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Converting a Bolex H16M to Ultra-16, part 2 August 11, 2017

Last time we tackled the gate widening.  Now for the sprockets.  Because the film touches areas beside the sprocket teeth,  it’s necessary to remove any metal that might cause wear of the image.  Normally this wouldn’t perhaps happen but its better to be safe than sorry.  Removal of the two sprocket wheels is simple with a screwdriver.  Firstly though, ink a mark on the wheel next to a convenient point on the camera. Note there is an angled slot at the edge of each wheel that when lined up will clear the loop-former,  so turn the camera with the backwind key to get it in the right position.  Once removed, carefully grip each sprocket wheel in a vice.  In the photo you can see how much I filed off at each tooth.  It’s brass so quite easy.  Leave some metal at the base of each tooth and don’t damage the tooth itself. Finish off with fine emery wrapped around the needle-file.  Take your time !  Now turn your attention to the other side.  There are two ridges that normally support the film. Important:  don’t  touch the outer one.  The inner ridge needs to be removed.  This can be done with a lathe, or it’s not a long job to simply file it off.  As long as it doesn’t  touch your precious image there’s no problem.  So now you have sprockets that won’t harm the Ultra-16 image in any way.

Replace the sprockets,  ensuring that they are lined up accurately within their guides.  And also line up the ink marks as before.  Don’t tighten the screws properly yet.  Place some film in the threading path through the gate so that the claw engages it,  and close the loop-formers.  If necessary,  turn the sprockets slightly so that the film hugs the top and bottom loop-former.  By trial and error you’ll find the correct position for the sprockets,  and now fully tighten their grub-screws.  With loop-formers still closed, check the movement by winding the film by hand,  and finally by running the camera normally. Also check that the auto-threading feature works OK.  Now release the loop-formers and run the film at fast speeds to see that all is well.  Pristine unused film is best so that you can determine whether or not any damage occurs.  If it does,  it’s a simple matter to find the cause,  ink-marking the stationary film at various places along its path before you withdraw it from the camera.  An old projector lens is ideal as a magnifier.  Examine each perforation and its environs very carefully.

Next time we’ll look at the viewfinder mod.  Currently I’m  still tackling this !

to be continued…..

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Converting a Bolex H16M to Ultra-16, part 1 June 5, 2017

For some years now I’ve owned a little-used Bolex H16M camera, and had a yearning to modify it to Ultra-16.  Whenever I attempt something like this,  I first satisfy myself that the camera’s  registration is rock-steady. See

Having no turret like most Bolex’s,  it’s quite easy to get started on the job.  It goes something like this….

Remove the leather and nameplate to expose the lens mounting plate.   Put the camera out of springwound mode and ready for backwinding.  Use the backwind key to take the shutter away from the gate area.   Remove the 4 big outer screws and gently ease off the lensmount.  Unlike the more complicated Bolex models, there’s no problem upsetting the timing.

Inside the camera remove the back pressure pad.   Unscrew the gate mounting-plate,  but as a guide for replacement its a good idea I think to firstly mark around the edges with a scriber.  Now remove the 4 small screws that hold the gate, and slide it out gently from between the side leaf springs.  It goes without saying that the gate must not be scratched at all.  Don’t  remove the top and bottom bolts.

The gate needs to be enlarged sideways to bring it out to 1.85:1  ratio.  The area between the perfs (by the frame-line) that is seen in Regular-16,  won’t be visible.  Although of course the image carries on being formed in this area,  so it is possible to use the camera normally as well.  1.85:1  is the same ratio as 35mm widescreen, if you are thinking of blowing up to 35.  With my modification I decided to go wider than 1.85:1,  something approaching  2.2:1.  However, I knew I would run into problems with the latent edge markings appearing within the image area,  unless I could find film-stock without these markings.   1.85:1  though has no such problem.  I was also a little concerned that the wide gate might not support the film sufficiently and cause unsteadiness or lack of flatness.  But happily this hasn’t happened.  The final width is 13.3mm,  leaving only 2.7mm to support the film.

Now for the widening !  I used a chunk of wood that I’d  used on another U.16 job,  attaching the gate firmly with drawing pins cushioned with cardboard.   Over the top I mounted a magnifying glass,  and started filing away with a needle-file.   Lots of breaks is a good idea with this kind of intricate work.  You don’t want to jab the gate by mistake.  Later on I changed position and filed from below, see photo.  I also paid particular attention to the top and bottom edges to make a smooth bevel,  and rounded off the corner bits where the film would touch.  Afterthought:  it may have been safer to completely cover the gate moreorless with card, as surgeons paper over patients !  Finally, I  wrapped fine emery cloth around the file and worked with this.  Then to finish off, the finest emery grade.

