Depending on your experiences with Super 8mm film and cameras, the mention of this near extinct home movie format may conjure images of incredible happiness mixed with anger and extreme disappointment. Long before frenzied parents filmed their children’s birthday parties with equipment with names like camcorder, handycam, and Betacam, Super 8mm was the world’s first (and until the late 1970’s the only) home movie format. Think that you run out of video now ? Super 8 filmmakers worked on 50ft rolls which only held a little over three minutes of film. Later Super 8mm cameras would feature an adaptation that allowed for a larger film cartridge that held 200 feet of film. A few years later, Kodak introduced sound and color film to the format.

As the years progressed, many companies both foreign and American contributed tremendous technological strides in the Super 8mm world. Many Super 8 enthusiasts probably remember early Super 8 projectors which crumpled and destroyed valuable film. Later models in the 1980’s would feature automatic threading and easily replaceable halogen bulbs. Japanese companies producing Super 8mm cameras would produce in the 1980’s some of the most advanced handheld small gauge film cameras the world would ever see. In the mid 1980’s Sankyo of Japan introduced the Sankyo XL, a handheld, palm gripped sound movie camera that featured single frame exposure for stop-motion animation, an auto focus lens (the first movie camera to have such a feature), and a “hot shoe” mounted boom microphone. One drawback of the Sankyo XL 320 was the amount of alkaline batteries needed to power the camera. The Sankyo XL320 would utilize 8 AA batteries in the grip. Later in the 1980’s Nizo, a German based Manufacturer of Super 8mm camera would add a battery belt to their Super 8 camera.

Other Japanese electronics giants jumped onto the Super 8mm bandwagon by offering home editing equipment. Both Elmo and Goko offered efficient, low priced home editing consoles which allowed amateur Super 8 filmmakers to edit their films into cohesive works that they would feel proud to show to friends and family. Early and cumbersome cement-based splicing chemicals were later replaced by an ingenious scotch tape based Guillotine editing console which produced seamless splices (if done correctly, that is )which could also be undone by the filmmaker if the filmmaker needed to redo an edit.

In the late 1980’s with video camera, camcorders, and palm corders looming on the horizon, Super 8mm manufacturers were quick to take up the challenge. In a last ditch attempt to jump start sales of the format, Kodak, who first introduced the Super 8mm camera and film cartridge to the world developed a home developing kit which allowed filmmakers to process their own color and sound film in the comfort of their home thus avoiding annoying delays in having the film processed at Kodak’s Rochester lab. Other advancements included a back winder which could be used to produce simple superimposed special effects shots.

These technological breakthrough were ingenious for their time and allowed Super 8mm filmmakers to produce polished, professional looking films for a relatively low budget. However, the advancements would not be sufficient to stem the tidal wave of video cameras. If the fight between Super 8mm and video were a boxing match, Super8 was KO’d before the round even began. With VHS video (the first home video camcorder to take off. later followed by VHS-C and now DVD) offering hours of taping time for a few dollars invested in blank tapes which could even be reused, the battle between these two titans was extremely short lived. VHS camera and camcorder sales skyrocketed as prices dropped while Super 8mm sales plummeted. It was not long before camera stores around the world with even the most die-hard Super 8 users, were selling the Super 8 equipment in discount piles to make counter space for VHS cameras.

Unfortunately, the world of Super 8mm film is not one that is making a resurgence nor will it probably ever. Suprisingly, there are a large number of websites devoted to the film format many of which are based in Europe. A good deal of Super 8 equipment is still available for purchase through online auction houses such as eBay and in a very startling move, Kodak has reintroduced to the marketplace four Super 8mm film stocks in 50ft cartridges. Super 8mm film will never make a full comeback, but onecan reminisce about this unique film format and one can’t held but wonder what the format and manufacturers associated with it could have accomplished in things had gone differently.

Some relevant links:

I was born on October 21, 1967 in Brooklyn, N.Y. I attended Xaverian High School and then went on to receive a Bachelor’s Of Fine Arts from New York University in 1989 in Film and Television. While attending there, I received an award for a video production I worked entitled, “Lunchtime”. The award was a Judges Citation for Achievement in Television Studio Sound. I went on to get a Masters of Science in Information Systems from Pace University in 1996. I am currently back at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies for a Certificate in Forensic Accounting.

In addition to writing for Home Toys emagazine, I have written articles for several publications including The X-Press (Xaverian H.S. newspaper), The Tablet ( a local Brooklyn newspaper for the Roman Catholic Archdiocease), The WSN (Washington Square News which is N.Y.U’s campus newspaper), The Courier (another N.Y.U campus paper which focuses on entertainment news), The Graduate (a Pace Univeristy campus paper), the Pace Press (another Pace University paper), as well as several articles published in the St. Athanasius Newsletter which is a local parish newspaper.

James Russo

Next Classic Home Toys column: Betamax