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Recognising and Archiving Different Film Formats

Cine film has enabled generations of moviemaking enthusiasts to shoot home videos as well as create independent films. However, all film stock is subject to deterioration. Below is a list of major film types and their physical traits.

8mm
Introduced in 1932 by George Eastman, the 8mm film stock drew upon the success of 16mm safety film and brought home moviemaking to a wider audience as the film stock became much more affordable. Today, a descendent of 8mm film is available in the market in the form of double 8mm. It is still used by a number of young filmmakers, and is especially revered by those who have access to machine age cameras. 8mm film is safety film and is not dangerous. But you need to store it in a cool and dry place. If stored properly 8mm film can last up to 25 years, after which you will see colour and sound fading.  

16mm
Introduced in 1923, 16mm film came off as a safe alternative to nitrate stock. It was non-flammable and affordable for the common man. 16mm measures about 5/8 inch, but can shrink if not stored properly. It is still available today in a wide variety of stocks, both positive and negative. Over time, dyes that form the image in colour 16 mm film fade. If you have 16mm Eastman from before 1979, you can easily notice color shifts and fading as this occurs within 10 years.

Super 8
Compared to film types discussed so far, Super 8 is the latest development in home video film making. You have a wider image area and the standard format is 4:3 or 1.33:1. Super 8 film also deteriorates with time, and once it does you will notice a strong smell of vinegar (called the ‘Vinegar Syndrome’) and the shape may become crimped as well. In addition, it should be noted that Kodak ceased the production of Super 8 film with sound almost 2 decades ago, because the adhesive used to bond the magnetic track to the film was not considered safe.

Magnetic Video
Finally, we have magnetic video. Magnetic tape is a magnetisable coating on plastic film which can be used for audio and video recording. According to technical literature, magnetic tape products stay unscathed for up to 30 years, but further research suggested that the life expectancy of magnetic media is much shorter than previously considered. It is now held that durability for digital magnetic tape extends at least 10 to 20 years.

While quality storage is recommended, the best way to preserve amateur video content shot on cine film is to convert it into digital formats.