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Filming with 8mm Vintage Movie Cameras

In the digital age, it's easy to just whip out your smartphone and record video at a moment's notice or capture high-definition video on a digital SLR camera. But for serious filmmakers, there's nothing quite like experimenting with vintage film cameras and understanding the mechanics of what went into early filmmaking. You can still find vintage cameras by brands like Minolta in good working order, as well as old models that you can use for parts or as a talking point in your home.

What Is an 8mm Movie Camera?

The 8mm film format first appeared on the market in the 1930s and instantly became a success. It consists of a 16mm film that's reperforated with twice the usual number of perforations along its edges, but with the same sprocket hole size.

  • As the 16mm film runs through the camera, one edge is exposed before the spool is reversed and runs through again, exposing the other edge. Once processed, the film is divided down the center and spliced together to create one 8mm wide film.
  • Because the spool needs to be removed and reversed halfway through the filming process, the format was tricky to navigate for some inexperienced users. Super 8mm film quickly replaced the standard 8mm film format, which offered easy cartridge loading and a 50 percent larger frame size.
  • Some 8mm movie cameras come without a built-in flash, but you can easily pair them with external flashes to achieve the desired lighting effects.

What Should You Consider When Buying a Vintage 8mm Camera?

For some people, buying a vintage movie camera is all about its aesthetics and finding a charismatic model to display in the home. Others want a vintage camera that is still in working order to experiment with the 8mm movie film camera format.

  • When buying a vintage movie camera for filming, it's important to consider its working order and the repair work it may need before it's up and running. Some are sold solely for their parts, which is usually clearly indicated in the product description.
  • Some cameras accumulate fungus over time, so always ask whether this is an issue. If possible, carefully check the camera yourself for any signs of fungus or scratches on the lens.
  • While it may be difficult to find 8mm film stocks available near you, many companies still reperforate 16mm film. Keep in mind that the film will last much longer if you store it in ventilated containers and conditions that are cool and low in humidity.