May 30, 2016

Want to Shoot on Super 8? Here Are a Few Things You Should Know First

Who doesn't love the nostalgic look of Super 8 footage?

It's romantic. It's cool. It's imperfect in the most perfect way. If you've ever wanted to try your hand at shooting a film, whether it be experimental, a short,  or a set piece for your feature, Simon Cade of DSLRguide provides a quick 4-minute video that shows you the very basic first steps you'll need to take in order to get under way.  

So, what are the basics. Duh—get yourself a Super 8 camera. Maybe an older family member has one lying around, maybe you can find a working one at a thrift store (I've bought two this way), maybe you'll have to go online and order one. If it's your first time shooting with Super 8, don't worry too much about getting a fancy one, because a cheap $50 one will do just fine. The most common problem with these cameras generally lies with the motor, so make sure that baby is in good working order before you go any further. (If you find that it doesn't work, ask yourself if you've added batteries.)

Next is film stock, and this is where the romance of Super 8 dies a little—it's expensive—and not just to buy the rolls, but to get them processed and digitized, too. You'll have to drop about $30 per 50' cartridge, which, depending on your frame rate, will only get you maybe 4 minutes max of runtime (if you're shooting at 16fps). The cost of getting your film developed and transferred varies, especially when it comes to whether or not you want to upgrade to a higher resolution. But, generally you're looking at $50 to $150.

So yes, shooting on Super 8 makes for some beautiful images, but before you dive head first into it, it's good to know what you're getting yourself into. Shooting digital, it's easy to take for granted the fact that you can 1.) capture as much footage as you want without incurring any additional cost, and 2.) not have to wait weeks to get your footage back for editing. Lesson: When you shoot on film, you have to really want to shoot on film. And if you do really want to shoot on film, that film is most likely going to look great—or at least make you feel great while shooting it.      

Your Comment

19 Comments

Super 8 is a WONDERFUL exercise. I teach filmmaking to middle and elementary school kids and we do a Super 8 unit every fall. It's something the kids look forward to every year, and it builds up your chops like nothing else.

Here are some other things worth knowing:

Kodak currently makes several wonderful Super 8 stocks, which are basically their most useful 35mm stocks cut in the Super 8 shape and cartridge. Vision 200T and 500T are great for indoors (especially 500 which is very good at night or indoor low lighting), and 200 is great for normally lit days though you may need to augment it with lighting. Kodak also makes a 50D which is great for outdoor use and has really tight grain and whiz-bang-wow colors. In Black and White you can get Tri-X reversal stock which is my favorite film stock to shoot on. Everything looks amazing in Tri-X, especially when you apply a little lighting.

There are places like Spectra Film & Video which will sell you really well-priced all in one Super 8 packages, from 4 rolls to 12 rolls, and you pay a lump sum, they send you the film, you shoot on it, and send it back and they'll develop it and telecine it in SD or HD (HD is a little extra but it looks INCREDIBLE). This is what I do. It puts all the costs of stock upfront and gives you a perfect knowledge of how much raw footage you have to work with. And the people at the film labs are generally REALLY nice and great to work with. And you can edit digitally with the file so you can finish to Vimeo, and you can keep the film negative as a souvenir.

When shooting Super 8, the things I'm always thinking of are:

1) Focus. The viewfinder on most Super 8 cameras is not that great, and certainly not an accurate indicator of focus. You have to physically measure with a tape measure the focus point and set it for each shot. There is a little wiggle room for eyeballing it, but I've definitely had shots that came back out of focus because I eyeballed it when I should have measured. And since you paid for all the film up front, there's no room to reshoot.

2) There is no safety net - you get like 15 minutes of raw footage, you have to plan each shot in advance, think about each shot in the story, shoot everything all at once, send it in, wait two weeks, and cross your fingers that it all worked out well. It's crazy tense but the payoff is extraordinary. And as a filmmaker it works your skills unlike anything else. There really is nothing like it. You are dependent upon your eye and your knowledge of light and your plan, and that's it. Your digital work will feel like the lap of luxury in comparison. Or it will feel oppressive. There is something to just taking your film camera and shooting pure cinema with it that makes you feel incredible about your work. It's invigorating.

