Super-8 filmmaking

Kodak unveiled their new super-8 camera at CES 2016.

That’s right. The company that hasn’t made a super-8 camera in – what? 30 years? – the company who took our Kodachrome away (Kodachrome being the super-8 film stock), the company that went int bankruptcy, has released a new super-8 camera… into a world where everyone has HD video on their mobile phones.

Now, I’ve been saying for decades that it doesn’t really matter what you shoot on; it’s whether you do it right. Story, lighting, acting… All of the techniques needed to make an acceptable film instead of a ‘home movie’. So you can make a good ‘film’ on your phone if you know what you’re doing. And a lot of people do. But ten or 15 or so years ago, everyone wanted to shoot video. And why not? It’s cheaper than film, and you get instant gratification. It’s easier to edit. But, aside from that film has a quality that still cannot be duplicated on video, there’s been an ‘arms race’ on the equipment side. DV gave way to HD DV. Cameras have been touting higher and higher resolutions. If you bought a camera, it would be ‘obsolete’ before it arrived in its overnight package.

Film, on the other hand, is film. Your modern stock will run through a brand new motion picture camera the same as it will run through a 60-year-old wind-up Bolex. Sure, your Arri 416 is quiet enough to shoot sound. Sure, newer cameras have a wider choice of lenses than the C-mount on an H16 will accept. But the film still goes into the gate, stops for 1/24 second, and goes on its way. If you’re a filmmaker on a budget, you can get silent 16 mm cameras (native or modified to super 16) going back to the early-70s that work just as well as the newest ones. More and more indie filmmakers are picking up film cameras instead of HD cameras, abandoning the ‘arms race’, and getting back to the old-school way of doing things.

But here’s a question: With super-16 being so cheap nowadays, why opt for super-8? I can think of a few reasons. Sixteen is still more expensive than super-8. Most films are going to go straight to video or straight to streaming, so a larger format isn’t needed. Super-8 has a different quality than larger formats, which many people like. Several iconoclastic directors like the format. And you have to admit, super-8 is just cool. :cool: But is there really enough interest to bring out a new super-8 camera? Kodak thinks so. Pro 8mm thinks so. I hope it is so.

It’s a little exciting, anyway. I have a Beaulieu 4008 ZM2 that I wanted to use for a project last Summer. Maybe I’ll get a chance this year. Oh, and Kodak is selling their Vision 3 negative stock in super-8 cartridges. Nice.

No, not at all sure. The Arri 416 is incredibly noisy. It is the modern child of the Arri III camera bodies. The quiet sound bodies were the Arri SR III cameras. The 416 sounds like a Singer sewing machine when being run at 24 fps. A part of this comes from the noisy body and movement and a part of this comes from the gear-driven magazines. The gearing engagement and torque mechanism inside of the magazine is pretty damned noisy. The noise goes up when you shoot at higher frame rates and/ or if it is a very cold and dry exterior day. ( The film stock gets “chattery” in the gate )

Trust me. I’ve shot an awful lot of hours of film with that camera floating next to my head, 18" from my ear on top of my Steadicam. CAN you shoot sound with it? Sure. You can shoot a sound movie with anything that keeps 24 fps crystalled synch. Do you WANT to? Nope.

You want a quiet camera for this film format? Rent yourself a very well maintained Aaton. ( yes, with two A’s ). They are so quiet you won’t know they are on, even in a quiet interior scene.

I stand corrected. I’ve never used the 416, but I’ve seen footage of it being used and made an assumption. Nevertheless, the point stands; the film goes through the gate pretty much the same in the newest cameras as they have for over a century.

I have two Aatons, an LTR-7 and an LTR-54. I’m thinking of selling them both and getting an XTR Prod.

But those aren’t super-8. It’s incredible that in 2016, Kodak is making a super-8 camera.

From the mid-1920s to the mid-1950s, James A. Fitzpatrick made short travelogues. His TravelTalks show up from time to time on TCM. I don’t know what format he used, but I would guess 35 mm. The films were shot MOS, and included music and narration.

I’d like to shoot a similar travelogue in my little seaside holiday village, using my Beaulieu super-8. I haven’t used Vision 3 negative stock in it, but I’ve seen footage shot on a Beaulieu with a Schneider lens using it, and it has the ‘look’ I want. Here is an example of Vision 3 50D. It actually looks ‘cleaner’ than I want, but we’ll see how it comes out. Why shoot a travelogue? First, I dig those old shorts. Second, it’s easy. I don’t have to travel, and there’s enough around here for a Fitzpatrick-style short. And my camera doesn’t have a synchronous motor, and I don’t have a synch cord and recorder. That means I have to shoot MOS. Which is fine, because that just makes it easier. My favourite travelogue, The Endless Summer, was shot MOS on a wind-up Bolex. So MOS camera, easy location, right ‘look’; should be fun.

My best fiend is very excited about super-8. His latest feature was shot on my Aatons, and he just bought an Arri SR3, but he’s thinking about shooting a feature on super-8. He did that 20 years ago, but the Plus X reversal film and the transfer didn’t do it any favours. He’s really enthused about the Vision 3 stock.

Interesting that they are handling the developing and will scan as well (hello additional revenue stream)

Are there enough hipsters or nostalgia folks to make this worthwhile?


That’s the question. Mark Pirro famously shot some features on super-8 back in the '80s, and they looked pretty good. With modern (or at least high-quality vintage) lenses and modern film stock, I think it’s a viable medium for the digital market. But again, super 16 isn’t that much more expensive and it’s more marketable.

Hipsters and nostalgia folks?

I don’t see nostalgic people buying new cameras. They might shoot some of the new stock for fun, but I don’t seen them as a great market. As for hipsters, is Sam Rami a hipster? To be sure, there are hipsters who want to shoot on super-8 so they can brag about it. OTOH, the medium has its place as an artistic tool for serious directors.

