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Straight 8 is now open for entries ! January 25, 2018

Have you ever thought of making a complete film on one cartridge of Super-8 ?  But without changing anything afterwards… no editing whatsoever.  And to make things worse, how about screening it at Cannes to a packed audience this coming May… But you won’t have seen it yourself beforehand !  Sounds like the stuff of nightmares.  However,  people from all over the globe are doing just that:

So if you have a simple idea that can be told in 3 minutes or so,  now is your chance.  Good luck !


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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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Dunkirk in Imax July 29, 2017

(photo: Kathy Palmer)

If you get the chance,  do see Christopher Nolan’s  DUNKIRK in Imax. I found it stunning,  and the audience obviously thought so too. They clapped at the end.  And before the show, the manager of the BFI Waterloo Imax cinema gave a short introduction.  With arms outstretched he held up a 24-frame length of 70mm film,  with 15 perforations to each Imax image: they run horizontally.  That’s just one second of screen time !   He was keen on putting on more 15/70  presentations,  a refreshing attitude.  At present the digital Imax is 4K resolution on a smaller screen.   And the adverts we had been forced to watch (too large in my opinion) were only 2K,  he pointed out.  There was glee in his voice:  “Now you’re going to see 18K ! ”


As for the film,  great acting from Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance and others.  Very realistic sea and air action.  Fantastic sound effects.  Effective music…  Do see it.  I don’t think it will look much though on a small screen.   However,  another alternative is traditional 5 perf 70mm projection.   Indeed,  most of the sparse dialogue was done in 5 perf 65mm,  with black bars top and bottom of the huge Imax screen.   A similar method was used in Nolan’s previous movie INTERSTELLAR  but that was 35mm anamorphic. This time it’s less distracting.  Why not shoot dialogue in Imax ?  Apparently the cameras are just too noisy,  and Nolan doesn’t like adding dialogue afterwards.  However,  the close shots of pilots radioing were seen in full Imax:  their mouths were covered and not visible !


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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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Welcome back ! April 10, 2017

Hello and welcome back !

The site has been off for a time, while we carried out technical improvements.   This is still continuing, but all is now working well.   You’ll notice also there’s a padlock to give customers even more peace of mind.  And do please feel free to make any suggestions for the future.  More products will soon be added, however this all takes time, so meanwhile do ask for anything you need !

A lot has happened recently on the analogue film front.   Kodak as you know will be relaunching Ektachrome later this year.  Initially available in super-8 and 35mm transparency film.  Lets hope they will soon offer other formats too.  And then there’s their new super-8 camera !

Ferrania is already making black and white 35mm film at its revamped factory in Italy.  Soon it will be launching its own colour transparency film, along with super-8 and 16mm. This dedicated team has overcome massive hurdles along the way. See

Across the world new resources are opening up to help folks make films. Here in Britain Pavan Deep has formed

Meanwhile,  many of the best Hollywood films are continuing to be made on celluloid.   “La La Land”  used 35mm and even 16mm.    Nolan’s upcoming “Dunkirk” is an all-65mm production to be released in Imax in July.

Talking of large format films,  one independent film-maker Nick Eriksson is working on a Vistavision drama set in Devon UK.  It’s called “Ellston Bay”.  Vistavision was used on big feature films in the 1950s and later for creating special effects in many films such as  “Star Wars”.  It’ll be good to see it return this year !

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How Steady is your Movie Camera ? September 20, 2016

DSC00165Good registration is extremely important in a movie camera.  It’s a good idea to put it to the test,  next time you have a few feet of film to spare.

Set up the camera on a very rigid support.  Perhaps a piece of wood screwed to the underside of the camera and then clamped on to a solid table.  Find a magazine or newspaper and tape it to the wall.  Focus carefully,  then shoot about 10 seconds of film.  If it’s a super-8 camera that’s it. You’ll see the result when processed. Actually it’s best to wait a few days after it comes back in case the film is still ‘green’ with some moisture in it.   On projection you can easily determine  whether the camera is acceptably steady.  Adjust the projector’s framing so you can see the frameline between the images, and  watch the newsprint to see if it moves against the frameline.  If the frameline itself moves it’s probably an unsteady projector !    By  ‘acceptably steady’  I mean just that.  The design of the film cartridge and the way the film is transported through the camera gate,  normally does not give an absolutely rock steady image.  Individual super-8 cameras do vary however, and you could be pleasantly surprised.

With regular 8mm and 16mm you have the choice of a more critical test.   Because the film is normally wound on a roll it’s  fairly easy to wind it back and do a second pass.  So any unsteadiness between the two images will show up clearly.  If your film has backwind it’s very quick and simple (keeping the lens covered !). Without backwind the camera has to be opened in the dark and the film rethreaded.  Using this superimposition method it’s best to underexpose each pass by one stop, so the combination is correctly exposed.  It is not necessary to align the images exactly.  The idea is that the small print in the double image will dance around slightly if the registration is not perfect.  A vertical jitter could be due to the claw in the camera not working properly, or more likely the pressure pad needs adjusting.  Horizontal unsteadiness is usually due to insufficient pressure of the side springs in the gate, if fitted.  A 16mm camera in good condition should give a rock steady image.  8mm cameras can be very steady too,  but are not usually as good because the projected image is magnified much more, and also the fact that most cameras are not sprocket-driven.   The film is pulled through the gate only by the action of the claw.

