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Film Fade : Old Movies that turn red


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#1 Adam Garner

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 12:45 PM

I've started building a collection of groovy old movies on super 8. I notice that a lot of films fade badly over time to red.

Is this the result of those movie companies (like Castle Films) using low quality transfer film?

Or is this the result of poor storage?

Additionally, I'm curious why this doesn't seem to be as much of an issue with old home movies.

My guess is that it's the film the companies used, which must have been poor chemicals/acetate etc, or whatever it was.
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#2 K Borowski

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 01:21 PM

It's a complicated issue. The fade you encounter is probably both cheap film stock (and rushed processing) as well as improper storage.

I forget the exact standard, but you are talking about essentially keeping film refrigerated (50°Fahr/5°Cel) with the added difficulty of having to maintain a high enough humidity to keep it from becoming brittle upon projection.

As for print film, it was notoriously bad, especially the Kodak variety, until improvements were made in the early 1980s.

I don't know with certainty about the current line, but I do know that Kodak neg film still fades about twice as fast as Fuji's. Same is true with the two manufacturers photographic papers; that is the most well-publicized information.

I can't say with certainty that Kodak's release print stock is half as bad as Fuji's but it wouldn't surprise me based on all of the other fade studies I've found comparing the two's product.


As for home movies, the majority of shooters were using Kodachrome or B&W film, which were much more stable. B&W film doesn't have any fade at all, and is only subject to silver oxidizing and turning yellow, which takes a much longer time.

Kodachrome was the most-stable readily-available film. While fading more quickly than many other types of film during projection, it's dark-keeping properties are/were the best. Estimates indicate it can last 70-80 years even WITHOUT proper refrigeration standards.

Ektachrome movies can and do fade in a similar manner to neg films. I'm sure the new E-6 Ektachrome and Velvia stocks you can get as special order items are better, but not sure by how much. I'm going to say that Velvia is more archival than 5285, but perhaps not as big a margin as Fuji's negative stocks compared to Kodak.


Another issue you run into with most movies that are on acetate stock (although I hear you can get some 16mm films on much stabler Estar base) is vinegar syndrome, which is due to the the tri-acetate base degrading into acetic acid (vinegar) which accelerates dye fade.

Vinegar syndrome is accelerated by heat, lack of use of movies (the more they sit in one position, the more the affect is amplified), and humidity. I was hearing a lot about Kodak molecular sleeves back in 2003, as a potential way of limiting the effects of this syndrome, but I'm not sure how widespread they have become or if they ever caught on.
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#3 Kent Kumpula

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 01:47 PM

Is this the result of those movie companies (like Castle Films) using low quality transfer film?


All films that were printed (massproduced) go bad pretty fast. The print stocks were probably made to be as cheap as possible, to generate as much money as possible when massproducing/copying film.

Or is this the result of poor storage?


Poor storage will make films go bad even faster, but essentially all films go bad sooner or later. That is why you should digitalise all films that you find important so you can get a digital copy of the film. Then you can migrate the digital copy as the digital standards change over time, and in the end you can prolong the lifetime of your digital filmcopy forever.

Additionally, I'm curious why this doesn't seem to be as much of an issue with old home movies.


Oh, but it is a issue with home movies! A very big issue, people have lots of films that go bad. It depends mostly on what stock you used for your home movies. If you used Kodachrome - good for you. Kodachrome has the best archival properties and keeps them colors a lot longer than ektachromes.

If you used Agfa, Ferrania or some other "cheap" or more uncommon stock - bad for you. Agfa film has the worst archival properties I know. They go red and they go red fast, and they go VERY red. I have seen many home movies on Agfa that has the colorscale of pink to red. All other colors have pretty much faded completely.

