F. and S. Marriott 140 Newbegin, Hornsea, England, HU18 1PB

May 2010. Stephanie died peacefully on 19th April after a short stay in hospital. She had been suffering from acute cervical cancer. Fred will continue to run the business to the best of his ability. The web site is slowly getting under control again as he tries to take over some of Stephanie's responsibilities, and learns some of the mysteries of Dreamweaver.

Super-8 Cine Cameras

A Personal View by Fred Marriott

Introduction

Lens

Shutter

Drive

Filming Speeds

Exposure Metering

Viewing & Focusing

Other Features

Sound

Further Information

Introduction

This piece concentrates on Super-8 cine cameras, which are those most often purchased from us for film-making, rather than collecting. A discussion of film gauges - the advantages and disadvantages of each - can be found in Cine Gauges.

Lens

Most Super-8 cine cameras have non-interchangeable lenses, usually a zoom. The normal zoom range is from about 10 mm. to 25 mm. although a few cameras offer anything up to about 12 to 1 zooms.

If you are absolutely certain you need an interchangeable lens, then the only camera likely to suit you is a French-made Beaulieu. These cameras have a C-mount for lenses, but the Beaulieu cameras have other disadvantages, among which is their unique rechargeable battery system and the high cost of the equipment. For more about Beaulieu, see Pieces January 2000.

If you need a long zoom range, the Canon 1014 is one of several cameras with a 10 to 1 zoom, and the much less common Canon 1214 has a 12 to 1 zoom. For more about Canon super-8 cameras, see Pieces December 1999.

The shortest focal length you are likely to find is 6 - 7 mm., although some Eumig and Bolex models offer 4 mm. with an aspheric adapter.

Some cameras have a power zoom. This may be powered by an independent motor or by the camera drive motor. In the latter case, the power zoom will not operate unless the camera is running. In a few cases, the power zoom offers variable speeds.

Some lenses have macro facilities, others claim to be macro but offer a very limited close-up capability. If you need macro, check the camera's capabilities carefully. The Bolex 480 cameras, the Canon 1014 and the Eumig Viennette all offer good close-up performance (although not true 1:1 macro). Remember that light is always a problem, especially with a zoom lens, so depth of field can be very limited. An XL camera (see Shutter section for more about XL) eases these problems somewhat, but does not eliminate them. (Eumig 125XL)

Remember also that a macro zoom lens usually uses the zoom movement to effect focusing; thus, the camera loses the zoom facility when working with macro. A close-up lens, fitted to the front of the lens (like any other filter), may give just as good results and preserves the use of the zoom.

Note that on cameras which offer through the lens focusing, a zoom lens should be zoomed to the longest focal length for focusing and then reset to the required focal length for filming. Eumig made a number of cine cameras with "servofocusing" which selects the ideal focus depending on the zoom setting - in effect, they have fixed focus zoom lenses. These are much easier and quicker to use, but not as versatile. (Eumig Eumigette, Eumig Mini 3, Eumig Viennette)

Shutter

Some Super-8 cameras have the designation 'XL'. This means the camera has some low-light capability. We have used several of these cameras of different makes, and in general we have found their performance in low light to be good, but when used in bright light the performance may be less good.

Drive

Most Super-8 cameras have electric drive and therefore require batteries. Some cameras were designed to use mercury batteries for exposure metering/setting, and it is worth checking this before purchasing a camera, as not all sizes are available now.

The only clockwork Super-8 camera which I know of is the Russian Quarz cine camera. These are still available new, but secondhand examples are not easy to find.

Filming Speeds

By the time Super-8 came out (1965), the silent filming speed had been pretty well established as 18 f.p.s. Some cameras also have 24 f.p.s., which is the speed to use for sound films. A few cameras also offer 25 f.p.s. to accommodate the TV speed (50 f.p.s.).

A good slow motion speed is about 48 or 54 f.p.s. - you are unlikely to find anything which offers a higher speed than 54 f.p.s.

For animation the camera should have single frame. Some cameras offer single frame only if a cable release is used, while others have a control on the camera. A cable release socket can make some types of trick photography more difficult e.g. when the camera is hand-held in the street, but generally there is not much to choose between the two approaches.

