Kodak brings Super 8 Back from the (Almost) Dead
While Nikon may have had the big photographic announcements at CES this year, in my opinion, the more exciting news came from Kodak. Yes, Kodak, remember them? Kodak announced that they're creating a new super 8 film camera. The new camera and service will blend digital and film technologies, and seeks to capitalise on the analogue resurgence. As someone's who's shot Super 8 in the past, I for one am very excited about this.
The camera itself shoots standard super 8 film cartridges (which apparently are still being made) and uses digital technology to record sound and includes a view screen so you can see what you're shooting (without peering through a tiny optical viewfinder). The design is a beautiful blend of retro engineering and minimalist design. The industrial style has echoes of the legendary designs of Dieter Rams. It's only a prototype at the moment, but I think it's a beautiful looking object (although as one would expect, there are lots of comments online bashing the design).
The real genius of this comes from the service. Kodak will process your film, and digitise it for you. They'll send you back your film and a link to download a digital version of it. In the past, the hardest part of te process, for those brave few who are still shooting the format, is getting it telecined. There are very few places left that will do it, and even fewer who'll do it properly. I really hope this is a success, as Super 8 is a beautiful thing to behold.
When I was growing up, my dad had lots of different 8mm movie cameras over the years. He shot 8mm and then super8. They were our home movies as children and I can still remember, as a child sitting in front of the projection screen. We watched jerky grainy versions of ourself projected with the dstinctive hum and clacking sound of the projector as a soundtrack beside us. I'm sure we still have those movies too somewhere.
But Super 8 isn't just about nostalgia. Many of today's greatest film makers got their start shooting Super 8 film. Both JJ Abrams and Stephen Spielberg have both expressed their love for the format, and for film in general. It's a wonderful way to learn about cinema, and the main market Kodak are aiming this at is film students. With Super 8 you get to learn the same processes that are used when shooting motion picture film, just on a much smaller scale. It is essentially the same thing. This is invaluable experience if you want to go on to shoot 35mm at some point, which is the other reason Kodak are investing in this. They want to keep making motion picture film, and this is their way of getting more people interested. I still remember the joy I had shooting film when I did a course in film and video production many years ago. While we mostly shot on video, we had two weeks during the course where we shot on film. It was the larger 16mm format . as apposed to Super 8, but those two weeks were still my favourite from that whole experience.
I had my own Super 8 camera and projector at one point as well. I've no idea where it is now, and I'm sure it's probably not working anyway. When I bought it in a dusty second hand shop all those years ago, it was at the tail end of film being even remotely widely used. They were still shooting most tv shows on 16mm at the time, and it was still relatively easy to get 8mm developed. But it got harder and harder and more and more expensive. Eventually it was next to impossible here in Ireland, and so my camera (which also stopped working) ended up on a shelf gathering dust.
You can still get Super 8 film developed today (but its very difficult and expensive) and there is still one professional, specialist camera being made. Kodak expects this to sell for between $400 and $700. This is a very reasonable entry point, and I expect this will do very well with schools and collages, as well as people who love film.
The analogue resurgence is definitely a real thing. I think there are lots of people who think that it's just a by product of the hipster movement, but even if that's where it started it's more than mainstream now. Vinyl sales are surging, and there's a renewed interest in still film. Fuji's biggest selling camera this Christmas wasn't one of its X series, but rather the polaroid-esque Instax cameras. Printed book sales have begun climbing against ebooks again. This resurgence it's not limited to a cultural stereotype, it's definitely become mainstream. I think people want something that is tangible. There is something to be said about the beautiful imperfections and warmth of real physical objects as opposed to the cool and intangible nature of having everything as digital.
Another thing about this that I find fascinating is Kodak's attitude to it. There is a great interview with the CEO of Kodak from the Verge about this project and I really think that Kodak has finally learned its lessons.
I think with this kind of attitude, the renewed company will do really well going forward. Many had written the brand off, and it certainly looked doomed at one point. As digital became mainstream, Kodak stumbled around aimlessly in the market trying lots of different things to stay relevant. They tied many mediocre "me too" products, all of which failed (mainly because most of theme were rubbish) but the company seems to have learned its lesson. They are embracing their heritage, and are allowing Kodak to be Kodak. I hope they succeed, because there probably isn't a single other brand that's more associated with the legacy and history of photography and film making. This is a brave move which could end up either being a failure or a stroke of genius. I'm hoping for the latter.
Now, if they'd just start making Kodakchrome again.....