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COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO 8MM MOVIE FILM

By Brad Hinkle 6/26/2019

8mm motion picture film is a unique film format that preserves images on a sheet of film that is 8mm wide. It was originally developed by the Eastman Kodak Company and it was initially released in 1932. While being widely popular amongst amateur cinematographers for over forty years, it reached the height of its popularity after a version of 8mm film that allowed for the recording of sound was released in 1973. The release of its predecessor, the Super 8 format, led to the mass production of amateur movies that has had a lasting impact on the world of filmmaking. 8mm movies are still widely available today, because they were mass produced for many years after their rise to popularity in 1965. Also, this film lasts for up to seventy years when stored under ideal conditions which has led to the survival of countless filmstrips that were recorded in the Americas and even Europe too.

Basic Features of 8mm Film

8mm film is made from color photochemical emulsions set on a translucent plastic commonly referred to as acetate. Its early adoption was primarily due to its affordability, but it has remained in use until the present day due to its unique cinematic qualities. 8mm film has also remained relatively popular compared to other types of film that have been used through the years. Its popularity is primarily due to the incredible success of the Super 8 film release. This affordable product made it possible for even the most inexperienced filmmakers to create high quality productions from the comfort of their homes. There are a variety of different film types in existence today, but the standard in the industry has always been 35mm film. 35mm was first made before the turn of the century and it continues to be used even to this day. Its replacement by thinner strips was only driven by the demand for a more affordable way to record motion pictures. Thinner film types require the use of less material and were thus more cost-effective to manufacture. These cost savings were ultimately passed down to the consumer which led to the mass adoption of amateur filmmaking.

Types of Film

There are five main film types that were widely used from the early 1900s to the present. These include 35mm, 16mm, 9.5mm, 8mm, and the most popular of all, Super 8mm. Each had their advantages and disadvantages which led to a diverse group of people adopting each one for a variety of commercial and personal uses. 70mm film has also been used throughout the years so that images may be readily projected onto large screens. Being the least economical solution available though, this format was never widely used by amateur filmmakers who preferred to use the cheapest films available which were the thinner 8mm rolls. Despite these sizes being standard, there were nonetheless many uncommon widths, such as 28mm and 59mm, which were used throughout the long and colorful history of filmmaking. There are three primary characteristics of film which include its gauge, stock, and type. The gauge of a roll refers to the width of the film being used while the stock refers to a number of factors relating to the chemistry of the film being used. For instance, certain stocks are more sensitive to light than others thereby making them better suited for specific applications. Film can also be solely black and white. Some reels are also positive or negative which indicates that the original image is the reverse of the image that is captured on the film. The material that constitutes a strip of film is typically an acetate base. There are multiple layers that comprise a strip with each layer performing its individual function. The acetate layer holds the film together and it defines its durability. While almost all films in the early days of filmmaking were made from an acetate base, these have more recently been replaced with a polyester base that makes film more durable. This stronger base also allows for the film to be thinner without tearing as easily. The portion of the film that captures the image is called the emulsion. The emulsion contains materials that are designed to be photosensitive and this is the layer upon which the image is captured during the initial recording. This layer consists of a gelatin binder containing silver salts that undergo a chemical reaction during processing if the film is of the black and white variety. Color film uses a different set of chemical reactions to achieve its effect. The emulsion within color film uses three colors of dye that react to various wavelengths of light to produce the final recorded image. 8mm film is popular amongst both professionals and amateurs alike. This has led to the production of an extremely varied list of films using this particular format. Professional filmmakers have successfully used it to create images displayed in movie theaters and even on television sets around the world. While professional studios have frequently resorted to the use of this type of film, it has really been the amateurs that utilized this particular format most extensively, especially after the release of Super 8mm film. All sorts of home videos were produced using Super 8mm cameras. Today, there is a vast archive of homemade footage that covers everything from weddings to day trips to the beach.

How Many Feet in a Roll?

