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What format to learn on?


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#1 Nick Norton

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Posted 10 May 2008 - 05:36 PM

Being extremely passionate about film, and not so much at all with digital, i purchased a super 8mm Canon 1014xls to learn lighting and cinematography in general.

I've owned a Canon XL1s and shot numerous skate videos, so i'm not a complete moron when it comes to composition and light levels.


However, my Canon 1014xls is giving me trouble and i'm not sure if i feel like going through the trouble to repair it, or by a new one. Instead, i was thinking of getting a 16mm film camera and using that to learn instead.

Anyone have an opinion whether Super 8 or 16mm would me a better format to learn on?

I figure super 8 would be cheaper, so that was my original motivation. Also, i believe in taking cinematography step by step and not jumping into anything.


Any response would be appreciated-

Nicholas
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 May 2008 - 05:59 PM

I learned by shooting Super-8 reversal and projecting it.

The main issue with shooting film is how will you view it and how much will it cost to shoot and then print or telecine transfer.

If you just want to learn cinematography, a small 16mm camera isn't a bad idea if you get a 16mm projector and make prints to project and study, otherwise you get into costs of telecine transfers.
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#3 Keneu Luca

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Posted 10 May 2008 - 06:19 PM

16mm is a more robust format. When handling the actual film in editing and in the projector, the film itself is stronger; less likely to break.
16mm film cameras require you to thread the film, either in the actual camera, or in a magazine for the camera, whereas with S8mm, you simply insert a cartridge, much like a video tape. It is worth learning how to actually thread the film.

Typically, S8mm cameras have a built-in light meter which triggers the auto-iris, much like what a video camera deals with. If your goal is to learn, you want to use a light meter and choose the F-stop yourself, bypassing the use of an auto-iris feature.

Most Super 8mm cameras have lenses that cannot be removed; youre stuck with that lens. But with 16mm, you can switch lenses and learn how they behave differently.

When shooting in extreme low-light situations, even if youre using the same ASA, the 16mm footage will "look better" because it will be less grainy.
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#4 K Borowski

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Posted 10 May 2008 - 06:29 PM

I would honestly recommend Reg. 8mm over Super 8 unless you can find the rare Super 8 camera that does without a lot of the automatic features that limit one's ability to control your exposure focus, etc.

You have limited film selection, but a good selection of manual lenses, primes especially, and you basically learn the same loading techniques with 16mm with say an H8.

As an added advantage, many of the cameras are mechanical, meaning they are far sturdier, and you don't have to pay for batteries!

I'd say that 16mm would probably be a better first step to cut your teeth with if you're into producing a polished finished film instead of just fooling around. There just isn't any real professional support for 8mm formats that isn't almost as expensive as shooting 16mm.

I wouldn't recommend 35- or 65mm to a beginner ;-)
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 May 2008 - 07:22 PM

My Sankyo Super-8 camera allowed manual exposure control.
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#6 Nate Downes

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Posted 10 May 2008 - 07:54 PM

My Chinon has manual control as well.

But yes, 16mm would be a good format to learn with. You get a better set of skills in my experience.

Man, I need a 16mm projector.
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#7 Patrick Neary

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Posted 10 May 2008 - 08:28 PM

Hi-

don't forget about just shooting and developing your own stills too. get your hands wet with smelly chemistry, it all applies to cinematography more than you might think.
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#8 Tim O'Connor

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Posted 11 May 2008 - 12:19 AM

I agree that with the increased costs of Super 8 closing the gap that once made the format far more affordable for learning than 16mm that it's a good
idea to find a good deal on a simple 16mm camera and projector.

Just for kicks, here's my Kodak Super 8 camera that I bought for 7 dollars at a sidewalk sale when I was a kid. Fixed focus, manual exposure.
The 'light meter' was the chart on the side of the camera and then pretty soon just calling the stop. Those were the days.

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#9 K Borowski

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Posted 11 May 2008 - 12:51 PM

Maybe manual controls was too vague.

I think you need access to cameras with interchangeable lenses, adjustable frame rates (I know, I know, even Panavisions are often limited in this regard; my Auricon can only shoot 24, and can only be adjusted by a specialist in a factory as more or less a one-time job), manual focus, the ability to shoot with a *PRIME* lens, etc.

A lot of S8 cameras have cheapie zooms that are the only lens that the camera can use. A lot have built-in filters. In short, a lot of them are like point-and-shoot 35mm or digital cameras. They're also designed so that often the price is more important than the quality of the camera, hence their proneness to breaking, especially considering they're all going to be at least two decades old.

Another problem is that the S8 cartridge is NOT a rock-steady design; they're prone to shake.

Even the ISO speed notches on the cartridge can lock the camera into a certain metering mode with some cameras.

You can work with S8 and get great results, but the cameras often work against you because they are usually designed for the dumb soccer mom with no knowledge of film to shoot with them, not the student cinematographer.
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#10 James Baker

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Posted 11 May 2008 - 02:32 PM

I am an established still photographer who decided to also do some projects in motion film.

My still imagery workflow consists of originating on film, scanning on a liquid mount drum scanner, editing the digitized file, and with final output as an Oce LightJet print (i.e., back to a chemical print.) So, I had somewhat of a head start in the "using film to digital transfer" process. But thinking/seeing in a time based medium was much different than producing still images. And so, I needed a lot of practice to try and make that sort of transition (and I still do...)

I agree with David concerning the expense. It's somewhat the same with still photography. Using film gives one a lot of experience, but it's also a lot more expensive than originating in digital. You can look at your transparencies to see how you're progressing but it costs quite a bit in money and time to process film, scan, edit, and output to a final print (not many people can afford a true drum scanner and an Oce printer unless you're a service bureau.)

My route to motion film went like this: a video camera first, to learn the differences of recording in motion versus still. That allowed me to get a feel for motion and learn all those differences and to get my mind's eye to think about it differently. That was an inexpensive way for me to learn.

Then I went to 16mm and did what David suggested: project processed film on a projector. It helped to see the differences in digital and film and to learn working with film in an actual film camera (lenses, threading, etc..)

And then I eventually felt comfortable enough to get some telecine'd versions of footage and that I could edit on my NLE and learn what all that process entails, too.

After that, I felt I could put together a short.

1) a video camera first
2) a 16mm film camera and projected 16mm film
3) telecine'd 16mm film, editing, etc..
4) finished short film

It was a slow process, but I think it worked for me without jumping into totally unknown territory and spending a huge amount of money.

I would personally skip the Super 8 step, unless you want to use Super 8 for aesthetic reasons.
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