Super 8 Camera Brought Back To Life

The Super 8 camera, while a groundbreaking video recorder in its time, is borderline unusable now. Even if you can get film for it (and afford its often enormous price), it still only records on 8mm film which isn’t exactly the best quality of film around, not to mention that a good percentage of these cameras couldn’t even record audio. They were largely made obsolete by camcorders in the late ’80s and early ’90s, although some are still used for niche artistic purposes. If you’d rather not foot the bill for the film, though, you can still put one of these to work with the help of a Raspberry Pi.

[befinitiv] has a knack for repurposing antique analog equipment like this while preserving its aesthetic. While the bulk of the space inside of this camera would normally be used for housing film, this makes a perfect spot to place a Raspberry Pi Zero, a rechargeable battery, and a power converter circuit all in a 3D printed enclosure that snaps into the camera just as a film roll would have. It uses the Pi camera module but still makes use of the camera’s built in optics which include a zoom function. [befinitiv] also incorporated the original record button so that from the outside this looks like a completely unmodified Super 8 camera.

The camera can connect to a WiFi network and can stream live video to a computer, or it can record video files to an internal SD card. As a bonus, thanks to the power converter circuit, it is also capable of charging a cell phone. [befinitiv] notes that many of the aesthetic properties of 8 mm film seem to be preserved when using this method, and he has several theories as to why but no definitive answer. If you’d like to take a look at some of his other projects like this, check out this analog camera that is now able to take digital pictures.

32 thoughts on “Super 8 Camera Brought Back To Life

  1. >The Super 8 camera, while a groundbreaking video recorder in its time<
    The Super 8 was a movie camers, not a video recorder. It had absolutely no video capability, though in 1973 sound recording capability was added with a magnetic strip on the film.

    1. video, noun: the recording, reproducing, or broadcasting of moving visual images.

      Yes there is a definition which refers to “videotape” as well, but using “video” to describe moving images isn’t limited to just digital or magnetic medias.

        1. Wikipedia isn’t always corwerct, you know.

          Video is latin for “I see”, a word that predates both magnetic and film media by some 2000 years.

          So you might say: “Video te bene”

      1. Media is already plural. It is also true that poisoning the meanings of words isn’t new. Video was used exclusively in regards to the creation of television, but that was so long ago it can be ignored. The present definition refers to the present state of the art – which entirely excludes consumer use of motion picture film cameras. Retconning that definition is unhelpful. That camera was sold as a movie camera, not a video camera, which were also available and did not use film.

      1. It was magnetic stripe. That’s why special film cartridges were needed – optical could have used the existing cartridges, but was too expensive to implement. Also, mag-stripe meant that narration could be added after the film was processed, which was a big selling point. Most sound projectors had the ability to record.

  2. “[befinitiv] notes that many of the aesthetic properties of 8 mm film seem to be preserved when using this method, and he has several theories as to why but no definitive answer.”

    It’s my understanding that the *optics* of a camera have a lot to do with the subtle “feel” of the footage they capture. Perhaps the aesthetic properties that were associated with 8mm camera footage had more to do with the lenses than with the film?

    1. It’s partially the optical assembly in this case, but what he seems to have missed is the shutter is what’s lowering the exposure as well as setting the apparent frame rate. Whatever frame rate the Pi is recording seems to be at least fractionally synced to the physical shutter, happily.
      The quality of the footage is very reminiscent of my early family films. I find it very nostalgic.

    1. Jon-

      Yes, very attractive piece there. It’s more of an antique than the camera used in this hack. Also, a fair bit different format. The Connecticut camera is 16mm and produced in 1929. Super8 came along later and the format was born from cutting the 16mm film stock in half down the middle. This made for a more accessible medium as the film stock was cheaper for consumers. The optics on the 1929 16mm camera might be better for this project, but it seems like the author’s goal was more of matching the super 8 aesthetic rather than getting clean images.

  3. Agreed. The optics are a huge part of the feel. The three things that broke the classic feel for me were the auto white balance, fast shutter speed, and what I can only describe as sensor washout (occurs at 5 min in, might just be light bleed or overcast lens flare).

  4. > it still only records on 8mm film which isn’t exactly the best quality of film around

    I think it should be mentioned that the image quality of more modern consumer technology was still only recently surpassing the possible image quality of Super 8 film. I have started to digitise some old Super 8 films made by my father (mostly German steam trains in the early 70s), and I have noticed that downsampling the images to 720p reduces detail. So Super 8 definitively is capable of Full HD resolution. Hence even the SD digital video recorders which were still common like 15 years ago had a worse quality.

      1. Its a sampling rate issue. If you were to capture a 1080p monitor with a 1080p camera, you would run into many issues. To get a clear image you would need a higher resolution camera to capture the pixel geometry.

        Same with scanning low resolving power film, the gaps between the silver halide crystals need to be captured to have an accurate scan of the image.

        1. The distance between the rear of the lens and the film plane on a Super-8 camera is very small. Like, less than 10mm. The amount the llens can move as it is focused is around 3mm. So how is this supposed to work with a prism in the path, that puts the sensor at least 10mm behind the lens’s focal plane?

          This looks like a number of Element 14 projects I’ve seen: the point isn’t to make something that works, but to make something that looks like you made it yourself, whether it works or not.

          Just to be clear here, though: what we’re talking about is Clem’s project, from the link in Per Jensen’s post, not the project in the main article. The one in this article actually puts the sensor where it needs to be.

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