Super 8 cameras for beginners

The Super 8mm group on Facebook had a discussion going on about what the best cameras were for beginners, and I put in my 2c.

My cameras–a super 8 family portrait

If you are brand new to shooting super 8 or film in general, get a Pentax K-1000 or other manual 35mm still camera. If someone is such a beginner that they don’t know the fundamentals of light and dealing with different shutter speeds and f/-stops, then they should spend a while taking pictures first, take an intro to photography class that shoots on film, something like that. Now once they have some photographic experience, see below:

A beginner shouldn’t be spending a whole lot of money (nor would they want to anyway) so thrift stores/garage sales are the way to go. The most important thing will be if the camera transport works (BTW I’ve heard that running the camera at speeds over 24fps can burn out the motor if there is no film inside), the battery compartment has no acid corrosion, and then whatever mechanical/optical features in which the buyer is interested. If the buyer doesn’t know enough about this to test these functions, than see above.

So forget listing particular cameras. Not only is it taking the easy way out, there will be plenty of cameras left off and it drives the prices up for that model, while others are relatively undiscovered.  Also one shouldn’t get hung up on any one camera, there are so many great models out there that I’m still hearing of for the first time, and I’ve been researching this off/on for the last few years.  Never mind the brand, so I’ll list features one should look for instead, in order of importance:

1. Price and condition. Absolutely most important aspects
2. Uses easy-to-find batteries like AA.  It’s great to have the Wein Cell but annoying having to keep an extra stash of batteries around for the light meter (and makes it verify that everything works)
3. 24fps framerate
4. All other framerates 9-36fps or greater (for slow motion), timelapse, etc.
5. Ability to read all (or at least most) film speeds ASA25-400 (I’d make this #2 but it takes a lot of research; Tri-X, 50D and 200T should be plenty of choice for the beginner)
6. exposure compensation of some sort, even just a backlight button but +/- a stop or two would be nice (1/3 stop increments would be even better, but I don’t know that many super 8 camera had that)

Now, the further down the list one gets, the longer one will actually use that particular camera I think, but what I’m personally looking for in a super 8 camera and the list I’ve given for beginners aren’t necessarily in the same order. That said, there are plenty of cameras out there that have all 6 of these things and more; it’s possible that the “beginner” camera is enough to last the filmmaker a lifetime.

I’m not ever giving up mine!

Another piece of advice: don’t leave your batteries in the camera for an extended period of time!  They can leak acid and corrode a lot of the insides, killing the camera stone dead.  Even if you’re buying it so that can be repaired by a tech, know that most techs won’t touch a camera with battery acid corrosion, or if they do it’ll become much more expensive to fix.  So remember that when you’re looking at a camera, because that will tell you a lot about its condition!  If you’re buying online, this is the most important aspect, and most sellers don’t even bother to look.  In fact, most will say “I don’t know how to test it” (half the time they’re lying and it’s broken), but if they’re willing to verify that the battery compartment is clean and the price is good, then it might be worth the chance.

If you’re willing to put in the effort and do the research to find a camera with the features you personally want, you’ll be rewarded and will end up paying a lot less than someone that just has to have “the best.”  And I’ll tell you something else: there’s no such thing as the best.  I’ll give you the resources that have helped me the most, and good luck.
The Super 8mm Facebook Community
The Super 8 Wiki
Filmkorn’s Super 8 Database

2 thoughts on “Super 8 cameras for beginners

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