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The Nolab Digital Super 8 Cartridge Can Make Your Film Cameras Go Digital

Nolab CartridgeThere is no shortage of film cameras on the market these days. From small 8mm and Super 8 cameras to Super 16 and Super 35 film cameras, there are many available for rental or purchase. In a technical sense, these cameras can never truly become obsolete because they are analogue and purely mechanical by nature. There’s only one problem: film is really damn expensive. Not only the stock itself, but the processing and the DI as well. But what if these old mechanical cameras could be repurposed with modern technology in order to create digital images? Well, with the Nolab Digital Super 8 Cartridge, they can.

At first glance, the idea seems kind of crazy. Why use film cameras to capture a digital image? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Well, yes and no. Of course, many people shoot film because they prefer the aesthetic. However, in the case of the Super 8 cameras that took the proprietary Kodak film cartridges (which apparently you can still buy), an innovation like this has the potential to give new life to hardware that would otherwise sit and gather dust indefinitely.

With the hope of creating a product that could allow people to repurpose some of the cool old Super 8 cameras, designer Hayes Urban set out to create a digital cartridge. What he came up with was the Nolab Digital Super 8 Cartridge. Here’s what he had to say about the device:


At the heart of the Nolab Digital Super 8 Cartridge is a tiny but powerful 5 megapixel image sensor similar to the one in your smartphone. Combined with a custom glass objective lens, the sensor focuses on a ground glass image plane pressed against the camera’s film gate. By using a 5 megapixel sensor we can capture 720p HD footage at the native Super 8 aspect ratio of 4:3.

Processors integrated into the image sensor are able to  process and encode the footage in real time to a removable SD card. Optionally the same processors can apply one of two predefined Film Look color correction filters to the footage. 
That sounds simple enough, To allow the Nolab cartridge’s image sensor to synchronize with the camera’s shutter, a unique sensor had to be developed. It’s this design that allows the cartridge to work properly in any camera at any frame rate up to 60 fps.

Nolab 2

Here are the basic specs:

Features

  • 720p HD video capture in 4:3 format
  • Frame rate automatically adjusts to camera settings (up to 60 fps)
  • Integrated Film Look options
  • Unlimited storage via removable SD card
  • Battery and recording status light

Specifications

  • Image Sensor: 5 megapixel Omni Vision OV5600 series
  • Video Encoding: 720p HD H.264 (4:3)
  • Memory: Removable high capacity SD card
  • Connections: One mini USB port (primarily for charging)
  • Battery: Rechargeable LiPo battery providing up to 3 hours of continuous recording
  • Housing: Machined aluminum, color anodized and laser etched
  • Height: 70mm
  • Width: 75mm
  • Depth: 24mm
  • Weight: 160g

Nolab 4

This is one of those developments that is fantastic conceptually, but for people who are serious about filmmaking, a 720p 4:3 image compressed to h.264 is not going to cut it. With that said, however, this device is only in the early stages of development, so depending on what kind of imaging and processing technology ends up in the cartridge, it could potentially end up with higher resolution and a better codec (maybe even Cinema DNG).

If that were to happen, then we could very well see a resurgence of Super 8 cameras being used by budding filmmakers. (It certainly seems preferable to cell phone filmmaking.) Depending on how expensive the Nolab cartridge is (if it ever hits the market), this could potentially be a much cheaper way for people to get started with budget filmmaking. Considering how abundant and cheap Super 8 cameras are, it’s not a stretch to imagine this being a solid budget option if the technology inside the cartridge improves.

If you want to read more about the Nolab Digital Super 8 Cartridge, head over to Hayes Urban’s site to get the full report. If you’re interested in the device, make sure you voice your support while you’re there, because this is certainly the type of product that can be successfully kickstarted.

[Note: An earlier version of this article stated that Kodak film cartridges had been discontinued , which was incorrect. We have since updated the information. NFS regrets the error.]

What do you guys think? Could this potentially be a viable product for filmmakers if the imaging technology improves,  or are those old super8 cameras completely irrelevant in the modern day? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments!

Link: Digital Super 8 — Hayes Urban

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Description image 88 COMMENTS

  • Nice idea but will stick with GH3 for now

  • 720p could be well enough as far as resolution goes… but I think they need to consider RAW-functionality if they want it to be taken seriously. At least for short bursts.

    And for those who say that is doomed because it’s flopped before probably should remember a story I heard about some engineers over at Ericsson who worked on this new-fangled idea of portable phones behind their executives back. Because Ericsson tried to launch that concept in the fifties and it flopped, so why would it work now, they reasoned. Well those older products were extremely primitive and barely worked. And also, thwy weighed a ton.

    Now, do I think it will sell like hot-cakes (I’m a swede and not entirely sure what a hot-cake is)? No, not really. Yes, there are tons of cameras lying around. But of those, the vast majority are collecting dust simply because their owners aren’t interested in using them any more than museum-pieces at best. Of those in filmmakers hands, most don’t run, and of those that do, their owners are more of a film> digital person in the first place. So the market for a digital cartridge isn’t exactly booming yet. And it’s easier to get these pictures with off-the-shelf complete point-and-shooters too… but sure, if they budget this right as the narrow niche-product it is, itwill probably breake even when targeted to the right crowd.

