Fine examples of Super 8 filmmaking, Vol. I

An old friend asked me recently for a few examples of newly-shot/processed 8mm films.  So here is my list of films I’ve watched online in the last year or so, just off the top of my head, plus a few that I return to regularly.  Some of the best examples of high resolution scanning (often 4K) and at least decent color grading:
Attack of the Legumes
Betty Feeds the Animals, dir. James P. Gannon
Facsimil, dir. Marc Marti (available for viewing every year on May 13)
Florida 2019, via Nicholas Coyle
Freelove Fenner: “The Girls from Hampton,” dir. Peter Woodford
Isolamento, dir. Carmelo Zucco
Meredith and Cameron Wedding Video, dir. David Cunningham
Perpetuum Immobile, dir. Marc Marti
Sheer Agony: “I Have a Dream,” dir. Peter Woodford
So Refined

Some perennial favorites:
Ignacio Benedeti
Nick Collingwood
Adrian Cousins
Pro8mm
Jose Luis Villar

(Longer) Films that must be paid for:
Brand upon the Brain! dir. Guy Maddin
Cowards Bend the Knee, dir. Guy Maddin
Format Perspective, dir. Philip Evans
How the Sky Will Melt, dir. Matthew Wade
It’s about You, dir. Ian Markus, Kurt Markus
Stories We Tell, dir. Sarah Polley

A shout out to Nicholas Coyle Film and Video

When I was originally compiling my list of best prices for buying/processing/scanning super 8 film, Nicholas Coyle reached out to me on Facebook and let me know about his scanning house prices which are still the best I’ve found for a 2K scan, and I just used him myself for the first time.  He’s about to be the best price for a 4K scan.

We’ve been in touch for about a year and a half so I knew this was coming: he’s finally upgrading to a Lasergraphics 6.5K Scanstation and is running a special crowdfunding campaign to help with expenses.  So if you were waiting for the right time to get some film scanned, there will never be a better one.  $50 for 3 rolls of super 8, or $100 for 6, or $200 for 12, or $400 for 24: that comes out to $16.67 per roll for a 4K/6.5K flat scan; if you just want to scan 1 roll it’s $15:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-preserve-super8-8mm-16mm-and-35mm-at-6-5k#/

Once he’s up and running the price goes up slightly but I like how it’s tiered: $15 for 2K/3K flat scan (the larger file if you’re want an overscan instead of cropped), $20 for 4K/6.5K, and then $5 more for a one-light transfer, $10 more for a best-light transfer.  Simple and still incredibly affordable compared to the competition: FPP comes close with 4K scans for $35 but there is no information on what the scans will look like, if they’re flat or color-corrected, things of that sort.  At least Coyle’s information is all out in the open and also shipping from him to me is incredibly cheap; he’s only 2 hours away from me.

I already chatted with him so the scanner is coming one way or another in the next couple months, the campaign is to help him pay off some of his initial expenses.  So please consider supporting him, as the price will be hard to beat.  I plan on using Coyle to scan all my film from now on.  Here are a few recent scans:

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Trying to dispel the perception of Super 8 as the “crappy” format

Recently I’ve seen some new Super 8 films come out that are by some pretty prominent artists, like Spike Lee’s quarantine music video and Katy Perry’s pregnant music video.  And I look at their footage and I’m not that impressed by what I see there: pixelated footage, colors that make me cringe occasionally, nothing in focus, just on the whole not too fond of this style yet these videos are probably going to end up with millions of views (edit: since my first draft the Katy Perry video has become the most successful super 8 music video ever).  And that is what people are going to think of when they think “Super 8,” which also makes me cringe.

But then again whenever the format has been used in movies in the past it is with this mentality, and when movies have been put out on DVD, blu-ray, etc, it is I think in every case scanned with 35mm elements, however many generations removed from the original negatives/positives.  With the technology having improved so much in the last few years digitally scanning super 8 can look better than ever but it’s almost never used to its full potential.  I was reading an article recently from Criterion where the head of the restoration went to painstaking lengths to make the crappy ca.1999 digital video footage look as good as possible instead of just scanning the 35mm film-out, the way they would have done if it were a super 8-originated footage.  I just hope that in the future small-format film will get the same kind of loving treatment from Criterion and others that 20-year-old digital files currently enjoy.

