This is a tale of my one-time fascination with Super 8 movies. Although I had operated both a 35mm Mitchell and a 16mm Arriflex camera during my early photo career, I had little interest in making my own flicks. Then, in 1968, I discovered Fuji's revolutionary Single 8 system, which seemed much easier to use than Kodak's rival Super 8. Both sizes were compatible and could be intermixed during projection; only the Single 8 cameras were considerably smaller and simpler in design. Their film cartridges were also more compact.
My interest was strictly as a fun thing, not for any professional reason.
These were so easy to use that I actually shot scenes while driving a car through the Austrian Alps. And I filmed while marching in a parade in East Berlin in 1969 (it was the only way to get to where I was going, I had no commie sympathies).
But as time went by, I wanted something more versatile for recording our little adventures.
Both the Fuji Single 8 camera and the Eumig silent projector that I paired it with were given away when I graduated to a Nikon Super 8 camera with an 8X, 7.5-60mm f/1.8 lens and a few manual controls (photo, right). Also, and best, it had through-the-lens viewing and focusing. This was a real workhorse which, like Nikon still cameras, stood up to all manner of abuse and produced very good images. I used it for several years. taking it around the Pacific and all over Europe, including waterskiing in the Mediterranean. Our clients, who accompanied us on many trips, loved seeing themselves in movies — which gave us an excuse for studio parties.
Then in 1973 Kodak introduced Super 8 sound, which used a larger film cartridge. The sound was recorded on a thin magnetic stripe along one side of the film. I immediately purchased their first model, an Ektasound 130 with an Ektar 9mm f/1.2 lens, which was a clumsy beast to use and had nothing in the way of manual controls or a zoom lens. Actually, other then for spoken dialog, there was little point to it as it is not difficult to add a sound track to silent film. A simple device that put a magnetic track on the side of silent Super 8 film was soon acquired, and it worked perfectly. The sound was added through my hi-fi amplifier wired into my new Eumig sound projector. Kodak even introduced a professional Super 8 Sound camera intended for TV news gathering, and an instant film processor to go with it. These used 200-foot reels of sound film, not the cartridges. But it all came to an end with the introduction of small video cameras. Kodak no longer makes Super 8 sound film, although the silent stock is still in production.
Then I began to think about professional applications.
In 1975 I decided to experiment with documentaries for cable TV, and went looking for a suitable silent camera with more flexibility than the Nikon afforded. What I got was a used Beaulieu (photo, left) with full manual controls and a monster Angenieux zoom lens. The quality of this French-made camera was superb, and it even had such niceties as extreme closeups, fades, and slow motion. Yes, the Beaulieu was truly the best instrument for making professional-level Super 8 documentaries ever produced. "Wild" (unsynchronized) sound was captured with a high-quality Sony cassette recorder and a directional condenser microphone. Pity that I soon lost interest and moved on to other passions.
Editing Super (and Single) 8 Films.
A simple edit of the footage was easily accomplished using a Viewer-Editor such as the Minette S-5 (drawing, above. I still have this), and a splicing block. Super 8 film is spliced with a special cement, while Single 8 used a short bits of a polyester sticky tape perforated with sprocket holes. Today, of course, you would have a digital transfer made, and edit it on a computer. Someday, someday, I keep promising myself, I'll get around to editing all those boxes full of 50-foot reels that still haven't been done.
Surprise! Even with the digital revolution and excellent small video cameras, Super 8 is apparently still alive and kicking (well, at least wiggling its toes). Students studying film production use it to practice the basics of shooting and editing, and it is sometimes used professionally to add a certain gritty "look" to movies that just can't be duplicated digitally. According to Wikipedia, it was used in making short sections of several Hollywood films by such directors as Oliver Stone, including The Doors, Natural Born Killers, Nixon, and JFK. I'll have to look at these again to see if I can notice the effect in some scenes. Where you can clearly see it is on the PBS television series Globe Trekker, where some grainy scenes are so obviously shot on Super 8. In 2005 a documentary filmed in Super 8 was nominated for a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Production of Super 8 cameras largely ended in the 1980s, although there was an oddball model made in Russia as late as the 1990s. Used Super 8 cameras are available online from specialized dealers as well as on eBay.
Although the film is still made by Kodak, few dealers stock it, so it is best ordered online (see below). There apparently are companies that cut down 35mm film stock to Super 8 size and repackage it in cartridges. And there are even rumours of both cameras and film being made in, of all places, North Korea!
Now, if I can just find a way to make decent still photos from these for web use, I'll be happy. My 35mm film scanner does not do a good enough job on such small images.
UPDATE: July 2009 — I had a reel of us having fun on a 1970 fashion assignment in Jamaica converted to DVD, with enjoyable results. Some of the images are posted here, along with a short video.
Interested in photography? Check out my "Assisting Avedon" blog.
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