Anyhoo, hope this helps. Here are some samples of the movies my kids made in Super 8 over the years if you wanna see how different stocks look:

https://vimeo.com/114439706
https://vimeo.com/114788701
https://vimeo.com/166392395
https://vimeo.com/148695391
https://vimeo.com/148695383
https://vimeo.com/149203074

May 30, 2016 at 2:41PM, Edited May 30, 2:44PM

9
Reply
Marcelo Teson
Filmmaking Instructor/Sound Editor
342

One point to make about this is, 'that' cost will make you really consider your shots before you shoot. One of the downsides of digital is its disposability. People tend to shoot without thinking becuse there's no consiquence or cost. Also it doesn't look that great. It has 'a' look but not necessarily a good one. Also the time it takes to get processed looks like it could be a real creative process killer, or would it? I don't know. Just my two cents. Appreciate the video thanks.

May 30, 2016 at 3:30PM

0
Reply
avatar
John Stockton
Filmmaker, Editor.
425

Honestly, I think the "romantic nostalgia" of shooting on S8 is vastly overrated. I have about 2,000 feet of S8 shot back when S8 was all there was. That includes about 500 feet of professionally shot film from Hawaii Sea Life park and other places that used to sell them as "souvenirs."

It is horrible stuff to watch, with some having grain the size of baseballs unless viewed on a 8x10" piece of paper.

Shooting on S8 doesn't magically make you a better film maker. You can get the exact same experience with modern equipment, and far cheaper, by using proper filming discipline; plan your shots carefully, and if you want to limit length, prefill the SD card with a garbage file so you only have room for 5 minutes of 640x480 resolution.

Just my not so humble opinion. Your mileage may vary...

May 30, 2016 at 7:28PM

2
Reply
Robert W.
107

Horrible stuff to watch? Sheesh. It has a timeless look. It is a great medium to use in a piece help give a different look. It has worked well in surf films/skateboard films over the years. You also get a really nice parfocal zoom and very high dynamic range. It can easily do slow motion, frame by frame, in camera film burns, etc. It's really fun stuff. You get no Jello thanks to frame shutter.

Really though you are comparing two different animals. Super 8 looks awesome in this type of setting. Handheld, lots of zooms, etc. Most of all, it is compact and fun to shoot with.

https://vimeo.com/38934145

May 31, 2016 at 8:12PM

3
Reply

Yeah, timeless piece of shit look, sure.

June 1, 2016 at 5:22PM

9
Reply
avatar
Terma Louis
Photographer / Cinematographer / Editor
1234

Robert W. - you are spot on with these comments!
That anyone would consider wasting their (or their student's) time, money and collaborative, creative, story-telling opportunity on super 8 in this day and age just baffles me.
Not to mention the negative environmental impact for zero benefit.
If you want a nostalgic "look", learn to achieve that in post (add lots of grain, some simulated emulsion scratches, vignetting, peripheral soft focus, frame rate stutter, etc.) and you will have learned a useful skill that you can further develop.

August 5, 2016 at 11:01AM

4
Reply

I started out shooting Super-8 45 years ago on a Canon 1014 modified by Optasound to generate a sync pulse to a cassette recorder for sound.
That anybody would want to pay upwards of $100 to shoot 2 minutes and 30 seconds of footage, @24FPS, to edit on a digital platform astonishes me.
The same "look", can easily be achieved on most editing applications.
AND....remember. If you can use more than 10% of that footage, you're a genius and should be shooting on an Alexia.

May 31, 2016 at 5:48AM

0
Reply
avatar
Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
801

There's no sense discouraging people. Super 8 and 16mm have been used by skateboarders and snowboarders for years and years for b-roll and other purposes. Just shoot smart and you'll end up with tons of useable stuff.

I respect that you have a ton of experience shooting film, a lot of us from a younger generation didn't have that experience. I recently bought the sync sound motor for a bolex and it has been a lot of fun. It's not cost effective, but it has been a cool experience and I love the images produced.

