The 8mm and super 8 sound films are less than 10% of the total film shot. This happens because of technical reasons.

At the dawn of home movies many years ago (8 mm films were invented in 1932), the technology allowed the sound to be recorded only by devices separate from the cameras. Consequently, the shooting and the post-production process needed to synchronize audio and video became difficult, even considering that first 8mm films and then, from the 1960s, super 8 films, were used almost exclusively by amateurs.

In the 1970s, the first cameras capable of recording sound were launched. They did it on a magnetic soundtrack. Optical soundtracks have also been used on super 8 films, but not on home movie recordings. They were adopted by the home video market: professional films that after being released in theatres, years before VHS and DVDs, were distributed for home screenings on super 8.

But let's go step by step.

How to recognize the soundtrack of 8 mm and super 8 films

The super 8 sound films are easily recognizable because they usually have two, and sometimes one, gold-colored stripes on the edges, as it is easy to see in the image below, which portrays one of the films that was processed through the Filmfabriek scanner (find out more about this device) of my laboratory:

8mm films with audio are even more rare to find. In these, the magnetic audio track is not on the edge, but in the very small space between the hole and the frame.

Unfortunately, those few films that had the audio track seldom contained the ambient sound of the shooting, but songs were inserted during the editing to make playback more enjoyable as projectors were very noisy.

The percentages I quote are not a scientific statistic, but they are based on the thousands of digitizations and restorations that I have done.

My conclusion is that only less than 1% of the total of amateur films recorded on film have live sound.

So, if you have an 8mm or super 8 film, you will be delighted to watch many people important to you, but you will not hear their voices.

The good news is that you may be amazed by the incredible image quality that modern technology allows, at least if you rely on a professional laboratory to digitize them such as I show in the video below:

Audio in 8 mm and super 8 films: how it works

8 mm and super 8 films were widely used from the 1930s to the early 1980s. Today there are still some directors who use them, more for artistic expression than for technical reasons.

As I explained, in the vast majority of cases, the films are silent, so physically they do not have a gold-colored stripe that involves the presence of a magnetic soundtrack. Additionally, the cameras hardly ever had a microphone and everything needed to record sound.

In fact, there were major technological limitations to prevent it. Last but not least, the sound head was positioned in a physically different point from the shutter from which the light that hit the film passed, so the images and their audio were separated by:

  • 56 frames in 8mm films
  • 18 frames (about 3 feet) in super 8 films

This required building cameras of considerable size to be prepared for audio recordings.

As you can see, once it was very difficult as well as expensive to record sound.

What happened after super 8: the sound on VHS and video 8 tapes

In the 1980s, a new technology for home movies arrived: VHS and video8 tapes. These were much easier to play, and they always had sound recording. The contraindication was that the image quality was far poorer, and over time it decayed much more (:

pros and cons of 20th century technologies

Let me say it: technology is one of those rare things from that period that we don't miss that much today.

Why it is not possible to have good audio quality in home movies recorded on film

Amateur film shootings with audio are few, both because cameras with built-in microphone or with input for an external microphone are rare and because films were seldom prepared for sound recording. If you have time, in this forum a few super 8 enthusiasts explain all the limitations of audio recording on film.

For technical reasons, due to the thin physical size of the magnetic strip positioned on the side of the perforation, the final audio is unbalanced, with the right channel weaker. But if you want and you have a good digitization, it is not difficult with software like Audacity to solve that problem.

The audio cassette effect

Other things, however, current technology fails to correct. In terms of quality, since the audio strip in super 8 films is very thin and the magnetic track used to record it is not excellent, the sound is poor. The effect is very similar to what you would hear today playing an old audio cassette. Unfortunately, there are no digital filters that can significantly improve that problem.

I'm sorry that I don't have examples for you to listen to. In addition to the low number of sound films out of the total number of films produced, which makes it difficult for me to find and acquire the publishing rights, the privacy law doesn’t help.

Live sound on home movies is always related to very private moments, such as family reunions or ceremonies, and therefore to broadcast them, I would need not only the copyright of the film, but also a signed release by those who are on video. This is almost impossible after 50 and more years.

Daniele Carrer

THE LAB IS BASED IN ITALY AND OFFERS FREE RETURN DELIVERY IN ALL THE EUROPEAN UNION

The price to digitize and restore your 8 mm, super 8 and 16 mm films in my laboratory is always 4 euros per minute of footage, regardless of the format or the fact that they are mute or sound.

If you want me to work on your home movies, please contact me with this form:

    I always respond to messages by the next working day. If you don't hear from me after contacting me, my email probably went to your spam folder. You can also reach me on Skype (live:dcarre77) or Telegram (@DnlCrr).