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What Type of Film Do I Have?

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By Christian Roemer

If you’ve been in the business of recording home videos for a while, there’s a pretty decent chance you have a box in one of your closets filled with film. Maybe you acquired some heirlooms from family members, and one of them is a chest full of old home movies.

Either it’s been too long to remember or you never knew in the first place--what kind of film is in the box?
Over the years, companies have released all sorts of film sizes and types. The bad news is you probably don’t have any way to watch the film. Who even owns a projector anymore? And what kind of projector would you even need?

 

The good news is that it’s pretty easy to tell what size film something is.


If I was a better artist, I would draw up a nifty flowchart to help you. Since I’m a writer, I’ll just have to explain it to you with the written word instead. Here’s three steps to see what kind of film you have.


Step 1: Cassette or Loose Film?

The first step to figuring out what kind of film you have is to see if it’s loose film or if the film is in a cassette. For a long time, the only kind of film you could get was just long strands of celluloid. Later, companies put the film into non-removable cases to protect it. Does your film have something on it? Check and find out! If it’s just film, go to step 2, if the film is inside of a cassette, go to step 3.


Step 2: Measure the width

Film producers were super creative in finding new ways to record videos, but they spent all their creative juices on the invention. The names were about as uncreative as it gets. But that’s where you win, dear reader!


Most loose film formats are named by the width of the film. Get out a tape measure and make sure that it has metric on one of the sides. If you have loose film, it’s probably one of these three sizes:


  • 8mm - 8 millimeter film is the skinniest of the film formats. This film format is pretty old, but it still exists here and there. As a shortcut, if the film only has perforations (little holes) on one side, it’s probably 8mm.

  • 16mm - 16 millimeter film is double the width of 8mm. I’ll accept my Nobel prize in math later. 16mm film was generally more widely used than 8mm, because the picture size was a bit clearer. Another difference between 8mm and 16mm film is that 16mm film has two sides of perforations.

  • 35mm - 35mm film was mostly used in professional video recording. It’s unlikely, but not impossible, that your films are 35mm. Again, you’ll just measure the width of the film to figure it out. Pro-tip: A quarter should be about the same width as 35mm film.

Step 3: Cassette Size

If your film is encased in a protective box of plastic, congratulations! You have a cassette tape! Over the years, cassettes have come in various sizes. They’re always rectangular though, so that’s nice! Here’s what your cassettes could be:


  • Super 8 - Super8 is the oldest of these formats. Super8 looks like a little box with rounded edges on one side. The film is 8mm wide, so it’s also the thinnest film of these cassette formats.

  • VHS - Everyone knows what a VHS is, so we won’t spend too much time on this one. One tricky thing is that there’s a format called Compact VHS, which was the Russian Nesting Doll of recording formats. It’s a little cassette that would go inside of a larger cassette and play back in a VCR.

  • Betamax - Betamax is about half the size of VHS. Instead of two reels like VHS has, it only has one. That’s the biggest sign that you’re looking at a Betamax cassette.

  • Hi8 / Digital 8 / Video 8 - All three of these formats have the same sized cassettes and film. The difference is the way that the film is recorded. Just looking at the cassette won’t help you too much, though the label might say what it is.

  • MiniDV - These are the smallest cassettes of the bunch. MiniDV are also unquestionably the cutest cassettes. They’re about a quarter the size of a VHS tape. They have super small film, and they actually encoded video digitally when filming. Cool!

All you need in order to figure out what kind of film format you have is to measure it. Technically there are other film formats out there, but it’s unlikely you’d ever own them. For example, IMAX film is a totally different size (75mm wide!!) than all of the other formats we talked about earlier, but unless your grandpa is James Cameron, you probably won’t ever see it.


Something to keep in mind is that Legacybox can digitize all of these formats and more! We don’t turn away any film sizes (We believe film of all sizes is beautiful)! If you have questions, we can even help you figure out what kind of film you have too.


Whether you’re rocking Super8 or 35mm, we’d love to convert your old home movies to digital for you!

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