Super 8

1 10 2008

Super 8 is a filmmaking medium which is seeing a resurgence recently, and has rightly been an essential part of the creative moving image artist/filmmaker/designer’s arsenal for a long time. 

Before home video cameras existed, there was super 8. A cheap, accessible film camera. Using smaller strips of film than conventional film cameras (the 8 refers to the film size – 8mm, versus 35mm for professional film camera) it allowed reasonably well off families to make their own home movies and to film their holidays and family occasions. It gradually died off as video cameras became cheaper in the 80’s. 

Film is far more tricky to work with than video, and for the amateur market the benefit of video over film was clear to see. Video is instantly accessible – just play back the tape, you can even hook it up directly to a TV set. Before you can see a super 8 film, you have to finish off the reel – approx 3 mins worth of footage, then send it off for processing, then project it onto a screen – minimum about 8 weeks later. You could find at this moment that it was badly out of focus, under/over exposed and that your footage was unusable.

But while the practicalities of using super 8 meant that it lost out to home video cameras, the actual quality of the images are often much richer. Video is always chasing the look and feel of film, and for purists it will never get there, just the same way that a digital recording will never have the warmth and pure sound that a vinyl record has.

The super 8 look is often used to show dream sequences, flashbacks to childhood and many more experimental uses. 

Due to its fall from use, many owners of cameras were selling them for a few pounds on car boot fairs, and you can still pick up a bargain today (although more difficult to find – check ebay or other auction sites). If you do so, then try to get the camera and a projector, as you need to be able to see the finished film as well. Be aware that there is also standard 8, which uses a spool of film rather than a cassette. Check that you are buying super 8 kit, as standard 8 is more tricky to use and process.

What about the filmstock?

Super 8 comes in cartridges containing approx 3 mins of film, as shown in the picture above. The filmstock is increasingly hard to find in the UK. As far as I know, Kodak (the last major producer remaining of super 8 cartridges) has stopped making them. There is stock left, try the widescreen centre to see what they have. The standard film for Super 8 cameras is Kodak Ektachrome 64T Colour Reversal Film.

If you have more epic intentions, then you can go for more expensive filmstock, and move between Colour Reversal to Colour Negative film. The cost starts going up, but so does the quality. If you look into buying colour negative film, then you will need to pay for the telecine process which will convert it into a format of your choice – Mini DV, DVD etc. Once again, check out this page at the widescreen centre for more info.

You can also try pro8mm who take pro 35mm filmstock and cut it down to 8mm and package it up into super8 cartridges. This means that you can use the same filmstock as the pros use in feature film production. They have a London office – details here. They also take old cameras and refurbish them, making them super super8 cameras.

A big exponent of super 8 is straight8. They had a season on channel 4’s 3 minute wonder recently, and run competitions and screenings for super 8 filmmakers. See below.

For more info, try the following links.

http://www.projector.demon.co.uk/super8.html

http://onsuper8.blogspot.com/

http://www.cambridge-super8.org/

http://www.straight8.net/straight8b.htm

http://homepage.mac.com/onsuper8/

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