the footage is digitised, but don’t go overboard on the colour correction and sharpening or you’ll lose the nostalgic, almost cinematic look that makes old film so appealing.

One final note of warning: transforming your memories to DV can be addictive. Once you start dipping into your old collection of images and video and bringing them into the 21st century, you may find it hard to stop.

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Denis Gallagher

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