Formats : Scanning Super 8mm Movie Film to Digital

Scanning Super 8mm Movie Film to Digital

Anybody doing this themselves? If so, what do you use? I've been reading the $1,500 Reflecta scanner is one of the highest quality ways to do this, but it has a guide or pulley that goes right through the center of the film frame, putting a scratch right through the center of the picture area. Is there a home scanner, made by film leader Kodak or another company, that is gentler on the film?

I've been paying a company in Chandler, AZ called Video Conversion experts to do this. They use a $30,000+ scanner that can scan as high as 4K and it's sprocketless so very gently glides the film along on rollers. I've been having them scan my film at only 1080p, because, to my eyes, 1080p already mercilessly shows all the detail, including grain, that I remember seeing
in the film when it was projected.

Their scanner has an "auto color" feature which automatically adjusts for changes in brightness and color on the fly. It does a great job when the film was perfectly exposed and the color balance was set perfectly in the camera to begin with. However, sometimes I intentionally underexposed to make day seem night or did weird color effects, which their scanner attempts to compensate for when I don't want it to. This results in dark shots being way too bright revealing horrendous grain and colors looking flat or otherwise different than I remember them looking on projection. I want more shot-by-shot control.

With Super 8 seemingly making a comeback as a viable filmmaking alternative to digital HD, I thought maybe now the time has finally come for more home scanning products. Thanks in advance for any info.

Re: Scanning Super 8mm Movie Film to Digital

IIRC this has come up before, and at the time the two main options to buying a turnkey film scanner were a home-made scanner ( and a technique that uses a flatbed scanner and software (

If you're going to pay to have your film scanned, you may, at least in theory get more detail from 720p than you will from a SD film chain. That's a good choice if you can afford it. 1080p is OK as long as you have the storage capacity, and it doesn't cost more than 720p to scan. But even the best Super8 film stock isn't going to be able to offer enough resolution to "fill" a full-HD sensor, so I wouldn't spend extra for only a bigger file.

I don't know how you plan on showing it, but I'd suggest 720p at most for streaming video if you're paying for a pro streaming service. You can put it up on YouTube at 1080p, of course. But any difference seen will be entropy not resolution. Might as well save the Internet bandwidth.

Re: Scanning Super 8mm Movie Film to Digital

Thanks Speed. 720 is not an option at VCE, only 480p, 1080p, 2k and 4k. I have their scans delivered to me as a 1080p .AVI file. I always send them a 1 TB USB external hard drive with most of that 1 TB space free, so space is not an issue. From that, I've been down-converting to 480p, editing it, putting it on DVD with music and uploading an SD MPEG-2 version on youtube. It looks great on DVD. It turns to soup on youtube because they add compression (Flash .FLV?) to cram as many videos as possible onto their servers. It's OK for small-screen and mobile device internet sharing. When I get into HD editing, I'll re-edit the native 1080p files and burn them to blu-ray as well as upload 720p versions to youtube, thanks.

I'll check out those "turkey" scanners you mentioned, thanks, and yes, I believe you mentioned them when I brought this up last year. I was hoping the technology has evolved a bit more. Hopefully these scanners don't cost a mint, do what I require and don't destroy the film in the process of scanning it.

The ability to do shot-by-shot color and brightness correction would be great. What would be really stellar is some kind of frame-line detection to keep every frame perfectly aligned despite bad splices and torn sprocket holes. This is my dream of course, wishful thinking. Even VCE's $30k scanner doesn't do this. I'm sometimes looking at part of 2 frames as the film is trying to re-align itself in their scanner. I'm not as concerned about speed as I am quality. Hell, a scanner can slowly churn frame-by-frame, day and night, until the film is scanned. I waited 30+ years to see these movies again, what's a few more months.

Re: Scanning Super 8mm Movie Film to Digital

Hmmm... It's been a while since I looked into it, but IIRC YouTube does do something objectionable if you don't upload in an advanced compression format. I always transcode to their suggested format, an H.264 MP4 file, and it looks great.

Here's something handy:

FWIW, I have a copy of Sorenson Squeeze Pro, and it ain't worth what they want for it. VideoReDo now has a pro product that I prefer for transcoding.

