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


Total cost of one roll Super 8 film in 2018

I’ve had a total of two 8mm projects sent off to labs, the first to Pro8mm and the second to Cinelab.  While I was quite happy with the results, I’m shopping around to see just what my options are and just how low I can get on price, mostly based around total cost of shooting one roll of super 8 film.  And what a plethora of choices there are!  I don’t know everything, and there are probably developing labs and scanning houses I don’t know about, but these seem to be the main ones.  All values rounded up to the nearest dollar. Prices for D94 and ECN-2 developing, no E6. Shipping prices not included as they vary, the same with hard drives, but it must be said that those are extra expenses that must be taken into account.  These are all labs and scanning houses located in the continental USA.

FULL PACKAGE DEALS (film/processing/scanning)
Pro8mm: 2K $98, 5K $118
Spectra: HD $125

(Now #1 thing is that the cheapest place to buy film is directly from Kodak, especially if you’re a student like me because there is a 30% discount, but also because there’s almost always a markup with retail sellers)

PROCESS AND SCAN PACKAGE DEALS (including cost of film from Kodak)
Cinelab (student rates): 2K $67, 4K $84
Cinelab: 2K $82, 4K $102
Pro8mm (student rate): 2K $96, 5K $109
Pro8mm: 2K $105, 5K $118

And then the old “PROCESS AT ONE LAB AND SCAN AT ANOTHER” (including cost of film from Kodak)
Spectra/Coyle (student rate & no telecine prep): 2K $53
Cinelab/Coyle (student rate): 2K $58
Cinelab/FPP (student rate): 2K $63, 4K $63
Spectra/Coyle: 2K $62 (no telecine prep)
Pro8mm/FPP (student rate): 2K $66, 4K $66
Cinelab/Coyle: 2K $67
Cinelab/Gamma Ray (student & cheapest rate): 2K $71
Cinelab/FPP: 2K $72, 4K $72
Pro8mm/FPP: 2K $75, 4K $75
Pro8mm/Cinelab: $85, 4K/5K $110
Cinelab/Gamma Ray (student rate): 2K $89, 5K $105
Cinelab/Gamma Ray: 2K $95, 5K $114

PROCESSING ALONE (without film or scanning, with telecine prep)
Dwayne’s Photo: $12 (E6 only, I’m listing because it’s the best price I’ve seen)
Spectra: $17 (no prep for telecine)
Cinelab: $22
Pro8mm: $25
Kodak Film Lab NY: $25
Spectra: $41 (includes minimum $24 prep for telecine, assuming one is shooting 8 or more rolls of film that cost is $20 per roll)
Yale: $47 (includes minimum $25 prep for telecine, I think that’s ~$24 per roll on volume but is listed as $50 per hour, no other info)

Nicholas Coyle Film Film & Video Transfer: 2K $15
Film Photography Project: 2K $20, 4K $20
Gamma Ray (cheapest scans): $28 (SDR, ProRes422QH)
Cinelab (student rate): 2K $30, 4K $50 ($.60, $1 per foot)
Cinelab: 2K $30, 4K/5K $55 ($.60, $1.10 per foot)
Gamma Ray: 2K $43, 5K $62 (HDR ProRes4444HQ)
Spectra: HD $80
Pro8mm: 2K $100, 5K $125 (all have 2 roll minimum, so that’s $1, $1.25 per foot)

There are volume discounts applicable for each place I think, I didn’t take that into consideration as much because I’ve never shot enough for that to matter…yet. Still, I doubt that it’s likely to change the labs’ placement here.  All film processing costs include the prep for telecine.  I consider 2K to be the lowest acceptable resolution, and have also included the maximum resolution available, either 4K or 5K.

Special thanks to the members of the Super 8mm group on Facebook who have chimed in on a few options that slipped by me.  I’m taking most of my information off these companies’ websites where pricing is advertised, though special mention should go to Gamma Ray Digital for taking the initiative and providing me with a PDF of their prices, they are very active on social media and usually respond to questions extremely quickly.  There seems to be an option for everyone with them (and they have a reputation as the best scanning house on the East Coast, if not the country). I’ve put up a few different options but it’s based mostly on what options personally interest me.

Some things of which to take note:
-Cinelab has some pretty good pricing, cutting some especially good deals for students that get the develop & scan package.  However, I know from experience that they are not very communicative and can make mistakes scanning.  I’m also hearing a lot from people that they take a long time to scan the film; a good problem I suppose, meaning that just that many people are shooting it!  A lot of people will have their film developed at Cinelab and sent to Gamma Ray Digital for scanning, as they are both located in Massachusetts about an hour away from each other.  That said, it’s still in the same ballpark price-wise as the package deals I listed.
-The Film Photography Project just recently announced their scanning service and it seems like a crazy good deal: $20 to scan any roll of super 8 film whether in HD, 2K, or 4K (that’s not advertised but I have confirmation from Michael Raso).  I think I’m going to give them a try next time.
-There was a film lab in Denver called Cinemalab, maybe 2 hours away from me but unfortunately it closed down between my first and second projects.  One of Cinemalab’s former employees, Nicholas Coyle, inherited some of their equipment and has built his own scanner from that, and can offer 2K super 8 scans at $15 a roll.  He also pointed out to me that one doesn’t necessarily need to get Spectra’s prep for telecine, so for one roll of film without it, that’s only $17, and that makes it probably the most affordable option, though quality may vary.

Milestone of a different kind

I don’t know exactly why, but I’m the first hit when someone Googles “Fujica ZC1000.”  Feeling lucky, it’ll send you directly to The Resurrected Camera.  And if you search just for images, mine is the first there too.  Pretty good for a camera I bought over a year and a half ago, have never used, meant to get a CLA for and never got around to doing it.

