Film Photography Podcast
Episode 253 - May 19, 2020
Discussion of Super 8 movie cameras and how to tell if your camera is reading the proper exposure.
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In the 1965 summer issue of Kodak Movie News, the company introduced its new movie film format to consumers: Super 8. They described it as the simplest form of home movies that the industry had ever seen. Simply “Open...drop in...shoot!” This was the basis for the entire line of Instamatic cameras and film that Kodak had first introduced with their 126 still film format in 1963. The concept was that the user didn’t need to do anything but load the film cartridge into the camera, and press the shutter.
That was 55 years ago. Is shooting Super 8 still that easy all these years later? The answer: yes...kind of. The secret to the best Super 8 movies is understanding how the Super 8 notch system works.
Super 8 Film Notches - What and why?
Before the introduction of Super 8 film in 1965, most average consumers were using Regular 8 film–a movie film that needed to be manually threaded into the camera and, once threaded, the user needed to tell the camera what ISO/ASA the film was, so that the camera would properly expose it. Kodak changed all that with Super 8 film: the film and camera work in tandem to make the proper exposures. All the user does is drop in the film, and the camera does the rest. No setting exposure, no worrying about using any filters. But how?
Kodak designed the Super 8 cartridge with a series of notches. One located above the film path and one located under it. The notch above the film path tells the camera–depending on the size of the notch–what ISO/ASA the film is. The notch below the film path tells the camera if the film is Daylight or Tungsten balanced and either engaged or disengaged an internal filter. Super 8 cameras are designed with pins or step-ladder type switches that read the notches on the cartridge and then automatically adjust the camera for the film speed and film type.
Why Should I Care About The Notches?
The notches on your Super 8 film, and the ability for your camera to read those notches is important because if the camera cannot read the notches on the Super 8 film properly, you could end up over or underexposing your film.
Each Super 8 camera has a range of Super 8 film notches that it can detect. Older or less expensive cameras, for example, tend to only read 1 or 2 film speeds, while later cameras–or higher end models–may be able to read 5 or 6 different film speeds.
For example, my Bell and Howell 431 can read Super 8 film cartridges notched from 10 ISO/ASA all the way up to 400 ISO/ASA. While the Bell & Howell T20 XL, can only read cartridges notched 40 ISO/ASA and 160 ISO/ASA.
In other words, if I load some Kodak Vision 500 Super 8 film into a camera that can only read 40 or 160 ISO/ASA my camera will shoot that 500 ISO/ASA film at 160 which would likely overexpose my film!
How Do I Figure Out What ISO/ASA My Camera Can Handle?
The easiest way to do this is to check the camera manual. If you don’t have your camera’s manual, you might also want to check out http://super8wiki.com/ which may have the film speed range listed on your camera’s page.
If you still can’t find any information on which notches your Super 8 camera can read, Friedeman Wachsmuth has created this amazing printable ruler at his website for you to use: http://www.peaceman.de/blog/
You simply print the ruler out, cut along the lines, and place the cut-out into your Super 8 camera. Look to see where your camera’s notches line up and check it against the list at the bottom of the flow chart, and, presto: you can now see which film notches your camera can read properly.
How Do I Figure Out What Speed My Film is Notched For?
Wachsmuth has saved the day there as well! His notch ruler also includes a printable cut out to read the film notches on your Super 8 film. Visit the link in the above question to find the ruler.
What Do I Do If My Camera Can’t Read My Film’s Notches?
Some Super 8 cameras do have the ability for you to override the camera’s built in meter, and set the lens opening (f/stop) manually. You can then use a hand held meter or phone app to determine the proper f/stop.
If you cannot manually set your lens opening (f/stop), then it is important to understand what speed your camera is reading the film at. For example, if your camera can only handle 40 ISO/ASA, you’ll want to avoid using higher ISO/ASA films outdoors as they’ll probably be over exposed. However, a 50 ISO/ASA film will work beautifully in a camera that can only read up to 40 ISO/ASA.
My Super 8 Film Is 100 or 200 ISO/ASA, But My Camera Only Reads Up To 160 ISO/ASA. What Do I Do?
Drop in the cartridge and start filming! If your camera can only read up to 160 ISO/ASA and you’re using a 100 ISO/ASA film or 200 ISO/ASA film, the camera’s default will likely be 160 ISO/ASA. The difference between 100 and 160 and 200 and 160, in my experience, hasn’t really affected the quality of my film.
My advice: Just shoot as normal. I’ve been happy with the results.
My Super 8 Film Is 500 ISO/ASA, But My Camera Only Reads Up To 160 ISO/ASA. What Do I Do?
If 160 ISO/ASA is the highest notch your camera can read, that’ll be the default ISO/ASA setting when inserting a 500 ISO/ASA film cartridge. Keep this in mind when you’re filming, because using this film in bright daylight will cause quite a bit of overexposure.
Look for a camera that can at least read 400 ISO/ASA, or a camera which you can manually adjust the lens opening (f/stop) to override the camera’s built-in meter.
It should be said though, that color negative films do have a wide dynamic range which often helps during the scan when these films are over or underexposed.
Do Regular 8 (Double 8) Cameras Use Notches?
No–Regular 8/Double 8/Standard 8 cameras do not have a notch system, so this doesn’t apply. This is also why some people love using Regular 8 over Super 8. However, Super 8 does have a larger frame size than Regular 8 does.
The Film Photography Project offers 8mm, Super 8, 16mm and 35mm movie film, developing and HD scan services. Please visit our site - https://filmphotographystore.com/collections/movie-film