What's On My _____?

  • Steve Puffenberger
  • Prints or Slides, Movie Film, Home Video, Audio, Transfer Misc.

What's On My _____?

How to learn what's in my box when labels are missing

Here are some hints on how to determine what's in your box of memories, and whether they're worth preserving.


Well this is simple.  Just look at them.  If they're badly damaged, cracked or under/over exposed, simple transfers will preserve all the defects. We can sometimes work miracles in Photoshop, but that's an extra-cost option. 


If you don't have a slide projector, no problem.  Just hold them up to a light. You might need a magnifier to see what's on them, but most of the time you can tell just by looking. If you need a good backlight, you can use a computer. Turn it on and either set your background color to white, or open up a Word document or other app that will give you a blank white page.  Then just hold them up in front of the light. Slides that are grossly overexposed probably cannot be salvaged, but underexposed slides can reveal details once digitized. If slides have color-shifted, we can attempt color correction, but slides that are drastically faded cannot be fully corrected.


This is trickier. You WILL need a magnifier. Unroll the film until you see the picture part and hold it up to a light (use a computer screen, as described above), or a bright light. The film image is very tiny so you'll have to hold the magnifier right up to your eye, but you'll be able to make out the first few frames of the reel.  That should give you a good idea what is on it, and enough to see if the film is in good condition.  If the film is clear, unspool it a little more and you should see pictures - that is sometimes normal because If everything is red, you'll know the color has shifted, and it will be difficult to correct.  Please don't unroll the reel too far, as the film could be damaged.


None of those techniques will work to see what's on your videotape.  If you don't still have a VCR, the best place to find one these days is a local thrift shop. Most have VCRs really cheap.  When you get one, test it on a tape you know you won't want (like of a TV show or old movie) to make sure it's doesn't chew the tape.  Then you can run your tapes and label them for transfer. If you put a tape in and it sputters and grinds to a halt DON'T try it again. The tape is affected by "sticky shed," The machine will need to be taken apart to clean (a cleaning tape won't clear the gunk), and the tape will have to be baked to do the transfer.


If you don't have a working tape machine, you might be out of luck here, too. Rarely you may find an open reel tape machine at a thrift store. You would be more likely to find a cassette machine. You can use any cassette machine to play any cassette, the cheapest machines are compatible with expensive hi-fi ones, they just won't sound as good. With open reel, if the tape is from the 80s or 90s, use this link to check for "sticky shed." 


...you can figure out what's on the media, bring it over and we can transfer it, then you'll know. You can always rename the files, or with free software for your computer, edit out the embarrasing parts. Preserve the memorires before they fade completely. Let Advent Digitzing do the job.

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