I now placed the enlarged gate into the mounting-plate again and loosely put it in position.  Obviously it was also necessary to remove some metal from the front plate,  so I first scribed marks either side and then filed away.  This is quite hard steel.  After finishing with emery I cleaned everything thoroughly,  then painted all the filed parts including the gate edges,  matt black.  When satisfied all was OK,  I reassembled the gate into the camera,  in precisely the same position and making sure that none of the 4 screws protruded.   With the camera laying on its back,  I then eased the lens plate back into position,  making sure the claw was out of the way,  and then turned the backwind key.  All looked fine and so I replaced the 4 big screws,  tightening them diagonally. Then stuck on the leather.

Next I loaded some dummy film and ran the camera.  The movement looked fine to the eye.  How it really performed would be tested later.  When the gate was taken off black paint came off also,  so I touched up all this again so that the important light seal would remain.  This is how the gate and front plate looks now, with some film loaded.                                       to be continued….

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My first try with the RD motor on Bolex April 8, 2015

The Bolex’s  footage counter showed 90.  I dearly wanted to get the film out for processing.   Seven or so feet to go.  I hate wasting film.   Like many independent film-makers I have a shot-list as long as my arm,  and I hastily ran through it.  For such times I generally choose to do very easy shots,  but I thought I could perhaps try a slightly harder one today.  It was a shot of a tile falling off a roof on a stormy day.  I had initially  thought of doing it for ‘real’  (though that wouldn’t work today… sunny July 1st !)    No,  it would be easier anyway to do it as a miniature.   So I set up a miniature card tile with blutak on a circular pane of glass (about £8 at my local glass merchant).    It revolves by hand in a wooden grooved stand I’d  rigged up.   The background is a slide composite projected on to white card.   With the “tile”  lit obliquely by another slide projector,  I quickly realised that the slowest speed on my Bolex wasn’t going to give a small enough f-stop on the lens to put both planes in reasonable focus.  I was getting f2 but I really needed something like f4 on the 26mm Switar.  DSC09978

Then I remembered an add-on  RD  MF-14  motor that had yet to be put into use.   This unit goes at 4 fps giving more light.  So this was bolted on the camera and switched on. Now as the motor hummed into action I rather slowly turned the glass panel.   I found this quite difficult, trying to be smooth, but maybe a slight jerkiness could look more realistic.  We shall see !  I managed a few takes.   If successful I plan to add some superimposed rain later.

That was about 4 o’clock this afternoon.  I got the film out and cycled down to the post office.  Now awaiting  Andec’s  email.  Then the postman… These bits of excitement you miss with digital !

By the way, I got this idea of the circular glass from the gravity-free pen shot in  “2001″.   Wonder how Kubrick attached the pen to the glass prior to the air hostess retrieving it ?


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Henry L. Buckingham, Widescreen Pioneer

You may remember my post  “Who Invented Super-16 ?”  in which I described Ian Smith’s  16mm widescreen VariScope system:             Well, I recently got a comment from Steve Buckingham in Australia,  saying that he thought his late father had invented Variscope.   And way back in the early 1950s !  I was naturally incredulous about this. However, read on.

Henry Laurie Buckingham only died last December.  He was 92.   Steve has begun going through his dad’s film gear, and  he kindly sent me a video giving a taste of what he had achieved.  It shows an impressive array of projection apparatus and sound recorders.  As for Variscope,  Steve believes that the American Cinematographer magazine, no less,  published an article about Henry’s  system. It probably dates from the 1950s because…. click here  Variscope   (it may take some time to load up) and you will see an actual film clip taken in 1953/4.   That little chap sitting on Henry’s  knee is son Steve !

As you see,  the widescreen  image extends between the 16mm perforations just like Ian Smith’s  system.  Steve has written an account of  H.L.B’s  work  on this and other amazing projects….    Here are some quotes:

Dad was an engineer who ran his own small business L.B. Products in Mordialloc, but spent a lifetime making equipment and gadgets for his passion, cinematography, mainly 16mm.

As a child he was fascinated by film, and his earliest experimentation was to try to make a simple projector in his bedroom. He had obtained a length of film (nitrate in those days), a candle and, I’m not sure, possibly a lens. Without an understanding of the requirement for intermittent movement, simply passing the film in front of a light source produced no results of course. He did learn one thing however viz. nitrate and open flames don’t mix;  in no time there was a mini bedroom fire, but fortunately no substantial damage!

