How Steady is your Movie Camera ?

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.



Stunning News from Kodak !

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….

My first try with the RD motor on Bolex

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 ?


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.”



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.

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 ?


Auntie brings 16mm in from the Cold

Spooks460For the past few years,  the BBC has boycotted the use of  16mm film on its HD channels.   This policy was because of technical problems they encountered in transferring super-16,   possibly due to the random grain structure of film ‘interfering’  with their compression system.  Dramas and documentaries they said had to be shot digitally in future.

Last April,  no less than 32  British directors petitioned the Beeb,  demanding a change of policy.  They include Ken Loach,  Terry Gilliam  and Kenneth Branagh.   And  now they have finally won the argument !   The BBC will  accept super-16  for HD  broadcast.   Apparently,   the technical problems have been overcome.

Strange is it not,  that during the Beeb’s  period of   ‘NO 16mm film’    they did allow  two shows to break their rules.     SPOOKS…  and MERLIN.



Single Frame Panning in Go Motion

Last time we looked at Closeup Panning using a long rod protruding from the pan-and-tilt head.  Now this same technique can be used for general Single-Frame Panning.   Filming this way has added control for some subjects such as miniatures.  Or maybe a time-lapse shot of a town or landscape is more effective with a pan.  If you look at the rear side of my board below you will see I have marked the slot for each frame to be exposed.

Firstly  I cut a thread along the short portion of 6mm rod at the rear end of the main rod.  Then I found a short piece of brass bar that was drilled centrally and tapped so it screws on to this portion.  So now when the rod protrudes through the slot,  it is possible to use the bar to rule a series of lines.  Note that I have faired the motion at one end,  very small gaps so as to gently finish the pan.  Because the camera moves slightly to and fro as it tilts,  the brass bar needs to be screwed in and out occasionally.

Here you can see a wider view. I was panning over a projected slide of a river-bank  scene with a live action insert of the water.  This was achieved with a 16mm Analyser projector,  one of the later modified Spectos.   How to create mattes ?  Blutack ! Note the glass panel positioned midway between the projectors and the screen  (which is white paper that can have crayon detail added) .  After adjusting the colour filtration on the projectors,   lower light levels meant that I had to use quite a long exposure per frame.

Now,  although Single Frame filming is a very controlled method, panning across something can pose a problem.  Depending on the detail of the photo, artwork or object you are filming, and the speed of the pan, you could end up with a certain staccato effect.   Some motion-blur often enhances the realism of a shot.  Go Motion is the answer.  According to Wiki they first used it in “The Empire Strikes Back” (but didn’t  “2001″ have some ?) and Go Motion has created effects in many films since.  Now largely superseded by digital techniques,  it continues to be used at times for animating Wallace and Grommit !  Unlike Stop Motion,  the idea is that the camera takes the exposure while the object (or camera) is moving.  It is necessary to have a camera  that can take long exposures.   For my pan shot with the Bolex H16  I set each exposure for 2 seconds,  using the Bolex Animation Motor.    To get some motion-blur I simply moved the brass bar a bit during each exposure towards the next mark.  But as you see, the smaller gaps made any go motion superfluous.

Accurate exposures are possible to do without an animation motor.  You should decide on a time exposure of at least 5 seconds,  any less and you risk fluctuation.  With a seconds-clock close by,   operate the camera with a long cable release.  A go motion Assistant could be handy !

Close-up Panning made easy

Remember that challenging game at the local fete… you have to pass a loop of wire along a length of curly wire,  without sounding the bell or buzzer.  Sometimes it can feel like this,  trying to execute a complicated pan in closeup across a photo or miniature.  Errors in framing or smoothness are magnified later on the screen.  So one mistake and you have to start all over again…  and spend some more film.

I’ve  made myself a tool that makes the job much, much easier.  It’s  based around a Bolex pan and tilt head,  though other tripod heads may be suitable as well.


