Film stock up until the 1950s contained volatile nitrates. It became quite flammable as it degraded. The next generation of film stock was aptly called “safety film” because it was not as flammable. However, some very old nitrate films are still in good condition because of being preserved in controlled environments at cool temperatures. The problem with grandpa’s old home movies is that they most often are found stored in an attic or garage that is not temperature controlled. Though unlikely a fire hazard, the suboptimal storage conditions causes the films to suffer color changes known as color shifting and become brittle.
All is not lost when it comes to irreplaceable home movies shot on 8mm, Super 8 and 16mm film stock. Getting the reels as quickly as possible to a film transfer service can save them. Editran’s Milwaukee video production service company can halt the degradation process by digitizing old movies to DVD. All film degrades even if kept under ideal conditions. Digital files are computer ones and zeroes that remain perpetually the same. Unlike those old movie reels kept in cardboard boxes, digitized versions can be stored on hard drives, DVD’s, in the cloud and in other ways to prevent them from ever being lost or destroyed.
Attempting to guess how long home movies will last on film is a game of variables. It depends on the actual film stock used as well as the storage conditions. Heat and humidity hasten film degradation. Attics and garages are hot and humid in the summer and freezing the winter. Basements are usually cool, but humidity is often a problem. Tri-acetate film stock, in use even in the 1980s, is subject to color shifting and what is known as vinegar syndrome. The name is derived from a vinegar-like smell that is created as the film degrades. On the other hand, a polyester film stock manufactured in the 1950s is standing up well to the test of time. Without knowing the actual film stock used and the conditions the film has been stored under makes estimating how long it will last difficult. Having the film transferred to digital eliminates the need for guessing.
Transferring old home movies to a digital format gives grandchildren and great-grandchildren for generations to come the privilege of seeing something from their family history. In this age where children are used to a video version of just about everything, it is an opportunity and a privilege for them to see grandparents, great-grandparents and maybe even mom and dad as children on those old home movies. It gives them a glimpse into their own history and origins. These things alone make it worth saving by having them professionally transferred to digital media. So, is it worth trying to save old home movies? Definitely yes!