With the release of safer-to-use and more affordable 9.5mm and 16mm films in the 1920s, the practice of amateur filmmaking came within reach of a wider group of users. In 1923, the Eastman Kodak Company introduced the 16mm film format together with the Kodascope home projector and Ciné-Kodak camera. Kodak's 16mm and Pathé's 9.5mm films were named 'small-gauges', because of their relatively small size compared to the 35mm film used by professionals. Soon they developed into amateur film standards.
Compared to 35mm film, Pathé's and Kodak's small-gauges were more affordable not only because of their reduced size; they also enabled a new process of film development called reversal film. Contrary to the negative-positive development process, in which first a negative film was developed in order to make a positive print, reversal film allowed for making a positive print directly during the film development process. Eliminating the additional negative film significantly reduced the costs of filmmaking.
Film gauge comparison chart, depicting differences between 35mm film and various small-gauges, including 16mm and 9.5mm film. An overview of various substandard film formats can be found on the personal website of Dutch film collector Michael Rogge: https://wichm.home.xs4all.nl/filmsize.html.
The Kodascope 16mm film projector and the Ciné-Kodak 16mm film camera were originally sold as one set, together with a projection screen, tripod and film splicer. Kodak's business model thus stimulated users to make their own movies.
The first Ciné-Kodak model featured a fixed Kodak Anastigmat 25mm f/3.5 lens and was hand-cranked, similar to Pathé's first 9.5mm film camera from 1923. To make a home movie, one had to turn the crank, positioned on the edge of the camera, with a speed of two revolutions per second for recording 16 frames. A tripod was required to make a steady recording with the hand-cranked camera.
A Ciné-Kodak 16mm film camera, model M.
Fragment of 'Zo de ouden zongen zo piepen de jongen', an amateur film by Wouter Gerhard Kuyck from 1938, in which he purchases a 16mm film camera in a photography and film shop in the Netherlands. Source: Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision
In 1925, Kodak released its first spring motor-driven Ciné-Kodak camera (model B), which could also be used hand-held. Before making a recording, the user had to wind the spring after putting the film in the camera and setting the focus and exposure. When fully wound, the spring-motor camera could film for up to 40 seconds. In later models, like the Ciné-Kodak K, 100-feet (30 meter) film rolls were used. The Kodascope projector could project films of up to 400 feet long (122 metres), allowing for about sixteen minutes of screening time.
Loading a Ciné-Kodak 16mm film camera, model K, with a roll of film.
Film splicing outfit for the Kodascope 16mm film projector.
A Kodascope 16mm film projector, model C, ca. 1928.
In 1932, Kodak released a new amateur film format: 8mm film. Also known as "regular 8" or "double 8" this further reduced the cost of amateur filmmaking by splitting the 16mm film format in two while adding perforations to the left side of the frame. Kodak's cheaper 8mm film format was especially popular among family filmmakers.
The Ciné-Kodak Eight, an 8mm film camera, model 25. Produced by the Eastman Kodak Company, ca. 1934.
The sound of winding and the release of a Bell & Howell 'Filmo Sportster' 8mm film camera from the 1930s-1940s.
A Kodak 'Brownie' 8mm film camera.
In 1965, the Super 8 and Single 8 cassette-based film systems were introduced. Kodak's Super 8 film was released as a successor to regular 8mm film. One of the main differences between Super 8 and the 9.5mm, 16mm and regular 8mm small-gauge technologies was that the film was contained in a plastic cartridge. This made it easier for filmmakers to use because the film no longer needed to be manually threaded into the camera. Fuji's Single 8 film system also worked with a cartridge, but instead of cellulose acetate used polyester film.
A Super 8 film cassette on the side.
A Canon 514XL Super 8 film camera, ca. 1976.
Sound of the Canon 514XL Super 8 film camera running.
Super 8 and Single 8 film cameras were typically equipped with an electromotor drive, automatic zoom, and exposure controls. Flexible film viewers and film projectors enabled the viewing, editing and screening of both regular 8mm, Super 8, and Single 8 films.
Revue Deluxe Super 8 film viewer, used for viewing and editing Super 8 film.
The Eumig Mark 8 is a flexible film projector that can screen regular 8mm, Super 8, and Single 8 films.
Users, genres and techniques
With the introduction of the various amateur film formats, new kinds of people started using the medium and developed new genres and techniques. Amateur film magazines, handbooks and 'how to' guides provided technical information, discussions and tips on how to make movies.
Such discourses frequently reflect a distinction between two types of users: family filmmakers, who are primarily interested in the practice of documenting family memories, and film hobbyists, who are more interested in experimenting with new filmmaking techniques and forms of storytelling. Making home movies was often described as something to start with:
Most people use their film camera to record their family. Charming! Aside from that, some people record nice things from the city or surrounding areas, which is also very worthwhile. A third possibility offered by the film camera is to record your own stories! That’s really something!
Dick Boer, Het nieuwe smalfilmboek, 1968
Making a film scenario was generally considered a good practice. Some handbooks and guidelines provided complete scenarios, for instance for making family fiction films. Other common amateur film genres include holiday, documentary, animation, experimental, and feature films.
Family fiction film 'Tom de Snelfotograaf', a family fiction film from amateur filmmaker Jos A. Huygen from 1928. Source: Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision
Holiday film Kampeerfilm 'Trekvogel', a holiday film about camping holidays in the Netherlands, made by amateur filmmaker A.B. Landberg in 1951. Source: Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision
Documentary film The Street ('De Straat'), a documentary amateur film by Dutch amateur filmmaker A. Carré from 1932. Source: Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision
Experimental film 'Lucifers', a 16mm animation film made by Johann G. Hunningher in 1938. Source: Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision
'Canovaart in onze tuin', an experimental film by Dutch amateur filmmaker Ed Millecam, in which he experimented with the reverse motion special effect. Source: Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision
Animation film The Fly ('De Vlieg'), a 16mm animation film with puppets, made by Dutch amateur filmmaker Harry Schäfer in 1975. Source: Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision
Film titles and montage
Amateurs furthermore experimented with making film titles and montages. Film titles served an important function in amateur films, which remained mostly silent as a medium, by providing contextual information about the time and place of the film recordings, the people appearing in them, and their actions. They were made in various ways, for instance by means of a Ciné-Kodak film titler accessory.
A Ciné-Kodak film titler from the 1930s, used for making titles with the Ciné-Kodak 16mm or 8mm film camera.
Creative use of film titles in the amateur film 'Opening Baan 06-24 Schiphol' by amateur filmmaker G. Sanders in 1960. Source: Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision