Image Credits @ Nesster
Developed by Eastman Kodak, the Super 8 was a highly popular but short lived motion picture film format released in 1965. The Super 8 was an improvement over the standard 8 mm film with a wider exposed area for a larger picture. Known for its stylishly grainy film quality, the Super 8 became the mark of the popular culture in the late 60’s and 70’s and found its use in amateur cinema and several other media like TV commercials, News shows, music videos and special sequences. While, the overall size of the Super 8 tape is the same as the regular 8mm or double 8, the Super 8 has smaller perforations that allow for the exposed area to be wider. The magnetic strip was placed on the opposite side of the perforation for recording audio.
Advantages over the Older Systems
The Super 8, unlike the other Super variants of the standard 16 and 35 could not be used with the standard 8 camera. The Super 8 introduced a new cartridge feed mechanism which eliminated the need of threading the film manually on the spool before starting filming. The launch of the revolutionary format was also supported with two new cameras the M2 and the M4. The special cartridge system was the fastest film loading system at its time and could be loaded in a camera in less than 2 seconds. During its initial release in 1965 the Super 8 lacked a magnetic tape for audio recording but a sound version with a larger cartridge was released in 1973.
Super 8 soon rose to popularity due to its distinctively grainy picture quality. Its widespread availability due to the competition between Eastman Kodak and Fujifilm, who created a similar recording format known as the and became the reason for the rise of amateur cinema in the 70s despite of the tape just offering 3 minutes of footage. The video quality offered by the Super 8 was the best at its time due to the wider exposed area and was displayed in a colorful yet soft picture quality. With the addition of the audio recording tape in early 70s the Super 8 became a true successor to the standard 8.
There were several flaws with the placement of the audio tape in the standard 8 as it often caused problems and prevented proper contact with the magnetic head problematic. Later Super 8 tapes were also incorporated with optical sound track and were particularly sold in Europe due to its cheap production cost and practical advantages over magnetic audio which was often poorly recorded due to cheap quality recording devices. The Super 8 soon found its use in professional filmmaking, TV ads, music videos and special television sequences. Later versions such as the Double Super 8 which is actually a 16 mm wide strip with super 8 sized sprockets. The Double Super 8, due to sprockets on both sides had better pin registration resulting in a steadier picture and soundtrack.
With its launch, Eastman Kodak’s Super 8 competed with a tough as nails contender known as the Single 8 developed by Fujifilm. The Single 8 was offered as a more developed alternative to the Super 8 with a thinner cartridge and unlimited rewind. Despite of its popularity amongst amateur filmmaking, The Super 8 suffered from several flaws and the biggest one was the extremely short time duration. The Super 8 was also ailed by several technological factors like unsteady picture and a limited amount of detailed that could be captured.
But the real setback came in the late 70’s with the popularity of Video cameras that spawned the infamous ‘Format Wars’. The introduction of superior video and audio recording formats like VHS and Betamax, offered the filmmakers upto 2 hours of video and audio recording. With VHS winning over Betamax in its sheer number of advantages, several electronic companies like Hitachi, JVC, Panasonic, Sharp and Mitsubishi started accepting VHS as a standard.
While both Kodak and Fujifilm have discontinued the production of Super 8 recording devices, they still produce a variety of Super 8 films. It is widely used till today for several special sequences and an inexpensive alternative to high definition video. The 2011 Hollywood movie ‘Super 8’ is a horror movie produced by Stephen Spielberg and uses several Super 8 video clips. Super 8 is said to have been regaining its popularity today due to its ‘Retro’ and iconic grainy video quality and is being reintroduced in amateur cinema. Several new Super 8 filmmakers also convert super 8 to digital in order to preserve the footage and make the playback steadier.
Luke Peters is the current contributor for Filmtodvdcompany.com, and has written several articles related to filmmaking and editing across various sites and blogs. He is a movie buff and is an avid amateur filmmaker and likes to keep up to date with the latest news and reviews in the industry.