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

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.

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

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

Your Comment

89 Comments

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.

December 14, 2013 at 5:05AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

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Avery Dark

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

December 14, 2013 at 8:24AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

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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.

December 14, 2013 at 4:17PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

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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"

December 16, 2013 at 2:01PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

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Joe

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.

December 16, 2013 at 5:43PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

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

December 16, 2013 at 5:50PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

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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?"

February 4, 2014 at 7:47AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

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jonh

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).

March 27, 2014 at 2:18PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

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sayeh

Impossible...nothing is impossible!!! I welcome and salute the great ideas on this thread. S8 is fantastic because it takes 18 photos per second...and also in rapid succession of small bursts which really allows in camera editing...this is a medium infinitely cheaper than video in the end even buying film...because you dont have to start spending hours editing...this is a medium which is direct honest and simple...JUST SHOW EVERYTHING ON THE REEL...thats what S8 is for !!! I think the digital cassette is an excellent innovation especially if you run out of film...I'll buy one.

June 22, 2014 at 9:48AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

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olivier bolton

It is fake.

August 13, 2014 at 3:49AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

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john

I lost a very nice Bolex with SOM Berthiot Lens at eBay today.

If this fits that, I am going to be sick.

The lens was about 500.00 -1000 when the camera came out(so they tell me)

September 21, 2014 at 10:59AM, Edited September 21, 10:59AM

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dano smith
writer /producer
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Any solutions out there for 35mm photography???

October 31, 2014 at 5:51PM

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I'm all over this!

November 21, 2014 at 8:25AM

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Crystal McGhee
Director/Writer/Producer/Actor
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We're developing an alternative solution. A 3D printed cartridge that holds an Aptina sensor and connects to a Development board. First test result: https://youtu.be/iicnFxDuyd8

Once prototype is satisfying this will be a Super 8 Digital Cartridge that work on any Super 8 camera that has flashgun synchronization for every image (such as Nizo 801). Also camera needs small adaptation: take out the film plate and open the little window that normally shows what film is loaded. If interested like my video or contact me patrick.steemers@gmail.com.

April 16, 2015 at 12:28PM

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My super 8 camera is in the garage. If one of these things becomes available I'd re-used it in a heartbeat. Well done !

October 24, 2015 at 2:45PM

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My old super 8 camera is in the garage. I'd use it again in a heartbeat if one of these was available.

October 24, 2015 at 2:53PM

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Our Digital Super 8 Cartridge proto-type has evolved. It's now synchronizing quite perfectly to the Super 8 camera shutter, using the the movement of the claw in the camera. It contains the Ximea MU9PC-BRD camera, it's a 3D printed housing and it also holds our own developed shutter sync electronics. The device connects through mini-USB with a Single Board Computer based module and touch screen that runs all software to control the unit. Currently running on an Intel based SBC (Minnowboard Max) but first port to using a more common (and cheaper) Raspberry Pi 2 have been successful.
The unit will delivery 18fps and even 24fps (if your camera supports it) at VGA. First improvements delivered 18fps at quarter-HD (960x540). Timelapses at full HD and single frame shots at full sensor (5 Megapixel) also supported. Software is designed to store up to 3 minutes of full RAW images that can be turned into MPEG video or uncompressed video. Dissolves between shots supported in the software. Some image color grading and B&W also supported.
Currently working on a proper user interface for the software. And the SBC and touchscreen unit need proper design to form a nice to handle and attach unit for the Super 8 camera.
NOTE: current design requires the removal of the super 8 camera filmgate. Usually unscrewing 2 screws and reversible. Plus opening up the side window that most cameras have for viewing filmtype so to allow for the miniUSB connection.
For details see: www.twitter.com/super8digital and an example shot at: https://youtu.be/--0C1HG0bQk

October 26, 2015 at 12:20PM

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