The Super 8 format is now 51 years old. It seemed destined for the scrap heap of forgotten formats, simply because there have been no new mass-produced cameras since the early 1980s. However, Kodak has other plans.
Big Yellow shocked everyone at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas by unveiling the prototype of a brand new Super 8 movie camera. It uses the same 50 foot cartridge, but features decidedly modern features like precise digital speed control, a 3.5-inch LCD display and even a built-in digital audio recorder for capturing sound (Super 8 cartridges have been silent since the late 1990s, when Kodak stopped adding the magnetic stripe on the edge of the film).
The target price for this crazy analog anachronism is "somewhere between $450 and $700," and the company is hoping to release the first camera in the lineup sometime later this year. This is great news for professionals and serious amateur filmmakers who want an affordable and reliable way to use film in their projects. Perhaps the most important feature is the digital "crystal sync" speed control that will keep the film running at exactly 9, 12, 18, 24 or 25 frames per second. This is critical to enable sound synchronization for shooting music videos or dialog. It's a common enough feature on professional Super 16 mm and 35 mm cameras, but nearly all vintage Super 8 boxes from the 1960s and 1970s relied on "close enough" analog speed control which drifted slightly.
A second important feature is the "Max 8" film gate that provides a modern 16:9 frame size. This is achieved by enlarging the film opening slightly into the area that was once taken up by the magnetic audio stripe running along the side of the film. It's an important difference for a generation of videomakers who have grown up in the wonderful world of HD widescreen.
Kodak offers three colour negative films that have to be scanned to digital before they can be viewed. Negative offers wider dynamic range and a more professional look than traditional reversal projection films (Kodak also offers Tri-X, a black & white projection film that can be developed in a home lab and viewed on a vintage projector). The company's plan is to offer a one stop film shop that includes the film, processing and digital scanning in a single bundle.
I'm excited. Not only will this camera introduce a new generation to the beauty of film, it will also keep the Super 8 format alive for those who have been enjoying it for decades. It's not cheap, it's not instant, but it is analog and unique. And perhaps that's the secret to success in the digital age.
Kodak Super 8 Camera