The optimum scenario for motion picture film preservation is to undertake film-to-film duplication, producing a preservation master, a new viewing print, and additional access copies. Film-to-film duplication is very expensive, however, and will be justified only for the most valuable and significant historical films.
For most small institutions with limited resources, the best option will be to have service copies of films made on videotape and to store the originals in cold storage offsite. Since the two media are very different, the copy will not be a completely accurate reproduction and thus cannot be considered a preservation copy, but it will allow access to films that would be unavailable otherwise.
While videotape copies can be created on VHS videotape (which is well known to users and can be played on equipment already found in many institutions), you should also consider creating the first copy on better-quality tape, which can then be used as a master to make additional copies as needed. BetaCam SP (a half-inch analog tape) has often been used for this purpose, although in recent years some institutions have begun to use DigiBeta (a half-inch digital tape) because of its increasing presence in the broadcasting industry.
Analog and digital reproductions each have advantages and disadvantages. Analog systems are much simpler than digital systems and reproduce the content more accurately—digital copies by definition sample the original information rather than reproducing it exactly—but digital formats can be easily transmitted over the Internet, copied to other media such as DVD, and recopied many times without data loss.
As many other materials are converted to digital format, the question arises of whether to simply convert film to digital for preservation purposes, rather than film to film. For now, the answer is that current digital technology cannot yet capture all of the images and sounds of an original film adequately. In addition, the problems of digital preservation (addressed elsewhere in this session) would also apply to digitized films.
Motion picture film on nitrate base is extremely flammable. If you have this in your collection, be aware that insurance companies and fire departments have specific regulations governing the storage of nitrate film. Be sure you are adhering to these requirements, and duplicate the film as soon as possible.