Celebrating the Elderly Using Technology: Converting Old Media Formats to Digital Gifts


Your old photos and videos are stored on Beta or VHS. Yet, today, everyone is using DVD and virtual digital copies of everything. Everything is on the web. How do you preserve a legacy and, at the same time, restore and refresh memories? Answer: you digitize and immortalize everything you have. It’s not as difficult as you might think.

Digitizing Your Old 8mm Film There’s

There’s something magical about 8mm film. The whir and click of a projector. The smell of dusty film that fills the air. The flickering of the lights before you get a steady picture. Today, there’s none of that. Yet, why should your memories die because 8mm did? They shouldn’t. Digitizing 8mm film isn’t as hard as it sounds. You’ll need your old projector, of course. You’ll also need a digital video camera. Set up the projector in a dark room with a large white wall that’s not textured at all. This will give you a nice, clean, picture. Turn off the microphone on the camera or make sure that it’s relatively quiet in the room because the camera will record any background noise. Now, adjust the projector so that it projects just a four or five-inch picture. Don’t worry, it won’t be small once you edit it. Get the projector into perfect focus. Now, set up your digital camera so that it captures just the film and nothing more. You want a straight-on shot of the film, not an angled one. Let the film play undisturbed. When it’s done, you have your digital copy. Yes, it really is that simple.

Digitizing Your VHS

Digitizing VHS is a little more complicated, but still easy. One option involves a computer and the other option requires special hardware. If you’re going the computer route, you’ll need a computer with RCA or S-video inputs so check this first (you don’t need both, just one). If you don’t have the required inputs, you’ll have to buy a special converter that converts RCA to USB or PCI. The USB connection is probably going to be a better fit than the PCI, since PCI slots are rare on newer computers. Plug the cables into your VCR or VHS camcorder. If you used the converter cables, install the software that came with them. The software allows you to record your VHS tape. Fire up the software and, with the VCR connected to your computer, start recording on your computer. Then, once that’s started, press “play” on your VCR or camcorder. Don’t disturb the playback until it’s finished. Another option is to buy a DVD/VHS combo player. The DVD side will have the option to record VHS. Pop the tape into the VCR side and a black, writable DVD into the DVD writable side and start recording.

Digitizing Photos

This is an easy one. Get yourself a color scanner and scan in all of the photos you have one at a time. Yes, it’s a long and arduous process. That’s the price you pay for ancient technology.

Let Someone Else Do It For You

If all of this sounds too difficult, you can just pay someone to do it for you. It’ll cost a bit more money, but it’s completely hands-off for you.


Once you’ve recorded your video, you might want to do some light editing. You can fix color, contrast, cropping, and other simple issues using a basic photo editor like Windows’ built-in photo editor program or you can use GIMP or Paint.net for a bit more control. iMovie and Windows Movie Maker are more than capable for editing video.

Sharing It With Everyone

There are two main ways to share your digital content when you’re done. First, you can use something like Vuze Torrent software. This software allows you to directly connect with other computers and transfer large files using torrents – small files that point to the target file. Torrents are useful when sharing large media like photos and videos because of the inherent restrictions on sending this kind of stuff through email (most email providers limit file sizes to 2GBs). Your other option is to load everything up on video or image sharing sites like YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, or even Facebook. Just make sure you aren’t sharing videos you didn’t create, or where the video copyright holder has not authorized sharing.

Oscar Griffith is an archive manager with a deep love for family and friends. With a heart for using his career skills to benefit others in daily life, he enjoys blogging about his insights into preserving and sharing old memories in the digital age.

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