I’m sorry to have missed the March 4th zoom meetup featuring the other Angie Schmidt on film and video preservation.  I have donated reels of my father’s 16 mm films that were shot in Fairbanks, Valdez and Cordova  from 1960 to 1970.  I also donated some 16  mm I shot later from 1976 to 1986 of Prudhoe Bay and Fairbanks as part of UAF Journalism & Broadcasting classes.  Later in the 1990’s I have donated some 1/2″ and Hi-8 VHS tapes and DVD’s of astronomy projects from the Fairbanks Astronomical Unit  amateur group of astrogeeks.

One thing I’ve learned from editing, projecting and storing all these different forms of analog and digital media is that each one has its own particular aging parameters for long term storage.  Most modern color film from the 1950’s to the 1970’s suffers from color shifts from successive projection use.  Heat and light from the tungsten projector bulb causes degradation of the color dyes used on the film. You may have seen this on older films that look magenta after years of being projected.  Also the acetate substrate that the emulsion is affixed to gets brittle from the heat and light along with the multiple passes that elongate the sprocket holes that drive the film.  Other wear is created when the supply reel feeds onto the take up spool at various speeds as the supply side gets smaller the take-up enlarges while the film wraps up causing changes to the tension. Another factor is when the film is rewound faster onto the supply reel it can cause it to cinch up tighter making scratches on the emulsion you see as streaks.

Most standard 16 mm film can be shot at 8, 16, 24 or 32 frame per second (fps).  The typical projection speed for silent film is 16 fps while sound is 24 fps.  https://www.filmindependent.org/blog/hacking-film-24-frames-per-second/

So when projected at these two standard speeds, film shot a higher fps looks like slomo while lower fps footage looks faster. 16 mm has double sprocket holes on the sides while standard 8 mm is simply 16 mm sliced in half only having sprocket holes on one side. Super 8 later had smaller sprocket holes on one side to allow larger images on the same film width.  A very cute trick you can see in some film that Angie has was footage that makes the motion look backwards. One classic B&W 8 mm film that she has is of a diver at Harding Lake showing him going into the water normally and subsequent footage leaping out of the water back onto the diving platform.   This technique my father also used in some of his films.  To do this you shoot with the camera upside down and then splice it backwards so when projected the action is reversed but as a mirror image of the original motion.  This reverses the emulsion side so that the wear and tear is on the outside running through the projector not the acetate substrate.  It is also a give away if you have any signs or text in the original since it is reversed.  You can’t use this shooting technique on video tape.

8mm film and Super 8 film look surprisingly similar at first glance, which can make it difficult to figure out which is which, especially if you have both types of film. Fortunately, when you get it up close and look at 8mm vs Super 8 film, it’s easy to spot a couple key differences which will make telling them apart much easier in the future. 16mm film should be instantly recognizable, as it’s twice the width of 8mm and super 8 film.

As you can see from the above image, Super8 film has much smaller sprocket holes, and they are aligned to the middle of the frame, versus in between the frames on the standard 8mm. You’ll also notice that the size of the frame is 50% larger on the Super 8 film. Super 8 was an upgrade to the standard 8mm film which offered a sharper picture. This sharper picture can be attributed to the much larger frame size. Lots of times, people will have the first of their films shot in regular 8mm, and then over time switching over to the superior Super 8 format.

If your film is stored in film cans with leader tape, you can easily spot which film you have by examining the leader tape. Like in the actual film itself, the sprocket holes are much smaller. The leader tape does not contain actual frames, so the sprocket holes would be the only clue as to what type of film it is.

Another feature of modern film compared to the older black and white is that new cameras after WW I had to deal with the flicker caused by the rotating shutter that flashed past the film.  When it is projected each frame has to be paused twice behind the lens to fool your eye into not seeing the flickering.  That is why there are slack loops placed on the feed into and out of the projector lens to reduce the tension by the high speed slap of what’s caused by the frame being held twice less than a second in back of the lens while in front of the bulb. This is even more difficult with larger movie film formats using 35 mm and 70 mm camera and projector combinations.

Video tape also came in standard formats of Hi-8 (1/4″) and 1/2 inch formats along with the the short lived Beta and Beta Max, while professional studios shot in 3/4″ widths and even 1″. I don’t know if Angela Schmidt mentioned this but a friend who worked for the BLM as their videographer always insisted that tapes be stored not in a vertical position like books on a shelf but lying flat on the horizontal because long term stress of gravity makes the tape compress slightly on the side facing down rather than evenly distributing the weight lying flat.  Mylar tape stretches when it is caught in the rubber pinch wheel as it travels across the magnetic head if the wheel gets accumulations of iron oxide as well as losing some of the magnetic medium to friction with multiple playbacks across the pickup. erasing and recording heads.  Also the iron oxide that holds the video signal degrades with heat and loses it’s coercivity as any magnetic fields decay over time.  DVDs that are of archival quality (usually more expensive gold coated) and not rewritable are supposed to last 100 years but no archivist has testified to the truth of that longevity so far.

3 Thoughts to “Module 8 zoom meetup”

  1. Angela Linn

    I’m so glad I care for objects rather than audio visual materials! I’m intrigued by your comment about your BLM colleague who stored their tapes in a horizontal position – looks like the Library of Congress recommends storage in a vertical position, and on the long edge for cassettes (https://www.loc.gov/preservation/care/record.html). I was also surprised to see that they don’t recommend storing in the rewound position – I suppose it puts more stress on the media to have it all wound up on one reel. Certainly goes against the rule of early movie rental shops: “Please be kind, rewind.” If only I’d known at the time – I could have argued with their fine by saying I was only trying to help preserve the tape for future generations! I guess I could have also argued with my mom about my weekly vacuuming chore – I should have avoided vacuuming around the VHS storage cabinet so as to prevent demagnification as a result of the vacuum cleaner motor!

  2. Barbara Long

    Good Evening,

    Excellent post! I’ve heard similar storage methods in the past from my husband. His father had slides and videos on old tapes. My father-in-laws old slides still exist in boxes. Your post makes me realize that I need to preserve these old slides from years ago. Eventually, I will get around to digging them out and start working on preserving them. Thanks for your post!

  3. Michael Hubert

    great read. after this read and this weeks readings on preservation I started to look at things such as old film , pictures and videos to start to figure out what is the best way to preserve my own items that I need to keep safe for years to come.

    thank you for your post!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.