You can see some of our transfers/colorcorrections on old faded/twisted colors here: http://www.uppsalabi...glish/?page=133

The bottom line, if you have home movies on Agfa, Ferrania or some other stock than kodachrome - get your films digitalised before the colors fade even more. They will just keep degrading over time...
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 05:09 PM

Print stock and non-Kodachrome reversal stocks can have their cyan dyes fade faster than their yellow and magenta dyes (a positive projected image has yellow, cyan, and magenta dyes to create full color) -- the magenta fades last, so over time, the image becomes predominantly magenta.

The same thing happens on color negative film, it's just that when you make a new positive print of it, the reverse effect appears, the loss of cyan and yellow, compensated for in printing, tends to create an image with yellowish skintones and blue-ish blacks and shadows.

So if the image looks magenta, it's an old print of a (then) new negative, and if the image looks blue-yellow, it's a new print of a (now) old negative.

Kodachrome and Technicolor dye transfer both used more stable dyes since they did not need to use color-coupler technology.

Obviously aging can be slowed down with proper storage.

Ektachrome was one of the worst reversal stocks for fading to magenta. My dad used to take a lot of slide photos and his stuff from the 1950's and 60's were shot on Anscochrome, Kodachrome, and Ektachrome. The Kodachromes look brand-new with perfect colors, the Anscochromes have faded evenly in all layers to an extreme pastel, slightly pinkish... and the Ektachromes are deep magenta. Oddly enough, though, some of the Kodachromes have mold damage from the time my dad was stationed in the Far East, I guess the mold there liked to eat the Kodachrome dyes more than the Ektachrome ones.
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#5 Dominic Case

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 06:01 PM

All films that were printed (massproduced) go bad pretty fast. The print stocks were probably made to be as cheap as possible, to generate as much money as possible when massproducing/copying film.

This is not so.

Up until the early 1980s, the very best dye technology available still produced print emulsions that were liable to fade. Good storage conditions (low temperatures, low relative humidity) could prolong the life, but under the best circumstances there would still be measurable fade in a number of decades. It is the cyan dye that fades fastest, hence the red colour balance.

It's true that some stocks were cheaper than others, and the cheaper ones tended to have poorer colours - but dye fade was a problem even with the best stocks.

Technicolor was different as it's not a photographic process. And Kodachrome was different because it uses a substantially different colour development process with different types of dye - but it was very hard to operate the process, and it wasn't suitable for making copies.

That is why you should digitalise all films that you find important so you can get a digital copy of the film. Then you can migrate the digital copy as the digital standards change over time, and in the end you can prolong the lifetime of your digital filmcopy forever.

Yes, but be a bit careful. If you store digital data, t is vital that you migrate the copy as standards change, otherwise you'll be left with a disk that you can't read at all. That is considerably worse than a film that you can project but has just lost its colour. Be sure to digitise to the best possible standard - and don't destroy the original film. You may get a better copy in a few years' time. Also, note that every time you copy or migrate the data to a new format, you will probably decompress and recompress it, resulting in a worse image. Digital copying is only lossless without compression - and you don't have enough storage space for uncompressed movies.
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#6 Kent Kumpula

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 06:16 PM

Yes, but be a bit careful. If you store digital data, t is vital that you migrate the copy...


And that is why I wrote about migrating. If nothing is done to the digital copy it is as useless as any digital image/data that isn´t migrated and copied as the data storage standards change. Isn´t this almost like mandatory dataknowledge nowadays? I mean how many still expect to be able to read those 5,25" disks today?

Also, note that every time you copy or migrate the data to a new format, you will probably decompress and recompress it, resulting in a worse image.


This is simply wrong. If you copy the data, migrate the data, then no re-compression is needed. If you have a JPG image and copy the file 50 times, does the image degrade? No, it doesen´t. But take the same JPG image and re-compress it to a new JPG image 50 times, then you will probably see the compression build up.

There is no need to change the compression, just copy the file as it is. If you have a mpeg2 compressed file you will end up with a exact copy of that file, if you have a ProRes file you will end up with a exact copy of the ProRes file on the new datacarrier. There is no need to export the film with a editing software, just copy the file as it is.
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#7 andy oliver

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 06:18 PM

ironic the most stable colour film becomes history after next year! We have ektachrome 160 super 8 home movies from 1983 they still look perfect.
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#8 Dominic Case

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 07:02 PM

This is simply wrong. If you copy the data, migrate the data, then no re-compression is needed.

Kent, I don't mean to contradict you. Of course, if you simply copy data, then it's a one-to-one copy, and lossless (provided you verify it).

But what I said is not "simply wrong". I read your original note carefully: you said:

Then you can migrate the digital copy as the digital standards change over time


and I said:

Also, note that every time you copy or migrate the data to a new format, you will probably decompress and recompress it, resulting in a worse image.


Although jpeg and mpeg are reasonably robust and long-lived compression standards, they won't last, as standards, for ever, any more than 5.25" disks did, or Wordstar documents, or Betamax tapes. So at some point in the future, in a post-mpeg world, you will need to migrate the data to a new format, and this will involve decompressing and recompressing.

I think you said all this in your last post too. So we do agree on the facts. ;) I don't think there is any "simply wrong" about it.

By the way, I have a photograph of my great great grandmother, who died well over a century ago. I haven't needed to "migrate it", nor do I need any special equipment to see it. It does also exist as a digital copy in my family tree software, which adds context and convenience to the viewing, and allows me to preserve the original photo so it doesn't get damaged. Of course this is the great beauty of digital copies of images, especially film: it's not about the copying, it's about the viewing: you can look at your home movies a thousand times without any wear and tear.
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#9 Kent Kumpula

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 07:18 PM

Although jpeg and mpeg are reasonably robust and long-lived compression standards, they won't last, as standards, for ever, any more than 5.25" disks did, or Wordstar documents, or Betamax tapes.


When I wrote "digital standards", I meant the datacarrier. Hard drives and DVDs will be changed to whatever future datacarriers are (hologram cubes the size of a fingernail?).

Betamax tapes were analog, and could not be copied without loosing some quality. The content on a 5,25" disk can be copied without degradation, if no re-compression is needed (and if you can find something to read the disk).

I really do believe that all future computers will be able to read JPG files, there will be no need to re-save them to another format. I mean... we have billions upon billions of JPG files in the world today. How good would a new computer sell if people wouldn´t be able to use it for viewing their JPG images?

And it isn´t like rocket science to read a JPG file. There is no reason at all why any computer would drop the support for JPG files.


at some point in the future, in a post-mpeg world, you will need to migrate the data to a new format, and this will involve decompressing and recompressing.


Yes, perhaps some time. It depends on the fileformat, how widely spread it is. Motion Jpeg files are probably going to be a problem in the future, since they are not so widely spread as mpeg2 files. There are so many different compression formats out there, surely some of them will run into problems in the future. But then again storage keeps getting cheaper and bigger. How much is 1 TB in ten years? Probably not that much. So you can probably save everything to uncompressed in the future, if you wanted to.

I still believe that the most widely used formats, like JPG and mpeg2, will be read by all future computers.

PS. I´m not just trying to contradict you to "fire up" some kind of word-fight. We are probably both right, at least for a few fileformats. :)

Edited by Kent Kumpula, 01 November 2009 - 07:19 PM.

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#10 Dominic Case

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 07:44 PM

I still believe that the most widely used formats, like JPG and mpeg2, will be read by all future computers.

ALL future computers? That's a bold prediction. You may live to see it disproved. Though you may live to see the end of computers (as we understand them today).
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#11 K Borowski

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 07:48 PM

Kent: I think it's just a matter of your having faith in the future and my (and Dominic?) having faith in the best of the technological endeavours of the past. Our methods are getting harder and harder to come by, yours haven't reached their full potentials yet. I think there ought to be ought to be room for both in this world.

Even now, 105 years after the start of filmmaking, there is still good reason to invest in that more-or-less original technology, in the filmmaking world of the present.

