Ultimate Guide to Film Types: 8mm, Super 8, and 16mm Film

Ultimate Guide to Film Types: 8mm, Super 8, and 16mm Film

At the start of the 20th century, the advent of more economical motion picture film formats, namely 16mm, 8mm, and Super 8mm film, allowed millions of people to capture home videos and amateur movies. With digital video long ago replacing these aging film formats, families have been left looking for a way to relive their home movies in today’s digital age. One way to do this is to convert these film reels to DVDs and digital files with a professional film transfer service like Nostalgic Media.

A problem that many run into is identifying what format of film they have. Let’s get a better understanding of the most common formats and what can be done to preserve these aging family treasures.

Standard 8mm Film

8mm (standard) film was introduced in the 1930s as a less expensive alternative to 16mm. Sometimes referred to as Double 8, these film spools actually contained 16mm film with twice as many perforations (sprocket holes) as normal 16mm film. When shooting with this film stock, the first pass through the camera would expose only one-half of the width of the film. The same spool would then need to be flipped and put back into the camera, where the other half would then be exposed. When the film is developed, it is split down the middle, creating two segments of 8mm film. Because of this, each frame's height and width are half that of a normal 16mm frame.

8mm film guage

Super 8mm Film

Super 8 film is probably the most recognized and widely used film stock by amateur filmmakers. Introduced in 1965, Super 8 film was quickly adopted thanks to higher image quality and having an easier cartridge loading system compared to standard 8mm. Super 8 film was also specifically designed to accommodate a sound track. Sound film can be identified by a thin rust-colored strip along the film between the edge of the film and the image area. Super 8 film is still being sold and manufactured today, with Kodak announcing in 2017 that they would once again make Ektachrome available in the Super 8 format.

Super 8 film guage

16mm Film

16mm film was first introduced by Eastman Kodak in the 1920s. Initially intended for amateurs and home enthusiasts, 16mm film quickly became popular with professional filmmakers in the educational, government, business, and medical sectors. Television productions and news-gathering agencies began to use 16mm film extensively, due in part to advantages in cost and portability over other film formats of the time, such as 35mm. Believe it or not, 16mm film is still used in modern television and movie productions today, thanks to improvements in image quality and digital technology.

16mm film guage

What's the difference between 8mm, Super 8, and 16mm films?

When attempting to identify which type of film stock you have, there are a few key differences you can look for. Knowing these differences can be helpful when deciding on a company to convert your film to digital.

Film width

A simple way to identify which type of film you have is to measure the width. It will either be 16mm or 8mm in width. There are two 8mm film types: standard 8mm and Super 8. At first glance, regular 8mm and Super 8 film can look almost identical. The main differences between these two types can be found in the frame and sprocket hole sizes.

Frame size

The frame size (picture-taking area) of 16mm film is about 10.26mm x 7.49mm. While both standard 8 and super 8 films are 8mm in width, Super 8 film stock has a slightly larger frame size. Standard 8mm film has a frame size of roughly 4.5mm x 3.3mm, while Super 8 film has a frame size of around 5.8mm x 4.01mm.

16mm, 8mm, and Super 8 film compared 

Sprocket holes

16mm film will have sprocket holes on one or both edges of the film. Sprockets on one side may indicate a soundtrack is present. Standard 8mm film and Super 8 film will both have sprocket holes on only one side of the film. Standard 8mm sprocket holes are larger than Super 8 sprockets, which were made narrower to accommodate a larger frame size.

 8mm vs Super 8 film sprocket holes comparedSound tracks

16mm, 8mm, and Super 8 film were all capable of recording sound at some point, though less common with the standard 8mm format. 16mm can have two types of sound tracks: a brown magnetic stripe running down one edge of the film, or an optical sound track where you can see the waveforms if held up to a light. Sound on standard 8mm film was not very common. If present, there will be a thin rust-colored strip down one edge. Super 8 film with sound will have this same rust-colored strip down one or both edges of the film. 

8mm, Super 8, and 16mm Sound Film

Converting Film to Digital

Now that you can identify some of the most common film formats, you may be wondering what you can do to preserve any aging film reels you have in your collection. The most popular option is to convert film to digital which would allow you to easily view, save, and share your home movies on all of your modern digital devices. With age, film reels deteriorate and it becomes harder to preserve the many memories stored on them. 

With over 30 years of professional experience, Nostalgic Media has the skills and expertise needed to convert your aging film to archival-grade DVDs and digital files to stand the test of time. The process is safe, as we do all work in-house at our lab located in Atlanta, GA. Your film is handled by skilled and trained technicians with years of professional experience.