Gear

What Makes ‘Super 8’ So Super, And Why Is Kodak Bringing It Back?

Upon hearing the name ‘Super 8’, many younger readers may think of the 2011 adventure film directed by J.J. Abrams, but the name goes much further back than that. ‘Super 8′ was in fact Abrams’ love letter to the filmmaking techniques and equipment that he used growing up. The title refers to the type of film that was used in the early days of novice filmmaking.

Introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1965 and aimed squarely at amateur filmmakers and hobbyists, the Super 8 camera and accompanying film stock became a staple of home video throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

The Super 8 video camera was a breakthrough for the amateur film industry, allowing aspiring cameramen to shoot a whopping 2-and-a-half minutes of footage per cartridge.

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Via Nesster on Flickr

Its grainy and saturated look evokes a retro feel nowadays, one that many attempt to emulate using photography filters or smartphone apps. However, the cropped, lo-fi aesthetic was once the standard for would-be directors and cinematographers. The ability to shoot film with a relatively cheap and accessible camera was a new phenomenon, and a number of today’s most famous directors began their careers shooting on Super 8.

Named ‘Super 8’ because the format used 8mm film, it was much more user-friendly than previous standards and due to its popularity, it soon became widely available. Despite the quirky look of the images produced by Super 8 film, it soon became the dominant standard for home video throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

“”For me, 8mm was the beginning of everything. When I think of 8mm, I think of the movies.”” – Stephen Spielberg

The format was discontinued by Kodak in 1997, who cited environmental concerns (chemicals used in its manufacture were found to be environmentally hazardous). The format was also losing ground to newer and simpler digital products being introduced to the market.

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A still from J.J. Abrams’ ‘Super 8’, his love letter to the filmmaking of his childhood

However, Super 8 has always enjoyed cult status, boosted significantly by Hollywood directors who remain stubborn advocates of film, despite a shift toward digital in recent years. Quentin Tarantino is one of the most vocal defenders of film, recently saying that the move towards digital projection in movie theatres signalled the ‘death of cinema’.

“The fact that Kodak is giving a new generation of filmmakers the opportunity to shoot on Super 8 is truly an incredible gift.” – Quentin Tarantino

At this year’s CES, Kodak weighed in on the debate, embracing the nostalgia for the product and launching the ‘Super 8 Filmmaking Revival Initiative’ and announcing a brand new Super 8 camera coming later in 2016. The design of the camera echoes the Super 8 cameras of yesteryear, with a few modern touches. It won’t be totally analogue, however, as the new design includes a digital viewfinder and the ability to have your prints developed into a digital format.

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Kodak’s new Super 8

The limited edition product should arrive in the third quarter of 2016, and will cost somewhere between $400 and $750, said Kodak. The announcement was boosted by quotes from superstar advocates of film, Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, and J.J. Abrams among them.

“A brand new Super 8 camera is a dream come true.” – J. J. Abrams

“The fact that Kodak is building a brand new Super 8 camera is a dream come true,” said Abrams, Director of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, set to become the highest grossing film of all time this weekend. His support for Super 8 and film in general is clear to see; the latest addition to the ‘Star Wars’ franchise was shot on 35mm film. “While any technology that allows for visual storytelling must be embraced,” he said, “nothing beats film.”