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Do 8mm Tapes Go Bad?

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By Christian Roemer

If there’s anything Antiques Roadshow has taught me, it’s that everyone has a chance of striking gold. Not literal gold, metaphorical gold.

Some people are lucky enough to stumble upon a treasure trove of old 8mm tapes.
Most people don’t even have the means of watching 8mm tapes and film anymore, but that doesn’t mean they’re worthless. Quite the opposite, actually. Some companies shell out good coin for old film footage to feature in things like video games, music videos, and movies.

 

But here’s the problem: you’re up early in the morning on a Saturday at a storage facility about to bid on a cool looking locker. You’re staring down your competition. You peeked in the 8x8 glorified garage and saw some old tapes that looked valuable poking out of a box. Is this your El Dorado, or are those 8mm tapes hunking piles of trash?


In other words: do 8mm tapes go bad, or do they stay in perfect shape forever?


8mm tapes will all fail eventually. The real question is: what’s the timeline?


It’s basically impossible to say exactly how long any given 8mm tape will last. The reason is because all sorts of things can compromise their structural integrity. That’s why, in your quest to outbid the “YUUUUUUUUP” guy on your dream locker, it might be better to scope out everything except the tapes. Here’s what I mean.


The biggest damage bringers to any kind of media are natural forces. In the case of tapes, you have 3 major culprits: light, water, and fungus. The trifecta, one might say.


If you want to get scientific, 8mm film is made out of photochemical emulsions on translucent acetate. That means chemicals on plastic. Anything that’ll mess with the balance of chemicals on plastic is an issue. For 8mm tapes that have been in storage, that’s light, water, and fungus.


All of those three harbingers threaten to destroy 8mm tapes. Fungus can grow on the tape, splotching the images and ruining the picture. Water can cause anything from spots to complete washouts, and light can cause the picture to fade completely.


So if you’re wondering what that box of 8mm tapes in the storage container might hold, the answer could be a whole lot of nothing. How does the box look? Is it water damaged? Does it look dried and sun-exposed? Is it growing mushrooms out of one of the corners? All of those things can wreak havoc on 8mm tapes, making them completely useless.


So to answer the question, “Do 8mm tapes go bad?” The answer is yes. The real question is, “When and how do 8mm tapes go bad?” The answer is, like we always say here on the Kodak blog, “It depends.”

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