In Praise of Super 8

It took 1970’s holidaymakers by storm and now major film and television directors want it. I’m talking about ‘that look’ of Super 8mm.
Created by Kodak in 1965 as the more affordable alternative to using 16mm and without the loading, exposure, and image quality problems of the original 8mm, the Super 8mm camera was every independent filmmaker’s dream. No need to thread, flip and slit film with this little beauty. The Super 8mm takes a single-pass 50ft. cartridge, which automatically sets film speed and filter and prevents light leaks, making it possible load and unload in daylight. This also allows for steadier registration, as the film perforations are located in the centre on the frame, rather than at the frame line and most cameras come equipped with their own light meter, making image exposure more filmmaker friendly.
And you thought shooting on film was painfully expensive and time consuming…
In fact, there has never been a better time for shooting on Super 8mm.  Second hand cameras can be found at bargain price from Internet sites such as Amazon and Ebay, and from a number of dealers in London. These include The Widescreen Centre, Pro8, The Film Stock Centre, Jessops Photo Centre, Four Corners Film Workshop and The Camera Exchange, to name but a few. Seeing that super8 was so popular with holidaymakers in the 60s and 70s, there may even be one floating around in your parents’ or grandparents’ attic. The chances are that if there is, there may also be a home projector, so it is always worth asking.
‘But what about the astronomical expense of transferring footage for editing?!’, I hear you cry. Admittedly, transferring Super 8 to high quality digital can be costly and in some cases, troublesome. The experts, Bolex, are based in Switzerland ( and supply a whole host of services from reel-handling to digital copying, all of which are priced individually, either by the reel or by the meter. The Video Conversion Experts in Arizona  boast being “the only film transfer company in the USA that can restore Super 8mm film to it’s original clarity or better” and offer competitive rates for converting Super 8mm to HD. Companies in the UK such as the Video Studio in Sussex can transfer Super 8mm footage to DVD, charging £25.00 for the first 50ft reel then £6.00 for each additional 50ft reel, or £4.25 if the 50ft of film is on a reel larger than 50ft.
Thankfully however, one of the lesser-known facts about wonderful Super 8 is that you can actually edit inside the camera. Super 8 cameras with the lap-dissolve feature will fade the current shot to black and then back-wind the film to the beginning of the fade. The next shot to be filmed is then faded in over the top. Naturally this requires some skilful shot planning and arranging. Such skill, it should be noted, is very highly regarded, particularly by the Bentley ( and Straight 8  film festivals, which require that directors submit films undeveloped, thereby disallowing any editing.
But Super 8 is even more super than that. In addition to the lap-dissolve, cameras with a frame-by-frame shooting feature make Super 8 a classic choice for cell or stop animation. Even shooting 3 frames per movement, as opposed to the preferred 1 frame, creates a fluid motion and great image quality on Super 8mm. There’s no need to even touch a computer, let alone the editing and after effects software normally required.
Is it any wonder then that the likes of Oliver Stone, Sam Raimi and Dogma producer Kevin Smith are all crazy for Super 8? Cannes Film Festival loved it so much that in 2005 they awarded Ben Crowe’s Super 8mm film, The Man Who Met Himself with the Palme D’Or. Other festivals such as the Flicker Film Festival exist to provide Super 8 filmmakers with screening and distribution and many other festivals hold events and screenings dedicated to the life and times of Super 8 film.
One such festival is Raindance, who, in addition to screening winners for the Straight 8 film festival, have recently started the Hands-On Super 8mm film-making course. This will take place for the first time in April this year and will teach filmmakers everything about shooting on Super 8mm, including how to avoid those pesky processing costs.
So what better time to get Super? Just take a look at the up-coming Super 8mm events and resource bank posted below to find when, where and how. You’ll soon find that Super 8mm opens up new realms of possibilities and gives filmmakers of the digital era a new appreciation for cinematography and visual story telling, making it much more than ‘look’.
Look out for these up-coming Super 8mm events:
13 Mar:  Super 8 Circus : The University of Toronto Film Festival’s annual Super 8 Circus accepts 20 films for screening a first come first served basis. Complete the online submission form at 
13 Mar:  Power of Super 8 : SXSW (South by South West) – Austin’s hip ‘n’ cool music fest plus has a strand entitled “The Power of Super 8 Film”
22 Apr / 1 May:  Cambridge Super 8 : This year’s festival will comprise a programme of more than 70 short films from around the world shown over 2 weeks.
Super 8mm Resource Bank:
 – This little blog site is a surprising goldmine for all things Super 8mm. It offers advice on screenings, festivals, processing, up-coming events and much more.
 – This is a great resource for technical aspects of shooting on Super 8mm which will help you make the most of your camera and keep it in tip-top condition.
 – This web page lists all of the London Super 8 suppliers. On the main site you will find advice on everything from shooting to making your own underground cinema!
 – This page of the new media kings offers explains the technicals on using you Super 8 camera to do cell and stop animation.
 – Too much Super 8 is never enough for
 – This site offers advice, information, up-dates and links to the Super 8 world in French and English.
The Super 8 Film Maker’s Handbook [Illustrated] (Paperback)
Myron A. Matzkin’s Super 8 Film Maker’s Handbook takes you right through  the process of  shooting on Super 8. An avid Super 8 fan herself, Matzkin has written several books on the subject, describing everything you need to know in interesting detail.
Moviemaking: A Work text for Super 8 Film Production (Paperback)
David Coynik’s book really aims to get you shooting. It contains information on photo composition, equipment, planning, shooting, lighting, editing, sound, and special effects.
It also includes exercises and projects, great for getting you going.

Handbook of Super 8 Production by Mark Mikolas
This handbook covers everything from production systems and super 8 shooting and editing systems through budgeting, cinematography, sound recording, printmaking, treatment, projection, videography and broadcast techniques and even underwater filming.
It is also illustrated which makes it easy on the eye.
A Super 8 Filmmaker’s Journal:  A Guide to Super 8 Filmmaking in the Age of the Internet
The book provides good information on where and how to start shooting on Super 8mm.
Most of the information given is America based, however, it gives a modern perspective that reads well to filmmakers today.

Super 8 Filmmaking from Scratch (Hardcover)
This book takes you from basic to more complex Super 8mm shooting and provides good, detailed information to keep you going once you’ve started.

The Man Who Met Himself  by Ben Crowe
Super 8 Site Movie Bank
Camera exchange
by Notting Hill Gate tube
Market Stall
(just off Portobello Road … nearest tube Westbourne Park), on the odd number side
Four corners film workshop
113 Roman Road,
London E2 0HU
Tel: 020 7981 4243
15 Camden High Street,
London NW1 7JE
Tel: 020 7916 7251
Jessops Photo Centre
67/9 New Oxford Street,
London WC1
Tel: 020 7240 6077
The Film Stock Centre
68 Wardour Street,
London W1
Tel: 020 7494 2244
The Widescreen Centre
47, Dorset Street
Lee’s Cameras at 281/2 High Holborn
Pro8 1-6 Falconberg Court,
open Monday to Friday, 9.30am till 5.30pm.