The birth and evolution of video has seen the development of 35mm, 16mm and 8mm film, all with their ‘super’ prefixed companions, on our way to the digital, high definition, 3D film formats we find today. In this article I am going to give an insight in to the 16 mm film in particular.
The name ’16 mm’ is a reference to the measurement of the width of the film and this format is often used in industrial or educational film making as well as motion pictures.
It was Eastman Kodak who first brought us the 16mm as a cheaper version of 35 mm film in 1923. It opened up the film industry for more amateur usage. People could now make home movies and buy or rent films from libraries. 16 mm film pioneered the use of acetate safety film as a film base over the highly flammable nitrate base as this format was intended for amateur use.
Initially 16 mm film was silent, but optical soundtracks were added in the 1930s meaning videos were then produced with both vision and sound. The addition of sound gave the 16 mm a huge boost and thus saw it used to create video for businesses, governments and medical practitioners. If you look on youtube you can also find many wedding videos shot on 16mm film in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60s.
These days video has almost completely taken over in the amateur field with 16 mm film only really used by independent filmmakers on a budget. However, here in the UK, 16mm is often used in dramas and adverts, and is still a popular format for broadcast television and film making. Also, the advent of widescreen has meant more usage of Super 16. An example of which is the BBC drama series ‘Merlin’ from 2008/09. The first season of Sex and the City was filmed using 16 mm as was the 2009 Best Picture Academy Award winner, The Hurt Locker. For the latter the savings on cost over 35 mm film meant multiple cameras could be used for many shots and over a million feet of film was exposed!
So there you have it, 16mm …first introduced in 1923 as a cheaper alternative to 35mm, then later itself replaced by 8mm as an even more inexpensive method, but still used today by film making industry professionals.