Review: Pro8mm’s Super 8 Film Kit or Shooting Super 8 Film for Fun and for Work

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Yesteryear
I’ve always loved and appreciated super 8 film (and film in general). Growing up, my family would gather around the old “8-mil” projector in the dark basement, tack a white sheet to the wall and watch some of our favorite memories from yesteryear. It wasn’t just family movies, though. Sometimes there were silly movies that my dad or another family member had made back in the 70’s. The tradition continued with my brother, sister and I – making cheesy movies with the old VHS camera when we were younger. Perhaps it’s all those fond memories and the love of story telling that led me to my current profession.

Nothing’s quite like Super 8 Film

Many people I talk to today are surprised that Super 8 still exists. While the cameras and projection equipment are not manufactured anymore, the film format is still very much alive both in the US and abroad. Though the look and feel of super 8 has been reproduced with varying results through NLEs and Apps, there’s no substitute for the real thing.
What is super 8 used for? Everything from weddings, surf and skate, national brands, indie films, music video and more. It’s more popular than you might think!
Wether you’re interested in Super 8 film for fun or for work, I’ll take you through some of it’s pro’s and cons and talk about Pro8mm’s new product and service that makes it easy for anyone to play around with this old but incredibly fun format.

Tech Specs

First let’s go through our equipment and film stock. As stated earlier, super 8 cameras are no longer manufactured but getting your hands on a camera isn’t that difficult. It doesn’t even have to be expensive. I got lucky and found my Minolta XL 401 for about $30 on ebay. The lady who sold it to me found it at an estate sale and didn’t know anything about it. When I got it, one of the battery contacts was missing, so I had to do a little surgery when I first got it. It has great features like a large aperture for low light shooting, a timer, intervalometer, mini plug for a remote and manual exposure. It’s a lucky thing it had manual exposure, too. After shooting my first reel of film I discovered that my auto exposure didn’t work so for every shot I had to whip out the old light meter.
Despite the exposure problems, I got fairly lucky with my camera. Most cameras that you find on ebay aren’t going to work quite right simply because they’re old and the gears are gummed up. The only way to make sure your camera works is to run film through it and who wants to spend that kind of time and money just to make sure your camera works? One alternative is Pro8mm’s camera store. They have cameras that work right out of box. These aren’t new cameras but cameras that have been rebuilt and fine tuned to work betterthannew (more on this later).
Film stock & Cartridges


The film stock I used was Pro8mm’s tungsten 200 ASA color negative film (ASA: for all you dslr/digital shooters, think ISO). The film inside this cartridge is actually Kodak Vision 3 negative film, which is the film stock of choice for many motion pictures and TV shows. The difference being that features and series use this stock in it’s 16mm and 35mm form (larger format means a sharper image with more detail, shallower depth of field, more sprocket holes for better stability as the film is transported through the camera, etc). The other difference being that Super 8 comes in a convenient cartridge whereas 16mm and 35mm have to be loaded manually.
Record time
For those of you who are new to super 8 filmmaking, each cartridge of super 8 contains 50ft of film. The typical record speed of a super 8 camera (unless your camera has the option to record other frame rates) is 18fps. This means that you’ll get roughly three-and-a-half minutes of record time out of a reel. Doesn’t sound like much does it? But when each shot is only 4-10 seconds you can squeeze quite a bit into a single cartridge of film. The name of the film shooting game is planning. You need to plan and practice your shots before hand because once you pull the trigger and start recording, there’s no deleting or recording over the film! So be selective and make sure you’re only shooting something you want permanently on film.

The Test

In the video you’ll see shots of the product and an edited test I shot to see what I could do with the format. Some of these shots I would get in a real life production situation with a DSLR. Shots include rack focus, low light, synced audio, etc. I’ll go into more technical detail here.

 


Breakdown

:36-40 – One thing I absolutely love about Super 8 is the ability to go frame by frame with ease. While you can do this with a DSLR, creating a stop-motion animation with S8 is fun and just looks cool!
                      


:45-:52 – While super 8 usually looks best hand held – partially because the film already jostles a bit in the camera as it’s being transported from the lack of sprocket holes on one side – I thought I’d give the jib a go. While the shot came off well, this is still a handheld format to be sure.
:53-1:05 – Rack focus test. I knew this wouldn’t look great due to the small format, but I thought I’d give it a try anyway. The bokeh is pretty indistinguishable. I’d love to test this on a better camera/lens like Pro8mm’s Classic and get a higher-res scan. Of course you can always use this like an optical blur for artistic purposes.
1:06-1:10 - Timelapse – I didn’t do any serious timelapse tests, like clouds moving by or the sun setting, but I did a quick test with Alisha skipping toward the camera just to see what it would look like. Next time I’ll probably try a cloud or sunset timelapse.
1:11-1:19 - Some shots of downtown Stuart, Florida.
1:20-1:40 – Street musician with sound. It makes me a little sad inside that they don’t make Super 8 sound film anymore. Here I tried recording audio separately like many of my DSLR shooter comrades are use to doing – syncing it in post. You can hear the gears churning away on the camera in the background. For this short little clip, syncing worked out well. If I were interviewing someone however, the recording speed of the film is a little unpredictable and syncing a voice can be a nightmare. This is something else Pro8mm has taken into consideration with their crystal sync modification (that means accurate recording speeds on some of their cameras).
1:41-1:47 - More of downtown Stuart.
1:48-1:57 – Lowlight test. Keep in mind that this film is rated at 200 ASA. With a digital camera this shot would not have been possible at that ISO. This film stock has somewhere between 13-14.5 stops of dynamic range!
1:58-End - Shots from Key Largo/South Florida. This film renders colors beautifully, especially in full sunlight. The shot of the flea market sign and car are some of my favorite. Earlier I said that this was tungsten balanced film but it color corrects beautifully. Basic color correction is included with the Super 8 Film Kit.

Pro8mm Super 8 Film Kit

Okay, so know that you’ve seen the film and breakdown, let me tell you about the easiest way to get into Super 8 filmmaking. Firstly, go over to the Super 8 Film Kit website and get yourself one. The kit includes the film, a postage-paid envelope to ship in your film with standard processing and scanning included! And with Super 8 film it’s in cartridge form – you just pop it in to your camera, shoot it until you run out, and ship it in. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Don’t have a camera?

Check out the selection of cameras over at Pro8mm (you can get cameras with crystal sync, 16×9 framing and more) or do what I did and find yourself one on ebay, craiglist, a garage sale, the thrift store, etc. Of course you’re taking a risk with ebay and the rest because you won’t actually know what condition the camera is in. Pro8mm may be able to refurb the camera for you however, so be sure to talk to them first if you’re interested in buying a camera for that purpose.

Scanning

Once your film is processed, the scanning method included in the cost of the kit is SD interlaced. It’s good enough for fun stuff but if you want to kick it up a notch you can pay a little extra for HD, progressive scans.

Final Thoughts

Overall I’m very happy with the film stock and service that came with the Pro8mm Super 8 Film Kit. The packaging includes some tips and tricks to get started with Super 8 film too which is great.
If you’re a filmmaker and want to use this stock for a serious project, check out Pro8mm’sstore where you can order all-inclusive packages of up to 12 rolls at a time. The packages include processing and scanning (your choice of SD, HD or 2k scanning).
If you have a specific question about super 8 filmmaking, be sure to comment here or send me an email!

JoshMcDarris

Josh is an independent DP, editor and motion graphics designer in Austin, TX. You can read more about him and check out his work at joshmcdarris.com

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