Do You Need to Convert Old Film Reels to Digital? Do it in style!

By on October 10, 2017
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One of the best things about the Raspberry Pi is its ability to bridge generations and give new life to older tech. This is illustrated perfectly by this low cost film transfer system that can convert old reels into digital footage.

Maker Joe Herman found some reels dating back to the 1938 and was able to save thousands by building his own rig.
The Pi Film Capture uses the Raspberry Pi Zero and Camera module and hooks them up to a Super-8 cinema projector. Joe’s system uses a step motor to capture a still image of each frame. Images are processed and stitched back together with FFmpeg.

“In the projector housing where a lamp would normally sit, I placed a Raspberry Pi connected to a stepper motor and a Pi Camera Module. Light shines into the housing from an LED mounted outside. Every time the film advances a frame, the camera takes a picture.”

However, there was still much more work to do. Joe has encountered many problems during project’s development:

“First, I had to run the system more slowly than I expected (under a frame per second) to ensure consistent behavior from the motor and accommodate delays caused by the Pi’s slow file system.

I also had no way of easily viewing images and adjusting camera settings midcapture, so I found myself having to recapture entire reels with new settings. Most worrying, after a few reels it was clear that the Pi camera’s relatively low dynamic range relative to that of the films was wiping out a lot of detail in high-contrast scenes.”

As a solution, he deployed software called Open CV. This takes multiple photos of the same frame at different exposures for a HDR effect. The result is those irreplaceable family archives are now preserved forever in the digital realm.

Here you can read more about this stylish project

About Luca Ruggeri