The duration of 8mm and super 8 films depends on:

  1. The format (whether it's 8mm or super 8)
  2. The length of the film
  3. The number of frames per second

As almost all 8mm films have 16 frames per second, while super 8 films have 18 frames per second, to understand their duration, you only need to consider:

  1. The diameter of the reel
  2. The format

These are straightforward elements that I'll explain below.

A professional telecine service available to everyone

My name is Daniele Carrer.

With my lab, I've restored thousands of 8mm, super 8, 9.5mm, and 16mm films. Many belong to my personal archive, acquired from around the world to preserve the history they portray. I make them available to everyone on one of my YouTube channels and provide footage to dozens of documentaries broadcasted by OTTs such as:

  • Netflix
  • Prime Video
  • Apple TV

As evidenced by the end credits of those same productions:

Where my name, or the name of my archive, FootageForPro, appears.

For some years now, I've made available the same technology that allowed me to provide those productions to those who want to preserve their family memories with the best quality available on the market today.

Brief history of amateur filmmaking

The first amateur format used was introduced in the 1920s and was utilized for approximately twenty years: 9.5mm.

However, this format never gained much popularity, except in some countries like France and England, making it difficult today to find 9.5mm reels depicting family memories.

Nonetheless, my laboratory is capable of digitizing and restoring 9.5mm reels using the same equipment and process used for other formats.

16mm was a professional format, occasionally used for home movies as well. It was introduced in the 1920s and abandoned only after the digital revolution of the 2000s. However, due to the high costs of film, it was used very sparingly, making it highly unlikely that your home movies were shot in 16mm.

The typical amateur formats are:

  • 8mm films, introduced in 1932 and used until the early 1970s
  • Super 8 films, launched in 1965 and used until the arrival of VHS tapes and Video8 in the 1980s.

As shown in the photo above, there are slight differences between the various reels. The most visible is the diameter and the shape of the central hole.

However, it's worth noting that:

while 8mm and super 8 films originally used different reels, these reels were compatible with the other format, so it's common to find 8mm films wound on super 8 reels and vice versa.

The duration of 8mm and super 8 films

The first element that determines the duration of your reels is the format. The most common are:

  • Super 8
  • Standard 8mm

As mentioned, they were used in different periods; however, since there were times when filmmakers could record on both, the most accurate way to determine which one you have is not to know when the footage was shot, unless you are sure it was before 1965, but to look at the film itself.

The main visual element that differentiates 8mm and super 8 films is the perforation:

Throughout the entire film, along the edge, there are holes where the gears of the projector were engaged. These holes are larger in the case of 8mm film. Consequently, super 8 film, having a larger frame size due to the space left by the smaller hole, has superior definition and therefore a more beautiful image.

Below is an example of a super 8 film restored by my lab. It was shot in 1972 in Dresden, East Germany. Like all the home movies on this site, I can publish it because I have a signed release from the filmmaker or their heirs.

Various sizes of film reels

To determine the length of your film, you need to measure the diameter of the reel on which it is wound, ensuring to check if the film fills the entire support.

The diameter of the reels that used to fit into cameras was 7.5 cm or 3 inches, and they are still the most common to find. If you have one of these:

It's:

  • 3 minutes and 20 seconds for super 8
  • 4 to 5 minutes for standard 8mm.

However, 7.5 cm reels are not the only ones you might find. Many people used to join them together using a splicer to assemble larger reels to watch in the projector. The most common ones were:

  • 13 cm reels, which last 13 minutes for super 8 and 15 minutes for 8mm
  • 18 cm reels, 26 minutes for super 8 and 30 minutes for 8mm.

For less common reel sizes, please refer to this table:

Reel

film 8 mm (16 fps)

film super 8 (18 fps)

50 feet (15 meters) - diameter 7,5 cm

4'

3'20"

100 feet (30 meters) - diameter 10 cm

8'

6'40"

200 feet (60 meters) - diameter 13 cm

15'

13'

300 feet (90 meters) - diameter 15 cm

22'30"

19'30"

400 feet (120 meters) - diameter 18 cm

30'

26'

600 feet (180 meters) - diameter 20 cm

45'

39'

The number of frames per second

Another element to check is the number of frames per second at which the filmmaker shot.

This is a very technical aspect that you can only be aware of by playing the film. Fortunately, in 99% of cases:

8mm films were shot at 16 frames per second, while super 8 films were shot at 18 frames per second.

So the durations, with a given format and given length of film, are standard.

However, there were also films shot at 12 or 24 frames per second, which result in different durations of the footage, but it's the responsibility of the telecine operator to understand this.

