How Does Cine Film Deteriorate Over Time?

No matter how carefully you take care of your old cine reels, eventually they will deteriorate. Cine film was just not built to last, and the longer you leave your home movies sat in the attic, the less likely it’ll be that you’ll be able to salvage all the footage.

So, how do cine reels degrade? And what’s the best way to keep them safe to preserve your footage for as long as possible?

Cine Film

What is a Cine Film Made Of?

Cine film refers to the 8 mm, Super 8, 9.5 mm and 16 mm motion picture film formats used for home movies. The film is made up of chemical dyes such as polymer, nitrate or acetate, which are then coated in gelatine.

Why Do Cine Reels Degrade?

There are various ways that cine film can degrade to eventually become unwatchable. Light and sunlight breaks down the chemicals cine film are coated in which causes fading, making the film footage transparent and potentially losing the images for good. Here are the most common ways that cine film becomes damaged:

  • Vinegar Syndrome

This is the name given to a condition that is the result of a chemical reaction that happens with cellulose triacetate film. Typical home movies were printed on an acetate base layer; eventually, this base layer degrades when the acetate ions react with moisture. Due to moisture, or temperature, the acetate base decomposes and gives off a free acetic acid, which is released inside the film base and then diffuses to the surface. This gives off a vinegar smell, hence the name. Once the reaction becomes autocatalytic, it feeds itself and causes an exponential jump in the creation of more acetic acid.

Vinegar syndrome is devastating for the preservation of cine film. It makes the film brittle and warped as the base shrinks faster than the rest of the film. Even just a 1% shrinkage could be enough to prevent you from saving your footage.

  • Moisture

Cine film is vulnerable to water damage as it can cause mould; cine reels should be removed from a moist environment as soon as possible to minimise the damage. Moisture can also smear any handwritten information about the footage, making it illegible, which could cause problems later on when trying to identify the footage.

Cine film can be severely damaged by mould, fungi and mildew if incorrectly stored. Old cine reels are often stored away in the likes of attics or garages, but these places are rife with fluctuating temperatures and too much humidity, which is problematic for cine film. Mould can cause damage to the emulsion of cine film, causing spots and streaks on the images. Mould essentially “eats” away at the image as it produces enzymes on the surface of the film.

  • Ageing

The natural ageing process of cine film can cause it to become brittle, which can lead to breakages and tearing, which will show up as specks in the film when viewed on a projector.

How Long Does Cine Film Last?

It can be challenging to pinpoint an exact amount of time that a cine reel will last, but with sufficient storage it could last for many decades. However, most people’s home are not equipped to give cine reels the optimal conditions they need in order to prevent deterioration.

What You Can Do

Here are some tips for ensuring your cine reels don’t degrade as rapidly:

  • Don’t play it on a projector – this can accelerate deterioration.
  • Keep them dry – the ideal humidity is between 20% to 30%.
  • Don’t use airtight containers – airtight canisters can accelerate vinegar syndrome; vented reel cases can be used to allow air to pass in and out. However, if the air is not filtered, a permeable cardboard enclosure allows for air movement but also protect the film from dust.
  • Don’t expose the film to sunlight – sunlight causes deterioration.

Finally, make sure you have your film footage backed up onto a less deterioration-prone format like DVD or MP4. Even if you have the optimal storage conditions for your cine film, backing the footage up onto a more reliable format ensures that, should the worst happen, your footage is not lost for good.

8mm Cine Reels

At Cine2DVD, we offer 8mm cine film to DVD conversion, as well as 16mm and Super 8. We also ship your cine reels back to you along with your DVD, so you can still keep those precious reels but with the reassurance that you have your footage safely preserved and backed up for future generations to enjoy. Don’t delay, the longer you wait before converting, the more likely your cine film is deteriorating.