Never run a cine camera at speeds of more than 24 f.p.s. unless there is a film in the camera. Some cameras have a 'slow motion' button; to use this it is necessary to start filming and then press the button.

If your style of filming includes a lot of panning shots you may find 24 f.p.s. useful as this slows the speed of the pan down slightly.

A few Super-8 cine cameras offer filming speeds slower than 18 f.p.s. Filming at a slow speed will speed up the action on the screen and allow exposure in poor light.

Exposure Metering

Most Super-8 cameras have automatic exposure control; many also have a manual override. We have used cameras with automatic metering and manual override and found that in general the metering system does better than we do at getting the correct exposure. A CdS meter requires batteries, and in older cameras mercury batteries were specified. These batteries are officially no longer available in many countries, but a suitable alternative can usually be found. A bit of "bodging" may be necessary. It is amazing what can be achieved with a ball of silver paper off a "Kit-Kat". Check that a suitable battery is still available. Some cameras have one set of batteries to power both the meter and the drive. Sometimes the release has to be partially depressed to switch on the meter, which can be tricky.

Viewing/Focusing

Reflex viewing is useful, but check that camera also has reflex focusing if this is important to you. Some cameras, especially the compact cameras like the Canon 310XL, have reflex viewing using an aerial image which is good for framing the shot but which does not indicate whether or not the picture is in focus. In these cases, focusing is by guesswork or measurement with a tape measure (if this is practical). Similarly, not all cameras have a rangefinder. A split-image rangefinder is the most common focusing aid but it is not the only solution. Some Paillard Bolex cameras - the 155 Macro, 160 Macro and 7.5 Macrozoom, for example - have superb focusing utilising a full frame co-incident image rangefinder.

Other features

The Super-8 cartridge design prevents backwind but camera designers have found ways to overcome this problem, not always reliably. Using any sort of backwind increases the chance of a cartridge jamming. Therefore, while there are several cameras which offer fade, there are fewer which combine this with backwind to make lap-dissolves possible. Cameras which offer this sort of feature tend to be heavy and expensive e.g. the Canon 1014.

The Braun Nizo cameras are the best known cameras to offer a built-in intervalometer, making it possible to take time-lapse pictures over a period of time without manual intervention. These cameras are very popular, we think principally for their elegant appearance (and a Braun Nizo did appear in Star Trek!). They are sought after and tend to be expensive. Unless you really cannot live without the facilities they offer, you will get better value from another make.

Some cameras - notably the Beaulieu, Leicina Special and Canon 1014 - had an accessory intervalometer made for the camera. These are very rare; if you need the facilities of an intervalometer, do not rely on being able to get one for your camera quickly or easily.

A few cameras had underwater housings made. They are not easy to find now. The Eumig Nautica is an underwater camera which is sometimes seen these days. Check the rubber seals carefully and test the camera for leaks before you put film through it. It should be supplied with an aspheric lens and a large orange sports-style viewfinder.

Sound

Sound film is no longer available for Super-8 cameras. Single-system sound (where the camera records both picture and sound) was never wholly satisfactory, and definitely not as easy to use (if you wanted good results) as might have appeared to be from the advertising. (Bauer S209XL)

Sound cameras therefore represent a good buy for anyone wishing to use them as silent cameras as they are often cheaper than their silent equivalents. Check that the camera will work with silent cartridges; some sound cameras (especially the cheaper cameras ) run too fast with silent cassettes. These cameras cannot be used any more.

A flash socket is primarily used to provide flash illumination for single frame shots by synchronising the cine camera shutter with a flash gun. However, it can also be used to provide a pulse for a synchronised sound system. Few camera manufacturers made these - they were mainly provided by third parties. Due to the complexities of equipment and techniques, they are of little value to the average user, being more suited to the expert production team.

Further Information available in our pages

Cine Gauges

Beaulieu Super-8 cine cameras

Braun Nizo Super-8 Silent Cine Cameras

Canon Super-8 silent cine cameras

 

Also check our Instruction Books section and Advertising section.

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