Let’s just get this out of the way.
Film PWNS RED. It PWNS DSLRS. It PWNS everything you can use to make a photograph. It’s the original. The standard by which all others follow and aspire to. With a lot of
independent filmmakers running around, obsessing over the latest
amazing digital technology of the moment, it’s easy to forget that
there are other, just as cost-effecting ways of making a movie the
old-fashioned way.

Now let’s talk about Super 8.

There’s
been a kind of resurgence of interest in Super 8 filmmaking over the
past few years. Sure, there have always been the hobbyists, but it
behooves companies like Kodak and Fuji to constantly remind the
public that actual film is in many ways, still the superior motion picture medium,
and that it comes in all shapes and sizes. Like I mentioned before,
in light of the focus on cost-effective independent film production
and modern digital technology, people seem to need more of a reminder
now than ever before.

A few broad technical points:

a) Film has more

latitude dynamic range than any digital camera currently on the market. From total black
to pure white, the average negative film stock (for instance, Kodak
VISION3 5219 500T) is capable of around 16 stops of exposure.
(Reversal stocks are more contrasty, with about 6 stops.) The most
advanced digital cameras top out at around 13, although
ARRI claims
their new Alexa exceeds that
.

b) All film pretty much reacts to light in
the same way. Different stocks will exhibit different
characteristics based on sensitivity, but a century of refinement has
helped perfect the photochemical process across the board.

For these two reasons, film is an
invaluable tool for new and experienced filmmakers. Most importantly for
aspiring cinematographers, it trains your eye to recognize how light
behaves. A bonus is that it’s pretty hard to fuck up. Film’s wide latitude dynamic range means that over or underexposure (give or take 3 stops) will
still net you perfectly usable data in the negative. With digital, if
you over or underexpose, there’s simply no data there to work with,
and you’ll tear the image apart when you correct for the mistake.
(Shooting RAW digital is one way around this, allowing you to adjust
the ASA and color temperature sensitivity in post.) Digital cameras also require very specialized computer-oriented skillsets that have nothing to do with the art of cinematography – which at its core, is basic photography.

So now that I’ve said all that, let’s
get back to Super 8. For the knowledge and confidence you gain from
shooting film, Super 8 is a steal at around 30 bucks for a
50-foot roll, which gives you around 2 ½ minutes of footage. If you
purchase your film from a lab like Pro8mm (in Burbank), that price
includes processing. Most of Pro8’s Super 8 stock is cut down from
larger format film stock, which means you can shoot with premium
Kodak VISION and Fuji ETERNA stocks. They also offer bulk HD telecine
services with a pro colorist. If you’re looking for the latest
stocks, Kodak just announced Super 8 versions of their VISION3 line.


You can find the Beaulieu 4008 ZM for around $200.

Also, Super 8 cameras are cheaper than almost
any HD camera on the market. We’re talking a couple hundred bucks on
eBay
. These range from the manual, high maintenance models, to
electronic cameras that do everything for you. Some cameras are
even capable of synched sound.

I understand that when it comes to
resolution, Super 8 doesn’t hold a candle to even a lot of the
low-end HD cameras. What can be done with modern digital technology is incredible and revolutionary, but let’s not count pixels here. Shooting on film
is about the experience. I dare you to take a look at some of the
following films, all originated on Super 8, and tell me that they
don’t feel… Well, real. As an organic medium, film evokes an organic
response. I don’t know if we’ve been trained to feel that way from
decades of exposure, or if it’s something deeper, more emotional. I do know that it’s the one thing you can’t cram onto a sensor. 






[Top image via exp24’s Flickr stream; All videos taken from the Vimeo Super 8
Group
.]

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