Every other production uses a C300 with a 50mm lens. Every interview is lit with a couple LED lights. It's nice to see a medium that looks a little different. Some 5D footage with film convert slapped on it is not the "look."

May 31, 2016 at 8:57PM

0
Reply

I shot on Super8 in the 80s as a kid for home movies and in H.S. and a little in film school in the 101 class. Sorry, but I don't see the point at all, now. With today's technology, you don't "learn" anything shooting on an outdated medium. I would have KILLED to have a computer to edit on rather than a cruddy old manual crank reel to reel and a splicer or 2 VCRs tethered together. Sure, you had to be very careful, definitely more resourceful, but I'd want to smack someone across the face who thinks that was FUN, hehe. And it sure does NOT "look" better. Get over the nostalgia=) Do people understand how LUCKY they are to have such cheap tools now, that any aspiring kid can afford?

If you want to force yourself to compose your shots better by imagining that it costs more or you have limited film, just look at your time code and limit yourself to 2 or 3 minutes, then throw your SD card away after you're done dumping it. And just for kicks have one of your friends burn every 3rd or 4th SD card you use to simulate an exposure goof up or processing snafu at the lab. That'll teach you a good lesson, hehe.

Sheesh people=)

May 31, 2016 at 11:50AM

5
Reply
avatar
Josh.R
Motion Designer/Predator
1016

It's just a different medium. It's not meant to be better or worse than any other medium. It's definitely not a cheap medium to mess around with, but it sure is fun. There's no sense in discouraging people from shooting a certain format.

I've shot probably 30 rolls of Super 8, never had the lab goof up... You can also over expose by like 4 stops and get usable images. You aren't shooting on reversal these days... You might want to read up on the new stocks and 5k scans they have available.

Sheesh People.

May 31, 2016 at 8:19PM

1
Reply

Lots of anger at super 8. I can understand as it was never that great of an emulsion. Kinda like todays semi prosumer DSLR or video cameras.

I can see the fun and discipline though, we are spoiled by having a delete button when the card fills up, however Id rather be the director than DoP with this "fun" limitation.

May 31, 2016 at 1:02PM

0
Reply
avatar
Chris Hackett
Director, Director of Photography, Writer
1017

For whatever reason, people love to get furious when you bring up shooting on any sort of film, not just Super 8.

It's totally un-called for.

August 27, 2016 at 12:09AM, Edited August 27, 12:09AM

2
Reply

I cut my chops on super 8 and it still holds a special place in my heart. Would I use it for much now? No, but I still have a few and a few rolls of film in the fridge. Sometimes I just want to hear that sound...

May 31, 2016 at 4:40PM

4
Reply
avatar
Nathan Taylor
Jack of all trades, master of none
483

>Want to Shoot on Super 8?

No.

June 1, 2016 at 5:20PM

7
Reply
avatar
Terma Louis
Photographer / Cinematographer / Editor
1234

No one bothers to go over proper exposure and light metering, which I consider to be the most foreign aspect of Super 8 for today's digital filmmakers.

June 2, 2016 at 2:02PM, Edited June 2, 2:02PM

0
Reply
avatar
Sean Pettis
Filmmaker
399

Odd that there is no mention of the new Kodak Super 8 camera coming out, which includes a digital scan of the processed stock built in.

June 3, 2016 at 5:34PM

0
Reply
avatar
Douglas Bowker
Animation, Video, Motion-Graphics
220

Just wondering..........how many of you still ride a horse to work?

June 17, 2016 at 5:54AM, Edited June 17, 5:54AM

0
Reply
avatar
Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
801

Why does this comment come up EVERY TIME anybody mentions shooting on film on the internet?

Do you also make fun of people for using real paint and canvases instead of digital tablets? Do you also make fun of anyone who hasn't switched to an electric car? Do you also make fun of people who buy physical books instead of reading them on a Kindle?

August 27, 2016 at 12:07AM, Edited August 27, 12:07AM

2
Reply

what a bunch of mostly whiny little bitches. go shoot with overpriced DSLRs you wankers.

November 1, 2017 at 7:15PM, Edited November 1, 7:15PM

0
Reply