08 Sep 2014

Opinion: Why I prefer to shoot film, even for digital delivery

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Postscript: Processing Super 8 Footage

Anyone who uses Super 8 film is well aware that there are huge challenges when using this format: most cameras are old, buying film is expensive, but perhaps the biggest issue is that of processing Super 8, with many users having to send their exposed films abroad for processing.

Processing photographic film, such as 35mm negatives and slides, is not difficult at all and photographers routinely process their own films at home. Of course, processing black and white film is much simpler than colour film, but colour film processing kits are quite easily available and processing colour is not that more difficult. After withdrawing Kodachrome Kodak introduced Ectachrome 64T and then Ecktachrome 100D in the Super 8 format, both of these films used the E6 process for developing. E6 is the same process that photographers use to develop colour slides, so for the first time it was possible to easily process colour Super 8 footage.

I decided to process my own Super 8 film, rather than sending it abroad and having to wait for weeks for it to arrive. Naturally, the amount of chemistry needed to process one cartridge of Super 8, which contains 50 foot of film, was going to be different than processing one roll of 35mm still film. I had to work out the right amount of chemistry and, after some experimentation and trial and error, I eventually got the correct amounts to process colour reversal Super 8, and managed to get decent results. Despite this, I wasn't completely satisfied, mainly because I was processing films manually in the popular Lomo tank, and while the manual process is great, I found that I didn't always get consistent results from one reel to the other. I knew that to achieve perfect consistent results every time, the process needed to be automated. I looked towards the world of photography and discovered that there were several small and portable automatic film processors; these are mostly used by photographers and small professional labs.

I was most impressed by the small Jobo CPE and ATL processors, as these could be easily re-programmed and adapted to process Super 8. I built a rack to hold 50 feet of Super 8 film, which could be inserted into a standard Jobo drum, and then placed in the processor. The whole process was simple. I would load the processor with the chemicals, then automatically spool the exposed film onto my rack and inserted this inside the standard drum, placed in the processor and then just switched on and started the processor. After about forty minutes, the processor would stop and the film would be processed. Although I could only process one reel of film at a time, this was much better than waiting for weeks. The automatic processor simplified the process, but most important of all, I was getting very consistent results each time, which were as good as any professional lab.

I opened up a wider service offering the only Super 8 processing service using professional automatic processors in the UK. A major set back came when Kodak discontinued their line of colour reversal film. Though Kodak has released a colour negative film in Super 8, processing it is a bit tricky as there are two problems processing colour negative motion picture film at home, firstly the chemistry and the process is slightly different from standard still film. Secondly all colour negative motion picture films have a carbon backing called the Remjet. In the professional lab this backing is removed in a separate machine before the film is processed otherwise this can be very messy.

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