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Best Super 8 Camera for Monster Movies


Jared P. Foust
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Hello, all!

 

I am an Atlanta-based filmmaker specializing in practical miniature effects and giant monster movies in the style of classic Godzilla films and Ultraman television series. My reel is here:

 

https://vimeo.com/120988634

 

So I've recently gotten really into the idea of shooting films on Super 8 after seeing how lovely it can look when done with great care and it's appealing to me to shoot on a physical format when I am so fiercely practical about all my other approaches to fantasy filmmaking as well. I like to avoid CGI at all costs when I can help it. Plus, I've found that miniatures just tend to look more natural on film than on digital video. The trouble I'm having is figuring out just what camera I should start with. I'd very much like the following things in a camera:

 

  • The ability to shoot at high frame rates – at least 54fps (technically my scale calls for 120fps but ~60fps usually gets the job done just fine because I'm rarely aiming for complete realism anyway)
  • The ability to focus on very close objects and capture a fairly deep depth of field. There were some cameras I thought might be good until I found out their minimum focusing distance was, like, 3-5 feet. I often need to be able to have the camera focus inches away from my miniatures.
  • The ability to shoot with a super wide or ultra wide angle lens. Partly for style reasons but also to help my miniature shots feel big and expansive when the camera is up close and surrounded by the sets.
  • The latter two issues also combine into one other issue. I want to be able to get Jeunet and Gilliam-style wide angle close-ups of my actors. I like getting my camera right up in their faces instead of just popping a longer lens on or zooming in, so I need to make sure I can get that close focus.
  • I'd like to keep my base camera budget under $100, maybe willing to stretch that to $150ish if the guaranteed perfect camera comes along. Willing to spend more to accessorize it though.

The cameras I've been looking the most at are the Nizo models. Specifically, there's an S56 and an S560 on ebay right now that I've got my eye on since they shoot 54fps (plus their aesthetic appeal!) but based on my research, I'm guessing if they're not macro models, I won't be able to get up close on things or use a wide angle adapter? Would there be any way to adapt one of these cameras to suit me or do I definitely need to go after a macro model?

 

Also, if Ebay doesn't work out for me, is Cheap Super8 Camera Shop worth looking into? They seem to have a lot of options that might work for me.

 

I would appreciate any feedback you folks have for me. Even if you can just honestly say I'm barking up the wrong tree and asking for too much in one camera for my tiny budget!

 

Thanks for taking the time to read this!

Edited by Jared P. Foust
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First of all: awesome stuff :D

 

Nizo S56 and S560 do not have macro capability. If you want to go for a production camera, I recommend the Nizo 801 macro or Nizo professional.

 

For practical effects, the Bauer A512 is also a good proposition, as it covers all the features of the Nizo cameras mentioned above, including 54 fps and a variable shutter, plus also a variable intervalometer and long-time exposure feature which should come handy for practical effects. It also has a 6mm wide angle focal length, and the lens is superior to the Nizo stock.

 

You should also consider the Beaulieu 4008 ZM II with a Schneider Beaulieu-Optivaron 1:1,8 / 6-66mm (C-Mount) with Beaulieu Reglomatic. The camera goes up to 70 fps, and the lens has a 6mm wide angle, plus a very handy telemacro feature available at any focal length.

 

These three production cameras are better suited to what you want to do, but they are probably beyond your low-figure budget.

 

So: check out the Nizo 561 macro HERE, the last of the 56er-type generations Braun produced, which may just be the best of both worlds for you.

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Thanks! All those cameras sound great, I'll keep researching them. As for budget, yeah, I know it's pretty low but I'm trying to strike a balance between quality and not breaking the bank in case this foray into analogue filmmaking doesn't go as well as I hope. I definitely don't expect to get the BEST quality for the budget I'm allotting and if I fall in love with the process then I'll be happy to get better equipment in the future. The Nizo 561 Macro does seem to be the most appealing in that regard.

 

What's the difference between the 561 Macro I, II, and III?

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I am not sure what you mean with "I,II,III" versions. I may be able to help if you let me know where you read that.

