I have a new obsession and it’s name is Super 8mm film.
How I stumbled across this lost film format is a few months ago I walked into a Cash Converters on a whim and noticed an old school Super 8 camera on the shelf. It was a Minolta Autopak-8 S 6 and it was going for 100 bucks. Obviously being a student of filmmaking I knew what Super 8 was but I had never used a camera before and had no idea if this particular camera would work in the first place. But I was super curious and so I took the leap and snatched it up.
The last time I shot something on film was at Flinders University during my cinematography studies. We got to shoot our Honours projects on 16mm film with an Aaton XTR film camera — a very big and scary deal at the time. I wrote and photographed a horror film called “The Horror Film” because back then I was really into (and apparently could also stomach watching) that genre. It turned out alright...
Shooting film requires a certain discipline and knowledge of the basics of cinematography which modern-day filmmaking has made less important. Among other things, the biggest challenge with Super 8 cameras as well as the Aaton XTR there is no video monitor to show you what you’re shooting — and so you’re essentially shooting blind. Therefore you have to be confident that the camera settings you are using will produce a good-looking image in every situation. You need to understand the nuances of film stock and be able to premeditate what type of stocks to shoot on for certain locations; you have to know which part of the image you are exposing for and how to take light readings to ensure that your camera settings will do this; and you have to be diplomatic about what you’re shooting because you’ve only got a limited amount of film to work with.
This is of course a daunting proposition for kids like me who grew up shooting on digital cameras. I will say though that once you do the research, learn the skills and accurately expose an image on a film camera: it’s incredibly rewarding.
Returning now to my chance encounter with a Super 8 film camera at a pawn shop — I brought the little guy home and dusted it off. I was very impressed by the rather decent zoom lens as I looked through it down the viewfinder. After a bit of googling I figured out that the camera needed just 4 x AA batteries to work. I popped them in, switched it on and pulled the trigger.
“Shututututututututututututut…” It worked! And oh man what a wonderful sound an old school camera gate opening and closing is. Now I just needed some film stock. I jumped on Google again and found Walkens House of Film who provide a variety of indoor and outdoor Super 8 film stock. I ordered a roll of Kodak 50D — a film stock best suited for broad daylight filming. It arrived a couple of days later on a day that was perfect car-washing weather. So Cashmere and I made a little car washing film on the Super 8 camera!
The Minolta Autopak-8 S6 Super 8 camera is a user-friendly model with automatic exposure control, so I just had to trust that the camera would properly set the aperture for whatever I was pointing it at. A successful car washing later I had run through the full roll of film. I found a place in Victoria called Nanolab that processes Super 8 film and mailed the exposed roll over there for a digital transfer. The footage came back a few days later as a HD movie file, 3 minutes and 15 seconds in duration which is what a standard 50ft roll of Super 8 film gives you when you’re filming at the traditional speed of 18 frames per second. Given that it was my first time shooting Super 8 I was over the moon with how good it looked! I whacked it on the timeline all but raw with a cute Jordy Searcy track underneath and this was the result:
I was stoked that I had actually managed to make a movie on old school Super 8 and I was utterly hooked by the authentic vintage look of the film. I immediately ordered more 50D film stock as well as some rolls of 500T. The latter is a highly sensitive tungsten balanced film stock that I knew would be great for shooting wedding receptions. In the weeks and months that followed I began to take my Super 8 camera along to wedding to see what results I could get:
I have also built up a rather impressive collection of Super 8 cameras sourced from various places, including more advanced cameras like the Canon 814XL-S and Canon Auto Zoom 1014 which are absolute beasts that film in higher frame rates and allow for more manual control of shutter and exposure. Suffice it to say I am having the time of my life with this retro film format. I love the imperfections of it — that even though the images can sometimes drift out of focus or get a bit grainy, people understand that it’s simply “the Super 8 look”.
Thank you for reading! I’ll leave you now with a music video I made on Super 8 for local SA doom metal band Rocky’s Pride & Joy: