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Returning to Super 8

By Joel Valle  |  12-Jan-2011

It's a common question of amateur filmmakers. "How do I make my video footage look like film?" and also "What camera to buy?" As a low budget amateur filmmaker myself I had even a more pertinent question; "How can I even afford a high end camcorder if I'm broke?"

After much research and frustrated head-bangs, I stumbled to a even a better alternative, Super 8. It was with delight that I found it's making a comeback. Contrary to sophisticated editing techniques and a camcorder that simulates film, super 8 is film. Having already shot twice I could only wish that I would have found this option earlier. The picture has an ethereal feel and beauty unmatched by any camcorder and best of all it's affordable.

Before jumping to buy a camera, type on any search engine "best super 8 cameras" to get an idea of which one to buy. Currently any Beaulieu and Nizo cameras are top quality cameras followed by most Canon cameras. Where to buy them? of course you already know a place... eBay. If you decide to purchase on eBay don't just buy from the first powerseller even if they have 100% feedback. I bought my first camera to a powerseller with a 14 day guarantee only to find that the battery compartment of the camera was corroded and that the film cartridge could not in fact spin. That's when I discovered the most powersellers re-sale cameras only because they hear the motor running. I was lucky, the powerseller honored the guarantee.

The top question you should ask any seller before bidding or buying is if they have actually filmed recently with the camera. After weeks of asking many sellers I ironically bought a canon 514xl-s from someone who was making a sell for the first time on eBay. What that person had going for was that the camera was used in film school. Intuitively I knew that the camera was in good shape, expect to pay $100 dollars and up for a good well taking care of camera.

There is an alternative to eBay and it's to buy from a mortar and brick store the specializes on super 8. Their prices can be higher, but you will have the peace of mind that the camera works and will have a good warranty, most of them also develop and transfer the films. I have used the services many times of Spectra Film and Video in California for purchasing film stock and for development. They even called me once to notify that I was overpaying them by $20 and set the price of service accordingly , talk about excellent service!

Once you have bought your camera and a roll of film to test it; the real fun begins. Of course you can shoot whatever you want. However, super 8 works best on single subjects. Be aware that a single roll of film is 50 feet in length and last approximately 2 minutes and 50 seconds. If your going to shoot a short film the same filmmaking techniques apply. Many recommend to shoot a roll of film and develop before shooting an actual short film.

In my case I was not about to film around the house and spend money in development just to see random images. So I gathered some friends to help me and we shot a short film fully aware of the risk that we may end up wasting time if the camera didn't work properly. The test turned out fine and I named my flick “Black picnic" and now I have a fun little piece on my portfolio.

Afterwards I shot a more elaborate short film called "Connected" which is in post-production. Super 8 is being taking seriously, even actor Ryan Gosling has a super 8 film of his band Dead man's bones called "name in stone" which serves of a testament of the lure that super 8 has as an artistic medium.

Joel Valle went to the New York Film Academy and is both a filmmaker and a freelance writer. Currently he is a member of the Austin Film Meet and is working on his own film projects and runs the blog to help all artist break into freelancing.

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Older Comments

Predrag 16-Mar-2011

I would say that the budget was just a few hundred dollars (about a hundred for the Super 8 camera, and another hundred or so for the film stock and processing).

HDSLRs are all well above $800, even with the most basic package. Not quite comparable. However, consumer HD camcorders (such as Canon's cheap Vixias) can compare. Their sensor size isn't much different than the Super 8 frame, and they can also shoot 24p (as opposed to 18fps of Super 8).

Shooting on Super 8 is likely NOT cheaper than shooting digital. Image quality (actually, sharpness) isn't nearly as good either. The only place where film truly shines compared to digital is latitude. You simply can't match the film's ability to capture high contrast and to under- and over-expose without loss. Digital has a long way to go to achieve that.

Hemant Naidu 12-Jan-2011

Did you look into any of the HDSLRs? I am not sure what your budget was, but the Canon T2i is very affordable and gives an incredible film like look to it's footage due to it's large sensor, and the ability to shoot at 24p. If you can spend more the full frame sensor of the 5D Mark 2 is awesome.

I look forward to seeing your stuff shot on Super 8.

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