Super8 Camera Should I Buy?
Super 8 came into the world in 1965. The last generation of Super
8 cameras came out in the very early 1980s. Now that super 8 is
no longer a mass consumer item, there is a great oversupply of secondhand
cameras available. Good cameras can be had for the price of a few
rolls of film. Buy a good one ... buy a few and find one you like
At the bottom of this page is a list of some of the best cameras
to look out for. Look these cameras up in the Super
8 Wiki list of cameras to compare their specifications.
First, here's some points of difference between cameras.
Shooting Speeds (frames per second):
All cameras will shoot at 18 fps. At this speed, one 50' cartridge
of super 8 lasts 3 minutes 20 seconds. The next common option is
24 fps. At 24, a cartridge will last 2 minutes 30. All projectors
can run at 18 fps, most also do 24. 24 was intended as the 'sound'
18 fps is the economical shooting speed. Its slower shutter speed
also means it lets more light through to the film, making it better
than 24 in low light. The slower shutter also means 18 fps is not
as sharp as 24. The latter is a more professional speed. While film
shot at both 18 and 24 can be transfered to Video, 24 fps is closer
to the 25 fps of TV and thus yields slightly better results.
In addition to these speeds, many cameras offer slow motion. Any
framing speed higher than the projection speed results in a slow
motion effect. Some cameras also have a fast motion speed. This
might be 9 or 12 fps and speeds up action. Single frame filming
is a very common feature - useful for time lapse filming and animation
Rarely a camera will be able to shoot at 25fps. This allows for
direct 1 to 1 transfer to Video. Very desirable for serious film
making. It also alows filming of a TV screen without the image 'rolling'.
An area inside the viewfinder - usually a little circle in the centre
of the image area. The two most common sort are the 'split image'
type and the 'microprism' type. See my 'focusing
super 8 cameras' page for details on how to use them. This very
useful feature is absent on many cheap cameras. The best focusing
aid is the 'ground glass screen'. Though common on 35mm SLR cameras,
the only super 8 cameras with these are the french made Beaulieus.
Film Speed reading:
Super 8 cartridges have a notch which allows cameras to detect the
specific speed (asa) of the film. The best cameras can read all
possible film speed notches. The most basic cameras can only detect
40 and 160 asa. Given the range of stocks available today, it is
advisable to only buy a camera that can read many speeds. Often
the film speeds a camera can detect are written inside the film
use different methods for detecting the speed notch. Look inside
the film compartment of the camera. About 1.5 cm to the right of
the film gate can be found a solid pin. This pin is the cartridge
centering pin. All cameras have this. About 2 cm above this pin
(towards the top of the camera) can be found the camera's film speed
reading device. On the simplest cameras that read 40 and 160 asa
only, this is just a single pin. Cameras with 2 pins here can read
an additional speed - either 64 or 100. Some cameras have a little
'stair case' shaped detector. These can read most speeds: 40, 64,
100, 160, and often 25 and 250. The better canon cameras use a system
of 5 pins in row to detect all these speeds. Some cameras such as
the Nikons have a spring loaded detector that can move that can
slide down to read any possible notch size. The best system has
no notch reader at all. The film speed is simply set by the operator
on an external dial. This is only found on the Beaulieu and Leicina
The majority of Super 8 cameras use conventioinal AA batteries:
mostly 6, sometimes 4 and occasionally 2. Many older cameras use
a separate light meter battery. Most commonly that was a Mercury
cell of 2.7 volts - the PX625. This battery is no longer available
off the shelf. Batteries with a similar designation are now 3 volts.
This will work in some cameras, not in others. It is possible to
buy so called 'zinc-air' batteries of 1.35 volts. Only specialist
shops will stock these. Two such batteries and a little bit of tin
foil will work in cameras needing the PX625. There are only a few
cameras requring these batteries still worth using.
The great weakness of Beaulieu cameras is that they were designed
around special rechargeable Beaulieu batteries. Given their age,
these batteries are now all 'dead'. Replacements or re-celling can
be expensive, but it is possible to power these cameras externally.
Internal Filter Selector:
All super 8 cameras have an internal colour correction filter. This
allows the use of 'tungsten' (artificial) light balanced film to
be used in daylight. When shooting under tungsten light, this filter
needs to be 'de-selected'. There are a number of different ways
this is done. Some cameras have a simple switch on the outside for
'daylight' or 'tungsten'. Other cameras require the insertion of
a filter 'key' into a slot somewhere on the camera. Sometimes they
require a screw to be inserted into a thread somewhere. While the
switch type are easiest to use, it is cameras that require a 'key'
or a 'screw' that are most desirable. This is because such cameras
also have a 'filter notch reader' - another 'pin' inside the film
compartment that reads the filter notch on super 8 cartridges. This
pin is located about 3cm below the cartridge centring pin. See my
'understanding super 8 cartridge notches' page for more details.
