Posted on May 18 2020
Finding a Super 8 Camera
A Chapter From the New The Power of Super 8 Film Book (2020)
Putting your hands on a Super 8 film camera should not be that difficult to do. Between the 1960s and 1080s over 65 million Super 8 cameras were sold. I once read that at its peak, 1 in 5 households in the U.S. had a Super 8 film camera. In addition, most things were made of metal back in those days. By today’s standards, they were way over-designed to last. The manufacturers began to change to plastic in the mid 1970’s so older Super 8 film cameras are often some of the best. It is not that unusual to find a 50-year-old working Super 8 film camera.
(photo credit google images)
The easiest place to go shopping is in the closet of anyone who was a parent back in that generation. If that doesn’t turn up a usable camera, go to a few yard sales. Bring along a set of six AA batteries and a cartridge of old film so you can check the camera’s basic functions. Probably the easies way to find a camera is to go on line and use the super popular Ebay.
On eBay search for “Super 8 cameras” and you will find hundreds for sale at any given time. My search today turned up 1500 (Don’t forget to spell it “Super 8” Camera, not “Super8” Camera.)
The best camera is any one that works. The camera needs three basic functions to be working.
- The camera must expose the film correctly
- Transport the film
- Keep it in focus
Every camera has unique and interesting features for creative use but working is critical and most desirable over any sexy looking lens. In fact, the more complex the camera the more likely it will not all be working. If you can’t physically inspect a camera before you purchase it you need to either purchase one that is so cheap it does not matter if you toss it out or use it for decoration or you need to be able to return it. Remember Ebay is global and it’s a little difficult returning thing to many places around the world. Most Ebay sellers are very concerned with there on-line reputation so don’t be afraid to push back if you get a lemon but spend some time doing your research and read the description carefully and learn the Ebay etiquette.
If you are purchasing it physical you can test whether it will transport. First, put in a set of batteries — usually AA — in the camera. Next, mark the film in the cartridge you brought with you so you can tell if the film has moved. I do this by making a slight scratch with my fingernail on the film. Insert the film cartridge in the camera, and pull the trigger. (There might be an on/off switch you’ll need to flip.) If the scratch mark you made is gone when you take out the cartridge, the film transport is working.
Looking through the camera can tell you something about focus and the exposure system but you can’t prove either of these is working properly unless you actually shoot some film. Super 8 cameras with lens focus problems are rare because the lens was built into the camera in most models. Exposure problems are more common. Watch out for a camera that has been dropped or received water damage. Look for major dents and/or rust on the camera. Check the battery compartment for corrosion.
Although you obviously want to make sure that the camera you acquire is working, try to get a guarantee that you can return it if it is not. While you can find cameras very cheaply, fixing them is not cheap. This is just the law of supply and demand at work. There are millions of cameras available and only a small population of people who want to use them, so prices are cheap. You should be able to buy a working Super 8 camera for under $100.00 Camera technicians, on the other hand, are very rare and restoring old mechanical devices like cameras is a time consuming art, so the price for that is expensive.
If you’re not the kind of person who shops for used equipment or want the hassle of this process, you can buy a camera from a camera seller. If you go this route, remember that you are purchasing the guaranty that the camera works in all its function and will continue working more than purchasing the camera itself.
Regardless of how clean a camera looks, it is about how well it works and how much support the seller provides for it. Can they fix the camera or will they replace it if it doesn’t work? Can they provide you with support in terms of how best to use it? Do they have upgrades and accessories available for the camera so you can go further with it in the future?
Because there are over 1,000 different Super 8 camera models on the market, at Pro8mm we realized years ago it would be impossible to cost justifiably try to just fix all cameras. We have always fixed the camera we sold. In the early 1980’s we were the North American distributer for Nizo cameras and did all the sales and support for the Nizo 6080 and Integral line of Cameras. In 1985 Pro8mm (Then called Super8 Sound) became the USA Distributer for Beaulieu of France. The company had emerged from bankruptcy and was selling a new model of Super 8 camera the Beaulieu 7008. In 1990 Pro8mm acquired the USA Beaulieu Service center at Precision Camera in Sherman Oaks California which had been servicing Beaulieu since the 1970’s. In 1995 Beaulieu filed form Bankruptcy for a second time and we could not longer get either cameras or repair part to service Beaulieu cameras. So, rather than give up on camera sales we decided to rebuild our own. Although the newer 7008 camera was our camera de jour the older Beaulieu 4008 was made more simply and more importantly mostly of metal while the new 7008 camera was made of plastic. There were also some design decision made on the 7008 that did not seem to have the resilience the older 4008 camera had. We had been servicing Beaulieu 4008 since the 1970’s it was a proven.
In order to rebuild these camera, we first had to purchase a significant supply of used camera to be parts. We had lots of parts from being the Distributer and acquiring the Service center but the 4008 has over 1800 parts . Then we invested a lot of time in looking for sustainable improvements to that camera , evaluating all its strengths and weaknesses and making improvements where possible.
The Classic Pro
We called our first camera the Classic. It is a restored Beaulieu 4000 series camera with some very fine improvements. We redesigned the power system so the camera would have a long-running, more reliable power source. We fined tuned the take-up so the camera would perform better with our Pro8mm color negative Super 8 film. We removed the 85-filter system to give it better optical performance. We designed some accessories like Crystal Sync control for shooting sync sound. We designed a new optical system called Max8 for filming in widescreen. We removed several of the systems that were prone to failing like the original power on/off switch and the internal 85 filter system. It is the Classic Motion Picture Camera. Shoot Super8 film, Has interchangeable lens, true reflex focusing, lots of powering, mounting options, modifiable for sync and Max8. Just about everything a serious motion picture photographer would ever want. The only thing we don’t like about it is that it take so much time to achieve. And therefore cost a lot to own. We do rent them as an option. The average rebuild take 40 hours of skilled technician labor.