I'm surprised that those homebrew projects haven't grown. Maybe Kodak's re-release of their inexpensive Super 8 camera will help stimulate development. I hope that film schools are buying them like crazy. How can anyone be a "real" filmmaker without ever using a rotating shutter camera?

Re: Scanning Super 8mm Movie Film to Digital

"A real filmmaker": That's right! I love it!

What's IRC stand for, BTW lol?

Re: Scanning Super 8mm Movie Film to Digital

IIRC == "if I recall correctly"

Re: Scanning Super 8mm Movie Film to Digital

LOL thanks.

I just got the latest 1,300-foot film scan back from VCE and it looks great! Frame misalignment is an ever-present issue whenever there was a splice (and I did A LOT of splicing on my shots to edit them into a more coherent sequence) and torn sprocket holes (which, due to wear and tear from frequent projection, is a reality), but at least the frames don't jitter and roll like they would in a projector.

One thing I noticed and feel is interesting to mention is VCE's scanner holds black level on the slower Kodachrome 40 film stock much better than it does on the faster Ektachrome 160 film stock. The faster Ektachrome 160 Type A (daylight color balanced) looks OK. In Ektachrome 160 type G, which was sort of an all-purpose neutral color-balanced film stock, forget it--blacks in the scanner's Auto Color become blue! And oohh--talk about grain in the E160 (the K40 actually looks pretty good)! Consider this a word of warning to you kids thinking about embarking on making a feature film in Super 8! Of course these film stocks are reversal, meaning the original film in the camera IS the final projection print. Newer negative Super 8 film stocks from Kodak, in addition to their wider exposure latitude characteristics, benefit from Kodak's fine T-grain technology.

I felt like a true artist back then shooting movies on FILM!

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I took a peek at their website, and see that they'll let you spend a whole lot of money on film transfer if you want to! But it's good to have options. Is suppose that getting good registration on single-perf film is always going to be a challenge.

Have you checked out the website? I'm blown away by their wide selection of remanufactured cameras for sale and for rent, and lots of support with accessories, film stock and processing. I really like that they have kits to rent! Now if I can find an excuse to do it...

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I did check out Pro8mm before I checked out VCE, and they get even more in-depth with film scanning, doing the shoy-by-shot color and brightness-correction I talked about...for a price. Pro8 is even pricier than VCE. Pro8's 1080p scan price starts at I believe about $.55 a foot, one-light, even before any color and brightness-correction is factored in, whereas VCE offers an Auto Color 1080p scan at around $.35 a foot. No brainer--VCE is cheaper for similar quality.

Plus VCE offers once every 3-4 month 60-70% off specials to previous customers, which I am, so this is clearly how I'm going to have to peace-meal my 7,000 feet of film out, maybe 1,000 feet per 60-70% off special, every 3-4 months, to get all this film scanned.

With regards to image quality, I'm now experimenting with color and brightness-correction filters in my editing software to see how much can be done after film scan to restore the look of the film. VCE's Auto Color seems to lock onto highlights, so when there ARE NO highlights, it seems to me I can drastically darken the image, tweak the contrast, subtract blue and add red to restore film that was shot in dim yellow-orange incandescent to its original warm look and get rid of the blue in the blacks.

Re: Scanning Super 8mm Movie Film to Digital

That's one nice thing about scanning to large files: you can take as long as you need on correction. That's one thing that I liked about the project that used the flatbed scanner--it left most of the work for later. As long as you have more than enough aeral pixels and more than enough bits of dynamic range, you can fix everything in post. And as better algorithms come out, you can keep on improving the final product. What's more, since you're processing a digital master made at one point in time, things like color grading start from the same known quantity. The film will continue to degrade, but the DI master will the same forever.

The thing that caught my eye at Pro8 was the cameras. Now that I'm Albuquerque I'm looking at business opportunities. It's a popular place for both TV serials and movies, but there's no "1 stop shop" here like the old Victor Duncan was for Chicago. There's a guy who has a crane truck, and another who rents tripods...all piecemeal. I've been looking at Craigslist, and it looks like there are plenty of small budget productions here too. I was thinking about making my video gear available for rental, but I could see renting small format film cameras to all those UNM film school grads who, if they're lucky only work half the year as crew on a major production.

Re: Scanning Super 8mm Movie Film to Digital

That all sounds good!

