Update: This video compares one of many examples from the 15+ years that my company has worked in film conversion to digital. Improvements in brightness & color are obvious here, so in future editions I will look at these other issues: Overexposure/Poor Dynamic Range, Poor Focus/Low Resolution, Dirt/Dirty Gate/Hairs, Flicker/Phasing, Hot Spots/Vignetting/Poor Framing, Frame Rate/Speed, Audio Problems. All of these issues must be addressed through capable hardware and or processes.

A common dilemma is whether to digitize that old VHS tape of their home movie films, or to go back and digitize the original films. The cost difference could be 10 times as much. So is it worth it to go back to the film?

The answer will depend on many factors. A very good professional transfer to 1 generation of VHS tape can still look great. I see those occasionally from tapes transferred by Fotomat and other services that specialized in photographic imaging, and who staked their reputation on the quality of their results. The vast majority of VHS transfers, however, having been done in the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s, typically used equipment and systems that fell FAR short of the film's original quality. These transfers served an important purpose to put the film in more accessible and convenient form to watch on a television screen. Over time though, most people became accustomed to this inferior quality (especially the younger generation, who may have never seen original film images) and also assumed that the newer electronic medium of video must be superior to the seemingly antiquated, complicated, and inconvenient movie film.

The truth is that film--even the smallest gauges of home movie film--is superior to all but the most advanced video technology of the 20th Century. Even now, video producers almost universally strive for their images to look more like film.

Only the most recent advances in professional High Definition Video have surpassed the smaller film gauges. So all but the best and most expensive transfers of the 20th century were inherently inferior to the original film, and that quality suffered even further with the delivery format being VHS tape most of the time.
Add to that the fact that most companies provided this service as a money-making add-on to their main business--from camera shop to department store, wedding videographer to video rental store and everything in between--and big box retailers (not exactly known for their quality of service) getting in the game as well.

In such a large, and largely uninformed price-driven consumer marketplace, there is very little incentive for such companies to make the serious investment in the professional equipment, training, and hours of labor required to give such a specialized service the attention to detail that it deserves. More specialized companies, however, who's very reputation depends on the quality of such a service, do make that investment and it really shows...but is often only noticed in those rare opportunities when the customer gets to see a side-by-side comparison. These factors, more than anything else, explain the great disparity of quality out there.

While it would be a mistake to discard their film after being transferred, customers are looking to convert their film to digital once and for all time. So I believe it is a disservice to take something so painstakingly created and carefully stored over decades, and which contains irreplaceable and usually very meaningful content, only to have it rendered into such an inferior version of the original as so many services have, and continue to do.

So back to the original question--Is it worth it to go back to the original film? I think in most cases yes, but this is a very personal decision that must account for one's own budget and priorities. Some film scenes are likely to be of much greater interest and value than others. So this is one decision where you might allow your emotions play the leading role.

A few last things to consider. Some more specialized companies offer some helpful options. For example, you can preview your films using our film viewer, or even use our Preview quality transfer service, or the Express Service, where costs are kept to an absolute minimum. Our Professional Transfer Services also have one of the lowest entry level price points while leaving the door open for the many enhancements and improvements we offer--from editing, music, narration, and graphics, to processes like color correction, image stabilization, sharpening and more. Speed correction to the original frame rate and image re-sizing from the 16x9 HD transfer back to the original film aspect ratio also come standard with our professional transfers.

One more thing: Your films are not likely deteriorating as some will say to drum up business. I see less degradation of films from the 1930s-1970s than the videotapes from the 1980s and 90s.

# vimeo.com/63518439 Uploaded


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This is an on-line portfolio of work samples, preliminary drafts or works-in-progress for clients to preview, and other curiosities that we come across in our archiving and live production work.
Our website is MakeHistory.tv and our mission is to record and preserve important bits of history for individuals, organizations, and larger communities. We provide media production and preservation services that are truly archival quality and without compromise.

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