 

The Nizo 561 was only sold in 1975. From 1976 to 1980, macro was added to the lens and the camera became the Nizo 561 macro. If it does not state "macro" in the sales listing and above all in print on the front plate of the camera body, then it's not the one with a macro-feature lens. I have met people who in the heat of an eBay battle accidentally bought the wrong camera without macro capability.

 

Happy hunting, and check out the forum here for posts on the cameras, features, tricks... The Search feature here is the gateway to the best resource on the Web. :D

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Oh, I think I got confused. When I was looking at the listings on http://cheap-super8camera-shop.com, the 561s are labeled I, II, and III and I think that is just because they have three separate listings. I thought maybe they were different models since I saw that there are compatible lenses that are actually marked I, II, and III as a size differentiation, I believe.

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The Roman numerals are indeed just for numbering the items on sale, because they do this on all cameras as well where I,II,III makes 0 sense ;)

 

Nizo sold as accessories three close-up lenses, "Nahline NL I" to "~NL III", where the Roman numeral denoted the factor and fit to specific cameras, S56 and S560. For the final generation of cameras, the 561 and 561 macro, those lenses were renamed NL 8001, 8002 etc.

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You should also consider the LEICINA SPEZIAL,

though it's not so common in the US and may be beyond your budget.

9 / 18 / 25 / 54 fps. + single frame, long time exposure, flash synchronisation.

Leica bayonet mount, standard lens Optivaron 1:1,8 / 6-66mm, true macro capability,

Aspheron ultrawide prelens 4mm.

Interchangeable Macro-Cinegon 1,8 / 10mm.

 

Best,

Volker

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You should also consider the LEICINA SPEZIAL,

though it's not so common in the US and may be beyond your budget.

9 / 18 / 25 / 54 fps. + single frame, long time exposure, flash synchronisation.

Leica bayonet mount, standard lens Optivaron 1:1,8 / 6-66mm, true macro capability,

Aspheron ultrawide prelens 4mm.

Interchangeable Macro-Cinegon 1,8 / 10mm.

 

Best,

Volker

 

Yeah, definitely outside of my budget but wow! Thanks for all these recommendations, guys. I think the Nizo 561 Macro is the way to go for now but I'll definitely keep the others in mind for the future if this endeavor turns out well.

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Not to burst your bubble but you do realize that just one reel of film that lasts about 1.5 minutes at the frame rate you're talking about will cost about the budget for your entire camera? Film, processing HD transfer & shipping will be close to $100 per cartridge by the time you're done.

 

With that in mind, spend $300-$500 on a quality camera and have it serviced. For the style of your reel, you will really love working in Super 8 so having a decent camera will help...especially a good macro lens. The Beaulieu 4008 ZM II will allow you to use almost any c-mount lens. Or wait for the new Kodak camera and you may find some advantages on that too.

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Not to burst your bubble but you do realize that just one reel of film that lasts about 1.5 minutes at the frame rate you're talking about will cost about the budget for your entire camera? Film, processing HD transfer & shipping will be close to $100 per cartridge by the time you're done.

 

With that in mind, spend $300-$500 on a quality camera and have it serviced. For the style of your reel, you will really love working in Super 8 so having a decent camera will help...especially a good macro lens. The Beaulieu 4008 ZM II will allow you to use almost any c-mount lens. Or wait for the new Kodak camera and you may find some advantages on that too.

 

No bubble burst here. I had definitely been taking those figures into account! My initial thought was, yeah, start cheap and see how I like it but I've definitely been coming around to the idea of spending a little more on a camera right out the gate to be safe. Right now the Nizo 801 seems most appealing to me in terms of splitting the difference between cost and quality but I will look more seriously into the Beaulieu that's been recommended.

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Why don't you check out this post with downloadable documents here in the FAQ, which provides a detailed discussion of Super 8 production cameras. Maybe it will help with your decisionmaking.


Right now the Nizo 801 seems most appealing to me in terms of splitting the difference between cost and quality but I will look more seriously into the Beaulieu that's been recommended.

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