Differences between regular 8mm film and Super 8 film are subtle but important.  When it comes to transferring 8mm film, our process is identical.  The film itself is made out of the same materials and is both 8mm’s wide. The sprocket holes, frame size and distance between sprocket holes make up the fundamental physical differences.

Standard 8, most commonly known as 8mm film has a frame size of 4.5mm x 3.3mm whereas Super 8 film has a frame size of 5.79mm x 4.01mm.  When Super 8 film came out in 1965, one of the goals was to make the frame size larger, and the only way to do this was to make the sprocket hole smaller. The horizontal area of the frame increased by over 1mm in the Super 8 film and therefore increased the area of image that could be captured.  This allowed for a more widescreen image to be captured, similar to the dimensions of 16mm film.

Because of the different sized sprocket holes (also called perforations), the 8mm film could only be played on a 8mm projector and Super 8 could only be played on a Super 8 projector.  It was not until the dual-8 projectors came around that you could play both on the same projector.  The spacing between the sprocket holes was also different between the two.  On 8mm film, the hole was even with every division between frames, whereas Super 8 film was spaced differently.  Adaptation of the sprocket rollers needed to be made in order to properly play back both types of film.  Most had switches that would engage different sized rollers to accept the different types of film.

Beyond some of the physical differences, there was a variation on the capabilities of the 8mm vs Super 8 film.  The ISO ranges on the different films varied.  Newer versions of super 8 film had ISO up to 500 which allowed for low lighting, something its predecessors had trouble with. Underexposure in 8mm film was quite common in low lighting. This is why camera accessories in the 50’s and 60’s came with very bright light bulbs and light bulb sticks. It needed far more light to capture a good image.

Some of the primary differences you will see when transferring 8mm vs Super 8 is the dimension of the frame.  Super 8 will fill more of the standard widescreen area we are most familiar with on TV.  8mm will show more of a grain texture and will have more defined lights and darks and hard shadows.  8mm color will have a less defined color pallet whereas Super8 film had a more vivid color pallet.  Super 8 film had more adaptability to light so the greyscale and differences from light to dark are better handled.  Over the years sprocket holes took a beating and would cause playback issues on projectors. Fortunately, our transfer machines are sprocket-less and do not need to sprocket holes to feed the film.  However, the holes are used to sync the film, so if they are too far destroyed, it can cause issues but this is very rare.

The final thought is that the reels were also different.  The 8mm film reel would have a very small hole in the middle. Super 8 reels would have a much larger hole.  So at first glance, even without looking at the film, you can typically know what type of film is on the reel.  You can probably fit your pinky finger in the middle of a super 8 reel, but a standard 8 reel will not even fit a pen or pencil.