How to Buy Film Transfer Equipment

by Shane Burley

Film equipment is expensive--costing more money than most home producers are willing to pay. But film transfer equipment can be crucial when trying to take footage from a variety of platforms and put it together for storage or video editing. As with any other type of film equipment, you need to make your purchase based specifically on what your needs and resources are. Knowing exactly what you want can help limit the amount you end up dropping on equipment.

If you are primarily looking to transfer VHS to mini digital video tapes it is best to purchase a player that handles both VHS and mini DV. You can use this both to screen tapes and to transfer footage from one format to another, similar to the way people would use two VCRs to copy a video onto a blank tape. It is that simple, and you will also have a device that allows a more diverse range of functions than simple format transfer.

If you are looking to transfer film formats, such as 16 or 35 mm, then you are going to have to spend a little more money. The best choice is to never purchase a device that is intended to transfer straight to DVD, unless you are not trying to do any further editing or combining with the footage you are transferring. The best way is to decide exactly on a format you wish to put all of your footage on so you can capture it onto your computer, then get it all onto that footage. For transferring film into other formats, it would be best to use a film reel that can be plugged into a computer; that way you can capture the footage directly onto your hard drive using video editing or playback software. From there you can burn it onto a DVD or print it onto a different type of format using a video deck. The film transfer decks for computer plug-in run from $1,000 to $3,000 on average, and the ones that transfer to another physical medium are usually even more expensive. If it is a higher end film camera, it will allow you to use USB or FireWire connections to connect the camera directly to the computer. From there you can play the film in the camera and let playback or editing software capture the footage on the computer as it plays.

The decisions you must make about your purpose are crucial to how much money you are going to spend. Computers are very nice “all purpose” devices for so many electronic and video functions, and if it is at all possible to use an inexpensive reading peripheral and some type of transferring software, then you are going to be in the best shape. Once you have digital copies of all of your footage, whether it is original or stock, then you have the freedom to transfer it onto any format.


  • check A computer is going to be your best tool, so spend most of your funds on that piece of equipment.


  • close If you are transferring between analog formats, try not to transfer the content too many times because it degrades slightly with each copy.

About the Author

Shane Burley is a graduate of the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication majoring in journalism: electronic media and minoring in English and communications studies. His writing appears in The Larus, The Oregon Voice, The Cannon Beach Gazette,,, and

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