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 best.
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 database to compare their specifications. Click on the picture of a weird looking camera in the top row to get to a list of manufacturers, then click on the name of your camera maker to get to a list of models. There are hundreds!
First, here's some points of difference between cameras.
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' speed.
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, however film shot at both 18 and 24 and any other speed can be transferred to digital video and mixed with other video sources.
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 etc.
Rarely a camera will be able to shoot at 25fps. This was useful in the ananlogue video days for direct 1 to 1 transfer to PAL Video. It also allowed filming of a PAL TV screen without the image 'rolling', but is of no particular advantage today.
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.
The majority of Super 8 cameras use conventional 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 'zinc-air' batteries of 1.35 volts. Only specialist shops will stock these - Battery World generally do. Two such batteries and a little bit of tin foil will work in cameras needing the PX625. There are only a few cameras requiring 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.
There are two principal approaches to the design of the film compartment in Super 8 cameras. The 'side' door which swings outwards on the side of the camera and the 'rear' door, which hinges downwards on the back of the camera. With a side door camera you push the film in on an angle and then press it down flat into the film compartment. With a rear door you slide the film into the camera lengthwise. Both designs are easy to load and unload. Nowadays, with the cameras getting older, side door cameras are slightly more reliable when it comes to film transport. In particular the Canon 518 SV is a camera which is very prone to transport failure, and requires a special loading technique to work. See our Loading your camera section for details.
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 no longer important to buy a camera that can read many speeds. Often the film speeds a camera can detect are written inside the film compartment.
Different cameras 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 centring 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 cameras.
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.
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 effect 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 aperture 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 aperture 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 'wide angle'). 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. As the cameras are all getting older, it is not a good idea to risk jamming the cartridge with running in reverse. Since you will be getting your film back as a digital file you can very easily add such effects later.
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 want.
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 while shooting.
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.
Leicina Special possibly the best!
Beaulieu (anything except perhaps the 1008). The 4008zmII is a first rate camera with continuously variable speed from 2 to 70 fps!
Canon 1014xls timeless beauty!
Canon 814xls (same as 1014xls but with 8x instead of 10x zoom lens)
Nikon R10 and R8 nanolab favourites!
Any Nizo camera
Any Bauer camera
Some of the older Canon's like the 1014 and 814 'electronic' models.
Canon 518 models, but see the note about rear door cameras above.
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 database link again so you can look them up.