nano lab

How to use your super 8 camera

Load the film carefully!

This may seem obvious but it is worth taking some care here.  Firstly, if you have stored your film in the fridge make sure it is up to room temperature before opening the foil pouch.  If you are changing the film outdoors, especially at the beach, be very careful not to let any sand or moisture get into the camera.  Also try to get in the habit of cleaning the gate whenever you change the film.
The film is in a fully light-proof square plastic cartridge.  In the middle of the back side of the cartridge the film 'core' can be seen.  The camera needs to engage properly with this core in order for the film to be wound up inside the cartridge as you shoot it.  As such, there is a part of the camera that needs to exactly line up with this core.  I call this thing 'the core turning device' for want of a better term.

Some cameras have the film door open at the side of the camera.  With side door cameras, there is less risk of problems with loading.  All you need to do is dive the film end of the cartridge 'head first' into the film compartment such that the film will press up against the 'gate' of the camera (the 'gate' is the little rectangular opening that will let light onto the film when the motor is running).  With the cartridge angled such that the film end is lined up with the gate, just press down on the rear end of the cartridge to kind of 'snap' it into the film compartment.  Done.  (Hover over the little video to see it larger, or turn your phone to horizontal).

A little more care is needed with rear door cameras.  With these, the little 'teeth' on the core turning device need to be on springs such that they can move out of the way as you slide the film into the film compartment.  Then they need to spring back such that they engage with the cartridge core.  If you haven't pushed the cartridge completely all the way into the chamber, it is possible that the teeth won't spring into the cartridge core.  So, when loading a rear door camera, make sure to really 'pop' the film into the the camera.  Kind of slam it in, so that it is in absolutely all the way.  One extra tip I recommend for rear door cameras, especially for the Canon 518 SV, is to then slide a thin piece of cardboard (like a business card or part of the box the film came in) down the right hand side of the film compartment between the cartridge and the wall of the camera.  This will help push the cartridge ever so slightly harder onto the core turning device (which is on the left hand side of the film compartment).  If you think about it, if the cartridge is loose in a rear door camera, then the teeth of the core turning device might not turn the core, which is a disaster.  (Hover over the little video to see it larger, or turn your phone to horizontal).

Check out the camera's light meter

With batteries in, first off, check that the motor works.  Simple enough.  Next, you want to check whether the light meter is responding to light.  With some cameras there will be an indicator of some sort in the viewfinder with a number scale.  This scale is the so-called 'f-stops' or 'aperture stops' of the lens.  What you want to see is that if you point the camera at different subjects with different lighting, the number indicated changes.  Usually, you will need to partly or fully depress the camera trigger to see the light meter respond (ie., pressing the trigger is needed to turn the light meter 'on').  Note that some cameras like 'Sankyo' models can have this number scale on the outside of the camera rather than in the viewfinder.  If there is no aperture scale in the viewfinder or elsewhere, there will usually at least be a 'red flag' that becomes visible in the viewfinder when you are in low light.  With these, check that the flag is coming and going depending on whether you are pointing the camera at a bright or a dark subject.

So what to check if you can't see signs of life from the light meter?  Well, the camera could have an 'auto/manual' switch of some sort.  If the camera is in the 'manual' mode, the light meter is turned off.  Watch that, as it is a trap!  With Bauer cameras, the 'auto/manual' control is under a little flap at the top. With most other cameras it is quite visible on the outside.  Make sure you are on auto unless you particularly mean to be on manual.

Otherwise, the camera could be the type that requires a special battery for the light meter in addition to the AA batteries used for the motor.  Usually these will be little 'button cell' batteries (typically PX625).  So look for a little circular battery cover.  If you have batteries and still can't see signs of life, you need to check that the battery terminals of the button cell battery compartment are clean.  You can buff them up with a sharp knife or sandpaper or whatever you can get in there.

Check if there is a film transport indicator

All cameras have a footage counter.  This is a simple scale on the outside of the camera that moves from 0 to 50, counting how many feet of film you have shot.  Note that this scale is capable of lying to you!  It will reset whenever you open and close the film compartment door.  It is simply connected to the camera motor, so it will continue to advance whenever the motor is running, regardless of whether the film is actually transporting or is jammed or just not being wound up.  A 'film transport indicator' is a bit more trustworthy.  It is connected to the core turning device of the camera.  It will only indicate when the core turning device is actually rotating.  With some Canon models, this is a simple white dot or zebra pattern on the outside of the camera directly in line with where the core turning device is.  But with many cameras, the film transport indicator is inside the viewfinder.  It can be a little circular window that 'blinks' by being covered and revealed about once a second or so.  Or else there can be a little needle that goes up and down at about the same rate.  Or in some cameras there can even be an LED that blinks when the film is transporting.  See our film transport page for more information and a video on film transport indicators.  Then explore your camera to see whether it has one.  And then keep an eye on it as you film.