I have to admit, sometimes I come off like a nut or an old fuddy-duddy, but I still pull out the 8- or 16mm camera at family events. Of course, that hasn't been since the demise of Kodachrome, my favorite outdoor color film.

Not that I am detached from the present, I notice an alarming amount of JPEG recompressions with digital files today. This isn't really my area, but every time someone opens up a photo, they tend to re-save it as a JPEG, I'm sure something similar will happen as future generations ignorantly re-compress their family movies/videos into newer standards. Even more worrisome: A lot of times they use the default JPEG 8 or 10. I only use the highest quality files with family photos, and store them as TIFFs or PSDs whenever possible.

You have to be careful with the ignorance of the general public. They haven't even realized they've been viewing movies at the theatre on film for the past twenty-five years, let alone that digital isn't "always better." There was a salesman that lost a sale to me very promptly eight or nine years ago by telling me "Of course this DVD player is better than tape; it's digital."

I was filling in at the theatre the other day, with Michael Jackson's "This Is It", and I opened up the window to clean the port glass before the movie started. Unfortunately ( or fortunately?) there was a man sitting there, in the back row, whom I hadn't seen. To clean off the glass, I usually fire up the lamp on the projector. Anyway, he was perceptive enough to realize that this wasn't a DLP machine. He was shocked to learn we still use film, although we probably shouldn't anymore with digital movies, now that we have DLP on a few screens. Most people out there don't know and don't care what format their movies are on even when they are sitting literally 5 feet (1.5m) away from it.

I used to work, a while ago, in a lab that took home movie restoration work, not that we did it directly. I heard the story there of the lady that finally got her 8mm home movies transferred to DVD, then threw out the film. . . Boy was she upset when she couldn't get them transferred to HD a few years later.


Anyway, what's the point in all this? It's late and I am tired, but the current technology is still totally in flux. People have gotten burned with film, but not (at the fault of film itself at least) in a long long time, almost thirty years.

I acquired, and had optically printed with great difficulty, my sibling's wedding negatives, from 1979, this past summer for their thirtieth wedding anniversary. Even after thirty years, on an optical machine that had only color and density corrections, they could be printed as good as new to the trained eye without any visible degradation. There was definite fading present on the Kodak film, but with room temperature storage, they were still printable to a quality better than was possible in 1979 in 2009.

Meanwhile, I read alarming reports that DVDs and CD recordables have a 5% fail-rate in 18 mos. That's less than 1/20th the film keeping values of 30 years ago. I'm sure there were films that faded faster, but surely not at that great a rate.

I view CD and DVD media as being as bad as poorly-processed dupe films and CRIs from the 1970s. Until they are replaced by durable solid-state media with a proven track record, I still have no faith in the current (or future) technology. Frankly, the only thing I still have total faith in are B&W RGB separations that are processed and optimally toned to ensure that future generations have access to them.
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#12 Kent Kumpula

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 08:04 PM

Karl, I agree with you on most parts. The general public is largely pretty stupid at times. And sales persons that are incompetent are the worst. One of my clients called me and wanted me to transfer all their miniDV tapes to DVDs. OK, I ended up doing that anyway, but the funny part is when she asked me if I still could transfer miniDV tapes. I was like... "Yes, of course I can." She was going to buy a new camera, one that recorded to a hard drive. Because "They don´t make miniDV tapes anymore". I replied, "Ehhh, they still sell miniDV tapes."

Apparently, some sales person at "Elgiganten" (one of the largest electronic stores/chains around here) had told her that they don´t sell miniDV tapes anymore. She had gone there to buy tapes and the sales person said that it was old technology, and not supported anymore. Now she had to buy a new camera that recorded to a hard drive. Luckily, she didn´t buy a camera at that time, and through me she found out that she could indeed still use her miniDV camera, because tapes are still around.

I wonder if it was a dirty trick from the sales person, to try and sell her a camera? Or if it was just a sales person so stupid he actually had no clue what a miniDV tape was? I bet he had no clue...