As it turns out, as you said, I can do MIRACULOUS things with color-correction in post! Turning the blue down to between 35 & 50% totally got rid of the blue noise in the blacks of the Ektachrome (VCE's Auto Color was color-correcting incandescent scenes that were meant to be yellow). Brightness adjustments made in Auto Color I'll leave as is, because in reversal film, there's not much lattitude anyway.

Best of success in the Super-8 film camera rental business! As an income supplement, it'll make a nice retirement plan!

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Looks like miraculous things can be done with color correction on live TV! I have a live feed from the RNC on my TV, and have been watching the camera operators do seasick-inducing zoom-ins to adjust focus. Now every so often the picture goes dark and really blue, and faces turn red and other unnatural colors. I guess they're testing the stage lighting, and the cameras' AWB is struggling to make sense of it. Not something you normally see on live broadcast tV!

Out of curiosity, what software are you using to do color correction?

I'm still testing the waters here when it comes to what I'm going to do. I have signed on to do some streaming video work--that should be fun. I want to find something where there's a high demand but no local supply. My big worry is that once I make a big investment, some big player will do the same and put me out of business! I might stick to running a circle track car every weekend--I know I'll lose money that way, so at least I can relax and enjoy it.

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I'm using an older version of Adobe Premiere, 6.0, which unfortunately can only edit 480 SD (I'm not spending $5k to get into editing HD when my cheap, broke clients can only afford $300 for their wedding video), but I'm using a Canopus DV Storm 2 real-time accelerator board with all Storm real-time effects and filters as Premiere plug-ins. Storm effects and filters render in native-DV YUV color space instead of Premiere's normal RGB, for greater accuracy, 4x faster rendering time and I can instantly see what I've done by clicking OK.

Now if I can just solve the frequent frame misalignment problem, where the picture shifts up to reveal part of 2 frames, due to sloppy splices and torn sprocket holes. I'll have to re-transfer just the most troublesome shots at some point myself somehow, then insert just those shots into the final movie in my video editing software.

With regard to some bigger fish gobbling up your small business, yeah, it's a possibility. I've found it best to start small, with a small investment, and then, as that small investment begins showing a profit, slowly, gradually invest some of that money back into the business to grow the business. That way you didn't go horribly into debt.

I didn't take my own advice this year. I went $5k into debt on the still photography side to build a stock photography business. I bought a Canon 5D Mark III camera with a Tamron 28-300mm lens, a Canon L-series 15-40mm ultra-wide lens, an Audio-Technica shotgun mic for using the camera to shoot video, a 2-flash system with white softening umbrella, an extra camera battery, 16 rechargeable AA batteries with charger and a full compliment of grad, ND and polarizing filters. I want to get a 150-600mm super-telephoto lens for bringing wildlife up close. Maybe next year LOL.

I've got over 600 images active on Shutterstock now and I plan to upload thousands more, as well as upload many of the same images to Getty, Fotolia and a few other stock agencies. My sales commissions from downloads are now up to a small $21 after a few months. Quantity, volume, is the name of the game in stock photography. Once my portfolios are in the thousands of images, these images will pay me thousands of dollars a year in residual income that'll keep going into infinity, until I croak, and I can even will my stock photography commissions to my sisters, their kids or whomever I name as beneficiaries. And, since I retain the rights to my images, I can still enter them into photo contests, sell them at art shows etc. to make even more money. This equipment expense is also a nice, juicy tax write-off next year. I'll get some of the money back off next year's taxes.

So you race cars?

Re: Scanning Super 8mm Movie Film to Digital

I was just about to settle on the Adobe suite, and then they went from ownership to subscription-based. I just can't throw that kind of money into a product that I don't use every day, but drops dead usually when I need it most. Maybe next year...

You have 1080p Rec.709 files, so you can go back and edit them in Rec.709 color space and full-HD resolution some day. That's a nice option to have!

I only wish that i'd have a business that I could have gobbled up! My biggest fear is plain old bad timing. I have a garage full of projects that I made capital investments in, only to have some bigger player come in out and underbid me after I did the hard part. I really want a sure thing this time!

I want to race cars, but I have lacked the money and/or free time until now. I met a guy who races on weekends, and he's not filthy rich, so I figure I could let him show me the ropes.