  • I am not surprised but am concerned when false information is branded about as fact, which is irresponsible. The Super 8 cartridges have not been discontinued as the article states. Film is not as expensive as people make out and there are quite a few different film stocks available in Super 8, far more than there were when Super 8 was the popular home movie making medium.

    P

    • Thyl Engelhardt on 12.9.13 @ 8:17AM

      Well, it turned out to be more expensive than I had expected. About 30 Euro for 2.5 min film plus 20 Euro for its development. If you want sound, digitization is facultative, and separate sound recording as well.

    • Hmm… Film stock (even Super 8) is pretty expensive, especially the development. Besides that, stock like Kodachrome can not even be developed in color anymore, since the chemicals are not produced anymore. Only black & white… I would definitely use my super 8 camera’s more if a product like this becomes available. Not for serious work, but definitely for the feel of using the camera itself.

      • And why do you think Film and Development costs so much nowdays? Supply and demand, because you guys gave it up for pixels.

        Instead of clamoring for a gadget to put into a Super 8 camera to shoot webcam footage, how about going out to BUY some REAL FILM to shoot instead? Who knows, the increased demand may yet keep the remaining film formats alive long enough for your kids to experience it themselves.

  • I might be interested in a 35mm version to turn an old analogue SLR into a DSLR. :)

    • It’d be tough to fit a senor into smaller film planes :/

    • I’ve been wanting that as well, they did this joke some time ago: http://re35.net
      It was an april fools joke. I discovered it in June, so I got really sad when I discovered that it was just a joke. Would love to play around more with my Nikon F3. But sometimes nothing can beat the feeling of loading it with a roll of Ektar :)

    • A sensor for 35 mm professional 35 mm photo cameras is also that I am waiting to reactivate my old F5, F4, F3, & FA Nikons, It would be real easy to fit the sensor in a changeable Back that those cameras can use like those used to imprint dates, time and data onto the film, those where named “Data Backs”

  • Derply Derp on 12.8.13 @ 5:37PM

    Yeah… unfortunately, this just a thought experiment on Hayes Urban’s part.
    A damn good one too.
    I’m sure this idea, and something similar for other film/still cameras, could one day be real but right now the cost would kill it.
    How about a digital film back for my Hasselblad?
    Oh yeah, we got that.. for $18,000!!! ack!
    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/737967-REG/Hasselblad_3034216_CFV_50_Digital_Back_50.html
    Wait! There’s always the iPhone solution:
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/96793993/hasselnuts-hasselblad-camera-iphone-digitalback-ki/posts

    • marklondon on 12.8.13 @ 9:44PM

      Whatever happened to those guys doing a digital cartridge for the Arri SR 2?
      I also can’t believe that someone hasn’t kickstarted a 12-16 MP back for 500C and Mamiya 645 bodies recording to CF.
      I’d pay $1-2k for that no problem. :-)

  • I met Hayes at SXSW a while back. He is a smart guy with a lot of know how.
    I would love to see this project succeed!

    • Hopefully more Hipsters can maintain their cred by wrapping an analog exterior around the same old digital garbage.

  • If it records 720p h264….not usefull because of the lack of resolution and bad codec….and if it records 2k Raw….not useful because you need too much storage……

    • If it records 2k raw it may very well be useful for certain use cases, especially when lossless compression is used… also, any kind of 10 bit 4:2:2 codec in 2k or 2.5k would be awesome and very versatile, because this wouldn’t use too much storage space at all!

  • This is the most ridiculous idea which is practically impossible due to the mechanics of a Super 8 camera, I can’t believe people this it’s real.

    Pav

    • Nothing imposible about it. Event triggered sensor, probably global shutter, driven by a tach signal generated by the pulldown claw passing a sensor. After that, what else is there? I doubt a variable shutter would be of much use to this system, but the vast majority of Super 8mm cameras didn’t have that feature. Anyways, if the global shutter is instead triggered by the actual shutter, and the sensitivity and black level of the chip is not automaticaly adjusted for gain, it could perform as an analog analog. (heh). I love how this is freaking out the digital exclusionists!

  • I honestly would be OK with h.264 compression and would prefer it to RAW in this instance. Keep the cost down and give me a grainy, contrasty image right out of the camera. If this is going to replace Super 8 for me, give me all the characteristics of Super 8. Let me dial in a “film stock” or look and pull the trigger. Give me that lo-res 4:3 image with all of its flaws straight from the camera. Don’t try to implement RAW as an attempt to make it some sort of digital cine “game changer” that can compete with the big boys. Embrace its place in the world and don’t try to make it something it’s not. Give me Super 8 film in a digital format and I’ll be more than excited.

  • Ruben Huizenga on 12.9.13 @ 8:57AM

    I echo the concerns of an earlier post (Pj) about the Hayes Urban site stating:
    “Unfortunately, the proprietary film cartridges are no longer in production and existing supplies are quickly diminishing..”

