As long as there has been photography, families have been using it to preserve their precious memories. Starting in the early 20th century, that included recording moving images on film, thinking the home movies would last forever.

As it turns out, that thought was partly right. In many cases, old 8mm and Super 8 films still exist. However, they are no longer as accessible as they once were since digital media has become more popular and the equipment needed to play old films is no longer readily available.

With a conversion from 8mm to digital, these old recordings can be enjoyed once again. However, it is helpful to know whether it is a traditional 8mm film or a Super 8 film.

What Is the History of These Film Formats?

In the early days of professional movies, filmmakers shot on 16mm film stock. Back then, amateur filmmaking was almost unheard of, in part because of the prohibitive cost of the 16mm film in the quantities required to make a movie.

Nevertheless, there was a demand for a more cost-effective way for amateurs to record their own moving images. Eastman Kodak, one of the pioneers in the field of photography, met that need with the release of 8mm film in 1932.

Though a step up from still photographs, 8mm film had a lot of limitations. It produced a very narrow image that was often grainy. The film often became underexposed in low-light conditions, making the images difficult to see. In most cases, it couldn’t record sound.

Super 8 film was first released in 1965. Though equal in width, it offered many improvements over the traditional 8mm. Perhaps most significantly, it made it easier to record sound, and it also offered a wider image than regular 8mm film could manage. It performed better in low light conditions and was easier to load into the camera.

What Are the Differences Between 8mm and Super 8 Film?

If you wish to convert 8mm to digital, it can be helpful to know what you have first. Though the two are the same size, there are many significant differences between them. In many cases, you can identify these by looking at the film itself without having to play it on a projector. This is beneficial if you no longer have the necessary equipment available.

  1. Sprocket Holes: Originally, the projectors used to play 8mm and Super 8 films had toothed wheels called sprockets that would advance the film. The teeth would fit into the holes and cause the film to move as the wheel turned. The sprocket holes on Super 8 film are small and square, while on 8mm film, they are larger and more rectangular. Incidentally, the holes on the blank leader tape are identical to those on the film itself, so you might not have to unwind the film to check.
  2. Image Size: Super 8 film increased the frame size, i.e., the area of the film on which the image would be recorded. If you look at the images on a Super 8 film, you can see that the image fills nearly three-quarters of the film’s full width, approximately 73%. With traditional 8mm film, the frame accounts for just over half of the full width of the film, about 57%. If you compare 8mm film with Super 8 film, you may notice that in the latter case the image covers about 50% more of the width than the traditional frame does.
  3. Relation Between the Images and Sprocket Holes: The position of the sprocket holes relative to the images is different on 8mm film compared to Super 8 film. The reason is that the holes had to be resized and repositioned on Super 8 film to accommodate a larger frame while maintaining the same width. On regular 8mm film, the sprocket holes line up with the spaces between the frames. On Super 8 film, they are aligned with the approximate centre of each image.
  4. Sound: It was very rare for regular 8mm film to record sound. Though not always present, the sound was more common with Super 8 film. Even if you do not play the film, you can tell if it has sound by looking for a magnetic or optical strip along one side. If you have a sound recording on your film, you are very safe in assuming that it is probably a Super 8 film rather than the traditional 8mm.

The film reel itself may also provide a clue as to which type of film you have. In the early days, 8mm film and Super 8 film required different projectors to play. Therefore, a Super 8 film reel has a large hole in the middle through which you could probably fit your pinky finger.

An 8mm reel has a much smaller hole, through which not even a pencil or pen could fit. Eventually, projectors were developed that could play both film types.
Regardless of whether you have 8mm or Super 8 film, converting it to a more practical digital format will allow you to enjoy it for years to come.