News of the photo industry PMA Digital Imaging
Stills from Video and Movies

Once upon a time, Kodak's processing lab in Chicago offered a product called a "2RM." It was a wallet-sized photo made from a single frame of 8mm movie film. You had to put a thread through the perforation of the exact frame you wanted, send it off and then explain to the customer why it looked so bad when it came back. Not Kodak's fault, individual frames of movies (or video, for that matter) just aren't very sharp. The persistence of vision - the fact that you see 16 to 30 images per second and your mind blends them together - is what makes a film seemed detailed.

Years ago our store would make stills from movies by using a Beseler Dual-Mode Slide Duplicator and a really short lens for high magnification. Setting up was a lot of work, and the demand was low, and the quality was still not very good.

More recently, we would go to our video transfers center and try to take a photograph from the surface of the monitor. The quality still stank, but at least it was easier to set up. That was the same technique we'd use when somebody wanted a still from a video tape - the family mugging in front of the Today show window, or some perpetrator caught on a surveillance camera for the local police department.

Now there's a better way.

Snappy video capture devicePlay Incorporated, makers of the Snappy, have created a low-cost video grabbing device that works in much the same way. When the price of the Snappy 3.0 dropped below a C-note, I bought one and started experimenting with it. It's a pretty impressive device, kind of like the Oreck vacuum cleaner in that it's very nearly as good as its own press!


We have a "home-built" digital imaging station - and I must warn you that what is described here works only with Windows-platform systems, not with a Mac-based imaging center. The Play 3.0 connects to the parallel printer port. That can be a pain, so we used an extension cable that brings the parallel connector around to the front of the computer station. (It's the same cable we use for our Zip drive.)  Software on a CD-Rom installs quickly. By today's standards, the Snappy software doesn't hog a log of hard drive space - about 8 megabytes. The Snappy has an RCA plug for video in and for video out, so that you can use a video monitor on the "downstream" side of the Snappy. Operation is easy.

  1. Hook the Snappy to your parallel port
  2. Hook your video source to the "video in" connector.
    For movie originals, we use the Elmo Transvideo from our video transfer stations
    For video tapes, we use the appropriate VCR or camcorder as a source
  3. Hook a monitor to the "video" out connector
  4. Run the tape or movie
  5. When the correct image appears, use your mouse to click on the Snap button on your computer monitor.

The Snappy software gives you a choice of file formats in which to save the captured image. We save them as JPEGs (.jpg) files.

We then open the file in Photoshop LE, "tweak" the image contrast and color (usually just using the auto level control,) and save it again.

Our charge for this service, including one 8x10 or two 5x7s from our dye-sub printer, is $19.99. Customers are happy and the first six images paid for the extra equipment investment! From here on it's pretty much pure profit.

Chris Lydle