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Category:    Home > Essays > Home Movies > Film History > Industry > Single 8: The Rise & Fall Of Fuji's Home Movie Film Format.

Single 8: The Rise & Fall Of Fuji's Home Movie Film Format.

Nowadays, people can shoot video anytime they want to between cell phones and other video recorders, all the easier with digital and HD video, but home movies have a history as long as the cinema itself. When 35mm photochemical film first arrived, the rich soon found lunchbox-type cameras would allow them to film anything and they could afford projects to show the results, starting in the silent era. 16mm became a still-pricey but viable alternative that was cheaper and you could get a few more minutes out of a spool of film. In 1932, Kodak introduced 8mm film, with the same large sprocket holes of 16mm, but at far less cost and it was relatively affordable, so most people could afford it.

Save a European competitor in 9.5mm (or 9,5mm) film that had fans and limited success, 8mm was very successful, available in metal cartridges, but usually in spools. The problem with those spools (unlike the cartridges) is you had to flip them and that meant losing some frames. In the early 1960s, Kodak teamed up with Agfa in Germany and Fuji in Japan to replace 8mm with a cartridge-based format that has better picture quality and was more user-friendly. Kodak eventually exited the alliance and introduced the square plastic Super 8 cartridge with 50% more space on the same 8mm film thanks to smaller sprocket holes, the smallest for any movie format.

Their square cartridge was just over twice as wide as the film, with the fresh film going through the opening for exposure and rolling exposed into the also light-proof other side. You never had to touch the film and if you had to take the cartridge out, you would lose very few frames. It was ingenious and eventually a hit with over 60 Million cameras sold and tons of film for it. Fuji produced the same exact size film with the same small sprocket holes, but they would call their format Single 8, the cartridges would be more like a printer or typewriter ribbon cartridge and that meant different cameras had to be used. Besides all the film they produced being always polyester for the format (Kodak used thicker acetate over 99% of the time) with the support (at first) of Agfa and Sakura to produce film and cartridges for their format, you could rewind the film as much as you wanted for fading on select cameras if you wanted that effect. Kodak cartridge could only do that in very limited lengths.

Both formats launched in 1965 with fine campaigns and both were eventually successful and Kodak (among other companies) still make Super 8 film and cartridges to this day, even surviving the onslaught of every video format you can name, but Fuji eventually gave up on Single 8 despite rumors and hype it was the better format. Why? Well, it is the same kind of film (even if editing of polyester and acetate does not usually work) and Fuji ran into issues early.

For one thing, Agfa had trouble making the Single 8 film cartridges including problems perforating the film. After making one film type available, they soon quit and defected to the Super 8 format, where they made film for it until 1995. Sakura also only made one cartridge before going the same route, but it is unknown why they also threw the towel in.

That left Fuji making all the film for their format until the early 2000s when they folded it up, but lasting a bit longer were other camera companies making Single 8 cameras, including Elmo (10 models from 1965 to 1975), Canon (2 models: 1965, 1970), Yashica (1 model in 1966) and Konica (2 models in 1966). Otherwise, it was Fuji under the Fujica name producing 36 models from 1965 to 1983. That was enough to sell millions of cameras and cartridges of film, especially in Japan, but it also found some fans in the United States and more in Europe, including in Italy where Fuji launched a solid campaign.

Ironically, outside of black and white Fujipan the company made for the format until 1975 in the U.S. and longer in Japan, all the color film made for the format used Kodak chemistry to develop it, whether it was Fuji's answers to Kodachrome or Ektachrome. Any developing chemicals and film that were in-house has been abandoned by the time they introduced Single 8. They also had more complex carbon backing (known as remjet) to remove, so it was usually on Fuji who could really develop the film properly, a big limit as other film was easier to develop.

All cartridges could run into issues, though the backing plate for the movie film in all Fuji cameras were built into the camera versus Kodak putting them into their Super 8 cartridges, so Kodak was slightly faster to load, but Fuji was a little more stable to film with. Once Fuji's film expired, it would not last as long as other film produced in either format, so you had to shoot it sooner than later. Both formats added magnetic sound by the mid-1970s, but the silent cartridges still remained the most successful.

Both companies had troubles with the cameras they produced. Save to Super 8 cameras (with metal parts), almost all Kodak Super 8 cameras do not work because the plastic parts have disintegrated. They hardly ever made any cameras that did more than the silent 18 frames per second (aka fps) speed. Some of Fuji's cameras did sound 24 fps and on some models, 20fps for silent cartridges later on so they were easier to transfer to video.

