Getting started with digitising all your vintage media.

What do you have to transfer? Film, photos, videos, audio, slides?
What are you trying to achieve? Digital copies? photo books? DVDs?
Are you capable of doing this? (yes, of course you are!)

These are the big questions you have to ask before you undertake any sort of digitising project.  Hocus Focus gives you some step by step instructions on how to get yourself organised before starting your big Digitising Project.


  • Step one is the most important.  What is it you want to copy?  Photos? Films? Video? Audio Tapes? Slides?……You don’t want to get half way through and find you’ve got an entire cupboard full of old albums that you didn’t know you had!  So get them all in one place.  (If you have various media, I suggest you stick to one at a time).
  • While you’re at it, are there other photos / films / videos etc that belong to other family members that you may want to copy?  I borrowed all my family’s photos, and found some real treasures I never knew existed.  (See my tip below.)P1050925

– Video/film/cassettesconver-to-digital-for-web_1da3fe2a-1a3d-4630-b439-ff5d0d09f728

  • Great.  You’ve got it all in one place. Now you’re going to need to sort them into some type of order.
  • Separate the different media: (this is because you’ll need different equipment for each group.)
  • For film, separate the different types – Standard 8 from Super 8. (Did you know the older Standard 8 has bigger, squarer sprockets than the small Super 8 holes?)
  • For Video, group the different media – Hi8/VHSC/VHS/Betacam etc.  Tackle one group at a time.  The cassette tape label will say what kind it is.


  • There are many ways to order media – but for video and film, chronologically is really the only way to go. For audio you may want to use genre or chronological.
  • If they’re unlabelled you may have to wait and see what they are when you play them! Go ahead and do that if you have a projector, VHS player, Handicam or audio tape deck.  Label them with date, who and what, as you go.
  • ****NOTE: Before playing old media such as video tape, ensure you have a new video head cleaner for your device.  Mould may not be obvious but tiny flecks of dust and mould can clog up your device quickly, and often it is nearly impossible to get clean again.  Video head cleaners are available online .
  • If your media is very old – read my upcoming post on HOW TO CLEAN YOUR VINTAGE MEDIA BEFORE PLAYING – so that you don’t ruin your player or projector.
  • If you have video/films/cassettes you can’t play because you don’t have a player, see my upcoming Post – HOW CAN I PLAY MY VINTAGE FILM, VIDEO and AUDIO.


 – Photos/slides.

Do you have a photo-bomb site sitting in front of you now?  I did (see photo above which is only about 1/100th of what I was dealing with.)  I had dozens of albums, reels of film, boxes of audio cassettes, boxes of negatives, boxes of slides, loose photos and slides….it was… well, it gave me quite a number of headaches.  But this is the hardest bit, once it’s over it’s all fun.

  • Sort your photos/slides into some sort of order, think of how you want to ultimately present them.  I like chronologically, but a broader kind…sort of like by event/era.
  • If you’d like a ‘help’ list on how you might group your photos: see A Guide to organising Family Photos – Part 1 and
    A guide to Organising Family Photos – Part 2
  • 20170312_052804147_iOS
  • Chronologically is the most obvious and works for family history. It can get a bit tricky if the span of time is very large, or you’re unfamiliar with the people and events.
  • Other ways to group photos are by – era, people, subject, location.
  • If you have hundreds or thousands of photos, you may want to sort into ‘big groups’ first, ie generations, or decades.  Then take each of those and put them in your preferred order.
  • At this stage your ordering doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be ‘good enough’, which saves you doing it when you’re actually copying.20170311_050315851_iOS
  • NOTE ABOUT PHOTO ALBUMS:  For information about how to deal with old photo albums, taking photos out of them, and replacing or reorganising – please see my post: Those Damn Photo Albums – what to do?   Ugh, don’t get me started.  As you can see I had dozens of those awful sticky back page albums.  I also had some that were so old photos had been stuck in with old tape. Some with corners, and some in pocket albums.  It was a nightmare.
  • NOTE ABOUT DIGITAL PHOTOS – for ideas on how to sort and file your Digital Photos, please see 10 Steps to organising your digital photos. For good.


You’ve done the hard part.  Now don’t let your 3 year old come and discover all your fascinating looking reels of Super 8 film!!  Don’t leave your precious photos out where the dog can eat them. 20170311_071742138_iOS  You need to keep them organised.

  • You THINK you won’t forget what you’ve just done, but life gets in the way of projects like this, so label, label and label.
  • Leave yourself a note:
  • For Photos and Slides: Bundle up photos is lots of ‘era’s or whatever you decided on.  Use kitchen towel (to prevent damage) and an elastic band, or put each group in a ziplock baggie.
  • Label the bundle with the date or group.
  • Try to order them numerically the way you will want to copy them. Usually the Oldest will be #1.
  • For videos, films and cassettes, clearly mark both the case and the reel/cassette with the date and the subject. (eg: 1963 Baby Jenny’s birth).

5. PACK:

Unless you’ve got unlimited time, you’re going to want to keep these things safe from the dog, the cat and the baby. Ensure all your media is in a safe, waterproof place, especially if any of it belongs to someone else!   Those big plastic storage boxes are perfect. Do not allow the celluloid of film or slides come in contact with the plastic of the box as it may damage it.
You can also get cardboard photo boxes, but beware, they are not waterproof.


  • A thin sharpie black permanent marker.
  • some stickie notes (not tiny ones.)
  • an exercise book or notebook.
  • med sized elastic bands or ziplock plastic bags.
  • a storage box to fit your media in (see tip below.)


  1. Buy yourself one of those big plastic storage boxes.  Dustproof, waterproof, and easy to carry, they’re a more sensible way of getting films, photos, slides or tapes all into one spot.
  2. If you want to borrow family photos but they’re a bit concerned about letting them out of their sight, give them a little receipt – what you took, when you took it and when you’ll give it back (say 6 months not a week!).  Tell them why.  You can be sure they’ll be happy about it.  Offer them a copy of the end result.

You’re ready for the next step!  How to play your media.  Watch out for my next post.  Find the Follow button on Hocus Focus home page. Home


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