Frequently Asked Questions about preserving Video & film

Is there anything I should do to help preserve my old home movies?

The first step you can take in extending the life of your original recordings, is to reduce the wear and tear on your film and videotapes by transferring your movies to DVD and play only the DVD.

Use a cleaner that is specially formulated to remove dust and mildew and which will also lubricate your film to help prevent it from cracking when it is played. It also helps to preserve film during storage, extending its shelf life.

The environment you store your originals in is very important. Film and videotape should be stored in a clean, dust free area with a fairly constant temperature between 59 to 77 degrees F. Humidity should be kept at 40 to 60% to inhibit mold growth. Seal tapes and film reels in plastic bags to protect them from dust, smoke, and moisture. Store tapes vertically.

Videotape should be taken out at least once every three years and played from the start to the end of the reel, and then rewound all the way to the beginning. This prevents the tape from sticking to itself and keeps the reel tension at the correct tightness.

Videotape is a magnetic medium and should be kept away from electrical devices that produce and electromagnetic field such as television sets, computers, and stereo speakers.

How much movie will be stored on a DVD?

A DVD will normally hold up to 2 hours of your home movies. To have the best possible quality, store only 60 minutes on a DVD.

I’ve heard videotape and DVD are not permanent. Is this true?

It is true that no magnetic media is permanent. As a digital media ages, the binder that holds the magnetic substance to the surface of the tape or disk begins to degrade and flakes off in tiny flakes resulting in a loss of stored data.

To get the most of your media, invest in high quality disks. The more expensive disks and tapes are usually worth the cost because they seem to have longer lives that cheaper media.

Store disks out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources including desk lamps and the vents on the backs of computers.

But the most common source of damage to your movies stored on DVD or CD comes from fingerprints and smudges.

Can I transfer home movies and VHS to DVD myself?

Yes you can, although with old film especially a professional transfer service will provide better quality.

How do I transfer my old 8mm films to DVD?

The three ways of transferring film to videotape are:

  • Project the film as usual and videotape the screen as the film runs.
  • Pay a film/video duplication company that either has an integrated film projector/video recorder machine or which will videotape from a screen as in the first example.
  • Purchase or rent a film scanner and piece each scanned frame image into a digital movie, which you can then send to a VHS or other videotape recorder. This can be a laborious process. If there is sound on the film, this will complicate things immensely.

While these methods are available, film tends to be more stable and have greater longevity than VHS or other magnetic tapes. If you are going to copy film to VHS, do not throw out the original film because it may actually last longer than the copy. Film can also be repaired using specialized cements and filler materials. However, this is a job for a professional film conservator or other film professional.

Remember also that film-to-film copies can be made from films through a process that places blank film stock in direct contact with the original in a liquid medium and directs light through the original frame-by-frame to expose the stock.

How do I deal with tapes that have gotten moldy?

Cleaning moldy videotapes and reel-to-reel tapes is not a do-it-yourself project. It should be done by a professional conservator.

Should I transfer my movies to DVD?

Over time, the magnetic particles (iron oxide) on videotape that make up the picture and sound begin to lose their bond to the plastic tape. Without knowing it, you can permanently destroy a video tape by simply playing it a single time. These particles can also become detached from the plastic tape over time even without playback.

In addition, film degrades biologically and becomes very brittle to the point that it will not feed through a projector. You can also permanently damage (or burn) your film during simple playback. Many customers no longer have a working projector and it is tedious to setup film for playback with family members and friends. Transferring your film to DVD allows you quick access to priceless family memories that you can watch over and over with easy operation and navigation.