One rather common question people ask relates to how many feet is in a roll of film. This question comes up often, because twenty-five foot rolls frequently had fifty feet of film on them if they were manufactured between the years of 1940 to 1960. The reason for this was simple though, because many rolls were double rolls. Double rolls allowed for the recording of video on both sides of the strip. Thus, the user would simply reload the camera with the same roll after shooting twenty-five feet of film on one side so that both sides could then be fully used. It is fairly easy to spot a double roll if you still have the original box, because it should say the words "double roll" right under the label that says "25ft". Even so, the words "double roll" are occasionally added to the back of the box, so users must check carefully to be certain. A single roll (3" in diameter with 50 feet long) of film does not hold much recording footage though. These rolls only hold about three to four minutes of footage each. To create lengthier movies, filmmakers had to resort to the use of longer reels, such as five inch reels. These reels are two hundred feet long and hold about thirteen minutes of footage on them. Even longer six inch reels were frequently used and they contain twenty minutes of footage on a three hundred foot roll of film. Seven inch reels were also available that held about twenty-eight minutes of footage on a four hundred foot roll. While it might seem like 16mm and 35mm reels contain substantially less footage, they actually contain fairly similar amounts of footage as 8mm reels, because only the width of the film and their frame size differs.

How to Scan Old Film

There are certain values you should be familiar with if you are working with this particular medium. For instance, the aspect ratio of 8mm film is typically 4:3. The resolution of this medium is another factor that should be taken into consideration prior to converting film into a digital format. Many people mistakenly believe that an HD scan of 1080 pixels would be plenty to cover the resolution of old photographs, but this has not proven to be true when put to the test. Experimentation has demonstrated that 8mm and Super 8 film should be scanned at a 2k resolution to ensure even the finest details inherent within the reel are captured. Doing so will result in the production of an image that is approximately 25-30% sharper overall. It has also been clearly demonstrated that the quality of the scanner used has a direct impact on the quality of the digitized data. It's just like a photocopier in that the more sophisticated is the machine used to make the copy, the higher is the quality of the output. The same is true of 8mm film conversions. A 1080p scanner can lose data in a variety of ways. Everything from the lighting to the lenses being used could potentially cause the loss of data during a conversion. For this reason, it has become standard practice to use a true film scanner rather than scan the film frame by frame using a camcorder or a CCD sensor. There are a few common questions people frequently begin to ask themselves after coming across a stockpile of old footage that requires converting into a digital format. For instance, many people wonder precisely how much footage is contained within their stockpile of film. This can be easily discerned if you know the frame rate generally used with 8mm film. Most professionally recorded footage was recorded at twenty-four frames per second since this is the established industry standard and it has been for many years now. Home movies on the other hand may have been recorded at 16-18 frames per second due to the popularity of Super 8 film. This is precisely why not much footage is captured within a single foot of film too, because one foot only contains about eighty frames of footage. One of the first steps many people take once they discover a long-lost stockpile of footage is that of finding a way to play it. Even so, old film is unsuitable for direct playback using a projector that uses the sprocket holes to run the film through it. In fact, doing so could potentially damage the film being played since the sprocket holes on the projector might not fit perfectly into the holes on the reel. Film has been known to shrink over the decades, so running your film through a projector or film transfer machine that uses the sprocket holes will almost certainly damage it. We get several calls a day from people who have damaged their film by trying to run it through a projector. The same goes for the low-end film transfer machines used by local camera and conversion shops. Even the big-box stores like Walmart, Costco and Walgreens have been known to damage old reels in this way. Make sure your film is properly scanned on a sprocketless roller based film scanner, such as those used in our Pro HD, Pro 2k, or Pro 4k processes.

How Old is My Film?

