A quick guide

What is Super 8?

Super 8 is a small gauge moving image film system introduced by Kodak in 1965 replacing earlier 8mm alternatives which were tricky to use and had been largely unchanged for decades. The new format boasted a larger image area and the simplicity of a cartridge based loading system that could be undertaken in daylight. Super 8 quickly became the tool of choice from the home movie maker to respected filmmakers and artists alike.

Well what is Standard 8 then?

Standard 8 (or Regular 8) was the original 8mm film format. 16mm open reel film was feed through the camera once, then flipped over to expose the second half. After exposure, the film was processed and slit in two to make two 8mm films. Film had to be loaded by hand in darkened conditions.

Okay, and Single 8?

Single 8, was Fuji’s response to Kodak’s Super 8 format. Similar in that it is cartridge based, Single 8 uses a polyester film base rather than the more usual acetate. Fans argue that Single 8 is a superior format, due to the inclusion of an camera pressure plate system (as in 16 and 35mm film cameras) to keep the film properly aligned, a feature not included in the Super 8 design. The format is still going in Japan, which is the only place the Fuji film stocks can be processed (although Fuji have announced that this will stop in 2013), although other non-polyester based stocks are also available.

But why use Super 8?

Good question. There’s nothing like using film for capturing the moving image, the picture qualities are unique and celluloid is the best of archival mediums. Super 8 offers an affordable entry into the world of film as well as being an established genre in its own right. Super 8 is not an instant medium, but hey, everything comes to he (or she) who waits!

Isn’t all this a bit out of date?

Some might say, but there are thousands upon thousands of users across the globe using Super 8 on a daily basis. Entire feature films have been made in the format and Super 8 images regularly appear in music videos, documentaries and other TV productions. The uniqueness of its images make it highly desirable.

How easy is it to get equipment?

Very little Super 8 kit is still produced, but there are a wide range of specialist outlets who do a trade in good quality used equipment. Online auctions are also a good source but as ever, buyer beware! You’ll need a good quality camera with the ability to shoot at 24 or 25 frames per second (for easier transfer later) and ensure that all major features are in working order. Look for respected makes such as Nizo, Bauer, Elmo & Canon.

Where can I get film from?

The replacement for Kodachrome 40 reversal colour film which was the stalwart Super 8 film stock, Kodak film stocks are available through some high street and specialist shops. Online outlets sell this as well as Kodak’s other negative colour and black and white films. Kodak has recently introduced new films to their range. Besides Kodak, specialist film stocks are available from a number of specialists who slit Super 8mm film from professional 35mm motion picture stocks.

How do I get the film processed?

Super 8 film stocks will require processing by a specialist laboratories, although the adventurous do process certain film stocks at home using some established as well as home brew chemical processes.

And then what?

Well, you’ve two options. You could edit it as film (if it is reversal), splicing scenes together (although this will destroy your original film) and then project the final piece or get it telecined for editing on video tape or computer (which you will have to do in any event if you shot negative film.

What is telecine?

Telecine is the process of getting the physical film image onto video tape or into a digital form. Professional telecine uses a specialist machine which scans each film frame and transfers it to the chosen medium (analogue of digital video tape). Pro telecine can be expensive, but does allow for on-the-hoof changes to the image to give the best possible results. Other telecine solutions use high quality camera set ups to record the image to tape or burn it onto DVD. The most cheap and cheerful solution however, is to use a Super 8 projector to project the image onto a flat white surface and film it using a video camera.

How can I edit the images?

If you’ve got the images onto tape, you could either edit in an analogue video edit suite, or use a digital solution. If you’ve had the images telecined onto DV tape or delivered as a data-file, you could load the data into your computer and edit it digitally. If it’s been burnt onto DVD you can rip the image from DVD and edit that data. Either way you’ve got the beauty of the Super 8 image in an editable digital form.

Where can I screen my finished film?

There are numerous rolling and annual film festivals which take all formats and genres of film. There are also specialist festivals which focus just on small gauge film. Either way, the world is your cinematic oyster.

But isn’t all this a real hassle?

In some ways yes, but the quality and uniqueness of the moving images from film is beautiful and just cannot be replicated in digital video. Once you’ve shot film you’ll shoot better video because you have to economical, you have to learn your craft, but you’ll be better filmmaker for it!

So, are you in or are you out…?