This guide will spell out in simple terms a brief history and tips for buying a Super 8 movie projector.
The Super 8 film format was introduced in 1965 and pushed amateur film making into the bigtime. The Super 8 format was all about high quality, affordable film images for the average family without all the tricky loading and threading relied upon by other amateur gauges like Standard 8mm, 16mm and 9.5mm. Super 8 used film 8mm wide like Standard 8, but it had a much larger area devoted to the film frame and less area given to the sprocket holes, it therefore required completely new cameras and projectors.
The Super 8 cameras used a simple cartridge loading system that also set the film speed (exposure index or ASA eg 40, 64, 160 etc) in the camera; projectors appeared that offered full automatic threading and many other innovations. Indeed, by the early 1970's sound projectors and cameras began to appear and this caught on in a big way.
Home movies began to boom and in most western countries it was rare that at least somebody in your family did not shoot their own films. Kids' birthdays at home, tourist attractions, sunny days in the backyard and any public event you could think of were shot with the Super 8 camera. The vivid colour of Kodachrome and new brighter projection lamps brought these images to life on the lounge room wall like never before. You can still shoot the family on film or learn how to be the next Spielberg by purchasing Super 8 film today, Kodak until recently offered a good range of film stock for the first timer, to the stuff the latest rock videos are captured on. Search for Super 8 (eg Kodak 100D) on ebay to find it in an ebay store or at auction. As the Kodak stocks dry up you can still purchase Super 8 film to shoot from specialist suppliers.
Packaged movies had always been available to the home projectionist, but before Super 8 most were black & white and lacked a soundtrack. By the mid-1970's no longer were you restricted to silent Chaplins or Laurel and Hardy's; classic cartoons, travelogues and even digest versions of all that Hollywood had to offer were available. Star Wars, Grease, Singin' In The Rain and practically any feature you could think of were expertly edited down to 20 minute versions for the home or even in full length form. So, even if you didn't choose to shoot your own movies, a Super 8 projector gave hours of enjoyment in the home. You can choose from thousands of used package titles right here on ebay in the Super 8 film category or even buy them brand new from various dealers like Classic Home Cinema, Reel Image etc.
The major manufacturers ceased production of Super 8 projectors by the mid 1980's, so you are looking to buy a complicated piece of photographic/electronic/mechanical equipment that is around 30 years old. Take the following steps into account and you should end up with a solid projector that will suit your needs.
Super 8 projectors are divided into two main catagories, silent and sound. The first Super 8 projectors that appeared in the latter half of the 1960's were silent (they could not reproduce sound), but were mostly dual gauge. This meant they had the ability to run both Super 8 and Standard 8 mm films. This was very handy as almost everyone that bought a Super 8 projector at this time had Standard 8 films they still wanted to view. In fact even today you would be surprised how much Standard 8 there is around.
From the early 1970's sound projectors appeared. They generally cost more to buy, but in addition to having a magnetic sound head, they offered more features. Most could only run Super 8 film.
Firstly, you need to decide what type of Super 8 projector to buy. If you wish to run Std 8mm as well as Super 8 you will need a dual gauge projector. If you plan to run sound films, you will need a sound projector (sound projectors can run silent films too!).
What features do you need? Bright lamps are very important. Most Super 8 projectors will have a modern style QI type lamp. Whilst many solid projectors offer 50 watt lamps, 100 watts is always better. A 100 watt lamp will provide adequate illumination on a matte white screen 4ft - 5ft (1.5m) wide in a dark room, a projector with a 50watt lamp will struggle at this size. Some top line projectors offer 150 or even 200watt lamps for even larger images. Remember it is the size of the image, not the distance from the projector (throw) that determines your screen brightness.
A zoom lens is handy, as it can make the projected image larger or smaller without having to move the projector. Most projectors will accept a 400ft reel, some however offer 600, 800 or even 1200ft capacity. Most are auto-threading from the feed guide to the take-up spool, this is very handy.
Lower end sound projectors have adequate sound reproduction with low powered amplifiers; commonly 5 watts or less. Look for 7w, 10w, 15w or more if you plan on filling a room with quality sound. Many offer sound on sound recording facilities, where you can add a commentary or back ground music to a blank track or previously recorded sound. Stereo playback is available on high end machines and companies still produce brand new Super 8 stereo sound films.
Can I copy my films to video/dvd? A variable speed control will generally be required to copy films to video. This control will allow you to slow down or speed up the fps (frames per second) in order to eliminate the black frame lines from the recorded video image. Beware, some silent projectors have a limited speed range that may not be suitable to copy your films. Some sound projectors also do not have the range required to copy sound or silent films correctly. Ironically, some that only offer 18 or 24 fps can copy films well. This is because original factory settings in the projector have changed over time and the unit may now operate at a speed that allows films to be copied with a quality image.
What is a good brand of projector? This question is a tough one as dozens of companies produced Super 8 projectors. Some offered over 20 models alone from bargain basement economy units to those that could run film to 100's of people in an auditorium. Some of the major brands are Elmo, Bell & Howell, Chinon, Hanimex, Titan, GAF, Eumig, Kodak and Sankyo. Other than Kodak, most people would be unfamiliar with these brands of projectors. In Super 8 cameras instantly recognisable are premium brands like Canon, but in projectors a little more research is required to approach a purchase with confidence.
Of the brands listed above certainly Elmo and Eumig models have stood up well over the years with few major faults. They are constructed solidly and owned by even the most astute Super 8 hobbyists. They produced high quality sound and silent projectors with good lenses and many features. Importantly they are gentle on film through the film path and don't have dirt traps that can lead to scratched film.
Spare lamps can be found for most major brands although some are becoming scarce, particularly for rare models and some built in the 1960's. Lamps are described by a three letter code eg EJL. You can search on line with many companies and find out if the lamp for your projector is still available and at what cost.
Always try to buy a projector that has its instructions; even better if it has its original box and accessories. Make sure it works! If the seller can tell you it has been tested with film, or better still you can see it operating in a picture, you are ahead of the pack. If the seller can't tell you if it works or not, or is unprepared to test it, don't bid unless you want a shelf ornament. Bargains can be had, but remember these units are often 30 years old and have been sitting unused for maybe 20 years, so ask questions.
The web offers a large amount of info. on all types of projectors so do some research. You can find a model with the features that suit you by reading the features offered in the description. If the detail is light on, then ask, as the projector features were printed in the instruction booklet or on the box it came in. A projector that looks clean and is cosmetically tidy is generally better than one that looks messy and uncared for. Make sure all the original parts come with it; if it is a dual projector are the gate and sprockets included to run both Std and Super 8? Does the projector come with a take-up reel? Is the power cord included?
A seller with a money back return policy is best. If the price is low you may want to try a seller without a return policy, but if the price is high, forget it, the risk is too high. Do you know an affordable Super 8 projector repair shop near you? No, then make sure you buy a good unit that can be returned if it fails to work.
This brief guide should give you a headstart into (or back into) the world of Super 8 projectors with a solid reliable machine. Everything else you need is right here on ebay. Then you can escape into that wonderful world of film projected on your own big screen.