Not that I’m complaining mind you, but it’s strange to have that happen and it’s not like I’m an expert in the field of small-gauge filmmaking or the ZC1000 in particular (for that go read Ignacio’s blog).  Having the number one search result on Google is pretty significant milestone, one I didn’t see coming.

Though while we’re on the subject of the ZC1000, I did manage to track down a (somewhat rough) copy of the 1.8/5.5mm EBC Fujinon-SW lens…so wide the only focus it needs is macro.  And when I get a workflow for developing the film and reloading the single-8 cartridges, I’ll be using that baby.  But for now, the Canon is easier to deal with.

Oh, and guess what: it seems I’m the first choice for information regarding the Pakon F335 scanner as well!

Well that I can understand more I guess, but still…

The price is reasonable!

I think when I first was looking into shooting bulk rolls for the intermediate photo class Tri-X in 100ft rolls were going for around $125 which made it cheaper to shoot regular 36exp rolls.  I don’t know exactly when that changed but I’m happy to see it!  Every online retailer I’ve looked at so far is asking $76.5 for a 100ft bulk roll of Tri-X!

It’s almost enough to make me get a darkroom set up!  I’m in the process of finishing my photography minor with a 3D studio class, but if I take another photo class before I graduate you can bet I’ll take advantage of this!

Why I love Double-X

Because for some reason Tri-X just isn’t enough for me.  When I want something a bit different I go for the 5222, Eastman Double-X.  Reasons to use Double-X?  Though grainier, it’s sharper, and it gives a different look, lovely tonality.  And cost, if you’re willing to invest in a 400ft roll of the stuff!

Tri-X is an everyday film, Double-X is for special occasions, and I used it for a few specific projects including my 2-semester-long (and just wrapping up) document of making Overwhelming Majority.

This current iteration was developed by Kodak in the late 1950s and then left alone, so it will give you a classic, mid-century look, especially if you use older lenses/cameras. And that is something I recommend!  It requires fairly precise exposure and development can be tricky since it’s designed to be used with Kodak D-96, and anything else will boost the contrast quite a bit.  Using older, low-contrast lenses will tame that somewhat.  I tend to shoot it inside if the light is good enough, or outside on overcast days.  I’ve seen some pretty good results from pushing, etc, though I’ve never had much luck myself.

Here are some great resources if you’re going to shoot Double-X:
Project Double-X (sadly defunct due to the death of its owner)
Through the Viewfinder’s 400ft Roll Project


Why I love Tri-X

It’s Thanksgiving, so what am I most thankful for?  Tri-X, of course.

I suppose it’s all about the mood.  There’s a lot of darkness in these photos, perhaps because I tend to use Tri-X where there isn’t a whole lot of light, and it always gets the image.  You can push it, pull it, overexpose or underexpose it and still get results.  It’s the most versatile film I know of, the best damn black and white film ever made.

You will notice that most of what I have here are people.  I suppose that with larger formats it would work great for landscape photography (which I don’t do a whole lot of in black and white), and I was experimenting a bit with caffenol back in the day, pulling film a stop and using a semi-stand development to reduce grain.  Fuji Acros 100 seems to be the king of black & white landscape photography these days, but I’ve always said it’s Kodak for black & white and Fuji for color (and I’ve always said that I’ve always said).  One of these days I’ll mix it up.

I’m not the only person in the world to love Tri-X, it does happen to be the best-selling black and white film in the world.  Because of its latitude and forgiving latitude in not only exposure but also development, it’s used in a lot of photography programs (including mine).  It was used by newspaper photographers from the 1950s to the 1980s, used by combat photographers in Vietnam, and countless street photographers to this day.  Think of a famous black and white photo and chances are it was shot on Tri-X.  Classic Americana.

People at the airshow

The Axis Trio strikes back hard!  Seeing all the Allied warbirds was too much for them.  Although it was a perfect day to try out the Ferrania P30 Alpha film for the first time, I underexposed the film by at least a stop (and did in my Spotmatic too, shooting Tri-X).  Thankfully, it wasn’t a big deal:

Even though underexposed, there was plenty of detail, which I am extremely happy about!  The shots were completely usable, though like I said in my previous post, bumping up the contrast so much did start revealing lots of dust and scratches, water spots, etc, and I didn’t have the same problem with the Tri-X (see below). I will say that my local camera store isn’t one of the labs that Ferrania recommends.

Here is all that shooting info again:
Scanned myself with the Pakon F335, edited in Photoshop
D-76 stock at 8min (I think, or it could have been 9min…it was developed by my local camera store)
Canon 7 with the Leitz 35mm f/3.5 Summaron
Very overcast day
Shutter speeds were nominally around 1/125 at f/8 (I was shooting at around ASA100)

Tri-X definitely has a different look to it, slightly more consistent when underexposed I’d say (the middle shot was overexposed by a stop I think).

Alright, here’s the thing with the P30: It’s so fine-grained that I expected it to be much sharper than this, and it looks soft as butter.  I’m not completely convinced it wasn’t my lens, but comparing it to other shots on Double-X those look much sharper.  Here’s a 100% crop from my scan:

So the other possibility is that P30 is sufficiently thicker (or thinner?) than regular film to be out of focus in my Pakon, so I will have to rescan both negatives making sure I refocus using some P30 film.  Then I will have to refocus again with something like Tri-X, for everything else I scan.  It’s on the agenda, but I haven’t quite found time yet.

This is one of the best exposed shots I had.  And here’s the other one from the last post:

And one last one, this is an extreme example of burning in the sky, just to see what was possible: