Last January, Kodak released a new Super8 film camera at the Consumer Electronics Show 2017, Kodak’s first consumer film camera since the 1980s that shoots on Kodak’s Super8 cartridges. While there’s already an analog renaissance today with the comeback of Polaroid and vinyl records, this new camera fits today’s world of minimalist product design, elegance and ease of use that we find everywhere from iPods to Tesla cars.
The camera brings back affordable film to young audiences, and it’s already getting many filmmakers interested. Leo Solorsano, a Centennial student in the Broadcasting program, and I chatted about his views on shooting on film. Leo shared, “What I find that makes shooting on film special is the texture that comes with film, and I’m not talking physically, I mean in the sense that you get a certain aesthetic from a film photo or movie, that you can’t get from digital. I would love to continue shooting on film after graduating. I already have done some filming with a Bolex 16mm using B&W film and I’m currently directing a short movie with an Arri SR3 super 16mm cinematic camera. I think the new Kodak super8 camera is a great idea. It’s a great way to bring back film to the everyday consumer because it’s simple and easy to use.”
Along with the new camera, Kodak has also released a new ecosystem where the price of a new film cartridge also includes scanning and delivery of the film. It’s a groundbreaking system where consumers can shoot on an old and time-tested technology, while still enjoying the convenience of receiving the developed film to use with film projectors and a 4k digital scan through a cloud-based system. Leo commented, “I think the idea of mailing the film to Kodak and them sending it back to you processed and in 4K is one of the best selling points of this camera and will help consumers not feel afraid of diving into the world of film.”
Each Super8 cartridge comes with 50 feet of 8mm film, which translates into 2.5 minutes at 24 frames per second. While limiting for people used to hours of recording time on a digital camera, it pushes the filmmaker to be precise. Leo reflected, “Shooting on film trains you to be more precise and prepared with what you are shooting, with digital that’s something you sometimes forget, and that’s something I don’t want to lose so I will definitely continue shooting on film in my professional career.”
The past 10+ years have been tough for film. In his article, The Sudden Death of Film, the late critic Roger Ebert wrote, “Some manufacturers of digital projectors required that existing film projectors must be removed from projection booths before their equipment could be installed. Why? No doubt there was some concocted technical excuse for their underlying reason, to slash and burn the competition.”
On top of a rush to get rid of film technology, there has been a lot of misinformation about the cost and quality of film. In an interview with the American Society of Cinematographers, director and cinematographer Wally Pfister said, “Film is higher resolution. To capture all the resolution of an anamorphic 35mm image, you need a scan somewhere between 8K and 12K. So while everyone brags about 4K cameras and scans, we’re shooting on, effectively, a 10K camera. Why replace that with an inferior technology?” There are no 10K digital video cameras available at the time of writing this piece.
What many people don’t factor in when choosing to shoot in the highest digital quality available to them is the cost. These days computers, cameras and hard drives require the latest operating system, connection ports, and firmware updates. It is not unusual that users find themselves with relatively recent devices that aren’t compatible with the latest computer. Buying the latest technology can simply get expensive very quickly because it feeds into a consumerist cycle, costing beginner filmmakers more than shooting on film.
Furthermore, camera manufacturers suffer from the problem technology companies have in general: releasing new products as soon as technology develops, with some releasing multiple cameras every year (making long-term investments nearly impossible), and premature releases of products before they’re perfect for consumer use. In the year of exploding phones and an autonomous car killing its driver, a major camera company released a camera last February that overheated when used for more than 20 minutes, which was doubly upsetting for early adopters when a much improved replacement model was released six months later.
In this current climate, Kodak’s unique approach could result in a more significant revival of film cinematography than most people think. More and more films and TV shows (including shows intended for Netflix) are shot on film. Film is still here, and the Super8 initiative is making sure the young generation gets a chance to experiment with it. Like myself, Leo is hopeful that the new Kodak Super8 cameras will become a hit and that they will be used for more than just homemade videos.