IME, every 10 years, some bright person at Kodak “discovered” that 96% of all pics never get enlarged more than Drugstore size.

And came up with a NEW, IMPROVED format:
60’s: Instamatic
70’s: Pocket Instamatic (still have mine)
80’s: Disc (my favorite idiot format)
90’s: APS

Nice to see that they have not lost their touch. :rolleyes:

None of the “hipster” directors referenced is under 40 - Korine is 43 and they go up up up from there. I think this will have some legs for people who insist on shooting on actual film. The price per ($80+) is a bit insane but it includes scanning and shipping, so instead of having to rely on some guy doing garage/bedsheet telecine to “convert your old home movies to DeeVeeDee!” you can at least ensure quality. Kind of the Lomography model.

That said, “Tangerine,” shot on iPhone 5, is one of the most vibrant and best-looking movies of the past few years.

Can the makers of Polaroid film be persuaded to revive the instant Super 8 movie film?

It’s taken The Impossible Project about eight years to figure out how to make decent instant film after Polaroid shut down its factories. They’re concentrating on the regular stuff, so reviving the movie film is probably years and years off.

I wasn’t implying that they were hipsters. N9IWP suggested that super-8 is a format for hipsters, and I was pointing out that there are established directors who aren’t necessarily hipsters that like the format.

I doubt it. I doubt that self-processing super-8 would be anywhere near the quality of current stocks. Also, the self-processing super-8 back in the '70s didn’t really go anywhere. I don’t think anyone would pay for the novelty of self-processing film, when there are already camera phones and DSLRs.

Not to be a troll, but the anachronistic nature of this just astounds me. It’s as though Columbia House re-opened offering current albums on 8-track. Who the hell cares?!? :confused:

A lot of people agree with you. See comments. I wondered in the OP if there was really a large enough market.

One supporter opined:

A detractor said:

Another one said:

I can see where the supporter is coming from. He likes film, and is probably confronted with people who say, ‘I have 4K on my phone. Film is stupid.’ A lot of people think like the person in the third quote. ‘I can “film” half an hour of HD on my phone free! What can you do in 2½ minutes, and why the hell should I pay for it?’ I think it comes down to the guy in the second quote. He grew up with ‘home movies’. Home movies are not ‘films’. Most people do not know how to compose a shot or how to move a camera or how to light, or other aspects of making a film as opposed to making moving snapshots. Super-8 was the medium consumers used for home movies, so to people who are only familiar with those, ‘Super-8’ equals ‘Bad’. (BTW, he’s wrong about the quality of the images.)

Filmmaking is cool. Everyone with a camera on his phone styles himself a filmmaker. But the reality is that actually making a film is hard. It’s often hot, heavy, sweaty work. (Or freezing, heavy, numbing work.) Everything takes longer than expected. Just when you’re ready to shoot, something goes wrong. (On my last shoot, last May, practical lights would go off just as we were about to shoot the scene.) Most people with camera phones just point and shoot. With film – any film – you’re making an investment. Eighty bucks for film, processing, and transfer for 2½ minutes – much of which might not be usable in the finished product. Sixteen millimeter? Two hundred bucks for 11 minutes, plus processing and transfer. And good luck shooting one-to-one. So when you’re shooting on film, you have to plan ahead and know what you’re doing. Sure you can pull out your fancy DSLR and shoot for free. But if you want something watchable, you’re going to have to use the same techniques as you would if you were shooting film.

OK, so let’s say you actually do know what you’re doing. You know how to compose a shot. You know how to light a scene. You have people who can actually act. Why spend the money for film? Because film looks different from video. You can run digital video through a ‘film look’ program, but it still doesn’t look the same. I’ll leave it to you to search for previous threads on film vs. video images. Suffice it to say, they look different. To me and people I know, film looks better. Which brings us back to super-8.

Earlier I linked to footage shot on super-8 film, on a 40-year-old camera. (The 4008 ZM II was made between 1971 and 1977.) I think we can all agree that it doesn’t look like home movies. The images are awesome. You can tell it was not shot on HD video. It looks like film. (Personally, I would have made greater use of a tripod; but anyway…) I’ve seen 16 mm film that didn’t look that good. My friend had a film at the Lovecraft film festival a couple of years ago, and I could have sworn his super-8 footage was 16 mm. And that was projected (4K digital transfer). Super-8 is a perfectly viable format for filmmaking, especially when the finished project is intended for DVD/Blueray/streaming. It does have limitations. For example, that 2½ minute limit. But The Endless Summer was made with maximum 28 second takes. Still, it’s cheaper than 16 mm, and it looks like film, unlike HD video.

But about anachronism… You can shoot super 16 for only twice the cost, and the 16 mm images will be superior. On the other hand, super-8 has a ‘look’ that some filmmakers like. The gear is also smaller, lighter, and easier to work with. It’s not at all analogous to 8-track. Eight-track is more analogous to VHS. Super-8 has a bad reputation because it was used for home movies by people who didn’t know filmmaking techniques, and who usually used cheap plastic cameras they bought at Kmart. It is a bit of an anachronism. Only… Content is distributed differently now. People watch films on their computers and TVs where the size of the original image is less important than when films are projected onto large screens.

Who the hell cares? A lot of people, apparently. I’m seeing more things shot on super 16 as opposed to digital. Pro 8mm has been selling super-8 film, modifying and upgrading super-8 cameras, and developing their own super-8 camera, for a long time. Kodak thinks there’s a market. For myself, I admit to the nostalgia factor. But it’s undeniable that the format has much improved over what it was in the '70s and '80s. And even then you could get excellent images.

Super-8 on American Idol (.pdf).