Restore old memories

Film and Video Blog Oct 03, 2018 No Comments

Anyone who lived in the pre-digital age probably has a dark family secret — a hoard of old movies on 8mm or 16mm film, or more recently, videotape. This stash may also include hundreds of 35mm colour slides. For many, the collection contains not only visual media, but sound recordings on 1/4-inch reel to reel tape or audiocassettes. Sound familiar? These are absolute family treasures, holding magical memories of happy times, and images and sounds of loved ones who have passed on. Usually these priceless treasures have been stashed away for decades in cardboard boxes at the back of the wardrobe. You’d love to see them again, and show them to the children and grandchildren, right?

Here’s the problem: Almost nobody has the equipment to access this family history any more. Even if you’ve kept the machines, they probably don’t work. The rubber belts driving the film or tape transports have perished, other parts have worn out and they are useless. Even videotape, recorded as recently as a decade ago, is already unavailable to most people. Even DVD, which followed shortly after tape, is fast becoming obsolete, if it isn’t already! And so, sadly, the memories are all there but locked away as if in a burglarproof vault with the key lost.

Here’s the good news. The key is available. You can have all the above media, and more, transferred to modern digital formats. But for best results, you have to entrust your treasures to someone who knows what they’re doing. Take a look at our page to see some samples of old media carefully converted to digital files, playable on all modern devices, from smartphones to computer displays to large screen projection.

The right equipment and technical knowledge is important, but there’s more to it. Knowing the original media and how to show it to its best advantage counts for a lot too. Most amateur colour movie film and slides from any time between the 1940s and 1970s would have been shot on a wonderful film stock called Kodachrome. It had extremely fine grain and beautiful saturated colour. But its most amazing quality was its keeping power. With classic Hollywood movies fading away year by year and having to be restored (if possible), amateur Kodachrome movies and slides are still looking pristine half a century later, even after being stored in less than ideal conditions. It can be astonishing to watch the scenes unfold, just as they looked all those decades ago.

But Kodachrome had one big limitation — it was never meant for copying. The original movie or slide straight from the camera was intended for screening after processing. It had very high contrast, and if you tried to copy it, any detail in the shadows would disappear into inky blackness. This has to be taken into account if you copy Kodachrome today to a digital format. This slide illustrates both points. The cars give away the age of the picture, and you can see the beautifully preserved colours. Our copy takes into account the deep shadows cast by the building and trees on the left, and there is good detail in both the sunlit and shady areas.

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