You stumble on some old 16mm films, and you are curious about what treasures they hide. So you decide to watch, but then you realize you don’t have a film projector. Because of that, we set out to find solutions that may help you save footage from these old films by transferring them to digital format.
We discovered a few possible solutions that may work for you, so if you’re interested, continue reading to see which solution works best for you.
Check the Condition of the Film
Films and videotapes contain acetate, and with exposure to moisture and heat, film chemical bonds start to break down, which releases a sour smell similar to vinegar, also known as vinegar syndrome. If you notice this smell with your films (videotapes), send them ASAP to the professional service to be converted before they’re gone forever.
The film requires work with skilled technicians and high equipment in this state. If you ignore the film’s condition, it will shrink and become brittle after some time, which won’t be playable on the projector anymore. This will lead to the permanent loss of the footage.
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Buying or Renting Old 16mm Projector
If you decide to go with the old 16mm projector, you first need to get one because they are not as common as VHS camcorders and VCR players. However, because it’s difficult to find a 16mm projector doesn’t mean it’s not impossible.
There are two reasonable ways in which you can get a 16mm projector, which are renting or buying one.
Rent a 16mm Projector
You probably did not think that you could rent an old projector. However, some movie theaters still use 16mm movie projectors for educational purposes and for viewing old films before they are converted to digital format. Besides that, they also offer projectors for rent, which is a great solution if you can find an offer like this where you live. You get a preserved and fully functional projector without the risk of your film being damaged or, in the worst case, destroyed. So, that’s why it’s worth taking some time and researching if there is a projector nearby for rent.
Another place where you can probably rent a 16mm project is in the local library or online from some companies. Projector rental prices from these companies can range from $45 to $100 per day.
Buy a Used 16mm Projector
There are still places where you can find and buy old 16mm projectors, especially online. The most accessible place where you can check for one is on eBay, where depending on the state and functionality of the projector, the price can range from $99 up to $2500. Also, most of these projectors are from top manufacturers of that time.
There are several factors to consider to ensure that you purchase the right projector for your film:
- Perforations – Film perforations, also known as sprocket holes, are a simple way to know your film type. If your film has perforations on one side, it’s a single-perf film; if it has both sides, it’s double-perf.
- Film type – Your Film might be standard, super, or ultra. Each type has its own image size or aspect ratio.
- Sound – Home movies have mostly been shot without sound, but how can you tell if your film has one? If a 16mm Film has perforations or sprocket holes on both sides, that film is silent. If a film has perforations only on one side and on another copper or rust-colored strip which runs on the edge of the film, that is an indicator that the film has sound.
DIY 16mm Film Conversion to Digital Format
If you have a working projector and want to transfer 16mm film to digital format yourself, follow these steps for the best possible transfer:
- Check your projector and see what type of light bulb it’s using. Then, if possible, replace it with a new one. If you are replacing the bulb, ensure you don’t touch it with your bare fingers because it can leave greasy stains, which may lead to the light bulb burning out.
- Inside the projector, clean the gates and sprockets from dust.
- Use the photographer’s negative brush for safe film cleaning and dust removal.
- Manually clean the short reels by unwinding the film from the original reel, then use a microfiber cloth (for cleaning glasses) to clean the film when winding the film onto an empty reel.
- While cleaning, check for broken or bad splices which need to be replaced or removed.
- It would be best if you placed the projector close to a projection screen. Use a projector screen for the best experience; use a white foam core board if you don’t have it. Even a bed sheet can do the job, but make sure it doesn’t have wrinkles.
Note: Use this procedure only if the projector is yours.
Converting Projected Footage to Digital Format Via Camcorder
Place your camcorder on a projector or camera stand so that you can record footage at the right angle. If the footage is not on the camcorder screen, correct the position of the camcorder stand or the viewing options on the camcorder itself.
During this type of conversion to digital, you will get flickering footage. But it can be almost eliminated if your projector has speed control which you can then match with a camcorder shutter speed.
If you followed all the steps above, you should end up with recorded digital footage on your camcorder. From this point, your film is stored in digital form, which can now be transferred to a computer and then shared online with others.
Having a Professional Service Convert 16mm Film
The easiest and most secure way of converting 16mm film to digital format is sending the film to a professional service. Unfortunately, when someone says professional service, people immediately think it’s expensive, which in this case is not true.
Let’s get one thing straight. All solutions mentioned above don’t come for free; some are even more expensive than a professional service. How?
Besides purchasing or renting a projector, you also need to invest into:
- Projector screen
- Good quality camera for recording
- New projector light bulb (if needed)
- Adequate accessories for cleaning the film and the projector itself
- Your time
Going with the professional service you are getting:
- Physical film inspection, cleaning, and repairs if needed (without losing footage) from skilled technicians
- Film scene edits
- They use high-quality equipment which gives you clear film footage
- Film speed adjustments
Note: You may get more or fewer features depending on the service.
iMemories service is one of our top recommended choices for a professional, reliable, and affordable solution for converting films to digital format.
When it comes to digital format, they offer plenty of options to choose from, such as:
- Digital file download for free
- iMemories cloud with their smartphone app
- Customized DVD
- USB thumb drive
- 1TB portable external hard drive
The company offers a straightforward process from start to finish with satisfactory results. They have over 15 years of experience and excellent customer reviews.
How it Works
As we said earlier, the process of this company is simple and doesn’t involve much work on your part.
Step 1: Gather all the media you plan to convert. People usually store their memories all around the house, so double-check if you forget any.
Step 2: Visit the official website and make a simple order. You don’t have to count your media or place an order for each piece you plan to send. While making an order, you can send media using your own box (you will receive shipping instructions), or you can select iMemories SafeShip Kit, which we highly suggest because of better security and tracking of your media. The kit also contains all protection bags for packaging and a prepaid shipping label, which you label outside the box.
Step 3: Gather your media, pack it inside the box and drop it off at the nearest FedEx pickup location.
Note: Don’t send adapters or personal stuff such as envelopes, letters, and notes with your media.
Step 4: When your media arrives at the service facility, they will notify you. After that, they will inspect everything, and you will receive a free, no-obligation quote.
Step 5: When approved, the process starts, and your media are converted to digital format. During the process, your media also receive free enhancements to look even better, and for broken videotapes and films, they will professionally repair them or “splice” without losing footage.
Step 6: They convert to the digital copy you previously selected when ordering.
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The amount and type of your media determine the turnaround time. Usually, it’s shipped within 2-3 weeks, and you will receive a confirmation when they send it. Also, all original media are sent back to you after completing the process.
With iMemories, you can expect professional service and a good price. Also, if you compare it with other services, you will see that prices are much lower when you add up the conversion cost and digital copy. For a full overview of prices, see the table.
The Best Solution For Converting 16mm Film to Digital
Converting 16mm film to digital can seem daunting, but with the right professional service or a DIY approach, it can be an affordable way to preserve your memories.
For the best possible result and safety of your film, convert your 16mm film with a professional service. However, if you have experience with technical devices and don’t mind doing some of the work yourself, DIY methods like using a camcorder can be a viable option. Make sure to check the condition of your film before you begin any conversion process, and have fun reliving those memories by watching them on your computer or TV.