Blackmagic? Sony? Nah. My Latest Camera is a 1972 Braun Nizo S56 Super 8

by Hugh Brownstone9 Comments

The Nizo only cost $142 on eBay; came with a non-interchangeable Variogon 7-56mm f/1.8 zoom lens by storied manufacturer Schneider Kreuznach; and was designed by the legendary Dieter Rams. I’ve dreamed of having this camera since I was 14, and once I got it there was only one thing to do: shoot with it.

In these waning days of 2015, I’m thinking about which piece of gear deserves “best of the year” props.

Yeah, I mean other than the Sony a7r II or a7s II.

And this, in turn, has me thinking about gear more generally and the tension between geargasm and…skill. Passion. Creativity. Focus. Discipline.

It also has me thinking about my newly-acquired 4K iPhone 6s Plus; the fact that I was already satisfied shooting most of my interviews for planet5D on its predecessor, the iPhone 6 (though I recently broke down and bought Schneider’s iPro lens kit [B&H|Amazon] ); and that there have already been times when I’ve found the iPhone to be a better tool – in service of the story I was trying to show – than even something as phenomenal as Sony's FS7 (see our multi-part series here).

Finally, I’m thinking about image quality vs ergonomics, industrial design and price — and where my personal trade-offs lie.

Which brings me to the subject of this post (well, the gear, anyway): the late 1960s/early 1970s vintage Braun Nizo S56 super 8 camera.

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Snap by Hugh Brownstone: Braun Nizo S56 next to Leica IIIa: two icons

The first movie I ever shot (and edited atrociously in-camera) was done on a Fuji Single-8 camera. It was the last movie I shot for more than a decade as I concentrated on still photography instead.

But from that point forward I had a jones for what to my mind was THE state of the art Super 8 camera, the Dieter Rams-designed Braun Nizo (you may disagree and think it was the Beaulieu, but the Nizo spoke to me).

Fast forward 40+ years.

Dieter Rams is regarded as one of the greatest industrial designers of the 20th century. You can see his influence in this generation’s most iconic industrial design driven company – Apple (just check out these photos of the Braun clocks and the world clock in Apple's iOS 9, and then compare the latest iPhone and iPad mini to the Braun Nizo S56):

Braun Clocks side by side

iPhone screen

 

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Snap by Hugh Brownstone: iPad Mini 3, iPhone 6s+, Braun Nizo S56 Super 8 camera

Right.

And I buy the Nizo S56 on eBay for $142 plus shipping.

It arrived looking as close to new as anyone could hope, straight from Germany, with a screw-on close-up lens and a collapsible rubber lens hood.

Super 8 film isn’t widely sold, but a quick trip to the B&H web site secured a single 50’ cartridge of Tri-X reversal film – a little over 3 minutes’ worth of filming at the Super 8 standard of 18fps – for $21.95.

Exciting!

I brought the camera with me to New York City while attending the PhotoPlus Expo, and on that fall afternoon shot those 3+ minutes by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I could have varied the frame rate (the S56 can shoot up to 54fps). I didn’t. I could have performed in-camera fade-ins and fade-outs (the S56 actually has a switch for that). I didn’t. I could have over-ridden the automatic exposure control. I didn’t. I could have used the built-in intervalometer. I didn’t.

I relied solely on framing,  that 7-56mm f/1.8 Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon lens (a 43-344mm field of view equivalent in 35mm or full-frame) — and the limitations of my ability to focus manually (I had to rely on a split image rangefinder through the reflex viewfinder).

It was a blast.

I didn’t know that I’d love it — dynamic range of a bulls eye target, grain the size of mustard seeds, and hand-held shake only a mother could love — until I got back a 3K scan from Rob at Cinelab.

Braun Nizo S56 First Footage, NYC Fall 2015 with shout out

I do love it.

It also goes to show how amazing software stabilization can be (I used plain vanilla stabilization in Final Cut Pro X) – and the role (once again) that music can play in film.

My iPhone/Nizo Fantasy

I don’t know that I’ll ever shoot another roll of film in the Nizo – no, Super 8 doesn’t hold a candle to an iPhone, let alone a Sony a7r II [B&H|Amazon].

But wow – if we could attach that Schneider Kreuznach zoom lens to an iPhone, holy cow. I’d DEFINITELY use that.

Think about it.

Schneider already makes the iPro lens kit and that kit already goes as wide as fish-eye — though they're limited to just 2x the standard iPhone lens at the top end (for an effective 35mm/full frame equivalent when shooting video of about 85mm). But in my conversation with Niki Mustain of Schneider at PhotoPlus Expo, she said they were exploring 3x and 4x now that image stabilization has improved so much in smartphone cameras.

Why not go all the way?

