This message is in response to a previous subscriber who suggested that film archiving should
be carried out digitally (my computer went wrong and I can't retrieve the quote)...
There are two reasons why not. Firstly, by performing an analogue to digital conversion, you
fundamentally change the image chracteristics produced by silver halide (or colour dyes) sitting
on a cellulose nitrate base. Admittedly, digital film manipulation systems such as Kodak's Cineon
claim to offer a resolution comparable to that of 35mm film, but you will still lose the visual
characteristics of the source medium by making an image of it on a totally different medium.
Secondly, what are you proposing to save the digits onto? Magnetic tape has a notoriously low
shelf life compared to that of film (hence the fact that many leading archivists believe that the
only way to preserve video in the long term is by continual format migration, i.e. copying material
at regular intervals). Optical discs (CDs and the like) are still a relatively unknown quantity. For
all its faults, we have a mass of information about what happens to cellulose triacetate and
polyester film when stored over long periods of time, and can reliably predict shelf lives of 100
years or more.
It is possible to record digital data optically onto 35mm film (which is how the Dolby SR-D and
Sony SDDS digital sound-on-film systems work), but surely it is better to archive photographic
images photographically than change the way an image is stored when this is not strictly
Besides, not only is it better, it's a lot cheaper: someone recently told me that state-of-the-art
digitisation of film images costs about $1,000 per 35mm frame. Compared to that, a complete set
of 35mm preservation masters (fine grain positive colour separations, internegative separations
and colour internegative for both picture and sound) can be had for around UKú50,000
lot less if the film is black and white (thus only single-strip intermediate material is needed) and if
there is only one type of soundtrack or the film is silent.
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