Film Transfers - Frame by Frame
Film Transfers - Frame by Frame
Since 1978, we have been engaged in transferring and restoring vintage films. A lot has changed since 1978 though.
First I should mention that like most other topics on this site, the pages discussing film transfers are designed to be mostly informative and not market driven... No hype - no fancy flash video or animations or other "Glitz". Instead, we opted to provide information. Who knows; probably more information about the technical challenges and engineering considerations than you ever wanted to know ! However, to better understand what's involved, what the technical challenges are etc, read on to find out in detail what is involved in film transfers. You will then be better equipped to make better informed decisions of what is best, what is affordable and the tradeoffs between cost, quality and convenience, no matter where you send it to have done.
Note however that the film pages and topics are not complete. Far from it. Pages will be re-organized and much more content added. It will simply be another "Work in Progress".
Telecine / Film Transfer History - The Highly Condensed Version
First the simple definition of telecine. Telecine is both the process by which film is converted to video as well as also used to describe the general class of special projectors designed or modified for this purpose.
The early days of film transfer was pretty simple. Actually pretty crude by today's standards...
One simply aimed a video camera at a white wall that the standard film projector with either a 1 or 2 blade shutter was projecting on, and all one did was focus the camera and hit record. That was it ! It did transfer the film to video, but with some rather noticeable short comings. But it did work and produced a viewable video..... But there was the problem of flicker, merged frames and lack of fine detail that could not be resolved using this method. Amazingly enough, there are still some transfer operations out there that still use this technique, as it's quick, dirty and cheap... For some, that level of quality and price point is all they desire, so there actually is a market for this level of transfer... It is the bottom "bargain basement" of film transfers...
The next big advancement was the incorporation of a 5 blade shutter in the case of 24 frame/second films that resulted in the elimination of flicker. Other telecines incorporated a variable speed control to better match disparate frame rates to reduce the flicker effect. There still remained the problem of merged frames and the "Keystone Cops" motion effects however. The capture still involved the camera being aimed at the projected surface.
Next came capturing from either an aerial image or directly imaging off the film emulsion itself. That eliminated the screen and allowed for sharper image captures, since there was no "light splatter" from the reflective projected surface.. This also often incorporated a low heat producing LED light source in place of the conventional tungsten or halogen projector bulb that produced high heat that would burn any paused film and only lasted about 20 hours.
Up to this point, home movies were being transferred in real time with all it's inherent problems...
The latest technology available today is Frame by Frame transfers. Just like blockbuster "Hollywood" films are transferred today, each individual frame of film is captured as a separate image file. What allowed this to happen was computers finally have become powerful and fast enough to solve the inherent disparate frame rates by computing the appropriate "pull down" thus syncing the two "different worlds" of film and video. The latest designs in Telecine transfer equipment and fast CPU's with large on board memory and raid 0 disc arrays has made this not only possible, but also affordable.
Film Transfer Topics to be covered
So it seems to better understand all that's involved, we have to discuss the various transfer technologies, but first: Film Preparation, the nature of photographic film itself to include how color/monochrome films work - effective resolving power of film formats, How film cameras work to include their limitations with early technology, auto iris systems, auto focus, lenses, how standard film projectors work and then all the technical challenges... Those include disparate frame rates, what causes flicker in transferred films, what is "3-2 Pull Down" and other pull-down schemes and why are they necessary, then on to color correction and why often necessary. Then on to sprockets and sproketless designs - Sprocket hole wear - Film gates - Film Loops (their reason and purpose) - Sound films both optical and magnetic. Then after all that's been covered, what are the options as to target format and their advantages/disadvantages: DVD, Hi Definition, BluRay, Hard Drives - either capture as MJPG or uncompressed, or transfer to a digital tape format. Questions such as: Is a high definition capture 4x the definition of a standard definition capture ? (why in some cases, and why not in others). Exactly what the computer hardware and software is doing, to capture each individual frame and then sync the frame rates to almost any playback speed and end up with a final video that is flicker free, has no merged frames, is sharper and eliminates the Keystone Cops effects .... and all this just off the top of my head..
Is a full understanding of all the topics necessary ? In one simple word: No.. This is going to be a bit "over-killed" which is perhaps an under statement. When this is all complete, you will be able to walk away with a better understanding or at least an awareness of all that is involved. You will know more about the technical aspects of film transfers than most of the large film transfer houses on the web even know about it.. (unless of course they read this !) Not that it's necessary to know everything to be able to make a good transfer anymore than knowing the C++ computer language or understanding the hyper threading technology of your operating system and CPU to know how to use Microsoft Word ® while your system checks if there is any new email. But it is a major plus, and if one is fascinated with how things work and why things are done the way they are, then you just might find it quite interesting. It's a look at film transfers from an engineering perspective, written as simply for the layman as I can possibly write it. The best analogy that comes quickly to mind is this: You need not understand or even be aware of the 4 stroke internal combustion engine or anything about auto mechanics or design criteria to drive a car, but it will definitely be a major asset knowing something about the inner workings and what to look when shopping for a new one. Ditto film transfers and most other things in life, coming to think of it... After reading this you will quickly be able to separate the marketing hype from the technical reality. In short: not all film transfers are equal. At least know what to look for. If deciding on the lower cost transfers, beware the possible tradeoffs... Could be a good deal, or simply too many corners had to be cut to compete at the lowest price point and yet still turn a profit. Anyways, you'll be better armed with knowledge to know what they are..
In all fairness, often times, the lowest price point and resultant quality is all some folks are looking for. Say you have "gobs" of film reels you would like transferred and you are not made of gold ! Not everything to everyone need be the highest quality. There are acceptable tradeoffs. After reading this, you will be equipped to know exactly what they are.
I've been procrastinating about starting the movie film pages for years and kept on putting it off, since it promises to be a monumental task. But the time has finally come.
With so much to write, I'm not even sure where to begin.. After all; I'm an engineer by trade and not a professional writer or web site designer. So far, only 5 incomplete pages written.. but have to start somewhere, so here we go !
Last Modified: Nov 27, 2011
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