Greetings. I would like to start the year by sharing the experience, and hopefully getting feedback on results of a simple DIY approach to digitize 8mm and Super 8mm.
The project started with a family legacy of about 120 8/S8 reels. Initially looked at outsourcing the transfer, but quickly got sticker shocked and frankly disappointed that the consumer level options were not even HD.
My background is technical, and while I have lots of experience with photo negatives, this was the first time I took on the challenge of film. Goal: extract the most quality, within my budget.
DIY is about using what you have, with what you know. So I started with a DSLR (Nikon D3200), and initially addressed getting an image of good quality. Using a photo enlarger lens backward mounted on a macro bellow produced excellent results.
I shy away from a fast transport, given the issues to synchronize the video and the shutter of the film on a real time transfer would by definition create a quality problem, given the dissimilar frame rates of 8, Super 8, and accepted file formats. That lead me to take the frame by frame approach. Deconstruct the film into a file sequence, and having the opportunity to do digital improvement with a high quality source.
The family projector that came with the films had an interesting gate, driven by an axis that could easily be driven by a step motor. I am pretty comfortable programming with Arduino, so getting the stepper to work was relatively simple. The gate also has a handy micro-switch that flags when film is not present, so that was incorporated into the Arduino so the transfer could run unattended.
Given the goal of best quality, I decided to try using the full resolution of the camera (24 MP) and RAW file sequence for best range. Also it was almost a necessity because when using the below, the Nikon D3200 only works in Manual speed, so there was no way to adjust it automatically at the capture, adjustments had to be done at the file sequence.
DigicamControl was a saver, and even with the slow speed transfer (camera connects via USB2.0), was able to get a decent 20-24 frames per minute, which translated into digitizing a 50 ft. reel in 3 hours. Again, if the trade was speed or quality, I went for quality. DigicamControl(DCC) has a handy arduino plugin, which basically allows to send serial commands and report file saving completion to the arduino. With that, the process is started by DigicamControl sending a start command, arduino sends a capture command to DCC and waits to get a file transfer completion from DCC. After receiving the file transfer confirmation, arduino advances the stepper one turn, and sends a new capture command. Repeat until there is no film on the gate, and voila, a file sequence is born.
Lastly, I harvested the takeup and pickup portions of the projectors and drove the take-up reel with a continuous servo that slips and keeps the film from nest. Disclaimer, the initial version without take-up had a box to accumulate the film.
This is a video of the scanner, using a slow laptop Machine.
This post is long enough, so a quick rundown of the workflow.
RAW 24 MP .NEF captured with DigicamControl. Davinci Resolve (free version 15) can open a NEF sequence (12bit) directly. First step, crop, adjust levels, and correction of frame shifting (manually). Export TIFF (8bit) sequence. Used VirtualDub2 and NeatVideo for noise/dust filtering, output to a JPEG sequence (8bit). All the above process is used without adjusting frame rate, basically, the original film frame rate is preserved through the sequences, which is critical in avoiding additional artifacts on the digital processing. Lastly, the JPEG (8bit) sequence is open in Davinci again, this time selecting the correct frame rate. Use Davinci for final encoding of MP4 file.
The above workflow translates into these files/frame sizes.
NEF/12bit 24MP - 6000x4000
TIFF/8 - 3120 x 2160
JPEG/8 - 3120 x 2160
MP4@100Mbit - 3840 x 2160 (16:9 with black side bars) 24 frames/s
What I like about this approach is that the quality is limited by the camera, and the optics. Essentially the workflow would support multiple resolutions/bit depth depending on the available camera, available time, storage… and patience. And the same is suitable to larger film, given that the results in 8/Super 8, anything larger would no doubt be better.
The following video makes a comparison from the source RAW uncorrected film to the final output, the second half of the video enlarges 2x for presenting details. It is subject to Youtube lower bit-rate, and compression artifacts, but nevertheless is a good way to show it.
Select 4K resolution on the Youtube gear for best quality.
Interested on feedback on the results. Understand that Kinograph approach is to do realtime transport, but I believe that on a budget, one can achieve greater the quality results on the frame-by-frame approach. Happy to provide additional details if anyone is interested.