Convert 8mm Movies to DVD

Sean writes, “I was going through some boxes in my parent’s basement and found a box of old 8mm movies from when we were kids. They still play on the movie projector, but I’d love to be able to make DVDs from the movies. Is this easy to do?”

Easy is a very relative term. The movies must be transferred in real time so you have a minimum investment of the total number of hours of film in the collection. There are services do this for a fee, but I’m always leery of sending the only existing copy of anything via a shipping service at the risk of losing it. The best way to make the transfer, short of paying extremely high fees to capture the film frame-by-frame is using a DV camera to reshoot the image as it projects on a screen. There’s a graphic illustration of this complete with instructions in my book Easy Digital Home Movies, but I can give you an overview here.

8mm film reel in case with a DVD

The supplies required for the conversion are an 8mm film projector, a smooth screen or textureless white wall, a digital video camera and a tripod for the camera. Make sure the film projector is dust free and clean the screen to get the best possible image from the projected film. Make sure to adjust the projection lens so that the image is as small and tightly focused as possible. This is vital to getting the best possible DV recording from the 8mm shooting the 8MM image in the smallest possible space will result in the best quality image in your DV recording.

To capture the projection, set up your DV camcorder on a tripod next to the film projector, with the least possible angle between the projector and DV cam, without putting the projector in the DV camera’s field of vision. Start the projector and run a few minutes of film to give you time to configure the DV camera. Zoom in tight on the projection, eliminating as much of the surrounding screen area as possible from the edge of the 8MM film. Once you get the picture tightly in focus, rewind the 8MM film, start playback over and initiate recording. Be careful not to move the projector or the camera at this stage of the process so you don’t need to start over.

For best results in capturing sound from an 8MM film, connect the sound output on the projector to the audio in on the DV camcorder. I realize many of these projectors may not have an output, but it’s best to isolate any audio track on the film from the noise generated by the fan and motor on the projector. If the film does not have an audio track, plug a mini-jack adapter into the audio input on the DV cam or mute the DV cam audio input to prevent fan noise.

Once you finish recording the film to DV tape, you’re ready to transfer the tape to a PC or Mac for editing and output as a video. Connect the DV cam to your computer using the FireWire connection on the camera (also referred to as iLINK or IEEE1394). Launch your favorite video editing application and follow the directions for importing digital video from a camera. If you use an app like MyDVD, Roxio Easy Media Creator or Premiere Elements, the DVD authoring components are built right in, complete with menu templates for creating something polished.

Of course, Mac users have access to the iMovie/iDVD combination.

If you ended up with a flicker from the video projector in your movie, you may want to use a Deflicker filter in VirtualDub to clean up the video further.