I took  out the  handle and bored the hole through to the front.  Into this hole I have inserted a yard of M10  threaded studding.  Make sure it is not bent.  The studding is secured in the head with 2 nuts and 2 washers.  I’ve  allowed a short length in front of the head,  see above.   Over the studding to the rear of the head  I have fitted some steel tubing.  This is secured both ends with M10 nuts and considerably strengthens the studding so it doesn’t  bend in use. pan-cu-6-300x200  The rear portion of the studding has been filed thinner,  removing all the thread.   This accepts a coiled spring followed by a short length of tubing.  Finally I reduced  the last length of the studding to 6mm in width.   This can in turn be threaded and I will say more about this in my next post,  but it’s not necessary now.  In this sketch, all measurements are approximate,  and you may have other ideas.

Now get a piece of hardboard about 15 inches square,  and strengthen the sides with strips of wood about an inch by one and a half thick.  Lightly nail on,  so that this wooden frame can be reused.  Set up vertically on a stout support such as the back of a chair, clamping  with strips of wood.   Or perhaps clamp to a table-top.

Individual set-ups will of course vary.  But the general principle is that the end of the studding must almost touch the hardboard.  Fit the tube and insert a piece of chalk into the end,  so that the spring pushes it against the board.  Do a dummy-run of the pan,  carefully and slowly,  making sure that the framing in your viewfinder is perfect.  Behind you should appear a curly chalk line !

Now remove the framed board,  and cut out the chalk line with a sharp knife,  widening it to about  6 mm.    Remove the chalk and its tube,  and clamp the board in position as before.   Loosen the nuts on the pan head and shift the rod backwards,  so that the rear end pokes though the slot.   Tighten the nuts.  Recheck the camera move:   the path is now controlled by the rod in the slot.  I have fitted a bungee towards the rear of the rod to balance the camera and make the pan smoother,  and it will be convenient to hold the rod with one hand near this position.  pan-cu-4-300x200 Now it’s time to film the shot for real.   All you need to do is concentrate on the tempo and any necessary pausing during the shot.  You can note these positions on the board so it isn’t necessary to peer through the viewfinder.   The framing is done automatically.

All this may seem a lot of fuss,  but believe me this gadget has already saved me  film and frustration.  Next time I’ll show how it works for single-frame too.


Life After Ektachrome

Many of us shooting colour  have been shaken by Kodak’s  decision to ditch Ektachrome,  in all its formats…. (seems such a short time ago that  dearest Kodachrome was lost.)  With all the panic-buying recently, I find it hard to accept the ‘low sales figures’ argument,  but whatever their reasons,  we shall soon have to make some serious choices.

Only one reversal film now, the one on the right

Reversal colour film has decided advantages over negative.  You see the image in its purest form right there on the lightbox.  Half a minute later it can be seen big on a screen. With Ektachrome’s  passing,   many will no doubt switch to Fuji reversal emulsions.  Others will adopt the colour negative approach.   The only reversal film now made by Kodak  is Tri-X  black and white,  available in Super-8  and 16mm. Fuji continues to manufacture a good range of 120 and 35mm slide film,  including a low-priced emulsion for Agfa.  But Fuji’s  share of the movie business has always been much smaller than Kodak’s,   maybe that’s  why they recently decided to quit altogether.   And yet  small firms have been slitting Fuji colour reversal film and putting it into Super-8 cartridges.  Wittner offer Velvia which is very sharp,  and is processed in the same chemistry as Ektachrome.  I don’t know if they can keep the price reasonable,  an important factor for people these days.There is currently a fairly good choice of still colour negative emulsions from Fuji and Kodak,  not to mention smaller suppliers like Agfa.   Meanwhile,  Kodak insists it is serious about staying in the analogue film movie business.  Indeed they have just introduced  a new and biting sharp Super-8 colour negative film:  Vision 3 50D.    This is the same stuff used in major feature films….  some of the faster  Vision 3 emulsions were used for Steven Spielberg’s  “Lincoln”.

Colour negative is one option for stills and movies,  but there needs to be a decent range of emulsion choices,  both negative and reversal,  to suit all artistic projects.  Every film has its own unique look.   It seems crazy to me,  throwing  away that time-honoured  and well-loved reversal film… Ektachrome.