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Tips for the Vintage Film Reel Collector

Since the introduction of online sites like eBay, vintage cine film reels have become common. People find vintage film reels in their attics and attempt to sell them online based on the value of the title rather than the quality of the old cine film reel itself. Other sellers however are looking to squeeze money out of people who don’t know how to assess the quality of a reel. There are certain questions that a buyer must ask when they are about to purchase an old 8mm film.

Identifying an Original

Most people try to assess whether an old cine film is an original or a duplicate by holding it against the light or looking at it through a magnifying glass. This however won’t provide information about the film other than its date code and film stock. The only way to tell an original from a fake is by projecting it. A duplicate film lacks details and cannot display color as accurately as an original. The white are over exposed and seem to ‘bloom out’ whereas other colors are grainy and out of focus. Differences in the quality of sound can also be identified by a trained ear.

Lines & Splices

When it comes to old 8mm film reels, a few lines and scratches are expected but scratches that go on for long periods of time down the center of the picture are unacceptable. Splicing is also a very common phenomenon. This is usually done between lab reels which were timed accordingly to appear at the end of scenes and not disrupt the viewing experience. A ‘jump’ splice in the middle of the scene or important dialogue indicates that the film was tampered with.

The Vinegar Syndrome

Cellulose Acetate was released for use as emulsion in old cine films in order to help preserve them in the hot & humid climates of India. Unfortunately this material caused the film to decay faster. The best way to identify whether an old cine film has been treated with Cellulose acetate is to smell it. The film gives off a vinegary smell which is also known as the Vinegar Syndrome. If the film even has a hint of vinegar, it is better to discard it.

Can you salvage it?

There are often old cine film discoveries which are just too good to let go. Some may be lucky purchases at yard and car boot sales while others may be old home movies or part of your grandfather’s prized collection. In any case, there are always questions about how they can be restored. Restoration of cine film is a technical process best undertaken by professionals. There are treatments and color corrections that can be done on film to correct the issue. This method however is risky and better avoided if there is only one copy of the old cine film. The best way is to digitize the cine film before tinkering with it. If you’re only interested in the content of the film then the digitally restored cine film will be readily available in a DVD.