The audio track on the films

Sound was usually not present on super 8 and 8mm films. Therefore, the vast majority of home movies were silent.

You can determine the presence of audio by looking for the golden-colored strip on the edge of the film itself:

Basing my observation on statistical data from the thousands of reels I've restored, when there was a sound track, almost always it consisted of music applied during editing. Only rarely was it ambient audio with sounds and voices because cameras did not have built-in microphones, and only in some rare cases did they have an auxiliary input to connect an external microphone.

If you want to delve into the technical aspects related to sound in 8mm and super 8 films, please read this page on the website.

Undeveloped films

Please take a look at the photo:

Cartridges like this one from Agfa, or also from Kodak or Fuji, were used for shooting.

Super 8, 8mm, 9.5mm, and 16mm films were inserted into cameras and, once shot, were sent to a lab for development, just like what happened to photographic film rolls. After development, the films were wound onto traditional round reels and could be viewed with a projector.

Only developed films can be digitized and restored.

The cartridge in the picture above is an undeveloped film. No one, by simply looking at it, can tell if the development was not carried out because:

  1. the film was never shot
  2. the film was shot but the owner forgot to develop it afterward

Statistically speaking, the first scenario is more likely, but the only way to be certain is to send the cartridge to one of the very few labs that still develop 8mm and super 8 films. Unfortunately, my studio is not among them.

From films to tapes: Video8, Hi8, VHS-C, and Mini-DV

The technological successors to 8mm and super 8 films were launched in the 1980s. These tapes include:

- VHS-C, along with Super VHS
- Video8, along with Hi8

and, for a short period in the early part of the decade, Video2000 and Betamax.

In 1999 and 2000, I sold cameras in a large store, and I have vivid memories of the home movie camera market during that time. There were two types of recording support:

  1. Analog tapes: VHS and Video8
  2. Digital tapes: Mini-DV and Digital 8

The latter deteriorated less and were able to record images with minimal loss of quality, unlike VHS and Video8, which experienced a decrease of at least 30% in sharpness and color fidelity from the initial recording in the camera. This problem worsened further when duplicating the tapes.

The real technological shift occurred about a decade later, in the second half of the 2000s, when digital cameras began transitioning from standard definition (640x480 or 720x576) to high definition (1920x1080), quintupling the resolution of amateur images and finally approaching the quality standards of old film.

The difference between tapes and films

One common misconception to address:

Despite the similarity in names, Video8 and 8mm are two distinct formats with no technical relation to each other.

Video8 and VHS tapes are magnetic media read by a playhead that converts an electronic signal. Tapes are dark in color, and without a player, you can't understand the footage they contain.

Films are optical media, visible to the naked eye even without a player (just hold them up to the light).

The latter are less prone to deterioration and have much higher image quality, despite being replaced by inferior technology.

The reason why people preferred tapes over films is because they were:

  • Easier to play
  • Cheaper

Tapes didn't require noisy projectors which were highly maintenance-intensive. In the case of VHS-C, playback only required a simple adapter into which you inserted the camera cassette, which could then be played directly in the home VCR. While to watch Video8 and Hi8 tapes, you could connect the camera to the television with a cable.

Tapes didn't require being sent to a lab for development. Therefore, they could be watched on the same day they were recorded, unlike films, which took at least a week for processing.

Working professionally on digitizing films requires continuous technical updates and specialization, given the speed at which technology evolves. Because of the need to stay up to date with restoration innovations, my laboratory does not transfer Video8, Hi8, VHS, Super VHS, and Mini-DV tapes.

Why You Should Avoid Inexpensive Film Digitization Services

Now that I've explained how to understand the duration of your 8mm and super 8 reels, let me suggest that you avoid using low-cost telecine services for the following reasons:

  1. They use cheap equipment, which compromises quality
  2. They do not offer any software restoration.

Decades after the recording, it is crucial to correct colors, brightness, film grain, or reduce black dots and scratches; otherwise, the home movies will result in poor-quality videos.

While everyone is free to choose their preferred digitization service, even if based solely on price, it's reasonable to expect transparency. The common excuse that old footage naturally looks bad is simply untrue.

Here's my advice:

if you don't sense professionalism based on other websites, at least ask to view some restored videos produced by that studio.

With modern technology, extraordinary quality can be achieved, appreciated not only by film experts but by all viewers.

Given that your film was shot at least 40 or 50 years ago, it may feature friends and relatives who are no longer with us. Therefore, it's crucial to avoid amateur services that produce poor-quality videos. Believe me: my email is full of messages from people who regret using such telecinemas.

Daniele Carrer

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

The price to digitize and restore your 8 mm, super 8, 9.5 and 16 mm films in my laboratory is always 5 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).