Rhonda Cam revisits the Super 8mm Past


In the past, photographers were often mistaken for film makers as the stock film that used to capture images were the same type used in capturing motion pictures and home movies were the stuff of legends as portrayed in the JJ Abrams movie, Super 8mm. Analogue film came in several varieties in the 70s and it was the success of the 35mm film that gave birth to the motion picture industry (and the porn film industry in the US). But let's not go the 35mm route. For people who are nostalgic about analogue film, the best place to start is with the 8mm stock.

Today, we have Pro8mm as the only surviving cult cine-cam maker which still extols the value of analogue capture. The best example for us is their version of the Canon 310 XL Super 8mm camera sold by them on the site (and on photojojo.com) called the Rhonda Cam.

Rhonda cam is in essence Lomography for the motion picture film enthusiast. Selling for US$395, it is probably one of the best value for money analogue motion picture cameras you can buy on the market right now. The Canon 310 XL was a legendary name in Super 8mm capture as it had a much better lens and an aperture of f1/0. This means that it can be made to work in low light conditions with the right analogue film. Super 8mm comes in a fixed cartridge for quick release and change so you can continue shooting as long as you have enough film stocks in your back pocket.

Now there are plenty of Canon 310XL film cameras being advertised on eBay for less than US$50. Apparently no one is keen to keep shooting expensive film so it has to find a new owner. We all know that film isn't cheap. A roll of Super 8 will last you up to 4.5 mins of shooting and there is no such thing as digital storage. Pro8mm offers a film package similar to what the folks in Kodak use to and offers free processing of the film for US$80 a roll inclusive of scanning in SD digital video. Now that is expensive if you were only able to shoot roughly 4 min of film WITHOUT sound. Yep. It's silent and there is no way to add sound unless you sync that in during post production telecine. The term telecine refers to film media transferred to a digital medium. Most of the film stocks are color negs, so unless you use color reversal film, you won't be able to project it. So think of the film with processing costing 40 bucks but with a further 45 bucks thrown it for the whole telecine package.

How is shooting film is all the same?

Pro8mm Super 8mm film stocks come rated from ASA64 to ASA500. Most of them have a exposure latitude of only 6 stops, while the 160ASA has 9 stops. This might not make sense to you as a digital photographer but it says a lot about the film. The motion picture capture process is the same as analogue film photography. You need to note the ASA speed of the film, that best suits the scene you wish to capture and fire away. Even though exposure can be set automatically, you can never be too sure about high contrast or low light situations so a light meter can be handy.

There are two types of film stocks for the Super 8mm. The negative film can't be projected but the color reverals film can only be experienced with the use of a projector. You also need to ante up on a projector, which can be had for roughly US$600 to US$800 refurbished. There are only two film stock for color reversal film so shooting rated at ASA200, one in color and the other in b/w.

Why Super8mm is Beautiful

I don't have children and for that I have no use for archival quality but for those of you who have, it makes perfect sense to shoot the best moments on analogue film.

Film is forever. Still images are nice but moving ones are better. The LomoKino achieves this to some extent with 35mm film used in photography but hand cranking the device for a 5fps capture harks back to the 19th Century. A roll of 36 exposure 35mm film will only gives you roughly 6 seconds of motion capture. That's probably just enough to film your self in a new car backing out of the garage.

Rhonda Cam's Super 8mm gives you up to 4.5mins depending on the chosen frame rate so you have this leeway to play with (with pro spec Super 8 cameras, you can shoot at 24fps for up to 2 mins of footage). However with the postage and processing included, you could well end up paying up to US$100 per reel (shipping your film from worldwide that is).

Comparatively, you can shoot all your want, share it online till the cows come home and gets plenty more likes online if you shot digitally on your iPhone. Total cost? Well how much did your iPhone cost without contract?

The beauty of the analogue medium has to be experienced to be appreciated. It is a lot harder to shoot, takes effort to process and there is a learning curve. Shooting analogue is a hardskill learnt through time and effort. The surviving film will outlive you and in time your own great grandchildren can appreciate what life was in the time you lived.

Digital is vaporware. It is gone the moment a service closes down. You might think that Instagram and Facebook would be forever but that's taking it too lightly. I remember a time when Netscape Communications was the unstoppable force on the Internet, look where they are now. What about the hard disk crash that wiped out all your holiday photos? Ditto.

What Pro8mm has done is to make analogue motion capture cool again. The retro movie camera is just plain kick ass and it feels good to hold one with the collapsable stock folded in. But all these experiences comes at a price, and only you can decide if you can afford it. The Rhonda Cam is probably the best analogue experience that can be had in a overtly digital world.

It is a costly hobby if you want to shoot solely on this medium but this is why it is so cool. The limited shooting time gets you thinking about what you shoot all the time as you will be assembling the scenes as you go along and capture what you feel makes beautiful memories. That alone is priceless.

Rhonda Cam Specifications

Focal Length: 8-5 – 25.5mm f/1.0 Macro Zoom
Speed: 18 FPS plus Single Frame
Auto Exposure
Power/Manual Zoom
Power = 2-AA