How to Restore 8mm Film

Written by tim hesse
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How to Restore 8mm Film
8mm film reel (film 8 image by Aleksandar Radovanovic from Fotolia.com)

Restoring 8mm film requires a combination of analogue and digital methods. Many telecine houses offer custom 8mm transfer and restoration services, but with your old projector and some free and open-source video editing software, you can restore and reformat 8mm film yourself. To restore your own 8mm film, you must clean it by hand, project it onto a screen and record that projection with a digital video camera. Import the resulting video onto your computer and use free software to reduce grain and remove scratches.

Skill level:
Easy

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Things you need

  • Lint-free cloth
  • Cotton swabs
  • Film cleaner
  • Take-up reel
  • 8mm or dual 8 splicer
  • 8mm splicing tape
  • 8mm or dual 8 projector
  • Screen (or clean white wall)
  • Digital video camera
  • Tripod
  • Computer with Internet access

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Attach the head leader to the take-up reel on the projector and wind the film onto it gradually, inspecting as you go.

  2. 2

    Wipe any dirt, dust or fingerprints from the film using the lint-free cloth and film cleaner. Use a cotton swab dipped in film cleaner to spot-clean specific frames.

  3. 3

    Peel off splicing tape that looks weak or damaged. Swab the film frames that were beneath the tape to remove any glue residue, then retape the splice on both sides with your splicer. Reinforce any broken sprocket holes with splicing tape.

  4. 4

    Place your reels on the projector, and thread the head leader to prepare for playback.

  5. 5

    Mount the videocamera on the tripod, and focus the lens on the screen. If you don't have a screen, use a clean white wall. If your wall is coloured or textured (e.g. stucco), you can tape a sheet of watermark-free white paper to it, preferably with a whiteness rating of 92 or above.

  6. 6

    Start the projector and record the film with your digital video camera.

  7. 7

    Connect your video camera to your computer via firewire or USB cable and import the footage.

  8. 8

    Download the latest version of VirtualDub (link in resources) and extract the .zip archive. Because VirtualDub is a standalone application, no further installation is necessary.

  9. 9

    Download the MSU Old Film Restoration filter (link in resources) and extract it to the "plugins" directory within VirtualDub.

  10. 10

    Launch VirtualDub, import your footage and run the Old Film Restoration Filter to reduce film grain and remove dust and scratches.

  11. 11

    Export your completed, filtered video to any of a variety of common file formats.

Tips and warnings

  • Part of the charm and the beauty of small-format movies is their low fidelity. You may love the look of your film without any touch-up. Rather than a full restoration, a simple transfer may meet your needs.
  • Depending on what materials you already have, it may cost less to send your film to a transfer house than to clean, transfer, and touch it up yourself.
  • Download and install Wine if you are a Mac or Linux user.
  • All 8mm film is reversal film: there is no negative to act as a backup if your print gets damaged during projection. Most 8mm equipment is old and often refurbished or in poor condition. If you are inexperienced, it may take you multiple projections to successfully transfer your film, and you risk damaging it every time. If you can afford to send the film out to a transfer house, you can always import the transfer into VirtualDub or other image manipulation software to experiment with digital touch-up without risking damage to the original film.
  • Kodak no longer makes splicing tape for regular 8mm film, but there may be resellers on the web that have "new" old stock. If your film has damaged splices and you can't find a place to purchase tape, you may want to send you film to a transfer house and have a professional do it for you.

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