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Super 8 and 8 mm film formats. Magnetic sound stripes are shown in gray.
Kodachrome 40 KMA464P Super 8 Cartridge

Super 8 mm film (often simply called Super 8) is a motion picture film format released in 1965 by Eastman Kodak as an improvement of the older "Double" or "Regular" 8 mm home movie format.

The film is nominally 8 mm wide, exactly the same as the older standard 8 mm film, and also has perforations on only one side. However, the dimensions of the perforations are smaller than those on older 8 mm film, which allowed the exposed area to be made larger. The Super 8 standard also specifically allocates the rebate opposite the perforations for an oxide stripe upon which sound can be magnetically recorded.

There are several different varieties of the film system used for shooting, but the final film in each case has the same dimensions. By far the most popular system was the Kodak system.

Contents

The Kodak Super 8 system

Nizo film-camera

Launched in 1965, Super 8 film comes in plastic light-proof cartridges containing coaxial supply and take-up spools loaded with 50 feet of film. This was enough film for 2.5 minutes at the U.S. motion picture professional standard of 24 frames per second, and for 3 minutes and 20 seconds of continuous filming at 18 frames per second (upgraded from Standard 8 mm's 16 frame/s) for amateur use, for a total of approximately 3,600 frames per film cartridge. A 200-foot cartridge later became available which could be used in specifically designed cameras, but that Kodak cartridge is no longer produced. Super 8 film was typically a reversal stock. Kodak makes three types of reversal film in this format today; one color (Ektachrome 64t) and two black and white (Plus-X and Tri-X). In the 1990s Pro-8 mm pioneered custom loading of several Super 8 stocks. Today Super 8 color negative film is available directly from Kodak for professional use and is typically transferred to video through the telecine process for use in television advertisement, music videos and other film projects.

A Super 8 Film cartridge beside a Compact audio cassette for scale

The Super 8 plastic cartridge is probably the fastest loading film system ever developed as it can be loaded into the Super 8 camera in less than two seconds without the need to directly thread or even touch the film. In addition, coded notches cut into the Super 8 film cartridge exterior allowed the camera to recognize the film speed automatically. Not all cameras can read all the notches correctly though and not all cartridges are notched correctly such as Kodak Vision2 200T. See also http://super8wiki.com/index.php/Super_8_Cartridge_Notch_Ruler for a proper guide to how the notches work and finding compatibility with various camera models. Canon also keeps an exhaustive list of their Super 8 cameras with detailed specifications on what film speeds can be used with their cameras at http://www.canon.com/camera-museum/camera/cine/series_8mc.html. Usually, testing one cartridge of film can help handle any uncertainty a filmmaker may have about how well their Super 8 camera reads different film stocks. Color stocks were generally available only in tungsten (3400K), and almost all Super 8 cameras come with a switchable daylight filter built in, allowing for both indoor and outdoor shooting.

The original Super 8 film release was a silent system only, but in 1973 a sound on film version was released. The sound film had a magnetic soundtrack and came in larger cartridges than the original so as to accommodate a longer film path (required for smoothing the film movement before it reached the recording head), and a second aperture for the recording head. Sound cameras were compatible with silent cartridges, but not vice versa. Sound film was typically filmed at a speed of 18 or 24 frames per second. Kodak discontinued the production of Super 8 sound film in 1997, citing environmental regulations as the reason (the adhesive used to bond the magnetic track to the film was environmentally hazardous) [1].

A Super 8 Film cartridge with a close-up of the film

Kodak still manufactures several color and black-and-white Super 8 reversal film stocks, but in 2005 announced the discontinuation of the most popular stock Kodachrome [2] due to the decline of facilities equipped with the equipment for the K-14 process. Kodachrome was "replaced" by a new ISO 64 Ektachrome, which used the simpler E-6 process There is only one Kodachrome lab left in the entire world (which will end processing by the end of 2010), whereas now, all Super 8 film stocks, from color and black and white reversal, to color negative, can be processed same day in several labs around the world.

