How Does A Film Reel Work?
How Does A Film Reel Work?
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How Does A Film Reel Work?

By Shelby Burr

Ever wonder how certain things work and operate? One piece of media that we are very fond of here at Legacybox is the Film Reel.

We’re sure you’ve once played with Film or, hey, maybe you even have a couple of Film Reels hanging out in a few storage bins!
Either way, this piece of analog media is interesting and we want to explain its history and how it works.


A Little History

Back in 1932, the Kodak Eastman company released 8mm film to the public. How does it work? It is made up of tiny frames of film that are 8mm wide! When this was released, it was video only. This formant came out after the 16mm film - the reason it became such a popular format is because it was way smaller than the 16mm! More compact, easier to use and it was way cheaper too. 


Later in the 1960, 8mm film was used widely for movie making and home movies. It also eventually had the capability to have sound! This actually brought a lot of added popularity to this format. So, before we dive into how the sound does the film itself work?


How It Works

It’s kind of a sticky situation, literally! Film Reels consist of recorded strips that are made up of a plastic film structure. One side of the film has a coat of an emulsion consistency that contains tiny, little crystals. When those crystals are exposed to light through the lens, the emulsion darkens the pattern of the image being captured. Crazy right? Like, who the heck thought of this? Once the film is processed and developed in chemical baths, you produce the image that was captured. When playing those captured images at a certain speed...BOOM! Film. Thank you to the inventor, Louis Le Prince.



While you may have oodles of film sitting at home, you might ask yourself, “So, does my film have sound?” It’s a great question that surrounds the likes of vintage reels, like 8mm, 16mm, and Super 8 film. These formats weren’t always equipped with the ability to catch audio, so take this with a grain of salt that your home movies/film may not have sound. For the 16mm film, the majority of this format was made without the ability to have sound. 


How to check? If you look at your 16mm film and you notice that it has sprockets on both sides of the reel, that means it is a silent film. If you notice your 16mm film has only sprockets on one side and a kind of yellow or rust-colored strip, then there is a great chance it has sound! That strip color itself denotes the magnetic portion where the audio is stored, running along the reel. If you look at the 8mm film, similar story! If you notice a yellow or rust-colored magnetic strip that runs around the edge of the reel (on the sprocket side), it will have sound! And lastly, to find sound, the Super 8 film can have a thin yellow or rust-colored strip running along the edge of the reel next to the sprocket holes and a thicker yellow strip that runs along the other edge.


Film and film reels have played a huge role in our digital era. This beloved analog media still means so much to us. That being said, be sure to digitize your film before natural elements deteriorate your memories! Film Reels can hold so much important content from your family’s past. Let’s start enjoying it by having your memories digitized!

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