Let's Go to the Movies: The Mechanics of Moving Images

Home Movies

Having supplied the commercial motion picture industry, the photo industry saw a potential market in home movies. By reducing the size of the film, first to 16mm and then to 8mm, they were able to make it convenient and affordable for amateurs to produce home movies.

By 1940, a large number of families in the U.S. were equipped to take and show movies of themselves.
After World War II, the availability of color film and improvements in versatility and simplicity of cameras and projectors made shooting home movies even more attractive. Home movies reached a peak of popularity in the 1960s and 1970s.

The convenience and availability of video tape cameras, recorders and players by the 1980s caused a precipitous decline in the use of photographic film for home movies.



Simple movie cameras did not require complex lenses. With very small images and very little distance from the lens to the film, simple lenses were adequate for image quality.

Many home movie-makers, however, were frustrated by the limitations of having only one lens to work with. They wanted a lens for close-up portraits of their loved ones and they wanted a telephoto lens that would make that far-away mountain goat visible on the screen. Before zoom lenses, manufacturers filled this desire by mounting two or three lenses on a turret. These could easily be rotated and the photographer could select whichever one he thought suited his needs.

Color film had to be balanced for the type of illumination used. Film balanced to produce good color under indoor tungsten illumination would produce unacceptably blue pictures if exposed outdoors. To make it possible to use the same roll of film indoors and out, it was common for home movie makers to buy film balanced for indoor exposure and then to use a yellow-orange filter over the lens when exposing the same film outdoors.


Film Transport

In a camera,unexposed film on a supply spool passes the lens and the shutter as it is exposed and advances to a take-up spool. The advance mechanismis synchronized with the shutter so that the film is not moving as it is being exposed.

Early 16mm cameras had perforations on both edges outside the picture area and sprockets advanced the film by mating with the perforations.

Kodak's 8mm film system used 25-foot rolls, 16mm wide perforated both sides. These were referred to as double 8mm rolls. On the first pass only half the film was exposed. Then the film was turned over and the other half exposed. After processing it was slit to 8mm and spliced into a single 50-foot roll with perforations on only one side.

A different system patented and used by Univex did not require turning the 8mm film over. The film was 8mm wide and 30 feet long with perforations on only one side.

Pathè Freres, Pathè S.A., Paris, France, used 9 1/2 mm film. Its only perforations were in the center of the film between frames. This allowed it to use the full width of the film for the pictures.

About 1936 Kodak introduced a 16mm magazine for 50-foot lengths of film for cameras specially built to accept magazines.


1. The photographer could switch from color to black and white film, or indoor to outdoor film and back without having to have finished exposing the film in the magazine.
2. The photographer did not have to thread the film through the camera.
3. The machine-loaded magazine permitted a more compact film path which made smaller cameras possible.


Film length was limited to 50 feet. Spool loaded cameras used 100-foot rolls, so magazine cameras and films supplemented but did not replace spoolloaded cameras.

A similar film magazine and a compatible camera for 8mm movies were introduced in 1940. As with spool-loaded double 8mm film, the magazine had to be turned over to expose the second half of the roll.

In the mid 1960s Kodak introduced Super 8 film. Images were slightly larger, the film was sold in easy-load cartridges, and films were 8mm wide and perforated on one side only so there was no need to reverse the film
during exposure nor to slit and splice the film after processing.

| Introduction | Technology and Development | Movie Theatres | Movie Pioneers | Early Locations | Home Movies | Personalities | Movie Quote Quiz |

Back To Top This page last updated: September 17, 2001
Original content: Copyright © 2000, 2001 Museum of American Heritage