There 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.
Here are the basic specs:
- 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
- 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
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!