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A Brief History of the Super 8 Film Format

By Christian Roemer
People have been making home movies for decades, and during that time span, the technology has changed tremendously. Through awesome advancements and accessibility, almost everyone these days has access to a camera to shoot a quick video. It wasn’t always that easy--that is, until the Super 8 film format came along. Invented by Kodak in 1965, Super 8 made shooting films easier, more affordable, portable, and fun than it had ever been before. A few different features made Super 8 remarkable, but one of the greatest was the ease of creating movies that it brought to the masses. In previous video cameras, the user had to thread their own film, protect it from light, spool it, store it carefully, and countless other tedious things. The Super 8 made that hassle obsolete with its compact cartridges and lightweight cameras. A single cartridge held about 50 feet of film, which was enough to shoot a two and a half minute video. Since the cartridges were light-proof, the user didn’t have to worry about the film getting spoiled by exposure, and playback was super simple. Suddenly, a huge population of folks could make movies of their own and share them with family and friends. No longer did the filmmaker have to spend tons of money on bulky cameras and delicate film rolls. He or she didn’t have to spend hours or tons of money developing the film. Super 8 freed them from the more annoyingly technical aspects of filmmaking, and instead, they could just concentrate on the fun part: making movies! The compact cartridges provided some other handy benefits as well. Super 8 cartridges could be quickly swapped out, making it simpler to keep the good times rolling and documented without skipping a beat. Entire birthday parties and valuable moments like a first bike ride could be recorded instead of just a few snippets here and there. Since the tapes were completely encased, storage was a breeze. Also, the hard plastic enclosure kept the valuable film inside protected from the elements, making sure that none of the memories recorded on it would spoil. You could say that the Super 8 film medium made filmmaking people proof. One bummer about the original Super 8 is that it was strictly video, which meant that the only types of films most amateurs made were completely silent. It wasn’t until around 1973 that Kodak added a magnetic strip to the cartridge that could record sound also. That’s why Grandma and Grandpa’s wedding film is silent, but you can hear grandpa urging your aunt forward when she took her first steps! The Super 8 format was so popular that some artists and filmmakers still use it to achieve a classic, home-shot style. Steven Spielberg even made a movie in 2011 with the title Super 8 about a group of kids documenting their encounters with an alien by filming it with a Super 8 camera! The slightly blurred edges, grainy shots, and sepia tones give off a vintage vibe that’s almost impossible to replicate. Super 8’s aesthetic and appeal to the masses revolutionized the way that people made home movies. Its impact was so profound, that folks still can’t give it up! They create wonderful works or art with it that feel familiar, classic, and timeless. When you see a Super 8 film, you know it. Even in a world with iPhones and tablets, Super 8’s familiar vibe and classic aesthetic make it a relic of the past that we still can’t give up.
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