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Paul Hildebrandt

Archival film lab transfer issues, advice needed

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Hi, new to the forums and this is the only place I've been able to find that discusses these types of topics!

 

I've been having a number of archival films scanned from the National Archives. The footage has always looked pretty rough which I attributed to it being archival film. However after my last order and finally being discouraged enough by the footage I tried a different lab and the results are night and day.

 

As someone who has paid many thousands of dollars to the first lab over the years, I feel a bit ripped off. The new lab i went with is no more expensive, and the footage is far different.

This is not a case of simply sending them better films either, I have dozens of films from the older lab and they all exhibit the same problems vs all the films I sent to the new lab which do not have these problems.

 

Here is what i'm noticing.

 

With the old lab, the footage has a very odd and very heavy color noise. The highlights always seem to have a green tint to them, the blacks always purple, and overall everything is just very washed out and ugly. On some films, color information seems to be missing enough to where i've never been able to repair it. The lab owner has always told me that archival films are just rough, many of them are copies, and it is what it is.

 

So I sent some films to a new lab, and the footage looks like it was shot yesterday. Footage from the 1940s all the way through the 1960s. While some of the footage is soft such as that on edited films, the color is correct. And on the unedited raw reels, the footage is so sharp, lacks the color noise, and is nicely color balanced.

 

I've attached examples screencaps below. These were both scanned and delivered at 1080, 23.976. These are both probably premium examples from each lab and all films from each lab exhibit the same characteristics. I'd appreciate any advice.

 

Thank you,

- Paul

 

Old lab:

bInUTzm.png

 

New Lab:

6dYAC0R.png

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There's been a revolution in film scanning over the last few years and a much better appreciation of the colorist's role in the process. Differences in noise often come down to the type of scanner while color can be adjusted from almost any scan so I'd conclude that the "new" lab is paying more attention to what the color should be.

 

There also may be a different philosophy between labs in that the "old" one may be trying to get you a close as possible to what the actual film looks like without corrections vs. a new approach of getting you what it SHOULD look like...blue skies, ect.

 

Good news is that all the previous footage can most likely be adjusted with a program like DiVinci Resolve to get your color and even the noise closer to what you'd like.

 

With any lab your best bet is to have a discussion with them about what you're looking for so they can best match the scanner and post processing to your needs.

 

One school of thought would be to get the "best" and highest resolution "flat" scan you can, then have a proper colorist work on the image until you're happy with the color. Then you'll have a "digital negative" that you can repurpose later without having to re-scan. This can be more expensive however because a good colorist is not cheap...but they make every difference in the world.

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Presumably you're aware that practically all Kodak prints prior to about 1980 have faded to pink. There can be very little other colour information left and the density suffers too. The second lab may simply have corrected it somewhat.
Edited by Mark Dunn

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Not sure what scanner old lab was using but someone overcranked the sharpening and that cannot be undone... or it was uprezzed and they added sharpening to make it look like the scan had detail.

 

New lab looks much better...

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Not sure what scanner old lab was using but someone overcranked the sharpening and that cannot be undone... or it was uprezzed and they added sharpening to make it look like the scan had detail.

 

New lab looks much better...

 

Do you think it's possible they are scanning it in SD or 720 and uprezzing it to 1080? That sounds pretty shady. I'm trying to find out exactly what piece of hardware was used to scan it.

Here is another image from an entirely different film, the same color noise is present.

 

gljZxOs.jpg

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Do you think it's possible they are scanning it in SD or 720 and uprezzing it to 1080? That sounds pretty shady. I'm trying to find out exactly what piece of hardware was used to scan it.

Here is another image from an entirely different film, the same color noise is present.

 

gljZxOs.jpg

Also looks really awful, like it was shot off a screen or some other terrible low quality process, very over sharpened and lacking detail.

 

Could be a uprez but a really bad one.

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Some of the older telecine/scanner operators that worked in broadcast television liked to crank up the aperture setting (electronic not physical) on on the data/telecine and that introduces a lot of ringing and noise.

 

I suppose it was to offset the loss of sharpness in terrestrial transmission in SD Analog TV systems, but it plays havoc for digital transfers.

 

From what I understand, the National Archives now has a vendor list from which the client can choose to make the transfer rather than force the user to use the in-house lab.

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