    I live in Toronto, and buy Super 8mm carts all the time from Niagara Custom Lab.
    Mostly Tri-x, but Kodak’s colour negatives are available too.
    LIFT (Liaison of Independent Filmmakers) here in T.O. is a great resource as well.
    $20/cart to buy, $20 to process.
    (Transfers can get expensive, so I’ve cobbled together a DIY DSLR/Magic Lantern/projector setup..)

    I like the idea of the NOLAB cart, but wonder about the demand, given the increasing availability of great film stocks.

  • 1. Super 8 cartridges ARE available.
    2. Technically, film cameras COULD become obsolete if Point 1 stopped being true.
    3. 720p .H264 is MORE than enough for the super 8 format. Have you ever seen the format?
    4. This would NOT be popular for “budding filmmakers” because they will want sound and non-fuzzy images. This will be an awesome effect, though, and I’ll jump at the chance to support it.

    I like this website, but this article seems hastily assembled.

    • marklondon on 12.9.13 @ 5:02PM

      “I like this website, but this article seems hastily assembled.”

      You might want to put that in your autotext.

    • Thyl Engelhardt on 12.11.13 @ 7:45AM

      There are Super 8 cameras with sound recording. So, if the project decides to include an audio recording device, sound would be possible with those cameras.

  • This idea has been around for a LONG WHILE and they have yet to actually make anything. It’s just about generating attention for their company. This so called product will never be released.

  • http://www.redsharknews.com/technology/item/1294-super-8-bounces-back-with-a-new-professional-level-super8-camera

    Now THAT is a reality. A brand new Super8 camera in development that will be released in early 2014.

  • The hipsters will eat this right up. (see Instagram)

  • This would a be fun for a quick weekend project, but no one should be asking for this to be their A-cam. Seriously? Raw? Why would that even be useful on something like this?

  • I’d buy that

  • All this enthusiasm, but don’t people get it, the digital cartridge cannot work, since Super 8 cameras have a mechanical shutter will need to be removed and that’s not easy. Then there are other moving parts which will have to be removed, to add to that there are other mechanical and optical issues making this impossible.

    P

    • Thyl Engelhardt on 12.11.13 @ 7:57AM

      Why? The sensor is read out and reset when the film transport mechanism is operated. After that, it starts recording anew. I don’t see why the mechanical shutter should need to be removed. If I don’t need to remove the shutter for a film, why should I have to remove it for a sensor?

  • This is actually awesome…if they get this to work it will make for added functionality for Super 8. Super 8 film is NOT dead, by any stretch: these great people are showing the Industry that it can be useful in production, and providing modern film stock for these cool old relics. They also sell refurbished cameras, some even modded for Max 8 which is a new standard for film gates which provides HD–ratio images on Super 8 film.

    I am hoping what will come next is a drop–in cartridge that you can put in a film 35mm camera to turn that digital. I would love to shoot digital with my lovely old Pentax MX…

  • I do have a Nizzo with a very good zoom in pristine like new

  • I wait this for ten years….

  • This is a brilliant idea I can see many people are commenting on low res, I am sure the inventor is aware of thid problem he is even aware of 4k what he has shown is that super 8 will not die easily I have a couple of super 8 cameras I will be buying this product whenever is available

  • This is vapourware. The technology has moved on. I don’t any advantage here. Get a 2nd user HD camera from CEX and shot with better quality for the same price.

  • Even if this was made, it won’t look like Super 8 at all. Nothing can replace the real look and feel of Super 8. Film is not that expensive. It’s about $30 for film and processing, and you don’t shoot it like it’s video. You shoot it on what matters, and end up with a real piece of documentation that stands out from everything else. It’s no different than a home cooked meal that takes a little more doing than a frozen dinner from the microwave. Going for the cheapest and easiest way just makes garbage.

  • How come this April’s Fool joke is still circulating? http://blog.nextfabstudio.com/weekly-staff-picks-april-1-2012

    I mean, the photos of the cartridge are 3D renderings, not actual photos of the product. There is no video, even though on that site it is mentioned. There is no such sensor as the one mentioned (Omni Vision OV5600).

    There is absolutely no mention whatsoever of this product elsewhere in Internet (it was published in April 2012). There is no company producing it. The one many (Hayes) is a designer, not an engineer — and his website is full of other designs for products which do not exist and probably never will.

    This whole Nolab thing is only an excellent example of how easily misinformation can spread in Internet and no one bothers to try to contact the author to ask “is this an actual product or just an April’s Fools joke?”

  • The whole point of film is to have a master recording that is high quality without the need of a HUGE sensor or the possibility of data loss in a hard drive. The more pixels, the greater the expense, whereas with film the pixels are the molecules themselves and there are a practically uncountable number of them in a frame of Super 8 film. It’s the same principle as a vinyl recording. You get a virtually infinite bit-depth, sample rate, and resolution and it’s worth all the money and painstaking time and effort (unless you have access to a Red One camera of course).

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