‘Cinefilm’ describes a strip of cellulose material used for recording moving images between the 1890s and 1990s. Amateur cinefilm is usually one of a number of widths or ‘gauges’: 9.5mm, 16mm, 8mm or Super 8; with 35mm typically reserved for professional use. New technology in the 20th century meant that cameras and projectors became more accessible to the public, so everyday people could capture birthdays, weddings, and videos of day-to-day life, keeping them for years to come. The cameras and projectors used over the years required different sizes of film as technology developed. So, to help you work out which type of film you’ve got, we’ve put together this handy guide.
16 mm film
Introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1923, 16mm film was a popular alternative to 35mm film for home videographers. It was one of the first types of film to use acetate safety film as a base (cellulose acetate), as opposed to nitrate film (cellulose nitrate), which was very flammable. There were a variety of options to choose from to suit many budgets: black and white and colour, silent and later sound. These variations differ slightly in appearance, making it easier to identify each type.
All 16 mm film has holes, known as sprockets, running down at least one side of the strip. If there are sprockets on both sides, the film is silent. Film with sound will only have sprockets on one side. On the other side, there’ll either be a brown magnetic strip, or a wiggly line that can be seen when the film is held up to the light.
9.5 mm film
In 1922, Pathé introduced 9.5mm film, and this became a popular choice for amateur filmmakers across Europe. Around 300,000 projectors were produced and sold in France and England! This format worked well because it could be created by splitting one roll of 35mm film into three. Despite being smaller in width, the image produced was similar in size to that produced by 16mm film. Thanks to the sprocket being in the centre of the film rather than along the edges, and because of the way film was pulled through the projector, the perforation can’t be seen by viewers. Both 9.5mm and 16mm cameras were first introduced on hand-cranked cameras, clockwork motors came later.
There were two different types of 8mm film: Standard 8 and Super 8. A few years after bringing 16mm film to the market, in 1932 Eastman Kodak released 8mm film. Until the 1960s, only silent film was available. With the invention of projectors able to capture and play back sound, Super 8 film hit the market. Super 8mm cameras typically had battery-powered motors, getting rid of the need to wind the film and making them easier to use. Super 8 was sold until the 1990s, but now is only available online or from independent film shops.
Just like 16mm film, differences in the sprockets are an easy way to identify which type of 8mm you have. On both, sprockets will run down just one side, but they vary in size. The standard 8mm has larger sprockets and a smaller image frame, while Super 8 has smaller sprockets and a wider image.
Now you know how to identify what kind of film you have, you can think about digitisation. Film can be temperamental, and your beloved reels will deteriorate if stored incorrectly. At Hampshire Archives and Local Studies / Wessex Film and Sound Archive, we offer digitisation services for 8mm, Super 8, 9.5mm and 16mm film. Find out more about digitising your cinefilm or enquire now to transform your on-film moments into memories that’ll last a lifetime.