Until then try to get the best out of the format, don’t settle for crap with the reason that “it’s just super 8,” see what the format can really do: it’ll surprise you!  edit: Now that’s more like it: Spitzbergen: Guardian of the Arctic (trailer)

Shipping Super 8 film

Ok yes I already figured total cost of shooting super 8 film…but I didn’t figure total total cost, as there are some additional costs: shipping, and the time it takes!  But it’s so subjective depending on how far you’re shipping, how many rolls at once, what courier, how fast you want it to get there.  I sent off some super 8 to Pro8mm, USPS Ground cost $11.05 shipping from my local post office in Colorado to Burbank, CA, and shipping from there to Nicholas Coyle in Denver (plus insurance) came out to $9.74.  So that’s a total of $20.79, and then the film has to be shipped from Coyle back to me at some point which will cost $4 more (he’s holding the footage until he gets his 6.5K scanner so I can compare/contrast with his current 2K setup).  So the grand total there is just under $25.  But let’s talk about X-rays:


How well do these work?  I don’t exactly know. 

USPS Ground took exactly one week; I use Ground usually because if it goes on an airplane the chances increase that it will pass through an X-ray and/or CT scanner no matter what is written on the package.  I talked to a nice young lady at FedEx about that a few years ago and she said that the handlers at the processing centers will usually honor stickers with official branding like Kodak’s, but there are no guarantees there.  I sent that package FedEx express because I needed film processed for a class and needed it there and back ASAP but talked to other shipping professionals for their opinion.  From what I’ve been told, USPS Ground is the only service guaranteed not to pass through an X-ray or other scanner, because it never travels on an airplane.  I still tape several of these on the box, just in case.  If I were in a hurry, I would use FedEx but only as a last resort: I’d rather it take a few days longer to get there and be completely safe.

I’ve written about avoiding x-ray scanners before, and I’ve even sent a roll of Tri-X through the scanner twice to see what would happen.  But I’m not about to take the chance with movie film.  If you need the “Do Not X-ray” stickers look no further:
DO NOT X-RAY label
I rarely send undeveloped film through the mail, thankfully have never had a problem, and I hope you don’t either!

There’s an additional additional cost: hard drives.  And I just bought another for my Mac (this one in fact) that cost $300 but that was to hold sound libraries, etc.  Thankfully I have a couple so if I have to send one with the film so it can be scanned this won’t be a big problem, because the last thing in the world I want right now is to drop more money on another hard drive.  But you should know that if you don’t send in a hard drive your scanning house will probably charge you for one, depending on where you go.  Now I’ve touted Nicholas Coyle Film & Video before (and will continue to do so!) because it’s the best-priced 2K scan that I’ve found, and I’ve done a lot of research on that front.  Another great thing about Coyle is that he’ll let you download the footage online for free which means no messing with hard drives!  For the larger projects you’d want to send one though, as it might be many Gigabytes.  This is the first time in 3 years that I’ve shot/processed/scanned super 8 film so it’s good I’m writing this as it’s fresh in my mind.

Now for the time aspect: I dropped the film at the post office on Monday 04/20, it arrived at Pro8mm a week later 04/27, was shipped out Thursday 04/30, arrived in Denver on Monday 05/04, and I was downloading scans 2 days later, so turnaround time was just a little under 2.5 weeks.

All this equipment and no ideas…

…what to shoot with all my extra time off.

Right when the tourist season would be gearing up I’m sitting inside doing not much.  So you’d think this would be the perfect time to film something, test out a few cameras I haven’t used yet, send it in to a lab that’s still open which would have the benefit of helping with their economic struggles.  But I have no ideas right now.  So until something sparks in my head I’m spending a lot of time online, doing a lot of reading, and rewatching my favorite sci-fi series, Babylon 5 (and here’s a great piece of recent scholarship about this wonderful show).

Actually I did have one idea: get out tonight and film the super moon.  Better than nothing…

Business as usual

First of all a big Thank You to everyone out there keeping the country (and the world) moving, from the ISPs to the smallest courier services.  Stay safe!  When soap, sanitizer and toilet paper was getting hard to find, when school was closed for the semester (including the UCCS darkroom), when everyone started hoarding food, when I first heard the words “Social Distancing,” when film stopped coming out of Italy, when no one wanted Jeep tours anymore, when state governments started issuing lockdowns for non-essential services, there have been some brave businesses that have continued to supply photographers and filmmakers with what they need to keep on going.  I want to give a big Thank You to the companies and employees willing to carry on during the recent pandemic.  I’m sure there are more but these are the ones that have made public announcements on social media or their websites, so I didn’t have to call them up to confirm:

Film manufacturers
Ilford Photo was ramping up production in March and is shut down as of 04/01, still shipping out their inventory to photo retailers and customers.

Retailers
Adorama
The Film Photography Project
Freestyle Photo

Also, Ilford has been compiling a list of worldwide film retailers.  Where to find Ilford film online

Motion Film Labs/Scanning Houses
Colorlab
FPP
Nicholas Coyle Film and Video
Pro8mm

Camera stores/still photo labs
Denver Digital Imaging (full service photo lab)

Kosm Foto has been compiling their own worldwide list here.

And here are film/photo-related businesses that I’ve heard have been using their production lines to help save lives
Kodak has started making ingredients for hand sanitizer
Standard Camera company has been 3D printing parts for face shields

I’ll update this list when I hear anything new, there’s a page on my site I set up for this purpose last week, which can be found here.  Keep shooting!

Total cost of one roll Super 8 film in 2020

Back at the end of 2018 I compiled all the information I could find about pricing of film/developing/scanning, looking at different film labs and scanning houses.  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.  In a few cases I’ve included some E-6 prices, expect to pay more for the film and the processing.  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.  Some labs will sell you a hard drive for a markup, but it’s always cheaper to buy your own to send in.  These are all labs and scanning houses located in the continental USA.  For the entire world I suggest this great list of film-related businesses.

So let’s get this out of the way first: The cheapest place to buy fresh newly-manufactured film is directly from KODAK.  The annoying thing is that they keep changing their online store every year so as you’re reading this maybe it’s up and maybe not, you’ll just have to click the link and see; I will try to keep the link updated.  You an always call 1(800) 621-FILM.  Kodak charges $30 for b/w reversal and color negative stocks (with a 30% discount if you’re a student, so about $21), Ektachrome is $40.  I don’t know why so many people buy from standard retailers other than general laziness.  Admittedly there are extra shipping charges with Kodak and to ship one roll by itself costs about $9-10 but that’s the same whether you buy 1 roll or 20.  But let’s look at a few other places:

Film Club of America: Tri-X $30 (currently on-sale for $27), 50D/200T/500T $33 (free shipping)
Mono No Aware: ORWO U-54/N-74 $25, Tri-X/50D-200T/500T $30, E100 $40 (I have no idea how much shipping is and they don’t necessarily have an online store, you would have to fill out their contact form)
Film Photography Project (FPP): Tri-X/50D/200T/500T $33, E100 $46 (shipping varies by quantity, $3.50-21)
B&H Photo and Video: Tri-X/50D/500T $33, 200T $35, E100 $46 (free shipping, but added sales tax)
Adorama: Tri-X/500T $37, 50D/200T $38 (free shipping on all)
Pro8mm Process/Scan package: Tri-X/50D/200T/250D/500T $58 ($33+25 processing which you’ll need anyway), E100 $70 (plus shipping)
Freestyle Photo: Tri-X $35, E100 $48 (plus shipping)
International Film Brokers: Tri-X/50D/200T/500T $33, E100 $42 (+7 shipping for 2 carts, varies for larger quantities)
Amazon.com: Tri-X $41, $500T $41, E100 $55 (at least when I last checked…I’m sure the price can fluctuate a bit)

You get the picture.  So on top of this you’ll have to get the film developed, and scanned to digital, unless you know enough about cutting/splicing as well as owning an 8mm projector.  If so I doubt you need much help from me.  It should also be noted that Film Club USA and Mono No Aware are non-profits, and FPP makes a lot of donations to photography programs all over America.  Adorama and B&H do things a bit differently when it comes to charging sales tax vs. charging more for the item sometimes, it usually ends up the same.

I was also given some information about regular 8mm film AKA Double 8, FPP started selling some and there’s also International Film Brokers.  Sometimes it’s not apparent who manufactured the film (though the only ones to my knowledge are Kodak, ORWO, and Foma), it’s slit (usually) by a third party, and the supply is low.  If you’re interested in Double 8 you’ll have to compile your own information.

FULL PACKAGE DEALS (film/processing/scanning)
FPP: 2K $93, 4K $103 (not really a combo deal but they do sell all three)
Pro8mm: 2K $98, 4K $118, 6.5K $158 (Ektachrome 2K $118, 4K $138)
Spectra: HD $125

PROCESS AND SCAN PACKAGE DEALS (not including cost of film)
Cinelab (student rate): 2K $46, 4K $63
Cinelab (regular rate): 2K $55, 4K $75
FPP: 2K $60, 4K $70
Pro8mm: 2K $75, 4K $88, 6.5K $128

So basically add whatever your film cost to that to get the total price, and compare to the full package deals offered above.  Here are a few examples of what you should expect to pay using multiple sources, though still to be factored in are hard drives and shipping.  There are so many options for that that I didn’t bother including any.