This is obviously OT, but I just had to get it off my chest with all this talk about tapes and old technology. :)

Oh, lets add some ontopic info too. I think DVDs are pretty stable if you use good quality discs, but obviously you always always need to do at least two different copies and store them on two different locations. If one fails, burns up or somehow gets lost you still have the other copy. The chance that both go bad is pretty slim. One disc can always fail for whatever reason, so having one DVD is not very safe (in my opinion).

Edited by Kent Kumpula, 01 November 2009 - 08:07 PM.

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#13 Dominic Case

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 05:47 PM

obviously you always always need to do at least two different copies and store them on two different locations.

Good practice, of course, and hopefully this is what professionals would always do. Though it's not always so.

But when we are talking about amateurs, consumers, the general public, they want a simple life. One of the drivers for copying older technologies (prints, film, VHS tapes) to newer formats (jpgs, files, DVDs is storage space. Another is ease of access. I have several feet of bookshelf full of photo albums, and about as many photos again stored on a few CD-roms. For many people, the possibility of clearing out all that shelf space is more attractive than the need to find a little more space still for the disks.

Similarly, I have a number of super8 and VHS home movies that I must get around to copying onto something I can play them on! But for most people, once that is done, the temptation to ditch the originals would be strong.

I guess a lot of home movies are screened when they are new, then put away in a cupboard, and maybe they don't see the light of day for a decade or even a generation. Time to show the baby photos when the new girlfriend arrives - or at the 21st birthday, or wedding. Who's been keeping the film in climate-controlled storage all that time? Who's been replicating the digital files onto a new carrier or to a current format every couple of years? Not a large percentage of punters, in my view.
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#14 Adam Garner

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Posted 03 November 2009 - 02:04 AM

Wow. Y'all have been at it!

for your reading pleasure : http://www.itl.nist....ndlingGuide.pdf
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#15 Kent Kumpula

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Posted 03 November 2009 - 02:33 AM

Yeah, except that paper was written 2003, quite a few years ago. DVDs have evolved a bit in the last six years, back then I don´t think there were any archival-DVDs with gold layers and such.
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#16 Adam Garner

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 01:56 AM

Yeah, except that paper was written 2003, quite a few years ago. DVDs have evolved a bit in the last six years, back then I don´t think there were any archival-DVDs with gold layers and such.


They talk about gold dvd's on page 5.

I'm not sure what your saying Kent. The paper suggests that the National Institute of Standards and Technology doesn't consider digital media "long term" storage.

"Neither optical discs nor magnetic tape, however, is as stable as microfilm or paper. With proper care, microfilm and non-acidic paper can last for centuries, while magnetic tape lasts only a few decades (Van Bogart 1995). Just as film types can vary in years of usefulness, one disc type can also last longer than another. Temperature and humidity conditions can markedly affect the useful life of a disc; extreme environmental fac- tors can render discs useless in as little as a few days."

It goes on to say that digital technologies become obsolete in as few as 10-15 years.

Point being : You don't archive your films on DVDs, at least in the NIST's opinion. I would agree with them.
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#17 Kent Kumpula

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 02:56 AM

It goes on to say that digital technologies become obsolete in as few as 10-15 years.


That is if you just lock it up somewhere and leave it in the digital carrier it was recorded on. If you migrate the data, the "problem" is solved. This shouldn´t come as a surprise. If it takes 10 years, 15 years or 20 years for DVD players in computers to become obsolete is anyones guess. And it doesen´t matter really, because it won´t happend overnight. So there will be plenty of time to migrate your data.

Point being : You don't archive your films on DVDs, at least in the NIST's opinion. I would agree with them.


How do you archive your digital content then? The best way is, in my opinion, to have it on several archival grade DVDs and to migrate the content to new datacarriers whenever needed. If it is needed every 15 years then I will be doing it 3 times during my lifetime (I hope), so it is not a huge job for me.
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#18 Adam Garner

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 03:28 AM

I think we're off topic here.

