The film is 8 mm wide, exactly the same as the older standard 8 mm film, and also has perforations on only one side. However, the dimensions of the perforations are smaller than those on older 8 mm film, which allowed the exposed area to be made larger. The Super-8 standard also specifically allocates the rebate opposite the perforations for an oxide stripe upon which sound can be magnetically recorded.
There are several different varieties of the film system used for shooting, but the final film in each case has the same dimensions. By far the most popular system was the Kodak system.
The Super-8 plastic cartridge is probably the fastest loading film system ever developed as it can be loaded into the Super-8 camera in less than two seconds without the need to directly thread or even touch the film. In addition, coded notches cut into the Super-8 film cartridge exterior allowed the camera to recognize the film speed automatically. Not all cameras can read all the notches correctly though and not all cartridges are notched correctly such as Kodak Vision2 200T. See also http://super8wiki.com/index.php/Super_8_Cartridge_Notch_Ruler for a proper guide to how the notches work and finding compatibility with various camera models. Canon also keeps an exhaustive list of their Super-8 cameras with detailed specifications on what film speeds can be used with their cameras at http://www.canon.com/camera-museum/camera/cine/f_index.html. Usually, testing one cartridge of film can help handle any uncertainty a filmmaker may have about how well their Super-8 camera reads different film stocks. Color stocks were generally available only in tungsten (3400K), and almost all Super 8 cameras come with a switchable daylight filter built in, allowing for both indoor and outdoor shooting.
The original Super-8 film release was a silent system only, but in 1973 a sound on film version was released. The sound film had a magnetic soundtrack and came in larger cartridges than the original so as to accommodate a longer film path (required for smoothing the film movement before it reached the recording head), and a second aperture for the recording head. Sound cameras were compatible with silent cartridges, but not vice versa. Sound film was typically filmed at a speed of 18 or 24 frames per second. Kodak discontinued the production of Super 8 sound film in 1997, citing environmental regulations as the reason (the adhesive used to bond the magnetic track to the film was environmentally hazardous).
Kodak still manufactures several color and black-and-white Super 8 reversal film stocks, but in 2005 announced the discontinuation of the most popular stock Kodachrome. While this created a huge temporary backlash against Kodak for discontinuing Kodachrome 40 on its 40th birthday, Kodachrome was "replaced" by a new ISO 64 Ektachrome, which meant that Kodak had eliminated the one film stock that was too difficult for most labs to process anywhere in the world. There were only two Kodachrome labs in the entire world whereas now, all Super-8 film stocks, from color and black and white reversal, to color negative, can be processed same day in several labs around the world.
Kodak has also introduced several Super 8 negative stocks cut from their Vision film series, ISO 200 and ISO 500 which can be used in very low light. Kodak reformulated the emulsions for the B&W reversal stocks Plus-X (ISO 100) and Tri-X (ISO 200), in order to give them more sharpness. Many updates of film stocks are in response to the improvement of digital video technology. The growing popularity and availability of non-linear editing systems has allowed filmmakers to shoot Super-8 film but edit on video, thereby avoiding much of the scratches and dust that can accrue when editing the actual film. Super-8 Films may be transferred through telecine to video and then imported into computer-based editing systems. Along with the computer editing option a number of enthusiasts still choose to edit super 8 film with a viewer and rewinds and then project their edit master on a film projector and movie screen.
Kodak Super 8 mm cartridges cannot be reloaded; however, a reloadable cartridge was manufactured in the Soviet Union.
Single-8 cartridges are of a different design from a Super 8 cartridge, resembling a cassette-style design (both supply and take-up reels side by side) as opposed to Super 8's coaxial cartridge design (both reels on top of each other). Therefore, Single-8 film cartridges can only be used in Single-8 cameras. However, the film loaded in a Single-8 cartridge is exactly the same as Super 8 (with the exception of being made of a thinner & stronger polyester base, rather than the acetate base of Super 8 film), and can be viewed in any Super 8 projector after processing.
Although never as popular as Super 8, the format continues to live in parallel. As of early 2006, Fuji still manufactures Single-8 film, and filmstock and processing is still available from several sources.
Kodak is the only company recently making Super 8 film stock and the films available from Kodak now include Super 8 Vision 2 color negative film. One or more other Super 8 specialists (such as Pro8mm, Wittner-kinotechnik and Kahlfilm) slit raw 35 mm film stock from Fuji, Kodak and ORWO, perforate it, and repackage it in Kodak Super 8 cartridges. Effectively there are now more varieties of Super 8 film available than ever before, but ironically very few retailers still stock Super 8 film, as there is virtually no demand from "ordinary" consumers.