What is MAX8. We added a new Power Coat finish. It has taken a lot to rebuild this camera but we feel that our investment in this capacity can sustain the future of Super 8 it can be rebuilt indefinitely. Sample Footage shot with Classic Max8.
In 2006, we decided the market needed a less expensive less complex Super 8 camera. We look for a camera with great optics, manual exposure system that supported the complete like of Super 8 ASA, 18 & 24 FPS shooting speeds and rugged dependability. After looking carefully at the Nizo, Elmo, Chinon and Sankyo line we decide on the Canon 814AZ which we now call the Pro814. This is a great camera that includes all the basic functions such as 24fps and manual exposure capabilities. Since we can restore this camera with a lot less work, it can be done at a less expensive price. The Pro814 rebuild still takes 6 to 8 hours on average provided we start with a good camera. Some of the cameras we purchase from eBay are so far gone that we just add them to the parts pile. The Art of Super 8 Camera Repair
The Rhonda Cam
In April of 2012 We decided to introduce our third camera the Rhonda CAM. With this camera we decided to take a different direction and find the simples, easiest to use super 8 camera ever made. We wanted to offer a camera that was accessible to anyone who had the desire with as little burden on the technical aspects of filmmaking as possible. I kept saying to eveyone we needed a camera so easy to use even my wife Rhonda can get great results use it. The name stuck and we officially call it the RhondaCam . We looked over a few dozen model and choose the Canon 310XL. The canon 310 XL has one of the most extensive exposure ranges ever offered going from F1.0 to F45. When you combine this with modern color negative film you have a system that can capture film images over the larges range of lighting situation in any motion picture camera. ANY In low light there is no camera that can beat The Rhonda Cam. In addition its small size make it the perfect companion for traveling and the simplicity of its function make it viable for doing all kinds of things you would never consider with higher value piece of equipment. The cherry on top is that the image stability is not only good but incredible. Because there were about a half million of these cameras made and because it was much simpler the restoration cost would not be as complex and therefore it could be way less expensive . The RhondaCam is the most popular camera we sell.
Whether you find a gem at a yard sale or you acquire a totally rebuilt hot rod of a camera it is what you do with it that counts. Aside from all the features, you have to find a camera that fits your personality and filmmaking style. Some filmmakers like creative features others use very simple tools to create empowering images.
If you’re thinking about one of the more expensive rebuilt cameras, you might want to rent it for a day first to make sure it suits you.
Advanced Application of Super 8 Film
Some time Super 8 film is used in Major Motion Pictures. There are many creative reasons for this . To serve this market the Classic Pro can be rented out for Studio Production with both Crystal Sync and Max8 Modification,
These are two features that were never part of the original home movie design of Super 8 film cameras that we had to added to serve the particular market niche.
Crystal Sync is a way of synchronizing the pictures shot on a film camera with audio recorded on a separate audio system. Super 8 Film Sync Sound
Without Crystal Sync “locking” the camera at a precise speed, the frame rate will drift just enough to make it very difficult film picture with independent audio. With Crystal Sync, you can use many audio devices to achieve sync with a Super 8 camera. The cost of making this modification has gone up so much that at this time we are only renting cameras with it and not offer this for purchase. This function is typically only critical with shooting dialogue by v very handy when your dong a Sync music video. The second is Max8 Max 8 was developed basically just after doing work on the feature film Sympatico.
John Toll an ASC cinematographer want to use Super 8 film in a flashback sequence and want a custom viewfinder system in his Super 8 Camera such that he could see in the Super 8 viewfinder the resulting framing when a Super 8 image was used in 1:85. After developing this idea for him for this movie we look into the possibility of expansing the actual gate or taking aperture of the Super 8 camera to increase the negative size of the Super 8 image. Super 8 cameras were originally designed for shooting home movies and produced more or less a square picture, we needed to modify the super 8 camera to work effectively in widescreen applications.
For years, we used anamorphic lenses in these applications and squeeze a wider image onto the Super 8 frame, then “stretched” those images out during the post process. Director Joel Schumacher and Cinematographer Jan De Bont used this method when shooting the flashback sequences in Super 8 in the feature film Flatliners. Pro8mm had even invented a custom Anamorphic Set up for shooting in this application for this production.
Although this does work, it has a lot of drawbacks and is quite cumbersome for the operator. Clearly, it would be more than helpful to actually see a wide Super 8 image, which led to the development of Max 8. In 2005 we introduce Max 8 as our custom modification of a 4008 Beaulieu camera’s gate and viewfinder systems that allows you to see the framing of a 16x9 picture while shooting, and actually film with a wider image on the Super 8 film.
By modifying Super 8 cameras to include Crystal Sync and Max 8 pro8mm has help bridge the world of Super 8 with major motion picture . As a result Super 8 has been part of many theatrically released film that have all used Pro8mm in one way or another to create Super 8 sequences in many Major Motion Picture .
For a List of Feature Film that used Pro8mm products and services to create Super 8 Scenes , Visit 'Clients' at Pro8mm.com
© Pro8mm 2020. All Rights Reserved. A Chapter from 'The Power of Super 8 Film, Insider Secrets Every Filmmaker Should Know' by Phil Vigeant