To address the rising concerns with cost as the Great Depression loomed, Eastman Kodak introduced 8mm film in 1932
For most who plan on attending showings of J.J. Abrams' much anticipated summer monster flick, Super 8, the historical and technological importance of Super 8
as a revolutionary film innovation will mean next to nothing.
Similarly, it is unlikely anyone will give a thought to how Super 8 is
different from any other film stock, other than maybe considering it an
archaic design no longer relevant or useful in the digital age. In response, we present an analysis of the history and use of Super 8.
16MM: THE BEGINNINGS OF AMATEUR FILM
invention and development of motion pictures in the late 19th and early
20th centuries was rapidly followed by considerations of its potential
as a consumer product in home entertainment. However, problems with
size, price and safety meant that in order for movies to be a
marketable commodity, certain adjustments needed to be made. At the
time, standard film was 35mm wide and nitrate-based, requiring large
equipment and expensive processing. It was also highly flammable.
Because of this, efforts were focused on reducing the size of both film
and film equipment, as well as on developing a non-nitrate "safety" film
which would eliminate the possible risk of fire in the home.
several safe, affordable and user-friendly cameras were made in both
Europe and in the United States, Eastman Kodak's 1923 invention of the
Cine-Kodak trumped the competition. The Cine-Koda used new, 16mm acetate
safety film, which underwent a process of direct film reversal. During
this process, exposed film is developed to a negative image, after which
the image is bleached out, leaving unconverted silver grains. The film
is then exposed and developed again, so that the unconverted silver
grains reveal a positive image. This method shortens the developing
process by one step, ultimately saving the user time and money. It was
also discovered that through this process the grain size of a finished
positive was finer than that produced from a "conventionally developed"
negative, allowing for the overall size of an image to be clearly and
accurately reduced. Eastman Kodak's final product was a 16mm wide film
strip perforated on both sides with a 10mm x 7.5mm image moving at 40
frames per foot. The film was not only less than half the width of
conventional 35mm film, but also 1/6th the cost.
Cine-Kodak itself was a die-cast aluminum box measuring 8 ½ x 8 x 4 5/8
inches and weighing about seven pounds. At the time of its original
release, the camera was only available in a set which also included a
Kodascope Projector, tripod, screen and a splicer for $325. As Kodak
points out on their website, this was at the time when a "new Ford
automobile could be purchased for $550" (Kodak's "Super 8mm Film History").
Although expensive, it was thought that the all-inclusive package would
facilitate success for amateur filmmakers. By 1929, 13 different
cameras using 16mm film were available.
DOUBLE 8 VS SINGLE 8 VS SUPER 8: WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
safe, easy-to-use cameras became more available, they had not become
more affordable. In 1932, Kodak's most basic model, the M 475, cost $75 --
an amount equal to two weeks wages for hourly laborers. Similarly, the
cheapest projector cost $60 and a 100-foot roll of film, $6. To address
the rising concerns with cost as the Great Depression loomed, Eastman
Kodak introduced 8mm film in 1932. This film came on 25' spools of 16mm,
with two sides of 8mm film, or "double 8." After being threaded through
the camera and exposed on one half, the film was then turned over and
re-threaded to expose the other. During processing, this double width
would be split down the middle and spliced together to make a 50-foot
reel of 8mm film perforated only on one side. Since the 8mm was a
quarter of the size of 16mm, it reduced the amount of film necessary to
achieve the same running time as 16mm and the cost of processing by a
factor of four. The Cine-Kodak Eight Model 20 cost $29.50, the
projector, $22.50 and a spool of film, $2.50.
prime competitor, Bell & Howell, released their own 8mm camera in
1935, the Filmo Straight Eight, which sold for $69. Unlike Kodak's
model, Bell & Howell used pre-split 8mm film to produce an even more
compact, lightweight camera. In 1938, the Universal Camera Corporation
put out an incredibly inexpensive single 8mm camera for only $9.95, with
a companion projector for $14.95. The overall reduction of size and
cost, and increased accessibility made 8mm the favorite format for hobby
amateur filmmaking, a format that would remain essentially untouched
for nearly 30 years.
sales in the late 1950s meant it was time for Eastman Kodak's research
team to go back to work. Maintaining the successful gauge of 8mm, the
next improvement would be in finding a way to increase the size of the
film image itself. One of the most important considerations for
researchers was how a new format could be kept compatible with reduction
printing from 16mm originals, which were thought to be the best stock
for premium quality color and sound. In 1962, it became obvious to Kodak
researchers C.J. Staud and W.T. Hanson, Jr., that the best way to
increase image size would be by reducing the size of the side
perforations. This would yield a 50% increase in image size while still
allowing for the making of 16mm reduction prints.
1965, Eastman Kodak released its new line of Super 8 film and Kodak
Instamatic Movie Cameras. The cameras featured 50-feet of drop-load
Kodachrome II Super 8 Film housed in a black plastic cartridge known as a
"Kodapack." This cartridge was extremely easy to load, as the film no
longer had to be threaded in the camera or flipped. Each Super 8 camera
also had a built-in filter allowing "Type-A" (tungsten) film to be used
in different kinds of light, eliminating the need for both "Daylight"
and "Type-A" film forms. Notches on the front edge of the film cartridge
would automatically indicate whether the filter was needed. These
notches also indicated the speed of the film. The cameras themselves had
a die-cast metal body and were operated by a battery-powered motor,
which replaced the need for a hand-crank. Kodak's different models -- the
M2, M4 and M6 -- had different lenses, with the top-of-the-line model
including a 12 to 36mm zoom lens and reflex through-the-lens viewing.
The models were priced at $46.50, $69.50 and $174.50, respectively.
While Bell & Howell offered competing Super 8 models, Kodaks were
unquestionably the most popular.
THE USE OF SUPER 8: NOT JUST FOR AMATEURS
initially cited for education, commercial and industrial use, Kodak's
first marketing campaign clearly indicated its intention for Super 8 use
in making amateur films. As Alan Kattelle writes in Home Movies: A History of the American Industry, 1897-1979:
The targeted market for the new product seem unquestionably
to have been the amateur filmer, beginning with the Instamatic name
itself, thus tying the product in the public's mind with the hugely
successful Instamatic still cameras, which sold over ten million units
in the first two years on the market. And with Walt Disney as salesman
for the vast TV audience, Kodak chose a handsome little blond four-year
old called 'Speedy Loadum' to demonstrate the product to retailers.... The
message was: Super 8 cameras are 'FUN' and 'EASY TO USE!'
ease, accessibility and affordability of Super 8 made it an ideal
technology for home movie makers. But Super 8 would also become
indispensable for scientists and anthropologists. The addition of
magnetic sound stripping to Super 8 film stock in 1973 would help
solidify its role as an easily transportable and complete tool for use
in capturing a "permanent" film record of the world's many different