Re: Scanning Super 8mm Movie Film to Digital

Sure thing? Good luck!!!

How about subcontracting these garage project services for others? I do! Yeah, they pay lower subcontract wages, but THEY made and continue to make the capital investment, you use THEIR equipment so you don't have to buy your own, and THEY handle the marketing, sales and collection of money so you can focus on the technical process of doing the work! Can't beat 'em? Join 'em. Work for 'em.

The car racing sounds fun even if it ain't profitable (yet).

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Actually I'm going to be starting a gig a bit like that. I have to bring my own camera/audio rig, but it's an easy $1000 per diem paycheck. I'm still getting over a long term illness, so I don't want to get too busy too quick, but I'm hoping that I can network a little and find other gigs and/or consulting opportunities.

The whole reason why I left broadcast in the first place was because the high-paying engineering and technical jobs were drying up. Back then, the IBEW and NABET locals had some per diem work, but not enough to make sure I could pay the rent. Now, if I work an average of 2 days a week (preferably as half days), that would pretty much cover my living expenses!

It's a shame that I love to make turns. I could take my old Mustang to the drag racing track and run it as-is. But for circle track I need to do tens of thousands of dollars of work to meet the safety inspections. None of them pay any prize money; it's completely a recreational activity.

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Per diem, $1,000, for how many days? One? If so, damn, I'm in the wrong state (Florida).

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This one's a 2 day event. So I'll take home $2000 plus any extras that I provide myself as emergency backup. These are 10 hour days, so I'm only making hourly rate of $100/hr. The hardest part is being a camera operator for two long speeches. Even in my prime I rarely worked for more than 6 hours at a time. I hope my overweight body doesn't punish my flat feet too much!

Re: Scanning Super 8mm Movie Film to Digital

$100/hr. is still a pretty damn good rate! Yeah, standing for that long to operate a camera is brutal on the feet and the back! Guess that's why they're paying ya the big bucks. Any way they could provide a chair? Would sitting negatively affect the smoothness of pan/tilt operation?

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I'm going to find some way to do it from a chair! When I was in my 20s and athletic, I realized that camera people were a special breed, being able to stand rick still for long periods of time. I'm not one, unfortunately, especially at my age and weight. At least I spent the money to get the second arm for my tripod head, and a detachable zoom controller. I'm hoping that I can do it all while seated, so I can keep my eyes on the streaming console. I'll find out soon enough.

Re: Scanning Super 8mm Movie Film to Digital

Great! At 5'11" and 205 lbs., I'm probably a little slimmer than you, but I'm 51 years old and suffer the same back and feet pains. I'm wearing a back brace every shoot.

Here's one of VCE's scans, family memories from Super 8 movie film I shot in 1979, down-rezzed from 1080p .AVI to 480p DV .AVI and then converted to mp4 h264, as you said, for youtube, which does indeed look cleaner than .MPEG2 transcoded to whatever mush youtube normally uses, thanks! This is entirely Ekatchrome 160 Type G film stock (eww, the grain). You'll see the frame misalignment problem right away (still better than the jitter and roll of a movie projector's sprocket gears grinding away). Otherwise, I think it's a pretty damn good-looking scan:

From this link, please feel free to click on Family Memories 1981 & Family Memories 1982 too. There's a lot more slower Kodachrome 40 film stock in there, as it was spring, summer, thus brighter, and I knew I was going to be outdoors more.

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Wow, Mike, that's outstanding! What a treasure of family memories too. Now I'm regretting that I didn't do more to preserve my own family's home movies. Technically it's really solid for the most part. I think I saw some footage that must have been shot at a lower frame rate, as it had that fast motion look, and some grain and lint. The color grading looks great!

I wonder what the state of the art is in automagic retouching for stuff like that. No matter, you have a DI with enough information in it that later generations could discover it and make it current to whatever is the standard then. I wonder if the grandkids will turn up their noses at movies that are "only 2-D" or not VR.

I'm glad that my upload format suggestion made a difference for you. The credit should go to a couple of YouTube gurus who sent me a cheat sheet for best quality. I've seen some demos of oddball codecs on YouTube, so it seems that they support several native formats, though some are clearly more equal than others.

Thanks for sharing your work!