8mm and super 8 films have been used for decades to record home movies. They were not the only ones, but the others, 9.5mm and 16mm films, were much less common.

8mm and super 8 reels

Both super 8 and 8mm films are, needless to say, 8mm wide and are usually wound onto two different types of reels, very similar to each other but with some small differences. In particular, the central hole of these reels is 13mm in super 8 film and 8mm in 8mm film.

However, the reels are interchangeable, meaning that 8mm film can be wound onto a super 8 reel and vice versa. Therefore, recognizing the reel does not guarantee knowing whether you have an 8mm or a super 8 film.

The year footage was shot

8mm films were launched in 1932, while super 8 films, which gradually replaced them, were introduced in 1965.

If you know the year your films were shot and are 100% sure that it was before 1965, they are definitely 8mm (except for the rare exceptions of 9.5mm and 16mm films). If they are dated from the second half of the 1960s to the 1970s, they could be either format, as both were common during that period.

If they are from the 1980s, they are most likely super 8 films, because by then, the 8mm format was already unavailable.

You can see why the super 8 format is of better quality by looking at this image of two frames digitized with my lab's scanner.

The hole on which the gear engages is smaller in super 8 films. Therefore, the surface area of the frame is larger, and the definition is higher. The position of the super 8 pinhole is in the middle of the frame, while the 8mm's straddles two different frames.

Obviously, in both the 8mm and super 8 formats, films of different qualities existed, based on the brand (Kodak, Agfa, Fuji) and model. Historically, Kodak Ektachrome films were known for their highly saturated and beautiful colors, so a Kodak Ektachrome 8mm from the 1950s can have a better image than a low-cost super 8 film from the 1970s.

Despite having a shorter lifespan on the market, the super 8 format is the most widespread film format. After its introduction and for the following 15 years, there was a golden age of amateur filmmaking, partly because it was cheaper and easier to insert into the camera and projector, thus easier to use.

But convenience and low costs were also reasons why films were eventually abandoned.

1980s and the sad farewell to films

8mm and super 8 films, to be watched, were inserted into a projector. This was very noisy, required continuous maintenance (because the lamp burned out after 10/15 hours of playback, and the belt wore out quickly), and had to be paried by a screen, although many projected the footage onto the wall.

8mm and super 8 film, although improved over time, were still expensive and not user-friendly. So from the 1980s onwards, the market replaced them with VHS and Video8 tapes.

Pay attention, because many people make mistakes:

Video8 tapes, despite the similarity in name, technically has nothing to do with 8mm films.

Video8 and VHS were adopted for commercial reasons, as they:

  1. were 10 times cheaper
  2. did not require development like films did
  3. were easier to play

All you needed to do to play Video8 tapes was to connect the camera to the television. While with VHS-C tapes you had to remove the cassette from the camcorder, put it in an adapter, and insert it into the VCR.

The bad news for those who used tapes to record their memories in the 1980s and for the following 20 years is that, in terms of quality, they were a significant step backward compared to films.

I'll tell you something that might seem strange but that we telecine professionals have always dealt with:

An 8mm film from the 1930s has much higher quality than a Video8 tape recorded 60 years later.

And tapes are also much more prone to decay over time.

Among the greatest satisfactions I've had with my home movies digitization and restoration service was working on a film from 1937 depicting a newborn. The same person who, over 80 years later, saw herself with a quality that her grandchildren, who were born in the 1990s when tapes were already in use, can only dream of.

Examples of digitized footage from super 8 and 8mm films

If you want to appreciate the quality difference between the two formats, below are two examples of restored amateur 8mm and super 8 films from my laboratory.

I publish them after obtaining written permission from the author or their heirs.

They both belong to my archive, from which I provide historical footage to international documentaries. You can watch over 2000 of its videos on this YouTube channel.

Let me tell you: these are pieces of history that, if I hadn't made them available to the public, would have been lost forever. That's why I'm happy to have made the sacrifices that allowed me to set up a laboratory equipped with a very expensive professional scanner and to rely on the experience I have gained over the years with restoration software.

The first one, an 8mm film, depicts Amsterdam in 1968. While the second one was shot in super 8 in Melbourne in 1988.

Both were digitized with my professional scanner, the FilmFabriek HDS+, and restored with Davinci Studio software. If the 1988 video is of higher quality, it's not just because, being recorded 20 years later, it has deteriorated less, as deterioration in films is minimal if the restoration is done by someone who knows how to fix it. The difference is related to the fact that super 8 film is generally superior to 8mm in terms of quality.

Now that you know whether your film is 8mm or super 8, I would like to recommend reading this guide of mine to understand its durability.

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: