When I first saw that Kodak was bringing back the Super 8 camera and cartridge film, my first reaction was that this was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard, just more pandering to retro hipsters. Why would anyone ever want to go back to expensive film, difficult editing, special projectors? This is Kodak grasping at the last straw of romantic nostalgia. Who are they kidding?
But when you start reading about it and looking at Kodak’s website, you learn that it's not about hipster retro; it's about the art of cinema and it's actually rather wonderful. Because this is not for dad to take terrible movies of the kids, but to bring back something that has been lost: the richness of analogue. Or as Kodak says in its pitch: “There are some moments that digital just can’t deliver, because it doesn’t have the incomparable depth and beauty of film.”
In fact, serious filmmakers are behind the initiative. JJ Abrams says: “While any technology that allows for visual storytelling must be embraced, nothing beats film. The fact that Kodak is building brand new Super 8 camera is a dream come true.” Christopher Nolan: The news that Kodak is enabling the next generation of filmmakers with access to an upgraded and enhanced version of the same analog technology that first made me fall in love with cinematic storytelling is unbelievably exciting.” I particularly like Quentin Tarantino’s comment: “When you’re filming something on film, you aren’t recording movement, you’re taking a series of still pictures and when shown at 24 frames per second through a lightbulb, THAT creates the illusion of movement. That illusion is connected to the magic of making movies.” (See a whole brochure of film-makers quotes here.)
It certainly isn't cheap to buy or to operate. Industrial designer Yves Behar tells FastCo:
The feel of the camera is professional, in a sense that it’s robust, bigger, and uses strong materials. Its [build is] really that of a tool. It’s like a hammer. Something you’re going to be using repeatedly and rely upon for your craft.
And indeed, the first camera out of the gate will cost $1000, and the film, between $50 and $75 for three minute’s worth, although that includes the shipping back to Kodak, the processing, and a scanned digital file for editing and YouTube. This isn't going to be a toy for amateurs. But as one filmmaker commented at the Wall Street Journal:
For anyone creating short films intended to be screened at festivals (especially in a theatrical setting) or used as calling cards for an eventual job in the film industry, shooting your project on film is well worth the added time and expense. Never mind that the methodical process of shooting film, and, learning to do it properly, has been a rite of passage for the majority of successful filmmakers working today.
Actually, the questions raised by this camera parallel those we have to deal with almost every day in so many aspects of our lives. Are the photos I take with my iPhone as good, or as important to me, as the ones I used to take with my Olympus SLRs, and develop and print in my darkroom? No, they don’t have the care and attention, the smell of the developer and feel of the paper, the physical investment in time and energy. But I can do so much more with the digital than I could ever do with the film camera, and I can carry it in my pocket.
Does the sound out of my iPhone compare to vinyl on my turntable running through my 25-year-old NAD amplifier and Axion speakers? Not even close, but it's a lot more convenient and it takes up a lot less space.
One of many closed and demolished Kodak plants. (Photo: Robert Burley, The Disappearance of Darkness)
Kodak was a vast corporation with 145,000 employees, a company so vertically integrated that it had its own herds of cows to make gelatin and everything else in between needed to make film. It's a shadow of its former self but still makes film and there's still a market for the product, niche as it may be. Vinyl records are a niche product too. They are both expensive, delicate and a big pain compared to their digital equivalent, but it’s actually reassuring and satisfying to know that they're coming back.