Equipment Matters

We are often asked the question, "what do you do with the collections?"... 

The Three P's

First and foremost, we 'preserve''.

In the age of increasing technological obselescence and in our remit as the largest regional repository for film and tape, it is vital that we digitise the collections, preserving both the physical (reel, tape etc) as well as the digital surrogate, so that the content can be enjoyed and shared for generations to come. Digitising for preservation is perhaps one of the most important core activities we do at SWFTA.  

Parallel to preservation, we 'programme'.

As a public facing archive and given all the projects and partnerships we are committed to delivering and supporting, SWFTA is in the process of selecting content from the collections which can be exhibited and displayed to audiences. Programming tends to be focused around specific projects such as FAN and UFH though SWFTA does from time to time produce content for DVD's, for social media and as a result of collaborative outreach activity. 

Finally, but by no means least, we 'provide'.  

To help sustain the archive, SWFTA operates a research and request service which often leads to the archive providing footage for clients; members of the public and for broadcast. The nature of this digitisation activity is ad hoc and driven by the needs and wishes of the clients. SWFTA also offers a digitisation transfer service which is dedicated to converting old media formats into digital files enabling people to watch, listen and share their content today and for generations to come.

SWFTA would not be able to achieve all this without the equipment to 'do the job'. 

The SWFTA Telecine

The archive at SFWTA contains a huge amount of film; the core Westward and TSW collection is mostly 16mm and dates from the early 1960s to the mid 1980s when video took over as the format for newsgathering. Film to Video transfer is accomplished using a Rank Cintel MKIII Telecine. It dates from the late 1970s and was formerly in use at BBC Bristol before making it’s way to the archive in Plymouth [pic 1].


Rank Cintel were a British company, synonymous with Telecine equipment all over the world and had links back to John Logie Baird’s company, Television Ltd, and strong ties with the BBC. They produced equipment from the 1940s through to 2012 when they were bought by Blackmagic Design.

[pic 2] The output of the Telecine is digitized in real time using either Grass Valley EDIUS software on a PC or Blackmagic Design software on an Apple Mac. It can then be edited and the image and sound fine tuned before being exported to SWFTA’s data storage servers.

[pic 3] The Telecine is over thirty years old now and has served us well. BBC Bristol have an expert engineer who is available for some quick over the phone advice or, in the case of more complex repair and maintenance, will come and spend the day getting things up and running again.


[pic 4] Some of the films held in the archive have their sound recorded on a separate magnetic film or SEPMAG. To play this back, the Telecine is connected to an MWA MB51 magnetic film player/recorder. Like the Telecine, this unit was originally used at BBC Bristol and came to the archive when they no longer had a use for it.

MWA are a company well known for their audio equipment for the film industry, although they originally started life in 1927 making radio components. The MB51 was launched in 1980 and is still in production today, with around 2500 units sold worldwide.

The MB51 can play and record 8mm and 16mm magnetic film and receives a sync signal from the Telecine to ensure that the pictures and sound remain sync’d during playback and shuttling.

Best Practice

Our digitisation workflows and metadata standards conform to recommended best practices. Unaltered master copies of each item of media and their metadata are stored on multiple redundant storage arrays.

Our specialist technical staff are skilled and experienced in working with both analogue and digital mediums. They are constantly reviewing the work we do, consulting with industry professionals and the wider FAUK and looking at how we might improve digitisation of the collections for the benefit of our depositors, audiences and clients.