Keeping Your History from Fading

Posted by Bob on Jul 29th, 2008
Jul 29

(Adapted from a article by Stephen Smith – July 2008)

Some of your best memories have been captured on film, video or still pictures.  Remember your favorite vacation, fishing with your grandparents or learning to ride a bike? Vague memories may be all that you have left if the footage that captured those moments is deteriorating. You may be wondering, “What’s the big deal? Why not just leave my home movies and pictures in the state they’re in?” Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns said, “Home movies are, like snapshots, the DNA of our collective memory, the first inkling of history.” And you never know when those mundane memories could take on unexpected importance.

Long before film or video, paintings were the most enduring way to capture images. But even they can fall victim to the ravages of time. The Last Supper, a famous 15th century painting by Leonardo da Vinci started to flake only 19 years after it was completed, and it has suffered from ongoing deterioration, almost fading from history. It took well over 400 years before conservators sealed the almost-unrecognizable painting into a climate-controlled environment. How long are you going to wait until you properly transfer and store your old footage?

There are many different formats and several ways to transfer your old analog tapes and films to a digital format, such as a DVD. This will help keep your memories recognizable for generations to come.

How long your old video tapes will last is anyone’s guess. Depending on your tape format, you can plan on their lasting for approximately 10 to 20 years. That means your oldest tapes are probably nearing their final days. Not only are the tapes on their last legs, but finding a device to play them with can become even more problematic. Film, and the projectors needed to watch them, can be in a lot worse condition today and they need help now. 

So what format should you transfer these memories to? Transferring to a DVD will probably have a life of 20 to 100 years, depending on the quality of the disc and proper storage. Unfortunately, video is compressed in order to squeeze it onto a DVD disc, but the loss of quality is almost unnoticeable to the human eye.

With a simple DVD transfer, your old footage goes unedited directly to the DVD.  You can have different recording-mode options that range from one to six hours per DVD. But for maximum quality, we use the 2 hour recording length.  Even though it’s tempting to cram six hours of footage onto one disc, remember we’re talking about your most precious memories here.

Unfortunately, the simple DVD transfer doesn’t create very attractive DVD menus. Also, the old footage may really need editing. This may leave your video boringly un-watchable for another generation. So in these cases, we offer a fully edited version with custom menus.  This makes your old movies a little shorter and in a more enjoyable version. My personal experience has been that people watch edited home movies multiple times, whereas they leave the unedited ones untouched. What’s the point of preserving them if no one watches them?

When taking the time to gather all of your old content, be sure to organize it so the footage will be easy to find. Be sure to label each so you can easily track down the footage of Cousin Billy showing off on his bike while running into the clothes line. You may want to consider purchasing a fireproof safe or renting a safe deposit box for your most important memoirs. Properly storing your footage isn’t just for old items; be sure to get in the habit of keeping track of your new stuff as well.

No matter how you decide to back up your old content, be sure to store it in a nice cool, dry, dark place. If your footage is not properly stored, all of the hard work you put into transferring it won’t be worth a whole lot.

The Last Supper has undergone several restorations throughout its lifetime, and your old footage probably will as well. Who knows, you may be reading an article in 10 to 20 years on how to preserve your memories from deteriorating DVDs. Your footage may not look like it did the day it was shot, but you will be able to keep it from crumbling to dust, so generations to come can enjoy seeing Aunt Bertha fall into the pool once more.

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