Once you are clear about how steady your camera is,  you will know its limitations if they exist.  A camera with less than perfect registration should not be used for intricate superimposed effects, and it may  not  be too good for static shots on a tripod.  On the other hand  it will likely look fine for handheld shooting,  as the natural movement in the image camouflages any unsteadiness in the camera transport.



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Stunning News from Kodak ! January 6, 2016

We have become accustomed to seeing Kodak discontinuing iconic products….Kodachrome, Ektachrome…. Now as 2016 dawns comes some amazingly positive news.   Kodak plans to introduce later this year a brand new Super-8 movie camera.      Take a look at  

We can only wait and see what it will be like.   And how much it will cost.   But first impressions show it will have a good range of speeds and interchangeable lens capability, something only pro super-8 cameras had in the past.

Something refreshing seems to be happening at Kodak,  and in the movie-making world as a whole .  More and more blockbuster films are returning to using their analog film…..  Interstellar, Spectre, Far from the Madding Crowd,  Jurassic World and the new Star Wars were some from last year.  Now comes The Hateful Eight …. and more in 2016….

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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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Can 16mm become wider ?

Remember he had claimed Henry.L.Buckingham (actually he was always known informally by his middle name Laurie) had invented the widescreen Variscope system ?  And Laurie had apparently written about it in the prestigious American Cinematographer journal.  Since then, thanks to researcher and archivist Guy Edmonds,  that article has come to light.  It’s dated November 1964.  However,  Laurie Buckingham had been using the system  since the early 1950s.  It turns out  that Laurie’s  system was called  ‘Varispect’  although the image size was identical to Ian Smith’s  Variscope.  In the AC article,  Laurie goes into substantial detail about the mods he made to his 16mm Bolex, even making a curved rear pressure plate to improve focusing of wide-angle lenses.  Also a cunning air-pump that held the film firmly in the gate !  Not to mention a registration pin for extra stability.  (Personally I have always felt Bolex’s have a superb steadiness anyway.)  There are illustrations of these mods in the AC article, however it would be fantastic if some time in the future we could all see the work of this engineering genius.  Again we have to thank Steve for telling us about his late father.  (Some of his exploits actually rubbed off on Steve, but there’s no space here !)

Now,  I don’t want to get into the game of who did what first. What I find intriguing is that all these years ago,  two chaps, Laurie Buckingham and Ian Smith, were working independently it seems on trying to create a non-anamorphic widescreen format for 16mm film.  It does look as if both Super-16 and the lesser used Ultra-16 formats were in fact born many years before we thought.  Lone inventors and engineers often are not too expert at getting their ideas taken up?  Then what of this majestic sweep of Variscope or Varispect whatever you want to call it,  why was this idea never adopted by the film world ?  Here we have surely,  a marvelous way of creating very wide 16mm film images.

WERE THERE OTHER VARISCOPERS ?!  Someone came into my shop a few days ago with a collection of 1950s  ‘Amateur Cine World’ mags.  I happened to open one (January 1954). There is an article mentioning the new widescreen systems then appearing,  with anamorphic lenses making their debut for the wealthier amateur cine enthusiasts.  The writer criticizes this development.  16mm he says  “is the one gauge which can afford to extend the gate aperture at either side.”   He proposes firstly a new format occupying the soundtrack area… (Super-16 !)   And  “a small reduction in the picture height would enable the gate to be extended between the perforations….  The aspect ratio of 2.33:1  so provided is almost the same as CinemaScope.   Extension of the frame area would make it easier to push through the film the extra light needed for wide screen projection.” Or would it ?  Remember in those days tungsten halogen lamps hadn’t  appeared.  So… because of the need for  “special projectors…. with optical systems capable of illuminating the larger gate…. the anamorphic lens won the day.”   The writer’s name is not givenIn another issue March 1960,  J.H.Wyburn describes the conversion of a 9.5mm Dekko camera to  “16mm wide screen format”.  From the small photo above he seems to use the full width of the film.    What this means is that way back in the 1950s and early 60s,  variscope or varispect perhaps was being tried by various (no pun intended) people !  Yet the manufacturers never took sufficient interest.  Anamorphic did win the day.

SO  HOW ABOUT  NOW ?   There is no technical reason why many existing 16mm cameras cannot be converted to Varispect/Variscope.  Same film cost,  extra image information.  Projection conversion is easier now,  more light.  Digital scanning never existed in those days,  now it’s easy.  With a native widescreen film format you will get better definition without anamorphic lenses, and modern movie film is also better than before (excepting Kodachrome !).  Digital formats have got wider.  16mm alone among the gauges has the wider potential. So what is holding everyone back ?

FLY IN THE OINTMENT…. Yes, these days it’s those manufacturer’s  markings that appear every foot or so,  and disrupt the wide image. The Ultra-16 frames along the top row… see that faint ’76′ mark third frame from the right ?  No problem with 1.85:1,  but anything wider no way.

There is no doubt,  the film manufacturer must play ball and get rid of those intrusive marks.  The ultra-16 sample was on Ektachrome 100D.  (I don’t know the situation with Vision 3.)  Now take a look at the lower sample:  normal regular 16mm on Wittnerchrome (Agfa) 200D.  There are no marks whatsoever !  The black areas are crying out for IMAGE.

PLEASE manufacturers,  follow Wittner’s  example.  16mm film has this hidden potential for WIDE images.  As Laurie Buckingham says in his 1964   AC article “picture quality not far short of Techniscope (35mm) at a fraction of the cost.”



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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