Storing Cine Films, Camcorder and Video Tapes

It is easy to forget that your most precious memories stored on film and tape can easily deteriorate over time. It is absolutely vital that they are stored correctly to ensure proper playback for conversion to DVD.

How to Store Cine Film

Pink Film
Pink Fading
Removed Pink From Film
Pink Removed from Film
Cine films are extremely robust and will last decades providing you look after them. All cine films do not like light and should be stored in a sealed box to prevent the light from getting at them when they are not being used. Cine film exposed to long periods of light will fade with time – it usually starts with the film becoming pink and will end with the film becoming completely clear. This is down to the type of film used and also the processing of the film. If your films are taking on a rather pinkish look then you should get them transferred to DVD now. Depending on how bad they are you can usually adjust the colour to compensate for the pink tinge in the mid to dark tones of the film but the highlights will already be turning clear and are unrecoverable. As time goes by this progressively gets worse until it cannot be recovered.

Colour Kodachrome cine films tend to be the most robust and fortunately for most people they are also the most abundant cine films around. Other manufacturers vary greatly and it really depends on the quality of their films. Some are just as good as Kodachrome and others are not.

Practically all black and white cine films last an incredibly long length of time – over a hundred years if they are stored correctly. This is partly due to the amount of silver halides that have been used in the processing stage – no health and safety back then! Also the film base for black and white films is much more robust than colour cine films.

The processing stage of cine films also directly affects the length of time that they will last. The last step in all photographic processing (including paper prints) is a wash tank. The wash stage should consist of water and stabiliser. The key is stabiliser – it forms a barrier on the film that prevents grubby fingers harming the film and helps to wash off any residual chemicals from the developing stage. The trouble is stabiliser isn’t cheap and so many labs either diluted the stabiliser down more than they should have, or worse they didn’t bother and just used water. These people should be ashamed of themselves, as the result is a lot of the processing solution was left on the films. They all look great at the time the customer receives them and as time goes by they will fade because the residual chemicals are left on the film. When the film is exposed to light they carry on processing and then start fading.

Cine films do not like damp. I constantly hear of disaster stories from people who wrap up their films and return to them ten or twenty years later only to find that they are covered in fungus and it is literally eating the film. Fungus loves cine film and it is important to keep your films in a dry place.

Do not use rubber bands or sellotape on films. Rubber bands perish over time and stick to films leaving marks on them. The same is true with sellotape. The proper way to join cine is with film cement - not sellotape. Sellotape becomes brittle in time and falls off leaving you with two halves of the same film. It also marks the film where the joins were and can leave a sticky mess that can jam in the projector ruining part of you film. If some of the sticky gets into the projector then it will smear the whole film as you are viewing it and ruin a perfectly good film in the process.

Cine films like the cold but not freezing. All films are chemical based which means they react quicker as the temperature rises. By reducing the temperature you slow down any chemical reactions and thus preserve the films. Don’t go too cold though as the film can become brittle and break.

So, what is the best way to store cine films? Anywhere dark, dry and cool is great. The loft is a perfect place for cine films to be stored.

One last thing – label up your films with who is on them. Please! So many people “inherit” these films and most of the time they have no idea who is on them or where it is or when it was. What was the point in capturing a moment in time if you intend to let it disappear into obscurity?

How to Store VHS Videos, Betamax Videos and Camcorder Tapes

Magnetic tapes are not as robust as film. They are prone to drop outs and signal degradation as time goes by. Analogue magnetic tape will always give a signal of some sort but tends to result in a poor picture playback. Digital, on the other hand, will always give a much better picture playback right up until the tape degrades too much and then it won’t give any signal for playing at all, resulting is no picture at all. In many respects analogue will outlive digital recordings because of this. So if you have any mini DV tapes, digital 8 tapes or even dat audio cassettes then they should prioritised first.

Video and Camcorder Tapes should be kept away from anything magnetic. So if you are leaving your old videos lying around on top of the hi-fi speaker sitting in your living room (with large magnets inside) then you are asking for it!

Video players and camcorder players do not like dust. It is one of the single biggest reasons for poor playback as the video heads get compacted with dirt from the tapes, so store your video tapes and camcorder tapes in the boxes that they came with. Why risk ruining your precious memories for the sake of tidying up as you go?

Videos do not like excessive heat such as direct sunlight - they like room temperature for storage. They also do not like the cold. Analogue VHS video and camcorder tapes exposed to heat and cold start to have odd playback colours. Digital can fail completely to playback. It is not uncommon for shimmering light effects to start appearing on videos because of this. Once this has happened there is nothing you can do to resolve this other than some sophisticated (expensive) tinkering on the computer. Whatever you do – do not store video tapes or camcorder tapes in the loft where they will get exposed to cold temperatures.

All magnetic media stored on reels start to degrade from the outside of the tape inwards. So, if you have your precious wedding video sitting somewhere then it is best to leave the tape fully unwound to the end. i.e. do not store tapes rewound to the beginning. The reason for this is the tape in the middle is protected by the tape on the outside, and the more tape on the outside the better it is preserved. So if you are still using video for storage or camcorder tape then let the tape run for a bit at the start before you start recording and then store them fully unwound. That way they are more likely to be played in the future.