Think about this, too:

  1. The crop factor for Super 8 (6.14) is pretty darned close to the crop factor for the iPhone 6 sensor (7.21). Taking that 7mm – 56mm f/1.8 and figuring out how to make it work with the iPhone would yield a full frame equivalent of 50-403mm — but imagine Schneider trimming that back just a little bit, say to a range of 3.3mm to 33mm, for an effective full frame equivalent of 24-240mm.  Of course, the equivalent aperture wouldn't be nearly as exciting as 1.8.
  2. Look at how small that lens is on the Nizo! Pocketable.
  3. Maybe this iPhone lens wouldn't need manual focusing, so it could be even smaller (hey, the iPro lenses rely on the iPhone's autofocus, so why not?
  4. But even if you had to focus manually – would this be a bad thing?

Well, I did write this is a fantasy.

But maybe — just maybe — it isn't.

What do you think?

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Shooting on Super 8mm

Via No Film School:

Super 8mm

According to Alex, since 8mm film was originally designed to be incredibly user friendly, anybody can get the swing of it. To start, here is a brief overview of the numbers on making a Super 8mm short:

  • Camera: $80
  • 5 rolls of film: $110
  • Develop: $90
  • Telecine: $100
  • Total: $380

That's arguably pennies for what Alex calls an “imperfect and relatively unpredictable format that consistently produces a unique and pleasing image,” and is cheaper than the cost of buying (or even renting) a comparable digital setup. If you're intrigued, then eat your heart out with the following primer Alex created just for No Film School readers. “So you're thinking of shooting a movie on an outdated, low-fidelity, silent, sorta expensive, but also really magical format?” asks Alex. “Welcome aboard.” Here's his breakdown:

Get a Camera

Super 8mm cameras are fairly easy to come by. You can find them at antique shops, flea markets, camera shops, and online (eBay, craigslist, etc.). Most cost under $100 but the nicer models can run closer to $800. The first thing you have to understand is that these cameras were never meant to be professional in the traditional sense. Most are auto-exposure and shoot at the standard 18 frames per second. If you want any semblance of control over your image, you'll want to seek out a camera that has manual iris and some different frame rate options (1, 18, 24, 36fps are most common).

Beyond that, the only other major consideration is the lens. Depending on the year and manufacture, you're usually guaranteed to get some decent glass. If you're unfamiliar with the brand, you can generally equate a metal body and hefty lens with quality. But honestly I wouldn't worry too much about sharpness since the format is so low fidelity out of the gate, anyway. Also, with maybe one exception, these cameras are all fixed lenses, so you'll probably want to get one with zoom.

One of the best resources for super 8mm gear is Pro8mm in California. If you can afford it, they offer high quality refurbished and retrofit cameras and film stock. Super 8mm cameras stopped being manufactured in the 80s with the advent of video, but last year, one company released a new (and crazy expensive) super 8mm camera that I would likely kill a small animal to own. Please buy me this camera.

Read full article at No Film School “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Shooting on Super 8mm”

(cover photo credit: snap from No Film School)


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Comments

  1. vinchubang

    So, Hugh, can you now make the Nolab project a reality? http://nofilmschool.com/2013/12/nolab-digital-super-8-cartridge-make-film-cameras-go-digital

    :)

  2. RichardKaznYoung

    Nice work-looks like the Super 8mm  just like the Super 16mm-Film is back with even great Cinematographers like Ed Lachman used on Carol-which looked amazing!.
    Super 8mm has it’s beautiful feel a class in it’s self! Long live-Celluiod-Film!

  3. HughBrownstone

    Thanks – it is great fun, with a unique look that I love. And Modern cine camera makers could take a page or two from the Nizo industrial design playbook!

  4. rsellars

    Cool article Hugh!  It was a nice ride in the “way back” time machine.  Of course, I loved seeing the beautiful contrasty B&W reversal film footage. Really nice. Nothing quite like it. I was lucky enough to be able to shoot a feature film, “The Juniper Tree,” with B&W film stock.  It wasn’t easy to do even in the mid-eighties.  Thanks for also including the Super 8 article with the great resource details.  If you (or anyone else) decide to ever shoot some color super 8mm, I would highly recommend using color negative stock since you have your footage scanned and digitized.  Negative film stocks have MUCH better dynamic range and are more forgiving with under or overexposure which is easy to do with in camera meters.  You still get significant grain with the small negative size.  High contrast color images from reversal film are not always as pleasing aesthetically as the same in B&W.  Of course, you can grade your footage any way you want in post. It’s easy to make it look like reversal stock.  But you’ll have more options with negative film stock.

  5. HughBrownstone

    Rob, great info, thank you! We’ve got to pick your brain in a separate post or two!

  6. eclux

    Great story about a great little camera. Absolutely love the grain. One question: Why is it under-cranked? You note in the credits that it was shot at 18fps and conformed to 24, but it appears that somewhere in the workflow between Cinelab, FCPX and YouTube there is a framerate mixup.

  7. HughBrownstone

    eclux Thanks for the heads-up I’m reaching out to Cinelab.  FCPX won’t do 18fps, though I can slow it down to 75% to get approximately the same effect. Will let you know what I learn!

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