Why shoot on 8mm film? Good question
What’s the appeal? It’s expensive, takes ages to see the results, the gear is old and my iPhone can do pretty much anything an 8mm camera can.
Let’s deal with that blow by blow.
8mm film is too expensive!
Yes it is a pricey game. In all a 50 foot cart of super 8 film is roughly £27 these days. Processing around £16 and telecine around another £20 (generally speaking – although our prices are better than that). So in all, the damage could be around £65 for 3 minutes 20 seconds (at 18 frames per second) and around 2 and half minutes (at 24 frames per second).
So it would seem only insane people shoot super 8? Well, maybe. But it really depends on a number of variables and your criteria for shooting. Firstly there’s the aesthetic. Super 8 (8mm film) is a beautiful format. It’s been set apart as such from it’s inception. Some of my earliest memories are recorded on 8mm film and as I grew up watching them occasionally projected onto a screen in the dark, it was a real thrill. Video never held that allure. The 8mm aesthetic combines a very real looking image with a curious detachment. It’s over-saturation, shakiness and fragility, reflects wonderfully the human condition, (far more accurately than video and HD digital).
Have you noticed how obsessed we are in making digital imagery look analogue?
My iPhone is packed full of presets, the likes of ‘Instagram’, the ‘8mm Vintage Camera’ and countless other apps too numerous to mention. Digital, it seems, really wants to look analogue. Huge budget films, dramas and advertisements shot digitally, lean heavily on an array of analogue emulators, such as cross-processing, bleach-out, light-leaks, artificial grain (to name but a few) and to great effect. It seems we don’t really enjoy having a pinpoint accurate mirror held up to us. There’s no denying, these digital effects work well – they generate an emotive response. But with repeated use, these effects are becoming tired, over-calculated, generic, cynical even and (it’s a cliché I know) cold.
So why not shoot the real thing? Photochemical film still holds greater depth of colour and has greater latitude than it’s digital counterpart and with super 8 it’s relatively cheap and a powerful discipline. You have 3 minutes 20 seconds to shoot your moments – make the most of it, feel exhilarated and happy accidents will undoubtedly happen. These days £50 is a cheap night out with a friend or two. Or it could be an excellent day out with a super cool, super 8 camera. Without the headache the following morning.
8mm film gear is really old
Another harsh truth for the super 8 filmmaker. Many of the cameras are easily 30 to 40 years old. Pick up a beautiful looking piece off Ebay, for say £40, run some film through it and there’s a chance the camera needs adjustment or worse still, just doesn’t work. More expense and disappointment. Speaking as a person who’s bought a few too many super 8 cameras, however, you’ll be surprised at the rate of success in using the old gear. Another cliché, ‘they don’t make them like they used to’. This is actually true. These days, cameras and similar recording devices (aka phones) tend to be designed with in-built obsolescence. Part of the incredibly dynamic technological curve we find ourselves in – there’s very little call for consumer electronics to survive beyond five years, as they will have been superseded by higher pixel counts, improved sensors, faster chip sets and new operating systems. No bad thing for the manufactures, and I guess exhilarating for the consumer who likes the latest gadget.
My experience in buying credible super 8 cameras is that, by and large, they work. Amazingly well. The lenses tend to be fixed on most models, so as a sealed unit there is little chance that it’s got really dirty on the inner lens elements and film interface. That is of course unless there is dreaded fungus – in which case avoid (unless you’re really into the look of the camera and would like an attractive ornament). On the non-fixed lens cameras (such as Beaulieu, Leicina, Pathe, Nalcolm etc), there’s the added pleasure of being able to seek out alternative lenses, if you suspect the existing lens has had a hard life. Add to this that there are a good number of engineers who will gladly still work on these cameras. Part of our ‘raison d’être’ is to bring awareness of this fact to 8mm film-makers. We’ll soon have a full repair section on this site, but in the mean-time, if you’d like a very competitive quote for camera lubrication, lens collimating (i.e. resetting the lens to it’s optimum optical performance), general cleaning and repair, please get in touch.
My iPhone can do pretty much everything an 8mm camera can
Can it? An iPhone can do many, many things and create environments that are, by and large, useful and fun. But there it ends. At best an iPhone can create an emulation of film based on a limited number of algorithms and assumed 8mm film behaviours. Which is fun, but certainly not the real thing. It’s a programme running a predictable and very limited emulation, with very little pre or postproduction flexibility.
The bottom line; if you want the 8mm film look – shoot 8mm film.
And where’s the fun in shooting ‘film’ with a phone?!