Reel to reel projector birthday gift
August 22, 2021 6:56 PM   Subscribe

I have lots of questions about what I don't know that I need to know to buy my wife a reel to reel style projector for her birthday!

My wife mentioned the other day that she remembered watching reel-to-reel style movies in elementary school, and always loved the experience of the teacher fitting the reel, feeding the film, and the projector clicking away during the film. By the time we were old enough to have a turn running the things, both our schools had moved to VCRs.

Ding, goes the birthday present lightbulb.

So this gift is all about getting her a working reel-to-reel projector, and some films for it. Quality of content is a distant second, but it would be fun to get something cheesy and B-movie flavor, as well as some of the educational films a mid-80s elementary student might have been shown. (No horror or pornography.)

I have been reading wikipedia about this, and I think I have the beginnings of a plan. eBay looks like my source. Do you know any other sites who deal in old projector equipment who I would be more likely to get something working? I would buy a projector listed as working from eBay, for what that's worth.

So what I think I need to do is:
1. Pick a format. Looks like Super-8 is good? Any thoughts?
2. Buy a working projector in that format
3. Buy some films in that format

Questions I have:
A. Are all Super-8 projectors and films compatible? If not how do I get compatible films?
B. I have learned about the magnetic strip for sound. So many questions about sound! Do I just get a projector that says is supports sound? If so, do I hook up speakers to the projector? Do I need an amplifier? If sound is too difficult, I have no issue playing the sound from a DVD or streaming video. I'm not aiming for 100% authenticity here.
C. Assuming I get a projector in working order, what should I do to increase the chance that it works on her birthday? Replacement bulbs, anything like that I should order?
D. What else don't I know? I'm assuming I just plug the projector into a wall outlet, is that correct? Can I screw up the film in some non-obvious way?

What are some awesome movies or films to show on it? Right now I'm thinking One Million BC is the right amount of cheese, and I've always thought Raquel Welch looks like my wife in that movie. Or like Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman. Or one of those old school films, like "Do you know your state bird?"

Thank you so much!
posted by BeeDo to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think you're looking for 16mm. Super 8 is more of a recording and home-movie format than a movie format as far as I know.
posted by wotsac at 7:28 PM on August 22, 2021

You want a 16mm projector. You can find real films in 16mm (eBay has both projectors and film).
Super-8 was pretty much a home movie format, mostly silent (although later versions of super-8 did have sound). You'll find next no movies in super-8 format.
posted by ShooBoo at 7:29 PM on August 22, 2021

Best answer: Far from expert but here's what I know:
- A school in the 70s, 80s, or 90s would have had a 16mm projector. Almost all 16mm projectors and prints you'll find have optical, not magnetic, sound.
- Buying good 16mm prints seems to be harder than finding projectors. Hardly anyone makes new 16mm prints (I assume mostly for copyright reasons) and a lot of old acetate film is in bad shape thanks to "vinegar syndrome".
- There is more of an enthusiast market for 8mm and Super 8 films and projectors. There was a time when people owned home super 8 projectors and you can find films specifically cut for the home market. You can't find feature films however, since a super 8 reel is too short; what you'll find are 30min highlight reels. You can also get a lot of prints of silent two reelers on super 8.

If it were me and I wanted to spend say $300 on this project I'd go with Super 8. This would pay for a projector, a spare bulb, and 4 or 5 fun reels off of eBay. If I wanted to spend $1000 I'd go with 16mm and track down a high quality feature film print.
posted by goingonit at 8:16 PM on August 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: As others have said, 16mm is the exact experience your wife had, but 8mm is a bit cheaper and easier to obtain.

A) Yes, Super8 is a standard format, all Super8 is Super8; it is not compatible with regular 8mm but they made projectors that did both (these often had swappable parts that almost immediately were lost and thus they stopped being dual-mode). Be careful when buying on eBay because sellers don't always know what they have and don't always identify them correctly.

B) Super8 with audio are going to be relatively rare to find, but a projector that supports it will likely have a built-in speaker.

Your comment about playing the audio from a DVD implies you think you can get the exact film on Super8: this is not true. A regular-sized (6inch or so) 8mm or Super8 reel will only hold about 20 minutes of film. If you buy a 8mm reel that says it's a commercially-released film, it's a heavily edited version, even if it comes on multiple reels.

C) Yes, extra bulbs help, but these aren't always a universal standard and you may have to do a bit of research to find the right size. You may also want to buy a small roll of splicing tape because film breaks or gets stuck and melts through. Also, you'll need to have at least one empty reel to "pick up" the film after it's been played (also, you know that you have to 'rewind' film, right? Otherwise you have a backwards movie on the pickup reel) . Probably the most common problem I've run into is the pickup reel at the back doesn't spin right so the film just spits out onto the floor, but most of the mechanics inside a projector are pretty simple and there's not a lot that can break.

D) Yes, most projectors are self-contained and plug-and-play. You should probably google a manual for the projector you buy, they're usually pretty good at describing how to make things work for an amateur. Other tips:
  • The bulb is very hot, and if the film isn't moving through the projector it will melt almost instantly; many projectors had separate controls for film movement and the lights, so if one or the other isn't working check your switches, but don't turn on the light if the film isn't moving.
  • Depending on the projector they can be a little difficult to get fed; "autofeed" projectors tend to make it easier
  • Don't feed 8mm into a Super8 projector and vice-versa; the sprocket holes are spaced differently and will jam things up and ruin the film
  • make sure you know how to do the rewind process, which doesn't mean running the film through the projector backwards
You should definitely make sure to get your projector ahead of time and play with it a while before you have your main event with your wife; jumping from streaming video to film projectors is kind of like going from self-driving car to driving with a manual transmission. A lot is the same but one needs some practice to make sure things go right.

If it were me, I would get a regular 8mm projector and find a bunch of old Blackhawk silent films -- regular 8mm is more common and had been around a long time so you're likely to find more interesting stuff to watch. The kinds of educational films your wife saw in school are likely all on 16mm, so you may not be able to find that kind of movie but eBay has a lot of different stuff to pick from. Also, check out your friendly neighborhood antique malls -- any projectors you find will probably be 'unknown condition' but cheap, but movies may be available.

Something that shows up on eBay a lot in 8mm format are other people's home movies -- this is what I mostly collect -- so depending on how voyeuristic you are, getting some of these may be more entertaining than a black-and-white, shortened, silent copy of One Million BC.

(Sitenote to brag: I also own a working school-quality Bell & Howell 16mm projector and a hundred educational films)
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:58 AM on August 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Results: she loved it! It turned out the rubber belts inside the projector arms (so what spins the takin reel) had disintegrated. Ordered a new set off of eBay. I went with 16mm, and ended up with a movie about working together as a community, the music of Japan, and one more we haven’t watched yet. Thanks for all the help!
posted by BeeDo at 6:36 AM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

« Older Resources for non-caregiver family members   |   How to keep my tattoo pretty (at the beach)?? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments