My first motion picture film

I’ve always had a vague interest in film-making. As a child I borrowed my grandad’s VHS camcorder to make various kinds of film, such as this version of Thunderbirds dating from 1995. More recently, I’ve shot videos on my DSLR for the choir. A while back I was given a Super 8 camera but the high cost of film and processing out me off. More recently I was given some Kodachrome 40 in Super 8 format (I wrote about it too!) It can’t be processed at a lab any more, so I devised a way of processing it as black & white at home. That’s all good and well, but does it work in practice?

I’ve been trying to think of something worthy to shoot. A 50-foot roll of Super 8 film lasts for less than three minutes, so it has to count. In the end I decided to take some panning shots around Troopers’ Hill. Today was the first sunny day for ages, so I went for a walk with the camera and a monopod. The rain started towards the end of my shoot but I just about finished.

I mixed up chemicals according to the formulae I posted last time and followed the procedure. The first part (up until the bleaching) has to be done in total darkness but I took photos of the rest. Click on the gallery and use the arrow keys to go through and read the detailed descriptions for each picture.

The process was pretty successful. Lots of people online have talked about how to crack open a Super 8 cassette to get the film out. This simply isn’t necessary. If you spin the winding knob in reverse, the clutch will try to stop you. Just force it and the clutch will break. It only took me half a revolution to break it, and I did it with my hands – no tools required! Now you can snip the film, and pull it out freely. Couldn’t be simpler.

I’d also heard horror stories about removing rem-jet, but the bath I used had dissolved almost all of the rem-jet in about 5 minutes with no need for scrubbing etc. Some of the later chemical baths had black grit at the bottom of them. I mixed my chemicals one-shot so I simply discarded it. You could decant the chemicals off too – the black grit was happily sunk at the bottom.

It was a bit of a pain processing 50 feet of film in a 8×10″ tray. Left unattended, the film doesn’t sit submerged so I had to hold it underwater during processing. This isn’t too bad as you have to agitate the film, turn it by hand, and make sure little loops don’t form and stick to themselves.

I’ve more-or-less got the hang of the reversal process now but I need to tweak the times/temperatures of the first and second developers to get the right contrast. The final film has quite a lot of fog and the shadows are not very dense. It’s hard to say whether this was the fault of the developing process, the fact I’m using Kodachrome rather than a B&W film, or whether it was just because the Kodachrome is old.

Of course, the real test is whether the film looks any good when projected…

As expected, the contrast was very poor so I enhanced it digitally (sorry, that’s a dirty word). The camera shoots at 18 fps whereas the projector plays back at 24 fps, so the video appears to be sped-up. Gives it a nice vintage feel 🙂 I could have projected at 18 fps but then it caused a nasty flicker with my DSLR that can only capture at 24, 25, 30, 50 or 60 fps. The projector does have speed adjustment so possibly I could try projecting at 20 fps and recording at 60 fps.

The film is very scratched. This happened when I washed the film by hand and scrubbed off the remaining rem-jet after processing, before winding it onto the reel. In some places the emulsion has come off completely. I’ll need to be a bit more careful about touching the film next time.

The camera’s lens is not great – focus is very soft and for some reason there appears to be lots of ghosting. I’m not sure why this is – I don’t think it’s the projector but tomorrow I’ll get some of the film on my lightbox and inspect it with a loupe to see if it is to blame.

This is definitely a project I’ll be revisiting. I can probably pick up expired Kodachrome quite cheaply now it can’t be processed elsewhere, and I already have all the things I need to process film. Next time there’s something worth filming, I’ll try and get hold of some Kodachrome and see if I can improve on my contrast.

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