Other manufacturers started making Single 8 film cartridges with film Fuji was not cutting for them, extending the life of the format, but this was usually acetate and that would sometimes be a problem in cartridges really intended for thinner polyester. Fuji also got to see their film land up in Super 8 cartridges from the same specialty outlets. By 2019, cartridges with newer, fresh film were getting scarce and outside of those specialty cartridges, the only Fuji film they made for the format that would possibly yield results were the last of the Neopan black and white films or any color film with an 'N' at the end.

And the troubles with many of Fuji's own cameras in the format? Like other amateur consumer movie formats on film (8mm, 9,5mm and even 16mm at one point, a situation even worse for all the camcorder videotape formats you can name like VHS and Beta) people used often, the cameras would wear out from extensive use, break from that use, break from being abused or mistreated and repairs would be so expensive that you were better off buying another camera if the one you had was even repairable. It also offered a reason to upgrade to a better format.

In the case of film, the silent 18fps speed was the standard for Super 8, 8mm, 9,5mm and Single 8 film as none of them started with sound and that also allowed the film to last longer when played back. However, sound was better at its native frame rate of 24fps and that is the best way to shoot now (unless you like spending a lot of money on nostalgia) and in this 4K Ultra HD era, it is your best bet. Even then, some 18fps cameras were allowing 20fps for silent cartridges in both Super 8 and Single 8 to make video transfers easier than 18fps ever was. Unless you already have a working camera that has survived from when your family used it when you were a child and you are stuck, 24fps or a compromise on 20fps is the way to go today.

Kodak only ever made two Super 8 cameras (not the M2 and M4 that will still work if you can find a working model) that filmed at 24fps. Some of their Ektasound cameras apparently did 20fps too, but other companies (Canon, Elmo and Yashica among them) made some of the best Super 8 cameras. Fuji had several models that did 24fps, but some of them (like the Z series) have battery compartment that can actually contract over time, meaning you cannot fit the AA batteries in them, even if the camera would actually work. That affects many of their early cheap models, as well as some of the better later ones, so be aware. They eventually came up with better battery compartments, including for their Sound cameras. Thus, alter Fuji cam,eras are a better bet.

Then you have to watch out for lenses that are fogged, scratched or have mold slowly growing on them, but since film is now very hard to get and even finding empty cartridges to load with film (a very difficult task in itself) is also scarce, the result is few good film cartridges for few operational, working cameras. Trying to fix anyone of them with that battery compartment issue is doomed and that means there are very few people who can use this format anymore.

That would include those whose family already had a working camera that still works, fanatics for the format who can still get film and get working cameras or cameras to work, repair experts who have the know-how and parts to fix the cameras and those few who are really interested and have stupid money to spend too much of to get a camera to work.

What is available film wise (see eBay for instance) is mostly old film you are not likely to get results from and is pricey, though relatively newer film can go for $70.00 a cartridge with no guarantee it will develop with any results. The cameras are shockingly high in price, with too many listed as 'untested' and even if the motor runs, it does not mean it can actually pull the film through the camera. For as overpriced as this is now getting, you'd be better off shooting Super 8 or 16mm film and get better, more guaranteed results. There are nice Single 8 cameras that are very professional (Fuji's ZC-1000 camera is considered remarkably professional with many parts and a rarity in Super 8 or Single 8, removable lenses!) but how professional can you get if you have hardly any film to get?

So film labs like Retro 8, Spectra ands Wittner made the later Single 8 film while they could and Retro 8 may have one black and white film stock left to sell. Fuji supported the format as long as they felt they could and moved on to video, digital, other technologies and still produce film, though they stopped making their motion picture film not long after folding on Single 8. Super 8 continues to thrive (Kodak might release the first new cameras they've offered in decades) as the sun sets on Single 8. For the last 25 years it was around, Fuji was able to support it on its own and fans stuck with it, but its end is near. That many of you never knew it existed tells you how niche it became, but it was there and leaves a unique legacy everyone deserves to know about.

You can even see some films online from the format by people who used the format and some film's Fuji made to promote it. Needless to say it is an underrated, interesting part of film history too few know about and will always hold a special place for film fans, especially those who got to film with it.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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