Low Light (XL):
Some super 8 cameras are better at filming in low light than others.
Low light cameras are usually designated 'XL' (such as the Canon
1014XLS). A number of factors affect the low light filming ability
of super 8 cameras. One is the amount of glass on the lens. The
more glass (as in the bigger the zoom), the less light gets through.
This is related to the 'speed' or the maximum aperture opening of
the lens. A 'fast' lens as found on most 'XL' cameras will have
an opening of f1.4. A common maximum apeture on a non-XL camera
is f1.8. The chief 'XL' factor is the size of the shutter opening
of the camera. Most super 8 cameras have a shutter opening of about
150 degrees. 'XL' cameras usually have an opening of 220 degrees
- thus letting in more light. Of course, a trade off here is sharpness
- a larger opening shutter means a slower shutter speed, which increases
the chance of blur from camera or subject movement. The canon 1014xls
has the best of both worlds: its shutter can switch between 150
degrees for normal filming, and 220 for low light.
Many better super 8 cameras have a push button 'fade out' and 'fade
in' capacity. With some, this is accomplished by automatically closing
the lens apeture all the way. Others do this via a variable shutter.
In addition to allowing for fades, some cameras with variable shutters
have a variable shutter control. This allows for the shutter opening
to be set externally - useful if a higher shutter speed is desired,
such as when shooting in very bright light, when one wants to reduce
depth of field or when greatest image sharpness is sought.
This is a form of exposure compensation, usually in the form of
a push button. Pressing this button will 'over' expose the film
(open the lens aperture) by one f-stop from the camera's internal
light meter reading. The classic application for this is when filming
in the snow or otherwise when your subject is 'back lit'.
This is a very useful feature. Often in the form of a dial on the
side of the camera that allows the camera's internal exposure meter
to be adjusted + or - 1 or 2 f-stops. This can be useful if the
camera's light meter has drifted over time. It also means that even
if the camera can only detect 40 or 160 asa speed notches, it can
nonetheless use any film speed, simply by adjusting the exposure
meter up or down accordingly.
Only the Leicina Special and the various Beaulieu Super 8 cameras
have interchangeable lenses. All other super 8 cameras have irremovable
lenses. These lenses can vary in optical quality enormously. Don't
shoot using a camera with a cheap lens - its a waste of film!
Commonly a super 8 zoom will range from about 9 to about 50mm. In
the telephoto direction, the longest zooms might extend as far as
80mm. The widest, to about 6mm.
Different lenses have different ways of providing macro focus. Some
will only allow macro at the widest lens focal length (only on 'wideangle').
Others allow macro throughout the zoom range.
For time-lapse filming, this is a control that allows the camera
to 'tick' in single frame mode, taking one picture every 1 to 60
seconds, depending on the setting. A good feature if you like that
kind of thing.
Some cameras that have a fade function also offer dissolves. A dissolve
involves the camera 'back winding' the film after a fade out and
then re-exposing that section of film with a fade in. A few cameras
that can do this, such as the Nikons and the Bauer 'royal' cameras,
also offer filming in reverse. This is often a rather tricky procedure
- the Super 8 cartridge was never designed with 'backwinding' and
reverse in mind.
Some cameras have an electronic socket for remote operation, others
a socket for a cable release. The electronic version can be more
useful for long distances, etc..
Can be used for triggering a flash unit with single frame filming.
Also it can be used with some 'double system' sound recording set-ups
though these are more trouble than they are worth in my opinion.
When sound film was available, a sound camera was a must. Sound
cartridges were a different size from normal cartridges. All sound
cameras can shoot silent film. Now sound cartridges are no longer
produced, sound on a camera is just a feature that makes cameras
heavier. Don't by a sound camera unless it has other features you
O.K. it is possible that some sound cameras make less camera noise.
Camera noise can be a factor if you intend to record live sound
There were a number of other tricks that camera manufacturers came
up with over the life of super 8. The Eumig Nautica, for instance,
is an underwater camera that requires no housing or special box
- you just dive in! The Bauer Royal 8e camera had a pop out external
light sensor for making time exposures - making night timelapse
work possible. The list goes on.
So here is a short list of good cameras to look out for,
starting with the most expensive:
Beaulieu (anything except perhaps the 1008). The 4008zmII is a
first rate camera with continuously variable speed from 2 to 70
Canon 814xls (same as 1014xls but with 8x instead of 10x zoom
Nikon R10 and R8
Any Nizo camera
Some of the older Canon's like the 1014 and 814 'electronic' models.
Canon 518 models
Canon 514xl and xls
Many Chinon cameras have some good features as well as exposure
compensation for different asa films.
The Russian Quarz 1x8C camera was one of the last new super 8
cameras produced, and perhaps the only wind-up super 8 ever made.
It's boxy and basic but good. Has manual asa setting for 25, 50,
100 and 200.
Here's the Super
8 Wiki list of cameras link again so you can look them up.