The best film transport indicator however is always your ears.  If the film is actually moving in the camera, you can usually hear it.  It sounds a bit like a cat purring.  You can hear this sound underneath the sound of the motor.  It is subtle, but it is usually always there.  The video on our film transport page has audio of the sound to listen for.

Check if your camera has a variable shutter

Back in the day before editing movies on a computer, the only way to do something like a fade or a dissolve in super 8 was to do it 'in camera'.  Thus, some fancy models of cameras had things like variable shutters or other ways of dimming the incoming light so that you could do these effects.  These days, you can do all this in your editing.  BUT it is essential that you know whether your camera has such a device because if it is accidentally engaged, you might end up with nothing but blank film.  What you should look for is anything that says 'open/closed' or 'fade' or the like.  Often it will be a knob that has to be pulled out and rotated.  But can be simpler than that.  Explore closely.  Some cameras will indicate a variable shutter's position in the viewfinder.  So if there is anything in the viewfinder that you can't explain, experiment and find out what it is.

Check for an exposure compensation control

With colour negative film, exact exposure is a bit less important.  Back in the reversal film days, however, exact exposure was critical for good results.  As such, some cameras had a way to 'bias' the light meter up or down a little bit to compensate for any drift over time.  This control is usually in the form of a dial with a simple '+' and '-' scale with a '0' in the middle.  It wants to be in the '0' or middle position.

Check whether your camera has a 'macro' lens setting

This can be another trap.  Some cameras will allow you to film very close by switching the lens into a 'macro' mode.  Often this is done by pulling the zoom lever outwards such that it becomes possible to rotate the zoom on the lens further than normal.  Or else it can be a little switch that allows the focus ring of the camera to move beyond its normal closest position.  If your camera has one of these settings you need to know, because most of the time, you don't want to be shooting in macro!  It is a classic to see entire rolls completely out of focus because the shooter didn't know about the camera's macro setting.

Understand the camera's internal colour correction filter

Yes, ALL super 8 cameras (with the exception of ones that have been modified) have an orange filter inside them.  This is a colour correction filter that will 'warm up' daylight to be more like tungsten coloured light.  This is because back when these cameras were made, the only type of colour films being sold were colour balanced for 'tungsten' (ie., 'warm white') coloured light.  To film with such film outside, you needed to use the camera's internal filter.  So usually this filter is automatically in place.  Now these days, the most common film stock people use is balanced for daylight (ie. 'cool white') coloured light.  This is the 50d film stock – the 'd' standing for 'daylight'.  Daylight film precisely does NOT want the orange filter in place for filming under daylight conditions.  What to do? Well, MOST super 8 cameras will automatically detect that you have inserted a 'daylight' type cartridge and automatically remove the orange filter.  They do this via a pin inside the film compartment.  Daylight film cartridges will push this pin in and de-activate the filter.  Tungsten film cartridges on the other hand have a notch cut in them such that this pin is not pushed in so the orange filter remains in place.  So far so good.  However some (very few, but some) super 8 cameras don't have this filter pin inside the film compartment.  With these cameras, you will need some other method for de-activating the orange filter.  And then there are of course times when you are shooting with tungsten type film (like the 200T or 500T) under tungsten (warm) lighting or even just in low light where you similarly don't want the orange filter in place.  In this case you also need to know how to de-acivate the camera's internal orange filter.  There are three common methods – all cameras will have at least one of these.  Most straightforwardly, some cameras have a simple switch on the outside with a picture of the sun and a picture of a light bulb.  Remembering that the cameras were designed with the idea of using tungsten type colour films outdoors as the normal mode of operation, the switch can be interpreted as follows: 'sun' means orange filter is in place, and 'bulb' means the orange filter is removed.  Another method some cameras use is a 'filter screw'.  This is a screw hole somewhere near the top of the camera.  The screw thread happens to be exactly the same size as the standard tripod screw size.  To 'de-activate' the filter, you need to screw something into that thread.  You can buy that sized bolt at a hardware store.  The third method is a 'filter key'.  This is a slot, again usually at the top of the camera, into which you need to insert a flat 'key' that came with the camera.  Inserting the key will 'de-activate' the filter.  If you don't have this key (and most of them are long lost) you can make one from a piece of old CD plastic.

If all of this sounds too confusing, remember this: if using the standard 50d daylight film, most cameras will take care of all this automatically so you probably don't have to do anything.

Get more information on your camera model

Look up details about your camera model in the Super 8 database - click on the picture of a weird looking camera in the top row to get to a list of manufacturers, then click on the name of your camera to get to a list of models.  There are hundreds!

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