NIST suggests that analog is the best long term storage. I certainly understand why. We can watch films that were shot 75 years ago because the format still exists. I can listen to a 50 year old vinyl record because the format still exists. I can look at a cave drawing in france because the format "drawing" still exists. Not to oversimplify though. Even analog media will deteriorate. That was the point of the topic. Why do films fade. The ultimate reason is that it was poor emulsions mixed with poor storage.

Digitizing data is necessary. The thing is that it is a full time job to keep moving to the next digital technology that's "better" than the last. The artifacts are the issue here. If you put your super 8 movies on a DVD in mpeg 2 back in 80's when it was the best digital format the world had seen, well, you'd be f*cked for going to HD now. In another 20 years 4K TVs may well be the norm. Your ProRes4444 1080p scan will be poop then.

The issue isn't that digital is bad. Digital is great. But it's ever changing and we're fitting more and more data in smaller and smaller spaces by coding them differently, encoding on different materials. It's supposed to change and get better.

My home movies on film are digitized. But I'm keeping the originals so I can scan them in 20 years to 4K or whatever. Meaning - the original celluloid will outlast the HD 1080p scans I have. ProRes4444 will likely not be a very popular format in 10 years. The drive probably wont work and USB may be gone. It would be silly to take the ProRes4444 scans as the source for the next copy too. That's what Dominic was saying. You'll end up with artifacts. All digital media is run through math equations, of course, which drops data to make space. Compression format 1 compressed to compression format 2 will be compressed 1+2. Uncompressed is the only real safe way to archive footage and the cost of the space that requires means analog still wins as the best way to keep master material. Don't ya think so?
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#19 John Sprung

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 03:31 AM

There are already business that specialize in getting stuff from obsolete tape and disc formats, such as 2" quad and 8" floppies. Wait too long to migrate your stuff, and the cost goes up. Wait way too long, and you lose stuff.

At this point, LTO's are the longest lasting way we have to keep digital material. There's also some very interesting R&D on holographic optical discs, but that's not ready for archival use yet.




-- J.S.
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#20 Kent Kumpula

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 03:56 AM

If you put your super 8 movies on a DVD in mpeg 2 back in 80's when it was the best digital format the world had seen, well, you'd be f*cked for going to HD now.


That is true, since DVDs cannot hold the full resolution from a super8 filmframe.

In another 20 years 4K TVs may well be the norm. Your ProRes4444 1080p scan will be poop then.


That is not true, there is and there will be no point to transfer your super 8 films to 4K. The tiny frames cannot hold that much resolution. You can transfer to 100K over your 4K transfers the next time and the improvement will still be zero, since there is no information left on the filmoriginals.

Oh, sorry... Of course it will look a lot worse, since the colors will have faded even more.

Meaning - the original celluloid will outlast the HD 1080p scans I have.


If you have your 8mm films transferred to 1080p, it is not going to get any better at higher resolutions. It is like taking a 20 megapixel photo of a stamp, and then throw it in the bin because now you can take a 40 megapiuxel photo of the same stamp. Both photos will look exactly the same, at least if you look at the image details.

It would be silly to take the ProRes4444 scans as the source for the next copy too.


Silly? Hell no, it will be cheap! It won´t cost you a penny to copy the content from your USB drive/DVD/Blu-ray/whatever to the next digital container. It would however be silly to pay for a 4K transfer of your super 8 films if you have a 1080p transfer.

Uncompressed is the only real safe way to archive footage and the cost of the space that requires means analog still wins as the best way to keep master material. Don't ya think so?


No, definetly not. The analog film will deteriorate and the colors will fade. If you have film from the 1960´s that already is fading and having problems with the colorbalance, how will they look in the next 20 to 40 years? They ain´t gonna look any better that´s for sure.

If you keep your films in such a good format as ProRes, you will hardly have problems with compression artefacts. and in 20 years I am pretty sure that the space required for uncompressed storage will be so cheap you can choose to use uncompressed if you wanted to.
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