5 Tips for Preserving Family Films

As a pro photographer I occasionally deal with video and though I feel I'm very knowledgeable about digital images my knowledge of video is only so so. As my old Automotive Instructor use to joke,  " Dave, You know just enough to get yourself in trouble but not enough to get yourself out!."

That said, I've been asked by a client friend wanting to know, "What's the best way to preserve our family films?" Which she currently has saved in several different formats. My answer was that I'd find out and get back to her. And in doing so I thought I'd share the info here on my blog too. Here is what I found out:

1. Best to convert tapes to digital otherwise they degrade over time. 

Of the local businesses that provide this service is Costco, Walgreens and Walmart. Typically the tapes are transferred to DVD and pricing starts a 19.99 per tape at Costco, and as high as 24.96 per VHS tape transfer to DVD at Walmart. One other company, I called, here in the Cincincinnati Ohio area is AZTEC Video (aztecvideo.com). They have two locations in the area. One is by the Kings Auto Mall and I-71. Their prices are slightly less and decrease with the number of tapes you have.

2. DVD is just a pit stop as they are going out of style!

A good first step is to transfer your VHS/tape to DVD to preserve your memories. But keep in mind the Newer Apple computers are no longer coming with a DVD drive! Without a disc drive in your computer or a DVD player you would not be able to view your video!

If you want to view your precious family videos on a smartphone or ipad you will need yet a second digital conversion!

Note: Rare Mavica Digital Camera CD's can be converted to DVD if they have already been "Finalized" (kind of like a DVD formatting process, but done in the camera). Else you are out of luck! Except if you still have the camera and it still works? AZTEC Video will do these conversions to DVD for a price. 

3. The new Video format is MPEG-4 and allows saving and viewing your videos much easier and on several different devices including your smartphone and ipad.

Having you video transferred to MPEG-4 allows you to save it to your computer, a thumb drive or even to your smart phone. Now you can play it on any of these devices. Also you can upload your MPEG-4 video to youtube or other sites that can stream your video. Then anyone with an internet connection can watch it.

Note: Keep in mind these are big file sizes and unless you have an ipad or smartphone with a lot of memory, it would be best to upload your video online and then link to it from your smartphone/device so you can watch it that way.

4. Online services can save you the trouble of second conversion by saving to MPEG-4 directly.

As most current conversion services only transfer to standard DVD format. So a second conversion is required for saving on your computer or playing your video on newer devices.

I've only researched one online service which can convert directly to MPEG-4 and has very reasonable pricing and that is Southtree.com. Standard VHS to DVD is 12.95. They have what they call a Data DVD which saves your video in MPEG-4 format for three dollars extra 15.95. From this type of DVD you can play the file directly or copy it to you hard drive and play it from there on your computer. For an extra charge you can also get your video saved to a thumbdrive (this is in addition to the DVD). And is a great choice for those that no longer have a DVD drive in their computer.

If you already have video on DVD and would like to convert it to MPEG-4. There is a free program that you can download online called Handbrake. A little more high tech but I use it. Another software for an easy no brainer conversion that I use is Movavi Video Converter. ($39.95) First sign up with your email address and get a discount. Note: Movavi will not convert protected DVD's where Handbrake will do some types (you will need to do a little online research to find the add-on file that will allow this).

5. Save money by doing it yourself (DYI)

With the right equipment say: VCR, Computer and special software you can do it yourself and save money. Depending on how many tapes you have though, it may take a lot of time! As typically an hour long tape would take at least that amount of time (sometimes double if exporting to a different format than currently saving to) to transfer it to say a DVD. It all adds up one way or the other. Either it costs Money or Time!!!

Depending on the method you are using it will be either a one or a two step process.

Rare but you can still buy a VHS to DVD converter machine (this is different from those old combo VCR/DVD players) but the pricing is not cheap. Costs are from $500 on up. And of course this would only be one step. Allowing you to transfer your video to DVD. If you wanted to play the video on you ipad you would still need a computer with a DVD drive and software to convert it to MPEG-4 format.

If you still own (or can borrow from a friend) a VCR machine you can then purchase software and a special adapter cord to convert your video to either DVD or directly to MPEG-4 using your computer.

There are several devices on the market to use with your old VCR machine. Currently, I'm using UCEC USB 2.0 Video Audio Capture Card Adapter VHS VCR TV to DVD Digital Converter which is a very inexpensive product ($15.55 on Amazon.com) and comes with hookup cable and software. It is all I need to transfer my VHS tapes to MPEG-2. From there I use Movavi to convert my files to MPEG-4 (as most conversion software convert to MPEG-2 which is better quality designed to be transferred to a standard DVD but at the expense of a much bigger file size). So for me, this is actually a three step process.

Anyway, that is what I found out. Hope this helps you determine which method best serves your needs? As archiving you video memories is very important. See my blog post on Will your Generation be Lost because of Digital Files.

I have no affiliation with any of these products or services mentioned above. Let me know what you think? Leave a comment or question below.