Converting 8mm and 16mm movies
August 21, 2016 at 10:37 am #134893
We were given ten 6″ reels of 16mm (or 8mm) movies of two local dams and electrical generating plants that were under construction in the 1930’s. I have not taken the films out of the canisters nor do I know when the last time the films were viewed. Consequently, I do not know the condition the films.
I want to copy the films to DVD’s and then saved on our computers. Does someone know of a reputable person or company to do the copying?
David Cranston, Curator
Hadley-Lake Luzerne Historical Society
52 Main St – PO Box 275
Lake Luzerne, NY 12846
August 21, 2016 at 12:38 pm #134894Mary Ann GabrielParticipant
Your historic dam construction films sound like a great cultural asset for your community. It’s an excellent plan reformat and digitally archive your historic films, and any film showing signs of deterioration should be digitized as soon as possible. However, a typical commercial digitization service is not equipped to handle deteriorating film material, and you would need to consult a conservator regarding digitization. Hopefully other C2CC members will provide information on reformatting specialists for you.
That said, you can take immediate steps to do a condition assessment on the films and determine whether your films are stable. The dates of your films’ subjects suggest that you may have either cellulose nitrate film, which is highly flammable, or cellulose acetate film, both of which are subject to degradation over time.
The following information is excerpted from A Short Guide to Film Base Photographic Materials: Identification, Care, and Duplication, Northeast Document Conservation Center Pamphlet 5.1. https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/5.-photographs/5.1-a-short-guide-to-film-base-photographic-materials-identification,-care,-and-duplicationA Short Guide to Film Base Photographic Materials: Identification, Care, and Duplication
There are three broad types of film-based photographic materials: cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetates, and polyester. These materials have been used as a support for negatives, positive transparencies, motion pictures, microfilm, and other photographic products. Unfortunately, cellulose nitrate and cellulose acetates are unstable. The products of their degradation can severely harm and even destroy photographic collections, in addition to posing serious safety hazards.
As a photographic support, nitrate film had some serious disadvantages. The film was, and is, highly flammable, and it releases hazardous gases as it deteriorates. Large quantities of nitrate film have caused several disastrous fires. Due to the inherent instability of cellulose nitrate, much of our photographic legacy from this period is disappearing.
A photographic collection that contains any flexible, transparent film negatives from the time period of 1890-1950 is very likely to contain at least some nitrate film. Since these negatives need special attention, they should immediately be separated from other negatives. Deteriorated nitrate negatives are easy to identify, but nitrate negatives in good condition are almost visually indistinguishable from other types of transparent films.
Beginning in the mid-1920s, highly flammable nitrate film was slowly replaced with cellulose acetate film base (cellulose diacetate, cellulose acetate propiarate, cellulose acetate butyrate and cellulose triacetate). It became known as “Safety” film. Despite this name, cellulose acetates do have stability problems. Like cellulose nitrate, the deterioration of cellulose acetate is autocatalytic: once deterioration has begun, the degradation products induce further deterioration. It affects the plastic support of acetate film, causing it to become acidic, to shrink, and to give off of acetic acid producing a vinegary odor.
The above document provides additional excellent information on identification of your film material, safe storage, and reformatting.
Mary Ann Gabriel
August 22, 2016 at 9:41 am #134898Maggie WesslingParticipant
Mary Ann gave you some very helpful resources, and I am inquiring with colleagues about recommended reformatting businesses. I did a quick Google search and was overwhelmed by the number and variety of offerings! You may consider calling up NEDCC directly and inquiring whether they recommend anyone in particular: 978-470-1010. NEDCC’s Preservation Services department should be able to help.
August 26, 2016 at 2:32 pm #134937Kim R. Du BoiseParticipant
We have an electronic media conservator on staff and he needs to have a bit more info to help you figure out the base of these films. If you have access to any A-D strips, these will tell you what condition these are in if they are acetate base. What follows is a quick “smell test”, but don’t get close to the film! Simply open the cans to see what odor is present, if any.
Acetate base will start to smell like vinegar at about stage 2 of the deterioration, the base will lose the acetic acid and it will leech out, causing shrinkage and channelling of the emulsion.
Nitrate base has a different smell during deterioration. From the age of the films, he said it is very possibly nitrate film and it could be at a dangerous stage. If you have not opened these cans, then he suggests that they be opened outdoors, in a safe area, using safety goggles, gloves, and other precautions. If it is nitrate and has begun to deteriorate, it could have used up the oxygen and become combustible, so be very careful. The link to NEDCC also has photos of the various levels of deterioration, so you can use that to determine what type it is.
If you open the cans and the film is in decent shape, the edge codes & markings will tell you whether the film is nitrate or “safety” film, which is the acetate-based film. If you need more information, let us all know.
Hope this helps!
September 11, 2016 at 2:45 pm #134996
Thank you for all your help. Due to a family emergency I’ve been away from the Internet.
Being a former volunteer Firefighter I was aware that nitrate fires are extremely hard to put out. It did not dawn on me how unstable nitrate film can be though. Sometime this coming week I’ll be opening the film canisters outside on our lawn. Matter of fact the Fire Department will be present, but they’ll be there primarily do some community service for us (Retrieving an 1890’s pump organ for us and moving it into our Museum).
I’ll report back as to what I see or smell. Hopefully the film doesn’t go “poof” or “boom”.
October 19, 2016 at 8:20 pm #135075
I was expecting the Fire Company to do a bit of community service for us (moving an organ), but that did not materialize so opening the film canisters was delayed.
Last week I opened each film canister outside. 7″ canisters. All had a faint chemical odor, but not a vinegary odor. All films were in decent shape. I easily unwound each film about 2-3 feet. No curling. Not brittle. No snags. Of the 8 films, six of them said “Kodak Safety Film” on the edge. Two films did not have any markings on the edges. I did not make a note of the notches, but I believe they were square (Someone at work told me to notice if any of them had a “V” notch).
Naturally, I’d like to get these films onto digital media.
October 20, 2016 at 1:48 pm #135079Maura WarneckeParticipant
We’ve been using Digital Revolution for years to digitize our video collection. While they don’t transfer nitrate, they work with a lot of vendors and can help you find someone and/or help with the process. They are based in San Francisco though so you may be able to find someone more local. I highly recommend them!
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