Kodak has also introduced several Super 8 negative stocks cut from their Vision film series, ISO 200 and ISO 500 which can be used in very low light. Kodak reformulated the emulsions for the B&W reversal stocks Plus-X (ISO 100) and Tri-X (ISO 200), in order to give them more sharpness. Many updates of film stocks are in response to the improvement of digital video technology. The growing popularity and availability of non-linear editing systems has allowed film-makers to shoot Super 8 film but edit on video, thereby avoiding much of the scratches and dust that can accrue when editing the actual film. Super 8 Films may be transferred through telecine to video and then imported into computer-based editing systems. Along with the computer editing option a number of enthusiasts still choose to edit super 8 film with a viewer and rewinds and then project their edit master on a film projector and movie screen.

Kodak Super 8 mm cartridges cannot be reloaded; however, a reloadable cartridge was manufactured in the Soviet Union.

Kodak discontinued reversal print stocks several years ago. Andec Film in Berlin now makes prints from Super 8 negative film, and seems to be the only place in the world offering this service, although optical blow-ups to 16mm or 35mm are available at other labs.

The Fujifilm Single-8 system

Fujifilm of Japan developed an alternative format called Single-8, which was released in 1965 as a different option to the Kodak Super 8 format.

Single-8 cartridges are of a different design from a Super 8 cartridge, resembling a cassette-style design (both supply and take-up reels side by side) as opposed to Super 8's coaxial cartridge design (both reels on top of each other). Therefore, Single-8 film cartridges can only be used in Single-8 cameras. However, the film loaded in a Single-8 cartridge is exactly the same as Super 8 (with the exception of being made of a thinner & stronger polyester base, rather than the acetate base of Super 8 film), and can be viewed in any Super 8 projector after processing.

Although never as popular as Super 8, the format lived in parallel. On 2 June 2009 Fuji announced [3] the end of Single-8 motion picture film. Fuji RT200N (tungsten balanced 200 ASA) will cease to be manufactured by May 2010. Fujichrome R25N (daylight balanced 25 ASA) will remain available until March 2012. Fuji's in-house processing service will continue to be available until September 2013.

Polaroid Polavision

Instant 8mm film released in 1977 by Polaroid. Uses the same perforations as Super 8mm film, and can be projected through a Super 8mm projector if the film is transferred from the original cartridge to a 8mm reel.

Double Super 8

Double Super 8 film (commonly abbreviated as DS8) is a 16 mm wide film but has Super 8 size sprockets. It is used in the same way as standard 8 mm film in that the film is run through the camera twice, exposing one side on each pass. During processing, the film is split down the middle and the two pieces spliced together to produce a single strip for projection in a Super 8 projector. Because it has sprockets on both sides of the film, the pin-registration is superior to Super 8 film and so picture stability is better.

Super Duper 8 (AKA Max 8)

Super-Duper-8, or S-D-8 was created out of the need for widescreen compatibility without having to use expensive optical adaptors or excessive cropping. Since magnetic sound-striped film is no longer available, the creators of Sleep Always experimented with widening the camera gate to expose into the sound track region to achieve this. The result is a 20% wider image than previously possible which also gives better clarity to the image. Pro8mm sells Max-8 widescreen cameras, which are remade Super 8 cameras. These cameras have an aspect ratio of about 1.58, so less cropping is needed to convert the image to widescreen than the traditional 1.33 ratio.

Equipment

The last manufacturer to produce Super 8 cameras was the French company Beaulieu. Beaulieu cameras have been the basis for several newer cameras offered by the US based Pro8mm company. Older Super 8 cameras are available from specialized retailers and auction sites such as eBay.

Kodak is the only company currently making Super 8 film stock, including some of their latest Vision 3 color negative stock. One or more other Super 8 specialists (such as Pro8mm, Spectra (both in Los Angeles), Wittner Cinetec (in Hamburg, Germany) and Kahlfilm (in Brühl, Germany) slit raw 35 mm film stock from Fuji, Kodak and ORWO, perforate it, and repackage it in Kodak Super 8 cartridges. Due to Kodak's discontinuation of Kodachrome 40, the one stock that for four decades used to be almost synonymous to Super 8 as a medium itself, in 2006 which opened the Super 8 market for new stocks and competing film manufactures, effectively there are now more varieties of Super 8 film available than ever before, but ironically very few retailers still stock Super 8 film, as there is virtually no demand from "ordinary" consumers.

One country where it is still stocked in every high street is the UK, where the chain Jessops carries one film: Kodak Ektachrome 64T. Until recently (2002) it was also available in Boots, a British high-street chain-pharmacy. In 2007 it was reported that Jessops are scaling back their film stocks and will no longer stock Super 8 film. As yet this remains unconfirmed.