One country where it is still stocked in every High Street is the UK, where the chain Jessops carries one film: Kodak Ektachrome 64T. Until recently (2002) it was also available in Boots, a British high-street chain-pharmacy. In 2007 it was reported that Jessops are scaling back their film stocks and will no longer stock Super 8 film. As yet this remains unconfirmed.
There were rumours of Super 8 cameras and films being manufactured and sold in North Korea and indeed this has been confirmed by North Korean embassies, but the only way to buy such products is to visit the country itself.
Amateur usage of Super 8 has been largely replaced by video, but the format is often used by professionals in music videos, TV commercials, and special sequences for television and feature film projects, as well as by many visual artists. For a professional cinematographer, Super 8 is another tool to use alongside larger formats. Some seek to imitate the look of old home movies, or create a stylishly grainy look. Many independent filmmakers such as Karin Hoerler, Derek Jarman, Dave Markey, Jem Cohen, Damon Packard, Sam Raimi, Matt Hulse, Kevin Smith, Mark Pirro, Jesse Richards, Harmony Korine, David Horvitz, Nathan Schiff and Guy Maddin have made extensive use of 8 mm film, and it appears to have made something of a comeback in both the art and experimental film world. Oliver Stone, for example, has used it several times in his more recent films, such as The Doors, Natural Born Killers, Nixon, U Turn, and JFK where his DP Robert Richardson employed it to evoke a period or to give a different look to scenes. The PBS series Globe Trekker uses approximately 5 minutes of Super 8 footage per episode. Says creater Ian Cross, "it gives our show a particular look. In the UK, broadcasters such as the BBC still occasionally make use of super-8mm in both drama and documentary contexts, usually for creative effect. A recent example of particular note was the 2005 BBC2 documentary series, Define Normal, which was shot largely on super-8mm, with only interviews and special timelapse photography utilising more conventional digital formats.
Mark Pirro became a "hero" to legions of Super-8 filmmakers who dreamed of becoming directors when his film A Polish Vampire in Burbank was broadcast three times in the early 90's on the USA Network television show called "USA Up All Night". Apparently this encouraged other Super-8 filmmakers to contact the USA Network to see if they could have their crude Super-8 films evaluated for broadcast, allegedly quelling the demand for future repeat broadcasts of Mark's film. Pirro grew to dislike the format as he felt he had been pigeonholed as a Super-8 filmmaker rather than a director.
Other feature films have also been shot exclusively on Super 8 by serious amateur film makers hoping to gain more experience working with film, and as a stepping stone into productions shot on 16 mm and 35 mm.
To give further support to filmmakers dedicated to shooting on Super 8 mm film, many film festivals and screenings such as the Flicker Film Festival exist to give filmmakers a place to screen their Super 8 mm films. Many of these screenings shun video and are only open to films shot on film. Some require film to be turned in undeveloped and thus not permitting any editing, providing an additional challenge to the filmmaker. These include such the Bentley Film Festival, and straight 8 which runs screenings at the Cannes Film Festival and many other festivals and events worldwide, where a sound track is required to be supplied with a completed but unprocessed cartridge. In the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, a Super-8 short film (The Man Who Met Himself) by British filmmaker Ben Crowe shot on the now discontinued Kodachrome 40 format was the first Super 8 film to be nominated for the Short Film Palme D'Or in the Official Selection. The United States Super-8 Film + Digital Video Festival receives close to 100 Super-8 entries every year. Until 1999, the University of Southern California's famous School of Cinematic Arts required students to shoot some of their projects using Super 8, but digital video is now favoured instead. However, it is still used elsewhere by film students wishing to learn the basics of shooting and editing.
Outside of Hollywood and university settings Super 8 has been enjoying a long renaissance within the wedding videography industry. A popular addition to the normal use of videotape, 8 mm adds an aspect of nostalgia that many bridal couples enjoy.
Thanks to over a dozen film stocks and certain features common in Super 8 cameras but unavailable in video camcorders – notably the ability to expose single frames and shoot at several non video standard frame rates, including time-exposure and slow motion – Super 8 provides an ideal inexpensive medium for traditional stop-motion and cel animation and other types of filming speed effects not common to video cameras. Another visual effect impossible in video cameras that certain high-end Super 8 cameras can do in-camera is the lap-dissolve. Upon activation of the lap-dissolve feature, the shot being filmed fades to black, the camera back-winds the film to the beginning of the fade and, at the beginning of the next shot, fades in.