Digital Creative Blog Articles

Archival Transfers for Libraries

Digitizing and Preserving Historical Assets

By Steve Puffenberger on
Archival Transfers for Libraries

Many public and private (school and corporate) libraries are faced with a problem: how to digitize and preserve important historical assets in a way that will last in the ever-changing digital domain. Advent Digitizing can help.

Here’s why our transfer services can help preserve your important analog assets.

Analog Materials are Aging – You Need Professional Transfers

Yes, analog materials, films, photos, audio recordings are aging.  For me it’s amazing to think photos I took in the 1970s are now 50 years old!  Fortunately, most look as good as the day I shot them, but for some assets, like slides, movie films and audio tapes, the hardware to play them is no longer available. That’s why you need an archive-quality digital transfer service.

Other transfer services capture your assets directly to the most current compressed digital format. Not only will that format be obsolete in a few decades, but trying to transcode to a newer format always causes recompression artifacts. Archive-quality transfers preserve your assets with as little compression as possible to allow future transcoding at full quality. 

What sets Advent Digitizing apart is that we always generate a high-bitrate, professional codec version of each transfer, which serves as the master for the compressed release file we also deliver.  You get two files, one for archival purposes, and the other for release. The archival “source” file is suitable for editing or transcoding to the latest consumer format, as those evolve.

Here are specific details for the media types we can archive:

Movie Film Transfers

First, the worst environment for a movie film is a projector, which can scratch the film. We use a special film chain that optically senses each frame and snaps a high speed image as the film is pulled along between rollers. There’s no pull-down mechanism that can tear the sprocket holes, and no hot lamp to burn. The process is ultimately safe.

Because 8mm and Super 8mm are in the 4:3 aspect, most firms transfer in the Standard Definition format. But there’s a lot more information in movie film. We transfer at "2K" resolution, which captures a 4x3 image up to 2,000 pixels wide. The vertical resolution is 1,536 pixels, the equivalent height of a "3K' image. We can either pillarbox the deliverables into a 16:9 HD file or crop top/bottom for a full frame HD image.

It’s important to capture footage at a speed that’s natural.  Our system captures footage frame-by-frame, and interprets it at the true frame rate the film was shot in – 16fps for 8mm/16mm silent, 18fps for Super 8mm, and 24fps for sound films. There’s no artificially fast motion for silent films, unless the film was shot at a nonstandard speed. And even if it was, we can adjust frame rate to make it look natural.

Many libraries have films with sound. We can transfer 8mm and 16mm films with either optical or magnetic sound. For optical sound (typical classroom films of the 40s-70s), we use an optical process to digitize the audio without running the film through a projector, where amplifier noise can degrade an already fragile soundtrack. Magnetic sound typically comes from camera-original footage. For that we first transfer the picture, then run the film through a special magnetic sound projector to extract the audio, then we sync it to the picture before mastering the release files.

Finally, we always deliver the high-bitrate archival source file alongside the compressed MP4 video. The source file for video can be MJPEG AVI or ProRes.

Videotape Transfers

Old analog VHS, SVHS, 8mm, Hi-8mm, Betamax and Betacam (pro) tapes are all going to yield standard definition footage, 720x480 pixels, (480i) at 29.97 frames/second. It’s possible to “up-rez” the footage to 1280x720 HD in a letterboxed 16:9 aspect.

Analog videotapes can become damaged. We can splice out damaged sections. Some tapes from the 1980s exhibit “sticky shed,” which turns the tape to goo, and it gunks up the mechanism so the tape won’t play. We have a way to cure the tape so it can be played once for transfer, it’s called “tape baking.”

Digital videotapes from the early 2000s can be captured on a scene-by-scene basis, so you get a new file for each start/stop of the camera. That’s really critical for editing source footage.

As with all our transfers, we first capture video footage in the archival DV codec, at as much as 35Mbps, creating huge files. We then create a copy in the most popular MP4 consumer codec for release.

Audiotape Transfers

Open reel, standard cassette, mini cassette and microcassette recordings can be preserved digitally with Advent Digitizing. We can accommodate all track formats and speeds of 1/4 inch open reel tapes, as well as all types of audio tape cassettes.

Again, when we capture analog tape, we do so in real time to full CD-quality uncompressed digital files that are huge, but preserve the full fidelity of whatever format we’re transferring. We then render a consumer format MP3 file that’s compressed for release. You keep the source file to make CDs or to transcode to any of the new emerging compressed formats.

Damaged audio tape can be restored. If it’s from the late 70s or 80s (with brown oxide and from Ampex or a few other brands) tapes can exhibit “sticky shed,” and not play without gunking up the heads. We can restore sticky shed tapes, baking the sticky out long enough to make a high-quality transfer. Tapes that are damaged or have broken splices can be repaired (with minimal loss of material), and if a tape was recorded on a nonstandard recorder or with variable speed, we can adjust to make them sound natural.

Audio transfers are mastered as uncompressed, CD-quality WAV audio files for archival. You also get MP3 files that can be used for release.

Slides, Filmstrips, Prints, Negatives

We started in the slide business in the 1980s, so our process to convert still images utilizes some of the best optics from that era, with digital back ends.

Using backlit slide duplicating processes, we transfer slides, filmstrips and negatives in the 10-bit RAW format, capturing the entire gamut of available color and detail in the source images. Those are then transcoded into JPG images for release.

Negatives take special processing to reverse the image and color correct to achieve the cleanest positive image.

We can digitally remove dirt, scratches and other imperfections from still images.

Prints can either be shot in RAW on a copystand, or we can scan those to JPG (only) on a 600dpi high speed scanner that can capture both sides at the same time. This is important if photos have writing on the back.

For all copystand prints, slides or negataives you get both the original RAW image and a high resolution (or any resolution you prefer) JPEG image for release.

Device and Disc Transfer

If you have digital images on obsolete devices or hard disks that you have nothing that will run them anymore, ask to see if we can extract the data for you. We can also transcode old digital formats to modern ones, so they’ll play in modern players or upload to streaming services.

Get a Quote

If you have digital archiving needs, let Advent Digitizing handle your precious materials. You’ll be glad you did. Send an inventory of approximately how many of what type of material you have, and we'll give you the Library Discount.

Get a quote today