I have much to say about film-to-video transfer using frame-by-frame
techniques, but I've been putting off making a page about it on my site,
due to the enormity of the task and my limited time. I run the film
facilities at Cooper Union Art School, where we teach 16mm and sometimes
Super8. I spent a few years slowly building our current system, which
does sharp 1080p transfers of 16mm reversal, prints, or negatives. My
solution is based on parts we had available, some purchases from eBay
and elsewhere, and my own history using the MAX visual programming
environment to make my artwork. 

First, a quick note: Mirrorless cameras DO have shutters even though
they lack mirrors, so a mirrorless cam will die on a JK just like an
SLR. (Though some of the very newest ones have an all-electronic shutter
mode, often with reduced dynamic range.) 

I can't explain every detail of our system here, but this is the general

A (mirrorless) Panasonic GH2 camera body with macro bellows + enlarger
lens is focused on the filed-out gate of an Eiki slotload projector. The
projector has been modified: Shutter removed, sound-reader removed from
film path, motor replaced with gear-head DC one, lamp replaced with RGB
LED, power-supply replaced... 

An Arduino microcontroller inside the projector communicates with a
nearby computer via USB. The Arduino controls the motor speed and
direction, senses when the mechanism has advanced each film frame, and
dims the LEDs (via a high-speed PWM controller). When a frame is
stationary in the gate, the LEDs are on, but when film is in transit
they turn off. So when the motor is running the LEDs blink once per
frame. (This detail is crucial.) 

The computer is running a custom app (created with MAX) that
communicates with the Arduino and manages a live video feed from the
camera. The camera, like many recent mirrorless cams, outputs a 1080p
signal via HDMI which we feed through a Matrox capture box and display
on the computer screen for focus and framing. The software is also
checking the brightness of the sprocket hole (revealed by the filed-out

When you begin recording, the projector motor turns on and the software
captures the first illuminated video frame to disk then waits for the
next one.... It's a slow process (about 4fps) but way faster than the JK
(<1fps) and doesn't kill any DSLR shutters. After the capture is done,
all the uncompressed frames are rendered out to your choice of codec (we
use Prores 422) with optional image processing like curves,
color-inversion, image-flipping, pillar-boxing, etc. 

The filed-out gate can cover Super16 or the soundtrack of prints, which
we can translate to sound via AEO-Light [1]. 

The drawbacks are: 

It's home-made, so not easy to replicate with common materials. It's
slow. It requires a specific camera shutter speed to eliminate PWM
flicker. The GH2 is not the ideal camera (limited dynamic range makes
reversal transfers too contrasty, needed firmware hacking to fix HDMI
problems, needs to be recording to SD card to enable high-quality HDMI
outs, even though we don't use the SD card recordings!) More recent
cameras like the GH3 would be fine. The software is somewhat fragile
because MAX is inefficient. (We use a fast SSD for captures but if you
try to multitask during capture you'll get dropped frames.) 

Some pictures are here: 







a frame from reversal. Color neg looks awesome too.)_ 

-Zach Poff 


[1] http://sourceforge.net/projects/aeolight/
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