About twenty years ago, before the modern cinema digital era made 3D commonplace and a bit of a yawn, dad built his own Variscope  16mm 3D rig comprising twin Bolex cameras and twin polarised Eiki projectors, all converted by himself. All this equipment is still in tact at his theatrette but in later years he adopted miniDV because the 16mm system was not only very cumbersome to shoot, edit and handle, but when Kodak eventually stopped processing here in Australia the film had to be sent to the US, involving weeks turnaround.

Long before the steadicam era, dad designed and built a gyroscopic stabiliser unit for his Bolex camera. It weighed about 1kg with a battery pack worn separately. It gave very good results, I would guess similar to steadicam, although I ‘ve never tried the latter. The (one and only) Mk 1 would not have been suitable for sound work however as it produced a low-level whine from the gyros.

In the carbon-arc era before Xenons and other compact discharge lamps, he designed and built a mirrorless compact 8 x 6 x 4 inch 65amp, self-feeding, self-striking lamphouse for his 16mm projector. It used 5 and 7mm copper clad carbons and employed an innovative rotating feed system for the positive carbon. (H.L.B. tried to get it commercially manufactured, was unsuccessful, but it’s possible his invention may have been copied later,  Steve thinks.   Doug)

He spent years developing a superb, compact, lightweight, self-blimped 35mm Techniscope-format camera, initially for his own use but later made cursory attempts to see if anyone would want to make it under licence. After his experience with the lamphouse people dad was very secretive with this camera. I accompanied him to Sydney to have the camera evaluated by an industry expert so as to support any negotiations with prospective licencees. The report was generally excellent; the only negative I recall was that the film transport design would not accommodate reverse film direction, something I don’t think dad had ever considered in design, but a feature sometimes used for dissolves and other effects. In conjunction with the Techniscope project he made a 35mm B&W developer/processor (mainly I think for processing the miles of film he shot in developing the camera), an optical reduction printer (35mm Techniscope to 16mm anamorphic) for his own editing purposes and also a 16mm contact printer, with correction, for his own use .

In his account,  Steve tells more about H.L.B’s  achievements and experiments, such as the tape deck that had a blob of mercury for reading special holes in the tape !  25 times a second. Ask if you’d like to see whole account.

Thanks, Steve for letting us know about your amazing father.  And hope you find that elusive ‘AC’ article soon.  Can anyone help please on this ?   Whatever any of us folks think….   ‘The truth is out there !’

This entry was posted in Miscellany, Photo Movie Notes and tagged 16mm, anamorphic, Techniscope, variscope, widescreen. Bookmark the permalink.

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Categories: Film Movie Cameras

A new Super-8 camera for 2014 !

Believe it or not,  an entirely new Super-8 film camera could be only months away.   It’s called the  Logmar,  and is to be manufactured by Danish enthusiasts  Lasse Roedtnes and his father Tommy.

Not only is this the first totally new super-8 camera for over 30 years,  the Logmar  offers an entirely professional way of making movies.    Its designers have done away with the film cassette’s  pressure pad and provided a separate precision pad and gate.   This is achieved by a simple manual threading procedure.  In addition,  there is to be pin-registration which means absolute rock steadiness,  something  never before  seen in super-8.  This feature,  combined with the new gate,  should mean enhanced definition.   So we are on the threshold of an entirely new super-8 appearance it seems.    Another improvement is the size of the gate,  wider than the traditional one,  giving ‘Max-8′ dimensions.

The camera will accept c-mount lenses,  so in effect many 16mm lenses can be used as well as still lenses via an adaptor.   They will all cover the widened Max-8 film frame.

The viewfinder design is very different from a normal super-8 film camera.  The image, which is captured via an oscillating mirror, is shown on a monitor… the same sort of thing you’d find on a digital camcorder.  And as far as I understand,  digital images can be recorded alongside the super-8 footage,  as well as high quality SOUND.   Please note that I have copied these pictures  from Lasse’s information that he has kindly provided on

and he does stress that they are of the prototype.  The actual camera could look slightly different when launched hopefully in April 2014.   He is also keen to hear other film enthusiasts’  views on their design.  Join the forum !

As for the price… well it looks like about  2000 euros excluding VAT.    Remember,  the Logmar  will be a serious piece of kit,  probably superior to the Beaulieu cameras that cost more than that in real terms many years ago.   It certainly is an ingenious concept,  combining professional motion picture design with digital technology.     I for one,  think it could be a winner ?


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Categories: Movie Cameras