Technology Marches On For Old Film

by the other theo

Old home movies have very much been on our minds around here lately.  A couple of the Missus’ great uncles were Roman Catholic Monsignors and went on a trip around the world in 1938 to the 34th International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, Hungary and finally returned to Manhattan via the HMS Britannic.    They took over 3000 feet of home movies on the trip.   We recently showed the films to an auction expert in the collectibles field.  He said the movies have an interesting “Forrest Gump-like quality” because the film shows a number places that changed radically not that long after the films were shot: Pearl Harbor, China, Singapore, Fascist Italy (Rome, Florence, Venice), Paris, and London.  Others, like the Great Pyramids and the Great Sphinx, sit almost outside time.   Some of the movies are in color.

We got the films transferred to DVD several years ago, shortly after they came into our possession.   We looked at those DVDs for the first time in a good while before going to see the expert.  We weren’t particularly impressed with the quality of the transfer.

When a friend recently got some slides from the 1970’s of hers transferred to digital by a different outfit and liked the quality, we decided to see what they could do with our movies.

The results look promising.   There is some additional family footage in the last can of film of what we think is the 50th wedding anniversary of the Missus’ great grandparents, sometime around 1940.  Here is a frame from that footage on the older DVDs of a group of Sisters touring the Missus’ Great Grandmother’s flower garden:

The transfer really isn’t very good.  The contrast and saturation levels appear to be set to try to highlight all the color still present in the film.  It looks like bad color television from the days before cable.   Most of the details are lost in darkness.   Taken out of context, it would be hard to know exactly where this image was taken.

Compare that with approximately the same frame sent to us by the company doing the new transfer:


This frame was sent to us in both “original” and “color corrected” forms.  This is with color correction; the original is a little more sepia-toned.  The colors, where present, are more muted compared to the earlier transfer.  Yet, that loss utterly pales in comparison to the amount of other visual information gained in the new transfer.    You can tell who is in this frame, and where it is, without much trouble at all.   I also resized the new image to match the older one here.  It’s actually about four times larger, with much more detail, since the new transfer will be Blu-ray-quality MPEG4.

The new transfer will not be cheap, but I think it will definitely be worth it.