We’ve been getting more cine to DVD enquiries lately – as well as tons of VHS and videotape to DVD conversions. There still seems to be reels and reels of cine film out there just waiting to be loved again so I thought I’d better update my conversion process to match the interest.
I’ve always tried to retain as much of the original film quality as possible during the transfer process. I don’t claim to do a piles and piles of cine to DVD each year but the stuff I do carry out is done with tender loving care. The final result makes the whole family archive viewing process much more enjoyable… just pop the DVD in your player and you’re off. No more family arguments as everyone struggles to set up a screen, projector and then feed in sprocket-chewed cine film. More often than not these days the client simply doesn’t have a working projector so those precious memories never see the light of day.
I don’t have the throughput to justify the highly automated frame-scanner converters but believe I still turn out a pretty reasonable job using the much-used projector and video camera system. Basically, the film image is projected through a mirror set at 45-degrees and then on to rear side of an opaque screen – which is then filmed from its front side with a video camera.
I use a Canon DSLR as my capture camera which gives me a full HD video which is then edited, tweaked, cropped, compiled and then output to a standard definition DVD. Capturing at full HD does give me the option of supplying it to the client in Blu-Ray format too – but the vast majority end up on DVD.
The results from this method can vary quite considerably depending on how the system is set up and the quality of the mirror/screen combination. There are also some modifications to the standard projector that can be made to squeeze a little bit more out of the film stock.
Cine to DVD Projector Modifications
The vast majority of cine films that I convert are either Standard 8mm or Super 8mm (I can convert any gauge though). The sprocket and frame size differ on these formats but a dual-gate projector can play both back happily. Switching the projector between formats engages the correct sprocket gearing and alters the gate size within the projector so that the projected image has a nice and clean frame edge. This is great for projection but the process also masks off part of the exposed image on the film.
Filing out these gate frames enables me to capture more of the original film content. I can then crop the video files and re-frame the image in post production to ensure every little corner of the film is on screen.
Another modification to the projector that helps is to alter the quality of light coming out of the projector lamp. These lamps tend to produce a very focussed source of light which is great for projection but not so good for cine to DVD conversions. Diffusing this light source helps smooth out any hot spots and helps create a more evenly exposed image.
The really rudimentary method of cine to DVD conversion is to simply project your film image on a wall or screen and then film that with your video camera. This has one major disadvantage as your projector will have to have a slightly different angle of approach to the wall/screen than your video camera (they can’t both be in exactly the same position). The image will therefore never be truly square and your focus will vary slightly from one side of the image to the other. You’ll also have to do this in darkness as your room lights will need to be turned off in order to get a clear image on the wall/screen. It works, but it’s not brilliant.
You can of course buy a purpose made cine to DVD conversion screen – and they will help you to get a better conversion than the method above. However, the cheap conversion screens have a fundamental flaw in that the mirrors are generally standard back-coated. Light passing through the mirror will split when it hits the front surface of this glass – part of which passes through the mirror and back out to the rear side of the opaque screen and part reflected directly off the mirror front surface. This causes a slight double-image to be projected on to the opaque screen and a conversion that isn’t as sharp as it could be.
Good quality cine to DVD conversion screens overcome this problem by using front surface mirrors. All of the light from the projector therefore bounces through the light path as one image – giving a much sharper conversion.
Cine to DVD Black Box
Excluding light from the projected image is important too to help you capture the widest possible contrast. Some of the basic converters have no light exclusion at all, whilst others acknowledge the problem but only provide minimal hooding over the front surface of the opaque screen. A simple rule – the more light excluded from the front surface the better.
To get the very best quality conversions I’ve built my own cine to DVD black box unit as there didn’t seem to be an off the shelf solution that solved all the problems. This includes a porthole suitable for most projectors, made to measure front surface mirror and opaque rear projection screen – all housed in a light exclusion matt black box with enough hooding to enable me to operate it in a fully lit room.
The front surface mirror was specially made for me by Vacuum Coatings Ltd of Walthamstow who specialise in all kinds optical coatings and scientific mirrors (they provide the glass for Autocue too apparently). They also hand-frosted the front projection screen for me too. The box construction is MDF.
So now the system and process is all tested, tweaked and ready for the next cine to DVD job to come in. I’m not the cheapest guy around for this service but I like to think I do a good job. You can get it done a lot cheaper in fact, but I think those guys know their worth better than me so I won’t comment. ; )
For details on our cine to DVD pricing please click here. If you are not sure how much film you’ve got please give us a call for a quote.