Getting Your 16mm film into Your Computer   2 comments


I have been asked to further expand on my telecine setup, but I have put it off until now because it’s a bit messy.   Again I will confess, I am a cheapskate and I wanted to edit my 16mm in my computer without spending $.15 a foot or more.  My little 3 minute Child’s Summer short used about 20 100′ rolls so just that project would total $300 for commercial telecine services.  I toyed with the idea of creating my own rig to hold the film and move it one frames at a time, but after one test rig I gave up and decided to retrofit an existing projector.  A friend had lent me an old Eiki ST/M and that seemed the best candidate.

Projector Alterations:

  • Advance film one frame at a time.
  • Sense the proper time to trigger capture.
  • New light source that won’t burn the film.


I bolted a heavy stepper motor on the projector where it would align with the pulley on the shutter and found a belt that would stretch tight.   I also bolted on a micro switch that would interact with the outer edge of the shutter, this senses the proper time to capture the frame.


I also remove the bulb and place an LED light into the spot along with an opaque plexiglass panel to create a flat white light source.


Capture device critera:

  • Cheap
  • Able to take 100,000 images or more without dying
  • Ability to capture at least 1280×720 raw images after cropping
  • Manual exposure
  • Remote Shutter release

I would have like to use a DSLR camera for the capture but they fail the first two critera on the list.   The problem of shutter life was really the clincher, any used DSLR cheap enough for this project would already be too close to shutter death.


I am currently using a used Canon G5 camera and it has worked well for over 120,000 frames so far.  The G5 has one major flaw for this project and that was no remote shutter release.  Aaarrrrg.   It would have made it so easy.   Anyway I had to create a simple jig to hold the camera and a stepper motor with padded lever to depress the button.  I guess when the button wears out I will either find a new camera or dig into this one and try to wire around it.



To run the various steppers I have a couple of inexpensive stepper motor controllers and I programmed a simple microcontroller to sense the switch and tell the stepper motor controllers when to run.  I also added a simple switch to tell the brain when to stop loading the film and to start capturing images.    After the controller captures 4000 images or about 100′ of film it shuts down.  The whole thing is powered by an ancient recycled computer power supply.

I have some ideas for future additions, but I really don’t know if I will ever get around to it.   How about a puff of air to clear the dust just before capture.  I could enclose the whole thing and make it look professional.   I could enhance the interface to capture an adjustable number of frames.  A newer camera would probably give me more pixels and recover faster when taking a picture.  This could not go too much faster before outrunning the camera.

Here is a quick video so you can see it working.


Posted July 16, 2013 by 16mmadventures in Digitizing

2 responses to “Getting Your 16mm film into Your Computer

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  1. Hi,

    Just discovered your site, Interesting. Not sure you would want to “Get Film into your computer”, as you put it. (Might that depend on your being a filmmaker (at this end of the spectrum) or a film “transferer ” ?). Yes, if you want to show film on your computer. Yes If you want to use AVID or FinalCut Pro but, to create a print, you must still conform the EDL to the -ve. And isn’t that the reason for film ? The glorious sheen of projected film ? However, there are other means – you can buy a Steenbeck and make a film using the old analog workflow. And, you could also video the edited film on the Steenbeck, mix the sound in Avid, transfer to flash card or DAT, create the optical -ve, cut the negative and PROJECT the result ? It’s more costly … depends on how much you value your work… best wishes

  2. This is awesome!!! A friend of mine is trying to start an organization digitizing a lot of important experimental films that only exist on film. I have to show her this – could you possibly make one and sell it? Also I am an artist working with multiple 16mm projectors and have been trying to figure out a way to sync 2 projectors perfectly. Do you think you can figure out how to do that? could i possibly hire you to do this for me? here’s an example of my work:

    any info would be greatly appreciated.
    great job!

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