And then the old “PROCESS AT ONE LAB AND SCAN AT ANOTHER” (including cost of film from Kodak, presented as “Process”/”Scan”)
Spectra/Coyle (student rate & no telecine prep): 2K $56, 4K $61
Cinelab/Coyle (student rate): 2K $59, 4K $64
Spectra/Coyle: 2K $65, 4K $70 (no telecine prep)
Cinelab/Coyle: 2K $70, 4K $75
Cinelab/FPP (student rate): 2K $74, 4K $84
Cinelab/Gamma Ray (student & cheapest rate): 2K $74
Pro8mm/FPP (student rate): 2K $76, 4K $86
Pro8mm/FPP: 2K $85, 4K $95
Cinelab/FPP: 2K $85, 4K $95
Pro8mm/Cinelab: $85, 4K $105
Cinelab/Gamma Ray (student rate): 2K $92, 5K $108
Cinelab/Gamma Ray: 2K $98, 5K $117

PROCESSING ALONE (without film or scanning)
Dwayne’s Photo (Parsons, KS): $12 (E6 only, I’m listing because it’s the best price I’ve seen; prep for telecine is $2 extra for up to 8 rolls)
Spectra (North Hollywood, CA): $20 (E6 $20) (no prep for telecine)
Cinelab (New Bedford, MA): $23 (E6 $28) (student rate, with prep for telecine)
Yale Film & Video (Valencia, CA): $24 (E6 $26) (no prep for telecine)
Cinelab: $25 (E6 $30) (regular rate, with prep for telecine)
Pro8mm (Burbank, CA): $25 (E6 $25) (with prep for telecine)
Kodak Film Lab NY: $25 (this is according to people that have called them; they do not advertise that they process super 8 film)
Spectra: $44 (includes minimum $24 prep for telecine, assuming one is shooting 8 or more rolls of film that cost is $23 per roll)
Yale: $47 (includes minimum $25 prep for telecine, I think that’s ~$24.50-25 per roll on volume but is listed as $50 per hour, no other info)

SCANNING ALONE
Nicholas Coyle Film Film & Video Transfer (Denver, CO): 3K/2K $15-25, 6.5K/4K $20-30 (4K scans coming mid-2020) ($.30-.50, $.40-.60 per foot)
Gamma Ray (cheapest scans): $28 (SDR, ProRes422HQ)
Film Photography Project (Fair Lawn, NJ): 2K $30, 4K $35 ($.60, $.70 per foot)
Cinelab (student rate): 2K $30, 4K $45 ($.60, <$1 per foot)
Cinelab (New Bedford, MA): 2K $30, 4K $50 ($.60, $1 per foot)
Negativeland (Ridgewood, NY): 2.5K $32 (>$.60 per foot)
CinePost (Marietta, GA): 2K $35, 4K $45 ($.70, $.90 per foot, and some good volume discounts)
Gamma Ray (Allston, MA): 2K $43, 5K $62 (HDR ProRes4444HQ)
Movette (San Francisco, CA): 2K $44 ($.66 per foot but a minimum order amount of $44, otherwise would be $33 per cart)
Pro8mm (Burbank, CA): 2K $50, 4K $63, 6.5K $100 ($1, $1.25 and $2 per foot)
Spectra: HD $80

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.  Pro8mm is offering a 20% discount if you’re not in a hurry and can wait 4-6 weeks.

Kodak Digitizing Box can be found here.  No info on what resolution, and it takes 4-6 weeks turnaround.  It’s a pretty new service but I thought I’d at least mention that it’s an option.  It’s $80 for two reels. It’s possible they’re sending everything to Pro8mm, but I don’t have enough information for that.