n average, old rolls of film are about fifty to sixty years old. Film only lasts about fifty to seventy years in total. It can also shrink both vertically and horizontally over time. After sitting in storage for fifty or so years, the distance between the sprocket holes is about an entire millimeter less than it would be originally. If you were to run old film through a projector, the projector would undoubtedly cut into its sprocket holes due to their being too close together. Typically, when this happens, the film will get hung up and damaged in the gate. So, today, you should not attempt to watch your films using a projector, nor should you have them transferred into a digital format by a machine that uses the sprocket holes to move the film through. Make sure your film is scanned using a professional sprocketless scanner to avoid damaging the film during the scanning process. Those who are fortunate enough to be able to play their footage using a projector frequently find themselves wondering whether or not their recordings contain any sound. Standard 8mm film is unlikely to have any sound recordings attached to it, but it is nonetheless a possibility. Super 8 recordings are far more likely to contain sound though. The presence of a sound recording is easily identified since it usually accompanies the film in the form of a magnetic strip running alongside each frame in the reel. Optically recorded sound may also be present on 16mm reels in the form of wavy lines running alongside the strip of visual frames. Optical sound recordings can also be present in the form of a grey strip that alternates from a lighter to a darker color as well. Other questions one might ask themselves after discovering a stockpile of film concern the differences that exist between the various film types in existence. Movies have long been recorded on a variety of film types and each one possesses numerous unique characteristics that differentiate them from the rest. For instance, someone who is inexperienced with this medium may accidentally believe that Super 8 film is precisely the same as a standard 8mm stock, but this is simply not true. In fact, there are many differences between the two. First of all, 8mm film was used in productions earlier than 1965 thereby making your average Super 8 reel far younger than the average 8mm reel. Other differences are found in the physical characteristics of the film strip itself. For instance, the sprocket holes found on a Super 8 reel are typically far smaller and closer together than those found on an 8mm reel. Furthermore, the frames on a Super 8 reel are 50% larger than those found on a standard 8mm roll. Also the location of the sprocket holes differs since Super 8 sprocket holes are positioned alongside the middle of each frame in the reel while standard 8mm holes are positioned between each frame. For these reasons, a standard 8mm projector is incapable of playing a Super 8 reel and a Super 8 projector is incapable of playing a standard 8mm reel. The differences between 8mm film and 16mm rolls on the other hand may be somewhat less noticeable, because they both have sprocket holes that are located in precisely the same position in between each frame. The differences between these two products is found in the number of frames that are able to fit inside a foot of film. 16mm rolls contain only forty frames per foot while 8mm rolls are able to fit twice as many due to their considerably smaller frame size. This also makes it quite a bit more affordable to shoot on 8mm rolls versus 16mm rolls since it is both cheaper to buy 8mm film and it is more cost-effective to process it.

How Do I Preserve My Film?

Film preservation is both an art and a science. Even so, if your film is aging, you should certainly take steps to preserve its life for just a bit longer. Film typically only lasts about fifty to seventy years. For this reason, there is no time to waste if you are presently looking for the best way to preserve your film. There are many locations that are suitable for the preservation of this valuable material, but a freezer that is specifically devoted to this purpose has proven to be the most effective means developed thus far. The freezer must have controllable humidity however, since film requires about 40% humidity for optimal storage conditions. Even so, any cool, dark, and dry place will do. By steadying the temperature and humidity of the air engulfing your film, you can reduce the rate of the chemical reactions that are taking place within it that will ultimately lead to its destruction. By eliminating its exposure to light, you can also further reduce the rate of film degradation that is undergone with each passing day. While perfect conditions are ideal for the storage of film, the location where the film is stored should also allow for the film to breathe. It is fairly common for people to assume that film will be well protected inside an airtight container, but this only leads to the chemicals that evaporate from the film damaging it even further. For this reason, you should make sure your film is able to breathe while in storage so that these gases that are gradually released do not negatively affect its quality over time. Since the lifespan of the average roll of film is quite limited, it has become standard practice to preserve this medium indefinitely in a digital format. As soon as the data contained on a reel of film has been digitized, the information stored on that reel is fully preserved forever after. Prior to being stored in such a manner though, film is naturally going to be exposed to the elements. Since film is essentially a living organic structure, its chemistry evolves over time. As it is exposed to light, heat, humidity, and temperature changes, the chemical structure of the film begins to degrade with time. Therefore, the sooner are you able to convert your films into a digital format, the higher in quality will be the end product future generations will get to enjoy for years to come. There are numerous mediums onto which your films may be transferred. Some preservationists even choose to transfer their films onto a new roll made from a sturdier stock that will last much longer. Despite this being so, the most economical and commonly used method of preservation has proven to be the converting of film into a digital medium that can be stored on a computer. Once in a digital format, the files can then be transferred to any type of digital storage device, including DVDs. DVDs are commonly used since they are widely compatible with most computers, they are capable of being reproduced in large quantities, and they are playable using a standard DVD player which makes them a very convenient storage medium. Those who are interested in possibly editing the content they ultimately transfer onto a digital device should consider converting their files into the MP4 media format. This widely compatible file type can then be opened from any computer so that your files will always remain easily accessible from anywhere in the world. Once your files have been converted into this particular file type, you can then upload your files into the cloud to preserve them indefinitely.