The Kodak Super 8 Revival Initiative has reignited interest in the format, but for those that want to explore Super 8 deeper, or don’t want to wait till the new camera comes out in the autumn, Freya Black delves into what you need to know.
It is still possible to shoot Super 8 in the 21st Century but a lot of the services and know-how you need to do this have oddly vanished underground and are now the province of tiny specialist companies which only those in the know, know about. However do not fear, I am about to spill the beans! Well some of them anyway...
Finding your Super 8 camera
The economics of Super 8 are really quite strange.
You may have heard a lot about how expensive film is and Super 8 film really IS very expensive. However the strange thing is that the equipment to shoot it on is insanely cheap. It's possible to pick up a cheap Super 8 camera on e-bay for as little as £10 and a really nice camera is often only as much as £30. The downside is you might have to buy more than one to find one that works and I actually recommend you go down that route. You will end up with a few non functioning cameras before you get lucky but in my experience this is a lot better then buying off someone who "claims" it is working for a lot more money. If you do decide to go the second route be sure to chat with them and make sure you feel you trust them before you put the money down.
I recommend that you take your time in your camera search. Very nice Super 8 cameras appear on e-bay on a regular basis. Top makes are: Canon, Nikon, Beaulieu and Nizo with the Canon cameras being most common. There are also some great cameras from companies like Eumig and Minolta and a lot of feature filled cameras from other companies if you can find the right model.
The Beaulieu cameras are like the Rolls Royce of Super 8 cameras but are probably not recommended as a first Super 8 camera. They have expensive and hard to locate battery systems and are generally a bit less grab it and go, which takes away somewhat from one of the major advantages of Super8. They also usually need servicing although there is a fellow called Bjorn Anderson in Sweden who can still service these cameras and is the recognised expert in the field. You can contact him via email on: info (at) beaulieu-service.com
A lot of other Super 8 cameras are nigh on impossible to service unless you fancy taking the job on yourself! Having said that, if you are in the states, there is a little company that tries to fix old cine cameras called Willard Engineering so they could be worth talking to if it's local for you:
I actually think the Canon cameras are good starter cameras and Canon are a very much respected name in cameras and optics. It's no coincidence that of the major Super 8 camera manufacturers, the names Nikon and Canon are still in use and are companies making movie equipment today. The Nikon R8 and R10 might be nicer cameras in a way but you will be fighting over them on the few occasions they appear for sale, whereas the Canon cameras are easily available for a cheap price. A good example might be the Canon 514XL-S for instance which is a good camera without being too limited like some of the lower end Canon cameras. You might even get lucky and find a Canon 814 or a Canon 1014 for a good price. The Canon cameras seem a good way to start out and then you can explore more esoteric cameras if you feel you wish to later.
Having said that maybe there is an old super 8 camera sitting idle with a relative who might let you have it for free. You can't beat a free camera.
There is a great resource for finding out all about the different Super 8 cameras here.
One thing to watch out for is that some cameras used to use a little watch battery type of thing for the light meter. You can be sure that this battery will no longer be available and it's a pain to get the camera converted to use anything different.
With Super 8 it is not impossible to put together a kit of a camera, a little viewer editor, a splicer, and a projector, all for about £100/$130. You will need to get lucky on the operational condition on all that, however, because all of this equipment is now very old and hasn't been made for a long time. It's a testament to how well made some of this stuff is that it is still working now at all.
There is an element of luck in finding equipment that works. I like to think of that as part of the fun and that it is the best way to find the bits and pieces that are right for you and to learn a bit about the format along the way.