There are a few home scanning machines available new, the cheapest being the Wolverine (~$400) and the Reflekta (~$900), but they have low build quality and low resolution.  I know some people still say the top resolution of Super 8 film is about 720p and there’s no need to scan beyond that, but those people are largely idiots.  It has been proven that you’ll get sharper and more detailed images scanning in higher resolutions even if you’re viewing at standard 1080p HD, plus you’re future-proofing your scan as well.  Here are a few articles pertaining to this:
Busting the Resolution Myth
Is Transferring Super 8 Film to 5K Overkill?
Now for $400 you could transfer 26 rolls of Super 8 film and higher quality, so there’s no way it’s practical for small projects.  And if you shoot a lot?  Then you’d probably want something that can’t damage your film for starters, so don’t look at the Wolverine.  Maybe if you shoot enough that you’d spend $6500 in scanning, then look at the Retroscan Universal.  And you still wouldn’t be getting the same quality as is available with the latest scan that can cost as low as $15 a roll.  So if you care about what your footage looks like, then cough up the money for a good 4K/5K/6.5K (or at least 2K) scan from a reputable lab; you’re doing a disservice to the reputation of super 8 film otherwise.

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, the price sheet I have is dated 2017.  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 got into scanning just a few years ago, and while their prices started out extremely good ($20 for 2K or 4K, plus volume discounts), they’ve since raised prices significantly, though still under what a lot of other labs are charging.
-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, the best deal I’ve yet found.  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 $20, and that makes it probably the most affordable option, though quality may vary.  He’s in the process of buying a Lasergraphics Scanstation 6.5K scanner so will have the option for 4K (or 6.5K overscan) by mid-2020, plus he’s extremely flexible with lots of different options available.  For comparison, his best-light 4K scan costs the same as a standard HDR 2K scan from FPP.
-Pro8mm is considered the industry standard, and as you might be able to tell you’ll pay for it too.  I also assume you’re paying for the cost of living in Southern California.  Since Technicolor and DeLuxe don’t have any Super 8 services, large Hollywood productions go to Pro8mm as their default lab.  Back when the only film stocks available in Super 8 were Kodachrome 40 and Ektachrome 160 they were buying professional 35mm color negative stocks from Kodak, cutting them down to 8mm, and loading them into cartridges.  Since discontinuing Kodachrome and Ektachrome Kodak has basically followed their model.

Super 8 camera: Bauer A512

We interrupt your regularly scheduled cowboys to bring you this gear porn post.  As it’s the time of the year when I try to get another short made I’m thinking about super 8 film and cameras again.

I’ve been lusting after one for a while, thanks to Ignacio Benedeti’s blog.  In fact a year ago just after I finally took possession of my S609XL I’d bought one off the ‘bay, but it ended up being broken.  So I kept looking at others waiting for the right deal and finally pulled the trigger.


Say hello to my little friend!

I’m so happy to finally have this one.  It will be going to Andre Egido for CLA and modification, but it is fully functional and ready to shoot.  In fact, it looks like it just came out of the box!  There were a few dusty spots and it’s probably been in someone’s attic since the early ’80s, I don’t think it was used much.


Made in Germany.  Deutschland uber alles!

So what’s different about this model compared so my S609XL?  For starters, it has a slower lens.  Actually from what I’ve read is has a sharper lens.  It’s all metal, and unlike the 609 which was made to a certain price point in Bauer’s Malaysian factory with a lens made in Japan, the A512 was made in their German factory and I’m sure the build quality is second to none.  It has a variable shutter, ostensibly for creating fade ins/outs but can be used as an exposure compensation, or to create some really strange motion if the shutter angle is closed way down, a la Gladiator or Saving Private Ryan.  I won’t be able to take full advantage of that until I get a manual ASA selector installed, but it’s coming at this summer.  The shutter angle is at 150 degrees (sometimes erroneously listed as 180 degrees) so it automatically gives sharper images over any of Bauer’s XL models.  I suppose it would have been nice if they had given us a variable shutter opening to 220 degrees, but I wasn’t asked.  The last interesting feature is an automatic bulb setting for very low light–the camera will expose every frame for as long as it needs to, and changes with the light, allowing for some great timelapse shots at night.

There’s no such thing as a best super 8 camera but this one is another great tool to have for most applications.

Kodak film business growing quickly

Despite my constant evangelism there are still ignoramuses uninformed people who think Kodak and film died at the declaration of chapter 11 bankruptcy.  Hopefully this will help raise public awareness:

Good news: Kodak’s film business grew 21% in Q3 2019

(I linked to Emulsive because it explains a few things better than Kodak’s own site, which is mainly just the bare statistics) So it’s not all good news, first of all, Kodak reports a net loss of $5million but that’s down from $18million in Quarter 1.  So there’s an upward trend all around, and photographic materials have increased by over 20%.  Now I don’t know what ever happened with the story of Kodak Alaris wanting to sell the still film business, but considering how well the photographic market is doing it would be nice to see Eastman Kodak get the entire thing under one roof again.