Digitizing Old Movies: ScanCafe Review

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ScanCafe Review

Do you have old family movies stashed away in your closet or back bedroom? If so, now is the best time to get them digitized because the longer you wait the more they deteriorate.

My husband Charlie has quite a few old family movies taken by his parents, so a few months ago I sent them to ScanCafe.com a company that digitizes photos, slides, negatives, and all kinds of old family movies. Charlie hadn’t seen the videos in over 50 years and I had never seen them.

When we downloaded the newly digitized videos we took a long walk down memory lane. You could always tell when his Mom was behind the movie camera by how seasick you felt. His dad did a much better job holding the camera steady but he loved to take movies of scenery, so a lot of the footage was “BBB” (Boring Beyond Belief!)

Note to self: don’t take movies of scenery—focus on people… 

But then there were the moments of pure gold, like seeing little Chuck at 10-years-old on his motorbike.

Charlie's Honda 50

And getting to see his beloved Granny.

Granny Walton

Do you think that was worth the cost of digitizing? Absolutely! In fact, it was priceless!

My Experience With ScanCafe

ScanCafe has been around a long time and I’ve used them over the years to scan photos and slides but this was the first time I had sent them old movies.

We had several kinds of movie film and videotape we wanted to digitize: Super 8, 8mm video, VHS, mini VHS, and 16 mm reel to reel movies. ScanCafe can handle the larger reel to reel movies, which isn’t the case with all companies as we discovered when we placed an order with LegacyBox.com and wasted a lot of time before finding out their machines couldn’t handle our movie size. Thankfully, ScanCafe can handle large size reels.

Placing the order was fairly easy though not as easy as it is with photos, slides, and negatives because with video you have to estimate how much footage you have. I needed a bit of help from customer service to figure that out, but they were very responsive and, all in all, I made it through the order process pretty well.

Mail In Your Movies

Once you complete the order you’re given a PDF shipping label you can print and attach to your box of videos. ScanCafe only charges you up front for about half of your order, and then you pay the rest after they finish digitizing your entire order. 

ScanCafe claims to take more care with your videos, even performing scene-by-scene color correction instead of a one-time-fits-all adjustment. Check out their website if you want to learn more about their editing process.

With photos, slides, and negatives you get to review the scans online, and you can reject up to 20% of your order. That means instead of trying to figure out what’s on every slide or negative you can get them scanned and then choose the ones you want, which is actually a very nice feature. But that doesn’t apply to movies and film.

You pay a set fee for each kind of movie no matter how much is on it. During the order process you can pay an additional fee if you want your digital files placed on a DVD or thumb drive and returned with your original media, but there’s a free download option, which was good enough for me.

I’ve used ScanCafe off and on for many years so I was aware they had scanning facilities overseas but they told me they’ve stopped doing that now and only operate in the United States. Still, it took longer than expected. Customer Service told me that because of COVID-19 they had fewer workers and a higher volume of orders due to people having time to clean out their closets!

Download Your Videos

When ScanCafe finishes your order, you receive the final invoice. Our total bill for 25 movies was around $360. Once you pay the remaining amount ScanCafe returns your original media and gives you immediate access to the download links on their website for all your files.

One slightly odd thing relating to the download links is how ScanCafe named our files. During the order process they asked me to name each piece of media so I assumed they would use the short names I gave them. I even attached a label with the name to each box and reel. But they didn’t use the names I provided. Instead, the download link on their website used whatever was written on the original box instead of the name I gave it. When we downloaded the movie files, we discovered that the file name was totally different than the name on the download link. It was a fairly long series of letters and numbers. To avoid confusion we changed the generic video names on the downloaded files to the descriptive names of the download link.

As far as quality, the digitized movies were good given the quality of the original movie film, which was never really that great to begin with. So ScanCafe does a pretty decent job of making it look like the original.

VHS Cassettes: ScanCafe vs. Elgato Video Capture

We did one comparison between a VHS video cassette digitized by ScanCafe and the same video digitized at home using a device called Elgato Video Capture. This is a set of cables and software you can use to connect a VCR player with your computer to create an mp4 video. Thankfully, we had a good VCR player.

Elgato Video Capture

When we compared the two digitized videos, we felt that the Elgato video had a pretty significant edge in quality over the ScanCafe video and it was about half the file size.

Don’t get me wrong. ScanCafe did a good job, but the video we converted ourselves with the Elgato turned out better enough that we would recommend using Elgato for VHS cassettes.We’ll go over the details in a review and demo of the Elgato, so watch for that.

Can the Elgato convert other older video tape formats? Yes—as long as you have a movie player for each kind of video, which most of us don’t. So for older home video movies and for all reel to reel movies, a site like ScanCafe.com can do all the work for less than you could do it yourself—and they do a very good job considering the age and technology of those old home videos!

And is it worth it? You bet!

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