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Reel vs. Reel. How to Tell if You Have a Film Reel or Audio Reel

By Elaine Elliott

There are several ways to tell an audio reel versus a film reel. None of them are plainly obvious or clear just by looking at the reel, but a few clues and indications will make deciphering fairly easy.

Before you start to inspect your reels, be very careful with handling your analog media!

Film can become brittle and fragile if the reel has been stored away for a long time. Film is also sensitive to light, humidity, and dirt.


When you examine your reels, we suggest wearing clean gloves. We also recommend looking at the reels in a darker room without any bright lights. You can always use a red light or the red light feature on a headlamp to help you inspect the film safely.


Don’t forget that you can digitize your film reels at Legacybox! We accept 8mm and 16mm film reels. But if you’re unsure if your reels are film or audio, here’s what to do next.



There are four main ways to tell film reels and audio reels apart. 

  1. The packaging labels
  2. Reel width  
  3. Film perforations
  4. Film transparency


If you held onto the packaging after all this time, then you’re in luck! Most reel companies either exclusively made movie film or audio tape.


Movie film reel brands include

Kodak, Fuji, 16mm, Super 8, 8mm, Agfa, Cine, Pathex, Ilford, Standard 8, Double 8, and Single 8.


Audio tape reel brands include

Sony, Ampex, Scotch, Memorex, ATR, TDK, BASF, Maxell, Magnetic Tape, Sound Recording Tape, ¼ inch, ½ inch, 1 inch, and 2 inch.


Fun fact: In the 1940s, famous singer Bing Crosby invested $50,000 toward Ampex to help commercialize reel tape audio, which jump started its popularity!


If you don’t have the packaging anymore, you can measure the reel. Reel widths vary depending on if it was used for film or audio.


Film reel widths

8mm, 16mm, 9.5mm, and 35mm.


Audio reel widths

¼ inch, ½ inch, 1 inch, and 2 inch.


If you’re still unsure, you can always view the film roll. But make sure to be careful!


If your film has perforations on one or both sides of the strip, then it’s movie film. The perforations are the tiny little square gaps on the side that hook into the sprockets on a film projector. Audio tape does not have perforations.


Another sure indicator is the film transparency. Movie film has to be transparent to show the clips when the light is shined on the film during projection. Since audio reels do not include visuals on the tape, the film is opaque or translucent and usually a brownish color. Some light may be able to pass through an audio tape, but it’ll have a cloudier appearance.


Of course, Legacybox can digitize both! So no matter what you find, we are here to make sure those memories can be relived for generations. 


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