Moisture damaged Video - Fungus and Mould
Camcorder tapes and video tapes will be very badly affected by moisture. Inside the cassettes are metal pins where the tape runs around. If these rust then it will damage the tape as it goes past. Likewise the tape can stick to itself resulting in terrible playback and also the magnetic particles can completely come away from the tape base. A bad cassette can completely ruin a good film inside. If you suspect the tape has been exposed to moisture then try opening it *** carefully *** and look inside. You will see if there has been any damage. If you suspect the tape is faulty then you can “transplant” the tape into another cassette for playback.

In summary, keep your VHS videos, Betamax videos, Mini DV camcorder tapes, Hi 8 camcorder tapes, Digital 8 camcorder tapes and VHS-C tapes at room temperature in a dry, dark place and away from anything magnetic or electrical.

Playing Cine Film

Okay, here is the usual scenario: You go about your daily lives working, looking after the kids and a little bit of “me” time thrown in now and then. Most days the idea of checking or viewing your old cine and camcorder footage never even gets a look in until one day you decide that these would make a great Birthday present / Anniversary present as you haven’t seen them in ages. You then dig out the old cine projector / camcorder player / video player, bung in a film and start to play it to see what is on it and in the process completely wreck the film….

Before you do anything with the cine films, check the projector is running correctly. Then try a film that is not as important to you. Never put your precious film in without checking the projector.

Be ready to switch off the projector very quickly should a problem occur. i.e. Don’t set up the projector and the screen, load up a film and then sit down in a comfy chair away from the projector. By the time you have worked out there is a problem, reacted to it by walking to the projector, fiddled with the unfamiliar knobs and switched it off you could have mangled several feet of cine.

Film does not like grubby fingers - your sweaty fingers can leave horrible marks all over the film. So get yourself some cotton gloves to wear before handling the film.

Cine projectors require a certain amount of skill both to load the film and also when viewing it. If you try to load the film and the belts have deteriorated with age then the take up spool might not work properly and you could end up with a rat’s nest of film on the floor. This can be stood on and will definitely get dust and blobs of dirt all over the film, which will only make it worse for playback when transferring it to DVD.

Cine film can jam in the projector and unlike your modern day computers with the worst situation being a rude “beep” at you, if a film jams then the lamp will burn a hole in the film – it’s hot! It can even set fire to the film if left unattended. Likewise films that have bad sprockets can tear and split in two. Films that have been joined with sellotape that has come loose will jam in the projector and chew up the film. You can even scratch cine film by having grit in the projector which will drag right through your precious film top to bottom creating a lovely big scratch in the process. The bad news is this is difficult to remove effectively.

Do not try to clean cine film – get a professional to do it. Not only do you run the risk of making it worse by introducing more dirt than it had previously, but more importantly if you don’t do it correctly you can lift the emulsion layer completely of the film and then you have a perfectly clean but completely blank film. Cine film will stick to itself when it gets wet. Once it has stuck to itself it will not come away from the film it is stuck on without lifting the emulsion off from the part it is stuck to. This will result in some freaky playback with weird “ghosts” appearing momentarily from nowhere.

Playing Videos and Camcorder Tapes

When was the last time you used your video and camcorder? Still think it is in pristine condition? After all it went into the loft in perfect working order so it should be perfectly fine for playing video tapes / camcorder tapes now, shouldn’t it? Wrong! You need to appreciate that despite its perfect working order when you last used it there is a probability that it won’t be in perfect working order now.

Snapped Camcorder Tape
There is grease applied to the playback mechanism in camcorders and vcr’s which can harden with age, especially if it has been stored in a cold loft. This can cause things to stick and stop working properly.  When a tape is inserted into a camcorder or video player the flap at the front is lifted and the tape is pulled out into a big loop which goes around a metal drum where the heads for recording and playback are situated. If any one of these mechanisms fails and jams then the tape will snag and become twisted in the player. You then have a tape jammed in the player. Test the player first with a tape that is not important, and not just once – insert and eject it a few times to be certain.

IMPORTANT: If you have a jammed tape in a camcorder or video then seek professional help. If you try to release it yourself then the flap can close crushing the tape or the tape can snag on a part in the player and result in stretching when removed or worse snap. Snapped tape is not easy to repair.

Bad capacitors in old camcorders fail with age and everything from the screen to view the playback to the actual electronics controlling playback can break. Still want to bung your old camcorder tape in to view it? Use a blank tape first to see if it is in working order before putting that precious tape in. Try recording something and then playing it back. If it is fine then put the tape in that you want to view.

Some camcorders have batteries in them to remember the date and time. If these batteries leak they can damage the electronics – check carefully.

Dirty heads are also a big no-no. This mostly applies to video players as they tend to play the most tapes but it can also apply to camcorders as well. If your video player has dirty heads and you put a perfectly good recording into the video player then some of the dirt from the heads can transfer onto the tape which will mean it will not play back as well. Test the player first and if necessary get either a cleaning tape or carefully clean the heads with some isopropyl alcohol.