How To Buy A Super 8 Movie Camera

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This guide will give you a basic understanding of Super 8 movie cameras and how to select one to best suit your needs from the hundreds offered every day here on ebay.
Super 8 was developed by Kodak and introduced in 1965. It has a 50% larger picture frame than the previous Standard 8mm film. The Super 8 system revolutionised the home movie by placing the film in an easy to load plastic cartridge. You simply popped it into the camera without having to thread the film in the dark or flip it over half way through the roll.
The plastic cartridge also told the camera, through a series of notches in the body, to switch a filter in behind the lens and  to set the film exposure (ASA) speed.
Super 8 became very popular and finally made home movies available to almost everyone regardless of income or expertise.
Hundreds of different models of Super 8 camera have been produced since 1965, from very basic affordable models like the Kodak M2 all the way to the professional Beaulieu pro series produced in the last 10 years. Today on ebay you can find high quality cameras with many features at great prices.
What should you look for?
Lenses. A quality lens is perhaps the single most important feature if you want sharp images. I bought a Sankyo 420 XL camera brand new and shot hundreds of feet over many years. It was solid and reliable with good features. Then I purchased a Canon 814XLS and could not believe the improvement in sharpness of my Super 8 images. The Sankyo product did the job it was intended to do, but the Canon is a semi-professional camera and has a high quality lens and metal body.
Ensure the lens is also free of fungus or fogging. These problems ruin cameras and can be hard to detect. Long periods of storage without use often leads to this problem. Fungus can look like blotches or even a fern-like pattern on the inside lens elements. Scratched lenses should also be avoided.
Most will offer a zoom that enables you to shoot close-ups, medium and long shots without having to move around all the time. An 8x zoom has a greater range than a 3x zoom. A macro lens will enable you to focus on objects very close to the lens like flowers or insects. Without this feature the closest focus range may be around 5ft from the lens.
Batteries. Ensure that the battery compartment is free of corrosion, a battery leak generally spells death for the delicate electronics of most Super 8 cameras. Most use AA batteries for light meter and motor drive. Some older cameras use special button type cells for light meters that are often difficult to find, make sure they are still available. There are also models that use rechargeable cells, unless you wish to spend money on a new cell or an outboard pack, these should be left for the pros. This old rechargeable battery technology from the 1970's is nothing like your cell phone battery of today! 
General features: Most Super 8 cameras have an inbuilt light meter, this will tell you if you have enough light to shoot in. All will be able to shoot at 18 frames per second, some offer 24, 25, 36 single frame and other speeds. If you want to do animation, or shoot slow motion, single frame and variable speeds will be handy. A backlight control enables you to open the shutter an extra stop or so to make subjects be seen when there is strong light behind them. An XL shutter enables shooting in lower light situations. It alters the angle of the shutter blades to allow more light to hit the film. Most cameras from the late 1970's onwards have this feature.
Sound: Sound Super 8 cartridges are no longer mass produced so buying a camera with sound recording ability does not matter either way, however sound cameras generally were of a higher specification and had many features as standard over their silent cousins.
Split image focusing. This is a very handy feature. A circle inside the viewfinder shows you when the subject is in focus by splitting the image in two halves until it is in focus. Split image focusing is found on most medium to high end cameras.
ASA range. This has become a less important aspect to Super 8 film-makers since Kodak 64T was discontinued in 2010. About half of the Super 8 cameras produced did not automatically recognise the 64 speed of this film. They required manual correction via the EE lock feature on some cameras or the fully manual control on some high end cameras.
Most cameras that do not recognise the ASA 64 speed will overexpose your new Ektachrome 64T film by about 2/3 of a stop as they will think it is 40 speed (like Kodachrome) film . This may be too much for many people. Due to the hundreds of cameras produced, you need to ask the seller or search the web for info. on the particular camera you are interested in. Kodak and Super 8 Wiki have web guides on how to correct exposure for many cameras, but if you have the choice, simply buy a camera that recognises the 64 ASA speed in the first place.

In March 2010 Kodak introduced a new Super 8 film called 100d. This is a daylight balanced stock and whilst the 100 ASA speed is recognised by many cameras via the notch on the cartridge, you will need to make sure you disengage the filter in your camera by moving the filter switch to the bulb symbol position (not the sun symbol). This will remove the inbuilt filter in your camera and expose this new 100d film correctly. This stock has also been discontinued, but can still be found on ebay. Specialist dealers have stocks of this film along with other Super 8 brands. Simply do a search and you'll find some stock.

What do I recommend? Well you can't go past now affordable top line cameras with great lenses and features. The Canon 518, 814 and 1014 range are the best value quality cameras around. They have proven reliable and produce top quality results with excellent lenses and features. Beaulieu are excellent, but watch for spent rechargeable batteries on some models. Nizo, Bolex and Nikon also offer excellent cameras, but they are not as common as Canon and Beaulieu.
Regardless of the brand, ensure that it operates - (some have been recently tested with film), that it is clean cosmetically, (looks cared for) and offers the features you want. You may take a risk on a seller that knows nothing about the camera, but it is better to seek out those that have actually used the camera or understand Super 8 cameras.  
Many companies offer Super 8 film cartridges (raw stock) in 2014 including Dwaynes Photo, Spectra Cine, Pro8mm and Nanolab. You can also buy them right here on ebay. These labs and others can process the various brands all over the world. 
Remember, do research, ask questions and enjoy the world of Super 8 film-making. There is nothing like shooting film if you have only known video. It is what many of the worlds feature films are produced on. Some of the worlds greatest directors including Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson started with Super 8, you can too.
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