How to Inexpensively Transfer 8mm Films to DVD

Taking your old 8mm film to have it professionally digitized on DVD can be an expensive proposition. If you have a projector and a digital video camera, you can digitize the films yourself. The most important thing is to use a tripod for the camera and to place the projector on a sturdy surface such as a heavy desk or table. Projectors vibrate a lot, which can degrade the quality of the video. If your house has wooden floors, recording the film in a basement or garage with a concrete floor will give you better results.

8mm film projector
To reduce flicker in the video, adjust the projector's frame speed.
credit: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Preparation

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Clean the projector if you haven't used it in a while. Clean the lens with a lint-free cloth moistened with a lens cleaner.

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Gather the films and ensure they are in chronological order.

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Put the projector in a darkened room. Cover the windows to let in as little light as possible. Place a white poster board on the wall. Poster board has a smoother surface than a plain white wall, which has irregularities that can be noticeable when recording the film.

Adjusting the Equipment

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Turn on the projector without any film. Adjust its position so that the image on the poster board is no larger than two feet wide.

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Put the digital video camera beside the projector lens facing the poster board. Adjust the projector and camera until the image on the poster board fits squarely on the camera's LCD display.

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Set the white balance on the camera manually while it is focused on the plain white image projected from the projector. If you can't adjust the white balance manually, set the white balance to the "Indoors" setting.

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Set the camera's shutter speed to "1/60" second. Set the exposure setting to "Automatic."

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Set the camera focus to "Manual." Tear a page from a magazine or newspaper and temporarily tape it to the poster board. Adjust the focus until the page is crisp. This prevents the camera from trying to refocus on blurry images on the film.

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Set the projector's frame speed to 20 frames per second if possible. If the projector has a graduated shutter speed control, showing slow to fast without specified speeds, you will need to adjust it manually during a test run.

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Thread the first roll of film into the projector. Play the film, and adjust the projector focus until it is as sharp as possible. Manually adjust the projector shutter speed if needed so that there is as little flicker on the camera image as possible.

Recording the Film

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Double-check for dust on the projector lens as well as the position of the image on the camera's LCD lens every time you adjust the projector. Vibrations from playing the film and adjusting the projector controls can move the projector so that the image is no longer squarely on the LCD screen. Always adjust the projector as needed. If you move the video camera, you will have to manually reset its focus again.

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Set up the first film again. This time, press the "Record" button as soon as the film begins. Press the "Pause" button as soon as the film is finished. Press the "Stop" button only if you want to create a new video file for each film.

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Set up the second film. Check the image on the LCD screen, and check the lens for dust. Record the film and repeat the process until all of your films are captured on the camera.

Transferring to DVD

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Connect the digital video camera to your computer, and import the video using the software that came with your video camera. To edit and save the video as a DVD playable on any TV, you will need to install a third-party software like Windows Movie Maker, Pinnacle Studio or Sony DVD Architect Studio (links can be found in the "Resources" section).

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Launch Windows Media Player to burn the video as a data DVD. Some DVD players can play video from a data DVD, but not all. Insert a blank DVD into your computer's disc drive.

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Click the "Clear List" button in the Windows Media Player to remove any files used to burn a disc in a previous session. Locate the video files you recorded from the 8mm film in the "Player Library." Drag the files from the "Details" pane into the "List" pane. The DVD can store up to 4.7 GB of data.

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Click "Start Burn." The video files are transferred to the DVD. The times can vary widely, but a full DVD generally takes less than an hour to burn, provided you are not using other programs on the computer. A slow computer may take up to two hours to burn a full DVD.