Movie Cameras

16mm Exploits with the G.I.C. camera

16mm movie cameras are generally much larger and heavier than 8mm ones, with the advantage of having 3 or 4 times the image quality.  Is it possible to get 16mm quality without the disadvantages ?

For a while I’ve had a little French-made G.I.C. in my cupboard and it takes 50ft spools of 16mm film.  I briefly tried it out a few years ago and it appeared to work OK.   It accepts c-mount lenses so very versatile in that respect.  However, it only runs at a speed of 16 fps.  Could it be modified to run faster, so that serious shooting could be achieved ?  24 fps would be great.  So I contacted Simon Wyss in Switzerland and he agreed to have a go !  At the same time he would carry out a thorough service of this 60-year old camera.

I must say I was not expecting too much from this experiment.  I had already looked inside another G.I.C. camera to see if I could do it myself, but decided the answer was No.  Moreover, when camera mechanisms are small in size, the tasks of doing modifications get harder. I had also wondered about Ultra-16 and realised this is impossible with this camera.  Super-16 is possible.  But I am not interested in doing anything to the 4×3 gate. All I want is a simple regular-16 camera that can go with me everywhere, so I can capture images at a moment’s notice.  I was also aware that this camera is not really built to professional standards.  It is rather similar to the G.I.C. regular-8mm camera.

One cold wet day in February the parcel arrived.  Simon had fitted new parts to the speed governor and also done a lot of other work such as machining the lens-port that apparently had suffered some damage in the past.  He’d had considerable difficulty getting the speed up.  Finally we settled for a speed slightly under 24.  A bit of a compromise maybe but better than the camera exploding !  Straightaway I loaded some 16mm blank film to see how it was handled.  Simon had warned me it could be noisy but I didn’t find it so.   It was some time before I loaded some real film to test the camera.  Because it was Ektachrome 100D I sent it to Kevin at  who specialise in developing smaller rolls of film.  He did it at a very reasonable rate.  The small gaugefilm team does the work entirely by hand on a monthly kind of basis,  so you have to get your film to Dudley UK by a certain deadline.  It’s worth it though as the processing standard is excellent.  A few days ago the film landed on my doormat !

Well it wasn’t much footage (I had put this film roll into another camera as well) but from the tests I can see how the ‘New’ G.I.C. performs.  The main test was for registration with the camera firmly clamped to the top of my heavy Steenbeck and aimed at a target of printed text.  I had exposed two passes, the second one aimed slightly to one side.  I projected the result quite big…   Results:  Horizontal steadiness good, although not as good as say a Bolex or Bell & Howell.   Vertical steadiness Excellent, in fact I would say rock steady.   I think this happy result may be assisted by the small half-registration pin, fixed just above the gate-channel in the camera.  The gate itself is quite simply designed with a small back pressure plate.  The next test was for focus and exposure.  I had fitted a Taylor Hobson Comat 1 inch standard lens  and at f1.9  full aperture the focus was perfect.  This is a fine lens in my opinion.  Exposure also was spot-on, one reason I had tested it with colour reversal,  far less forgiving than other types of film.   And the image itself is nice and stable without density fluctuation.

So what are my feelings sofar ?   I think it has exceeded my expectations in terms of the image quality.  I can see myself using it for both colour and black and white work.  It somehow feels like handling an old 8mm camera yet getting far superior images.  I was a little bit disappointed that the target speed of 24fps couldn’t be achieved.  Timing a piece of blank film I found the speed is about 23fps for at least the first 10seconds of the run.  I’m hoping that people walking and so on will look OK at this speed.  I guess it should be alright when you consider that many films are taken at 24 and shown at 25 and viceversa.    What of the G.I.C. camera itself ?  The model I have, an early one,  is rather fiddly to thread because the sprocket has fixed retaining flaps, and the gate loops have to be exact.  I plan therefore to use a light-proof container to house the ‘daylight’ spool of film, until the threading has been carried out.   The viewfinder is small as with many cameras of that era.  And it doesn’t suit my eyes when wearing glasses. But I just found a Canon EOS 1+dioptre lens that I’ll be fixing on to it.   The footage counter is impossible to read !  For some reason there’s a dark green window over it.  So I’ve removed that and fitted a normal window. Is the green meant to keep out light, can’t see how/why….anyway for now I’ve stuck some black tape over.   These criticisms aside, I think it’s a great little camera, full of promise.  I’m now looking for a wideangle lens, something as small as possible, but I guess I’ll need to add another finder for that.   I’ll let you know how I get on…

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