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Understanding the Different Types of Film

by Heartland Box April 06, 2021

Understanding the Different Types of Film

The primary difference in movie films comes down to the size of the film, camera, and projector, as well as picture quality, resolution, and affordability. 

Movie films were also introduced at various times, starting with 35mm, followed by 16mm, standard 8mm, and Super 8mm. The larger formats 16mm and 35mm are more expensive to shoot and project than the smaller format films standard 8mm and Super 8.

H2 Early 35mm Moviemaking 

Movie film dates back to 1888 to 1889 when Thomas Edison and his protégé and assistant William Dickson used 120 film stock supplied by George Eastman to create the first 35mm cine or movie film. Early 35mm wide film featured four perforations per frame. 35mm film became the international standard movie film type in 1909 and remained the most dominant film for professional movie making for decades.

Kinetograph: The world’s first movie camera developed by Edison and Dickson was powered by electricity and adapted from parts of a clock. This machine enabled intermittent but regular motion of the celluloid film strip through the camera. 

Kinetoscope: This basic movie projector also invented by Edison and Dickson introduced the basic approach that would become the standard for all movie projection. The illusion of movement was achieved by threading a 47-foot strip of perforated film with sequential images over a light source with a high-speed shutter. By 1894, these simple movies were shown in penny arcades, hotel lobbies, amusement parks, and the first Kinetoscope parlor located in a converted storefront in New York City. 

16mm vs. 35mm 

Kodak introduced the first commercially successful amateur movie camera in America in 1923. The Cine-Kodak used 16mm that was made of non-combustible acetate plastic rather than the dangerously flammable cellulose nitrate used in 35mm film. At more than twice the width of 16mm film, 35mm film offered a larger picture and better resolution, but 16mm was a more affordable option for amateur and professional movie enthusiasts alike.

A Short History: 8mm vs. Super 8 

The Cine Kodak Eight movie camera was introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1932. As the name implies, this camera used standard 8mm film. This film was similar to a 16mm film reel with two main differences. Standard 8mm film had twice as many perforations on its edges than 16mm film. The 8mm film was passed through the camera twice. On the first pass, it was exposed on half its width, while on the second, the film was flipped and exposed on the other side. During processing, the 16mm film was cut in half to create two lengths of 8mm film. 

Eastman Kodak launched Super 8mm film in 1965 at the 1964–66 New York World’s Fair. The big difference between 8mm and Super 8 film is that the latter offered a larger exposure area and a quick cartridge load that made it easier to shoot home movies. In 1973, when Kodak upgraded Super 8 to a larger spool, sound was able to be recorded. 

Super 8 and Standard 8mm Reel Differences 

If you found a treasure trove of home movies, they’re most likely Super 8 or standard 8mm. If you’re wondering which type you have and if they’re silent or have sound, look for these distinguishing features. 

  • Super 8 film has a larger central hole on reels than standard 8mm
  • Sprocket holes on Super 8 are smaller to enable a larger frame size
  • Film with sound has a brown magnetic stripe running down the length of the film on one or both sides 

How to View 8mm Film Without Projector 

It is possible to view 8mm or Super 8 movies without a film projector with fairly inexpensive equipment. 

Vintage film editor: These look like mini-projectors with two arms that hold the reels. Typically, you hand-crank the film through the machine while a light behind it illuminates it on a small screen. 

High-powered magnifier: You can use a loupe or a larger magnifying glass to look at the first few frames of footage to see if it’s recognizable or worth digitizing. Do so by carefully pulling out the film beyond the leader (the white starter tape). 

Professional film digitizing: The easiest and best way to watch old 8mm and Super 8 movie reels is to send them to Heartland Box. We clean, view, scan, and edit your movie reels by hand. Our HD scans capture details, and we perform scene-by-scene color correction to provide you with the most enjoyable movie experience!

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