Making Super 8mm movies
September 6, 2019 8:01 PM   Subscribe

I just recently found my GAF SC/92 Super 8 camera, and I bought a roll of Kodak 50D Super 8 film to use with it! Hooray! The motor works and I am going to run the film through it and get it processed to see if the camera works properly. I am excited to get into this old form of photography. I have some additional questions for anybody that is versed in this stuff.

Firstly, everything I have found about the GAF SC/92 camera says it is "auto exposure", so am I to assume that it will know what speed film I am putting into it? How does that work? I have Kodak 50D film currently, but I want to get a higher speed B&W film later. Will the camera know that they are two different speeds? There's nothing on it denoting speed whatsoever.

Secondly, I am already interested in getting a more advanced Super 8 camera. Can anybody give some recommendations? I have looked up the Beaulieu company's cameras, as they seem to come highly regarded. Are there any others I should check out? I would like the option of being able to do 18 and 24 FPS. Recording sound isn't absolutely necessary, but would be nice.

Speaking of recording sound, I am under the impression that these cameras are loud when they are used. What is the best method for recording audio?

Thank you!
posted by gucci mane to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's been rather a long time since I've shot Super 8, but I think the film cartridges have cutouts that engage/don't engage little feelers which tells the camera which asa/ISO setting to use.

I had a Canon 1014 that had multiple fps, fade functions, sound recording and great optics. You can find those and 814s on eBay.

For sound you're either recording on the film's mag stripe or recording on an external recorder. Typically external recording would involve an intermediate sync device that would put a pulse on a sync track on the external audio to sync the sound with the film. I'm drawing on dim memory, but I think those sync units would control the speed of the camera motor. I don't remember if the Canon had a sync socket. A sync unit might be hard to come by.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 11:37 PM on September 6, 2019

Auto exposure on an old camera like this works because the camera does actually have a light meter - you just don't see it in the viewfinder. The camera knows what kind of film you're using because the Super 8 cartridge has an index notch on it that the camera can detect. The size/shape of the notch tells the camera what the film speed is.

Here's a page with some specs for your camera.

The motor runs on AA batteries, but, as was the case with a lot of Super 8 cameras, the light meter was powered by a separate little button-style mercury battery (a PX625 cell for your camera). Mercury batteries have been banned in most places since the 90s I think, but fortunately you can get zinc-air replacements for these today which are much more environmentally benign. Because of the nature of zinc-air batteries, once they're unsealed their operating life is only a few weeks at most. So here is another very cool solution: an adapter that lets you use an inexpensive silver oxide 386 cell that has a much longer life compared to the zinc-air cell.

Btw, if there's any way to turn off the meter when you're not using the camera, do so, because it'll drain the meter battery even when not in use. If that's not possible I guess just remove the battery.

When it comes to color balance, I'm a little uncertain what your camera will do about the 85 (aka 85A) filter. If you're unfamiliar with the 85 filter that most Super 8 cameras have built-in, read this and read this. The spec page for your camera that I linked to seems to say it won't automatically cancel the 85 filter when you're using daylight film (which is what your Kodak 50D is). So apparently there's a little screw that needs to be turned manually to disengage it.

A lot of people remove the 85 filters from old Super 8 cameras because they tended to be made of plastic or low-quality glass that could degrade and discolor over time and also accumulate dust and schmutz. Instead you'd just use a modern filter in front of the lens if needed [note: your camera may not have filter threads on the lens, which would make this more difficult to rig].

Because there are lots of film stocks available today that didn't exist back when Super 8 cameras were manufactured, it may be difficult to know how your camera will read the index notches on modern cartridges. Here is an excellent reference tool for figuring that out.

When it comes to recording sound, yes, the camera can be pretty noisy and interfere with that. So there was something called a 'barney', which was basically like a quilted tea cozy except it was designed to fit over the camera and muffle the noise. Here's a photo of one on a 16mm camera. You might be able to find an old one somewhere, but I bet it'd be pretty easy to fabricate a homemade one. There was also something called a 'blimp' that performed the same function, but it would have been more structured, perhaps made of fiberglass.

As far as getting a fancier Super 8, yes a Beaulieu would be very nice, but it would probably cost you at least a few hundred dollars even today, and upwards of a couple grand for a nicer model in good condition. The other issue is that I think most of their models used a proprietary rechargeable battery that doesn't exist today, and if you dug up an old one from the 80s it probably wouldn't hold a charge anymore. So what you'll find (if you're in the market) is that people rebuild old Beaulieus with new power grips containing modern batteries.

This guy has some good YouTube videos on Super 8 cameras and how to shoot with them (the first three clips on this playlist).
posted by theory at 12:51 AM on September 7, 2019 [8 favorites]

Back between 1978 and 1981, I was into animation enough to get a Canon 514XL super 8 movie camera. It is pretty basic; no sound, two speeds (9 and 18 frames/sec), but capable of shooting single frames, powered by a couple AA batteries. It has a nice lens with a power zoom function and macro capability for shooting very close-up. I had a lot of fun with it, doing animation and shooting a bunch of footage that ended up documenting a chunk of my high school life. I don't know how it compares to the Beaulieu cameras, but it looks like it might be a step up from the GAF, at least from a lens standpoint.
posted by coppertop at 12:55 PM on September 7, 2019

Regarding sync sound on old small format films: it's crazy stuff.

There are some film cameras that can record with live sound on special film stock that has a little mag stripe attached to the reel. Not sure about finding that stock or developers these days?

Most Super 8 artists film without sound and dub the sound in later.

There's also "wild sound" (unsynchronized sound recording)... & anyone who has ever made small format films with live sound is really going to hate me for suggesting this! No one is going to stop you from recording unsynced live sound on your shoot with a small Zoom audio recorder. But your editor will hate you, & if you edit it yourself, you will hate yourself. The good news is that digital editing from transfer makes it kinda easier than in olden times. Have your talent snap their finger at the beginning of each shot if you don't have a clapper/loader. That way you can start in sync, before it drifts away.

(The angst applies if you are trying to record a narrative scene with dialogue, if the lips are even slightly off, then it looks bad. If you are recording art, nature, environment, party scenes, etc, then unsynced sound is probably fine, thats the way they made some old nature documentaries.)
posted by ovvl at 8:44 PM on September 7, 2019

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