Buyer Beware

Revere Model 88 Double 8mm cameraRevere Model 88 Double 8mm camera

I've always loved film... and by film, I mean the actual physical medium of celluloid. I own a couple of Super 8mm cameras (a recently acquired Argus 804 which I've restored, and a Kodak Instamatic m12 that belonged to my dad, and an old Double 8mm Revere Model 88 pictured above). I haven't used them since I was a teenager. When I started creating movies, I had considered shooting film but the cost always seemed prohibitive.

Then I got to thinking- high end cameras quickly become obsolete within two years, and those that are new are trying to emulate film. The video-enthusiast would argue that "film stock is expensive; digital can reuse the same cards over and over". This is true, but the costs are far more hidden with video. How are you going to archive it? Lots of external drives. Drives fail. Multiple copies? Okay, but upkeep to transfer to the newest stable drive means additional costs. Keep it on the cloud? Power outage or worse- hacked servers, or your in a place with little service (I live out west- this is a bigger problem than in the east... though the power-grid is shaky out there- just scenarios that I've come to realize). In the end you may have plenty of backups, but ALL of those cost money... and require power to use. I guess the same goes for film- though you could power a projector running off a car battery if need be- or better yet, a solar panel!

That's not to say film can't be destroyed. It's very flammable. My concern is that the technology and support for a video production company is reliant on commercializing it. PLUS, while newer cameras can "emulate" film to get the holy grail of "the film look", why not just shoot on film? Achieving the film look requires a lot of forethought and work. Film forces you to think in a creative, crafty way; it's intuitive. Video, to me, is so technical and is simply not intuitive.

I like digital video. I cut my teeth on it. It was a great medium to experiment and keep me from going broke. It's also very versatile for commercial applications and capturing memorable situations. But I LOVE film. There's a certain inherent organic feel to the medium that video is desperately trying to emulate. Super 8mm is comparable to 720/1080 High Definition. 16mm is comparable to 3K, Super16 to 4k. 35mm to 8k... the best prosumer cameras are coming out with 4k sensors... and others are just barely getting to 8k.... but you're spending tens of thousands of dollars for those investments.

So yes, film stock is expensive up front. But it's MUCH cheaper in the long run... and it has proven archival capability of over 100 years.

Will I leave digital video? Hell no—I can't afford to. Will I shoot films on film? Hell yes—when I can afford the upfront costs.

How does this play out to the "Buyer Beware" title of this post? Trying to find a decent used film movie camera in the classifieds. I had discovered two Bolex cameras in the local classifieds- a Bolex P1 Double 8mm for $100 and a Bolex H16 Reflex for $300. I decided to give the P1 a go. When I checked it out, despite looking really clean and no noticeable wear, the spring motor was broken- so it couldn't be wound... basically that makes it a decoration piece. So I proceeded to go for the 16mm- with dreams of making a real 16mm film! The camera worked, but it was missing pieces, plus no case, and it was dusty. And it wasn't a Reflex camera. Reflex cameras have the viewer built into the camera with a prism that lets you see through the lens. This one had a separate viewfinder... and I rely on sight to shoot. I decided to pass on it. Needless to say I have been severely disappointed both times. I really wanted them to be in good condition because I want to shoot with something better than I have.

In the end, I felt bad saying "pass" to both sellers. There's disappointment on both ends, but that's what happens. I'm thankful I know a thing or two about this stuff.

Well, it looks like I'm going to buy some double 8mm film stock and shoot with my Revere (pictured above). I should get some sort of practice in before I commit to any larger projects with a larger format. And in the end, I will have fun doing it!


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