How to make a digital frame counter for your Super-8 camera
by Chris Wagganer
Most modern Super-8 cameras, with a few exceptions, don’t have frame counters which accurately indicate the numbers of frames you’ve exposed. This could be frustrating if you are doing some complex stop-motion animation and need to keep an accurate count. You might also need a more accurate counter if you are doing a project where you need to shoot a specific amount of film per shot and need a better readout than the crude “fuel gauge” style footage meter on most Super-8 cameras. Fortunately, most better Super-8s have a port designed to connect to a flash for single frame cinematography. This port basically is just a connector which closes a contact each time the shutter is opened. This project is for these such cameras. This project also requires some basic soldering and wiring skills, as well as some skills in making a small enclosure. Other skills, like num-chuck skills, computer hacking skills etc., are good to have, but not necessary for this project.
First, you’ll need to get an electronic counter kit. The one I selected for this project is the CK1612 4 Digit Up/Down Counter (from electronickits.com). The kit comes with all of the parts and circuit board, but no enclosure. You can find a suitable box at a local electronics store, or get creative with some wood or plastic. The kit costs about 19.95 plus shipping and handling. I’m not necessarily endorsing this project, but it looks like a good kit to start with.
I chose this counter because it has four digits, and a 50 foot roll of Super-8 film has about 3600 frames. If you had a counter with three frames, you’d need to keep track of each time the counter “turned over.” This is an Up/Down counter, but we’re going to set it up as just a “count-up” counter.
The kit requires some basic soldering skills, so you’ll need to know the fundamentals of printed circuit construction. If you don’t, you can probably find someone at a local electronics store who can help you out, or you can pick up a book on soldering techniques (it’s a little tricky to learn, but it’s not rocket science).
Assemble the kit according to the instructions which come with it. You’ll also need a power supply for the counter. I recommend using an AC adapter if electricity is going to be available where you are shooting. If not, a battery pack made up of eight AA batteries will supply 12 volts and work very well (especially if you are going to be using the counter continuously for a long time). The battery accessories are also available at a local electronics store or on-line. You can also use a car’s cigarette lighter plug with the proper connector.
For the trigger input from the camera I used a length of coiled flash cable. This I found at a professional photography supply store. If you’re not sure about what to get, bring your camera with you to the store and show the clerk what you need. The two leads from the trigger get attached to the “Count Up” terminals on the circuit board. This circuit has a “de-bounce” function which will allow trigger speeds up to 30 per second. So, if you are using the counter on your camera in “real time” if you run the camera faster than 30 frames per second, your count may not be frame accurate (but close).
You can also install a reset switch on the appropriate terminals on the board, but the circuit can also be reset by just removing at re-applying the power. So remember, if you must disconnect the power while using the counter, be sure to jot down the frame number you’re on, if that’s critical.
To test the counter, power up the module and attach the trigger cable to your camera. The display should read all zeroes. Put your camera in single frame mode and fire the shutter a few times. The counter should advance by one for ever click of the shutter. If it doesn’t, you’ve probably got a dirty terminal on the camera or a loose wire somewhere.
So there you go. This should be enough information to get you started. Good luck!
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