Since its creation in the late 1800s, there have been eras and decades defined by certain film types … and make no mistake, there are A LOT of them. From 120 film, 127 film, 135 standard 35 mm film, 1126 instamatic film, 110 film, Disc film (it literally looks like a disc), Advanced Photo System (APS) film and the list goes on. But rather than fall into that deep, dark rabbit hole of obscure film types that only a select few people have, let’s focus on the main ones you might find in an old shoebox in your grandparent’s basement. Would you be able to identify all those old little strips of dotted plastic?
After reading this, you should be able to. Here’s your crash course on “Types of Film 101” and what to look out for in your film search.
Introduced in the early 1930s, the 35 mm filmstrip contains four 24 mm x 36 mm frames. It’s also the most common film used for photography. So, if you come across a stash of old slides, you’re probably looking at a 35 mm goldmine of memories (which also come in a variety of formats). As one of if not the most popular film choices back in the day, 35 mm was and is still quite abundant. You can typically tell if a 35 mm roll has been used or not by whether the leader (a small amount of film exposed outside the canister) has been fully rewound into the canister or not.
16 mm film – Silent & Sound
When 16 mm film came out in the 1920s, the format was intended more for the amateur movie maker and educational market. You probably grew up watching 16 mm film in science class at school. As its name suggests, 16 mm is thinner than 35 mm but wider than 8 mm. And if you’re wondering whether any of your old 16 mm has audio, there’s a way to find out. If it has sprockets on both sides, then it’s silent. If the sprockets are only on one side with a reddish colored strip running along the reel’s edge, you’ve got a film with sound.
8 mm & Super 8 mm
If you find a super (no pun intended) thin roll of film in the mix, then there’s a good chance you’ve got 8 mm on your hands. While it’s easy to tell the difference between 8 mm and its 35 mm and 16 mm counterparts, it’s not as easy to discern between 8 mm and its successor, Super 8 mm – even though they came out 30+ years apart. So, here’s what to look for.
Sprocket holes – Standard 8 mm film has larger, squarer sprocket holes than those of Super 8 film. They’re also closer to the edge of each frame than the Super 8.
Spool size – If the hole of your 8 mm film stash is only around 8 mm versus 13 mm, then you’ve most likely got a standard 8 mm reel on your hands.
Frame size/picture quality – When Eastman Kodak introduced Super 8 film in the mid-60s, the film had a larger frame size than standard 8 mm to help give it a better picture quality.
Sound or no sound – It’s not as common for standard 8 film to have sound, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions. If your 8 mm film has a yellow or reddish colored strip along the edge next to the sprockets (similar to 16 mm film), then it likely has sound. If your film is Super 8, look for this same colored stripe along the reel’s edge to indicate if it has sound or not. Unlike standard 8 mm film, it was far more common for Super 8 to have accompanying audio.
Digitizing your film
While it’s important to understand what type of film you’ve discovered in your grandma’s attic, the most important thing you can do is what comes next. That old film has a shelf life and it’s deteriorating with every passing year. Whether it’s 8 mm or 16 mm film, it’s up to you to preserve those memories – we can help!