I have never been interested in video or moviemaking. That is until I discovered Super 8!
I didn’t grow up with Super 8 films or even video home movies, so the whole idea of making a movie was foreign to me. But once I discovered Super 8, I had to try it.
I think I was attracted to the way the movies shot on Super 8 always felt dreamy and looked vintage. I also liked the idea that it was actual film and not video tape. It could be projected like a real movie!
Before I could even think about how to go about making Super 8 movies, I needed to find a Super 8 camera.
That itself seemed pretty daunting, but it turned out to be not so tough. This is my guide to help you pick out and buy your first Super 8 camera.
How to Test a Super 8 Camera to See If It’s Working
When you’re shopping for a Super 8 camera, the first thing you need to find out is if the camera you’re looking at works.
Does the motor run?
The fastest way to find out is to test it. Most Super 8 movie cameras run on AA batteries, so if you pop in a couple of batteries and turn the camera on, you can find out if it works.
Video of a working Super 8 camera. You’ll see the take-up reel turning and hear the sound of the film gate.
How will you know if it works?
When you pull the shooting trigger, you’ll hear the ticking sound of the film gate. To verify that it is working correctly, open the side of the camera where the film cartridge goes and check to see if the take-up reel is turning and check to see if the shutter is flickering.
If both are moving, you have a working camera!
If you can’t test the camera yourself because you are purchasing it online, ask the seller to test it for you if he/she hasn’t already.
Next check what kind of exposure system your camera has.
Most of the most readily available cameras are automatic, so you don’t need to have an extensive knowledge of metering and exposure in filmmaking to use them.
If you think you might want to delve deeper into filmmaking and have more control over your exposure, look for a camera with manual and auto options, like the Canon 814 (find on eBay).
Understanding the Features on Your Super 8 Camera
Finally, look at the other features available on your camera.
Here are some of the features usually found on Super 8 cameras. If these features are important to you, you’ll want to make sure they are included on the camera you’re looking to buy.
No. 85 Orange Filter
This filter is built into the camera and is not one you’ll need to screw onto the outside lens. The purpose of this lens is to color correct when you’re shooting tungsten balanced film outside in regular daylight.
There is usually a button or slider on the outside of the camera with a lightbulb and a sunshine.
When you push the button or the slider, if you look carefully at the lens, you should be able to see a filter flip down inside the lens. You won’t see any change through the viewfinder.
Often tungsten film cartridges have another notch in the side that will automatically activate this filter.
FPS: Frames Per Second
The standard shooting speed for Super 8 is 18 fps, but your camera may have other options like 12, 24, or 32.
Some cameras can even do slow motion.
This feature allows you to get in the film by putting your camera on a tripod and setting the self-timer.
Be sure to check your manual (which you can look up online) for exactly how this feature works on your camera.
A Cable Release Socket
This feature allows you to make single frame exposures for stop motion animation.
Run/Lock Motor Control
This locks the shutter trigger to prevent accidental filming, or it leaves the film running so that you don’t have to always have your finger on the shutter trigger.
This keeps track of how much film has been shot and how much film is still available. Most Super 8 cartridges have about 2.5 to 3 minutes of film.
Note that if you remove your film cartridge before it’s finished (which you can do while only losing a few frames and give you a cool light leak type of transition) your film counter may reset.
Film counters usually go by footage, not minutes.
Some cameras have a battery check button to let you know how much power you have available.
Most affordable Super 8 cameras do not have interchangeable lenses, so they are equipped with zoom lenses. Check to see what your camera’s zoom, capabilities are.
They usually have a zoom lever attached to the lens of the camera for fast zooming as well as a power zoom switch for steady zooming.
Some cameras have moderate macro capabilities that can be utilized with a switch on the camera.
Exposure Lock or Backlight Button
This allows you to lock your exposure when shooting against the light.
One has manual and auto capabilities, and two are only automatic. I like to use the automatic ones the most often.
Canon cameras tell you a lot about themselves just in their name. For example, the letters and numbers of the Canon 310XL Super 8 camera tell you that it has a 3X zoom and a fast f/1.0 lens. The XL system enables filming in dim light and stands for “existing light”, while the Canon 514XL has a 5X zoom and a fast f/1.4 lens.
Both the Canon 310XL and Canon 514XL cameras are fully automatic.
My Canon Auto Zoom 814 has an 8X zoom with an f/1.4 lens. It’s an older heavier model with a metal body while the XL cameras a smaller and lighter with plastic bodies.
The 814 has more manual features like three different fps rates, manual exposure as well as auto exposure.
Where to Buy a Super 8 Camera
If you want a camera that has been cleaned and refurbished and guaranteed to work, you can choose from the ones available from Pro 8mm.
They are significantly more expensive than what you can find on your own, but they have been completely overhauled and improved upon.