There were rumours of Super 8 cameras and films being manufactured and sold in North Korea, partly to be found in specialty photography stores in a few Southeast Asian countries, by a company named Kim Chek, and indeed this has been confirmed by North Korean embassies, but the only way to buy such products is to visit those countries.[citation needed]

Packaged movies

Although the 8 mm format was originally intended for creating amateur films, condensed versions of popular cinema releases were available up until the early 1980's, for projection at home. These were generally edited to fit onto a 200 ft reel. Many Charlie Chaplin films, and other silent movies were available. The Walt Disney Studio released excerpts from many of their animated feature films, as well as some shorts, in both Standard and Super 8, some even with magnetic sound. New releases of material were not stopped until the mid-1980's in the US.

In-flight movies

Starting in 1971,[4] In-flight movies (previously 16 mm) were shown in Super 8 format until video distribution became the norm. The films were printed with an optical sound track (amateur films use magnetic sound), and spooled into proprietary cassettes that often held a whole 2-hour movie.

Popularity

Amateur usage of Super 8 has been largely replaced by video, but the format is often used by professionals in music videos, TV commercials, and special sequences for television and feature film projects, as well as by many visual artists. For a professional cinematographer, Super 8 is another tool to use alongside larger formats. Some seek to imitate the look of old home movies, or create a stylishly grainy look. Many independent filmmakers such as Derek Jarman, Dave Markey, Jem Cohen, Damon Packard, Sam Raimi, Kevin Smith, Jesse Richards, Harmony Korine, Nathan Schiff and Guy Maddin have made extensive use of 8 mm film. Oliver Stone, for example, has used it several times in his more recent films, such as The Doors, Natural Born Killers, Nixon, U Turn, and JFK where his director of photography Robert Richardson employed it to evoke a period or to give a different look to scenes. The PBS series Globe Trekker uses approximately 5 minutes of Super 8 footage per episode. Says creator Ian Cross, "it gives our show a particular look."[5] In the UK, broadcasters such as the BBC still occasionally make use of Super 8 in both drama and documentary contexts, usually for creative effect. A recent example of particular note was the 2005 BBC2 documentary series, Define Normal, which was shot largely on Super 8, with only interviews and special timelapse photography utilising more conventional digital formats.[6]

To give further support to filmmakers dedicated to shooting on Super 8 mm film, many film festivals and screenings such as the Flicker Film Festival exist to give filmmakers a place to screen their Super 8 mm films. Many of these screenings shun video and are only open to films shot on film. Some require film to be turned in undeveloped and thus not permitting any editing, providing an additional challenge to the filmmaker. These include such the Bentley Film Festival, and straight 8 [1] which runs screenings at the Cannes Film Festival and many other festivals and events worldwide, where a sound track is required to be supplied with a completed but unprocessed cartridge. In the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, a Super 8 short film (The Man Who Met Himself) by British filmmaker Ben Crowe shot on the now discontinued Kodachrome 40 format was the first Super 8 film to be nominated for the Short Film Palme D'Or in the Official Selection.

The United States Super 8 Film + Digital Video Festival receives close to 100 Super 8 entries every year.

Until 1999, the University of Southern California's famous School of Cinematic Arts required students to shoot some of their projects using Super 8, but digital video is now favoured instead. The University of North Texas' Radio, Television and Film Department still requires students to shoot on Super 8, which leads them into the Regular16 and Super16 films shot in higher level courses. This experience gives students the basics of film production and editing.

A number of Experimental filmmakers continue to work extensively in the format and festivals such as the Images Festival (Toronto), the Media City Film Festival (Windsor, ONT), and TIE (based in Colorado) regularly project Super 8 films as part of their programming.

Thanks to over a dozen film stocks and certain features common in Super 8 cameras but unavailable in video camcorders–notably the ability to expose single frames and shoot at several non video standard frame rates, including time-exposure and slow motion–Super 8 provides an ideal inexpensive medium for traditional stop-motion and cel animation and other types of filming speed effects not common to video cameras.

Another visual effect impossible in video cameras that certain high-end Super 8 cameras can do in-camera is the lap-dissolve. Upon activation of the lap-dissolve feature, the shot being filmed fades to black, the camera back-winds the film to the beginning of the fade and, at the beginning of the next shot, fades in.

See also

References

External links

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