Using a microscope to transfer super 8 movie film to digital

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Using a microscope to transfer super 8 movie film to digital

Post by dragonblade »

I'm a bit of an avid shooter of super 8 cine film but not as much as I used to be. Like many super 8 enthusiasts, Ive been looking around for a cost effective and good quality method of transferring super 8 to digital. Obviously, the best way to do this is frame by frame scanning. Some people have modified super 8 projectors for this very task, removed the shutter and lens and have a video camera or digital stills camera pointing directly at the film in the gate. I have considered this approach but there's a huge amount of work involved and a lot of trial and error.

What I want is a more simple approach that still makes use of frame by frame scanning. And then I got thinking - Ive got quite a decent afocal set up with my microscope. I could possibly use that to photograph individual super 8 film frames with one of my Panasonic M4/3 cameras. Then later use software to assemble the digital stills into a video.

Unfortunately, the process would be completely manual with no automation (at least for the time being.) I could have two film reels suspended somehow (on either sides of the microscope objectives.) I'd have to advance the film by hand after each shot. I don't think I'd have the patience to transfer a whole reel this way but maybe a single scene. And I'm hoping that a 4x objective combined with a 10x eyepiece will provide the right kind of magnification for a super 8 frame. I do have a feeling that it might provide too much magnification (too tight a crop) so I'll have to test it and see.

And this brings me to my query - in relation to keeping the film flat. I would lay the middle of the film down on a microscope slide. Then I thought maybe laying another slide down on top of the film but the thickness of the glass in the top slide might degrade the image quality. And simply placing a cover slip over the top probably won't keep the film flat as it won't be wet in this case and there would hardly be any weight. Any recommendations on what I could use in this instance? Preferably I'd want something that can be laid down simply and quickly as this will be a very time intensive process with hundreds or possibly thousands of film frames to be photographed.
Last edited by dragonblade on Thu Nov 01, 2018 2:11 am, edited 4 times in total.

Chris S.
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Post by Chris S. »


It's been a while since I've projected movie film, but I seem to recall that movie projectors had a mechanism that, if cannibalized from an old projector, could be mounted on your microscope stage to do just what you want (and more).

IIRC, these projectors had guides that the film fed through, along with a plate that held the film flat and framed the image. There was also a mechanism for advancing the the film by exactly one frame, and paused it for a moment before moving to the next frame.

If you were to pull these bits out of an old projector, you could repurpose them to hold your film flat and in register, guide it between the reels, and give you an easy way to advance one frame at a time.

And that, in turn, would be very easy to automate. . . . :D

--Chris S.

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Post by dragonblade »

Chris, interesting thinking. Yea I guess one could use a projector assembly that consists of film guides, pressure plate and claw. What some people have done is file away the gate to make it larger so that you see the entire film frame with no cropping. And in some cases, even the sprocket holes / film perforations are visible. I guess it could be automated but the problem is I'm clueless about electronics and anything mechanical in nature! And the film movement would have to be intermittent rather than continuous and preferably very slow so that the camera can shoot 3 - 5 photos of each film frame (HDR.)

Not sure if I could guide the film through with my hand if I wanted to because of the claw that engages with the film perforations. I think the claw might possibly be non-movable when the projector is not in operation.

However, I believe some projectors may have an inching mechanism that allows the operator to advance the film manually. Though I'm not sure if such a mechanism can be incorporated in the kind of setup I'm thinking of.

Edit: I know that with some super 8 projectors, the gate is designed to be removed for maintenance. Though I'm not sure if the pressure plate comes off as well with that particular design. Regardless, I guess it wouldn't be too difficult to remove anyway. The super 8 projectors that I have are not like that. With the ones I have, the lens swings out to the side to get access to the gate.

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Post by Beatsy »

There are some pretty cheap scanners available. Never used one, but if you have a lot of films to convert it might be worth considering. I'd have thought that manually moving and photographing all those frames on a "Heath-Robinson" setup would wear pretty thin, pretty fast.

Here's an example (a cheap one) ... 3213803805

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Post by dragonblade »

Beatsy wrote:There are some pretty cheap scanners available. Never used one, but if you have a lot of films to convert it might be worth considering.
That's certainly an option. And there's a guy on youtube who has some nice looking results with a flat bed scanner. Though he admits it's only suitable for Standard Definition / DVD quality. Whereas if I use my Panasonic M4/3 camera to photograph the super 8 frames, I can easily create HD or 4k files. There's also the ability to do HDR which would come in handy for contrasty films like Kodachrome.

And in actual fact, the workflow would be very similar between the two methods and just as repetitive. Though of course with the scanner at least, you could do a whole bunch of frames at once before advancing the film.

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