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Does anyone here have anything BAD to say about Ultra 16?


Samuel Berger
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I own an Eclair NPR and I've been curious about Ultra 16 for a few years now. The conversion means I can keep the lenses I have and not worry about getting Super 16 lenses.

I was wondering if anyone here has done this conversion and whether you have regrets. There aren't that many samples on Vimeo (their search feature is awful, by the way), but I liked the few I did see.

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Couple years ago I had a filmer in my shop presenting me two Paillard-Bolex H-16. He had filed on the aperture plates and since then image steadiness was unsatisfactory. I could have told him before but wasn’t asked.

I have two U16 modified Bolex's, one of them over 2:1 ratio, and both cameras are extremely steady. I don't know about the Eclair, but it looks very easy to modify to S.16, so presumably U16 might work, depending on the shutter size and so on. Some cameras aren't suitable because of various physical problems. Maybe somebody here has done a U16 Eclair ?

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If you use non-official formats, you will run into trouble soon or later. There is a good reason for standards.

 

Ultra 16 is readily scanned at Gamma Ray Digital. I can't think of a reason not to use it unless it causes problems for the actual camera, which is what I was trying to figure out with this thread.

I guess it didn't really catch on, and I'm curious as to why. Doug seems to have had no issues, Simon mentioned someone who did a DIY on their Bolex, but so far no reviews regarding professional conversions for Eclairs.

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Ultra 16 is readily scanned at Gamma Ray Digital. I can't think of a reason not to use it unless it causes problems for the actual camera, which is what I was trying to figure out with this thread.

I guess it didn't really catch on, and I'm curious as to why. Doug seems to have had no issues, Simon mentioned someone who did a DIY on their Bolex, but so far no reviews regarding professional conversions for Eclairs.

I guess the main problem with ultra-16 is the possibility that there could be wear at one side of the image, the area that is between the perforations. This couldn't happen with Super-16 or indeed with R.16. However, if you are careful with the camera mod this shouldn't happen. Similarly, a U.16 projector conversion needs to be done with great care, if you ever want to project original footage. I presume that Gamma Ray Digital has a scanner that won't harm the film in any way.

The camera gate needless-to-say must be scrupulously clean.

 

Simon, I don't really understand why the image registration should be affected to any extent, if you widen the camera gate. After all, you are not doing anything to the back pressure-plate which is sprung against the film across a large area. I can see that the film may not be held as flat as before.

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Personally I think if you're going to mod a camera, Ultra16 makes more sense than Super 16, given the fine grain of modern negative stocks, and the quality of modern scanners. Any scanner that can overscan into the perfs can handle Ultra16. Ours scans the film almost edge to edge, so this is no problem. Given the quality of the film and scans available, you're not gaining much with that extra couple millimeters you get with Super 16. It's not like when S16 was first conceived, when the stocks were grainier and the idea was to have a format you could easily blow up to 35. With finer grains, you can just frame a 1.66 image inside a regular 16mm frame and crop to that size post-scan. You really won't see substantial difference compared to a native S16 frame.

 

The nice thing about U16 is that the lens doesn't need to be moved, so as long as it covers a big enough area, you get a good image without vignetting. The modifications are simpler to the camera this way than a Super 16 mod.

 

That said, our regular clients we have who have Ultra16 modified cameras tend to use them as regular 16 cameras, or with a 16:9 crop between the perfs, rather than the wide screen that U16 was intended to be. I think this is mostly because of lens vignetting.

Edited by Perry Paolantonio
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I have done conversion on all my Bolexes and never noticed steadyness issues after. The exposed area is the same more or less, the main difference is the wider aspect ratio vs S16 frame. The main issue are the codes on the side between perforations, so you can not scan all frame width.

post-39610-0-36200000-1507822188_thumb.jpg

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So here are a few reasons I don't like the idea.

 

The area between the sprocket holes isn't really the best area, for the gate holds the film in place in that exact spot. Thus, it's not a great area to put critical images.

 

There isn't much space to be had there, unlike Super 16 which increases the frame pretty substantially. If you don't have S16 glass and you aren't doing full width conversion as pointed out above...

 

You'd be cropping quite a bit of your image to benefit the format, thus not "gaining" any resolution. Normal Ultra 16 as pictured above, requires an S16 conversion and S16 glass, which is only "beneficial" if you only want that aspect ratio.

 

Finally cost... because it's not just the gate, but also the ground glass and in some cameras, a lot more work to allow for the wider aspect ratio viewing. It's an expensive update and the camera won't have added value. A super 16 camera DOES have a lot more added value.

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I don't dislike Super 16 but the truth is that it would cost me twice as much to convert it to S16 than it will for Ultra 16. In fact for the price of S16 conversion I could buy two more NPRs ;-)

 

I wish I could just NOT convert and shoot 2.35:1 but given the cost of anamorphic adapters, that's not happening.

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Why would it cost twice as much? For re centering the lens?

For Super 16 they have to widen the gate, machine and move the CA-1 mount, remark the ground glass and modify the shutter. Then each magazine needs to be modified for a cost of about $350 each, rollers need cutting and polishing, and individual magazine scratch testing must be done. By then you've spent twice as much as you would on a U16 modification. And THEN you need to spend money on S16 lenses/zoom.

 

For Ultra 16, well, they modify the gate. ;-) You keep the magazines as they are and get to use the lenses/zoom you already own.

Edited by Samuel Berger
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Well, see this is where I disagree with the person who set you up.

 

The shutter should have no problem covering S16, we're talking .7mm worth of difference.

 

Second, the whole thing of smoothing this, polishing that and making all these mod's... umm, if you put image between the sprocket holes, you're dealing with the same amount of "friction" on the film, it's really no different. I'd beg to say, it's even worse on the sprocket side then it is on the "soundtrack" side.

 

With a bolex, it's probably OK to do this mod because there isn't much friction. On coax quick load cameras like the NPR, I would beg to say it's not a good idea.

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Well, see this is where I disagree with the person who set you up.The shutter should have no problem covering S16, we're talking .7mm worth of difference.

I don't know about NPRs but Arri SRs needed the shutter modified (or the pull-down speed increased) to cover S16. There is over 2mm of difference, which causes a corner to be left uncovered by an unmodified shutter during the pull down phase. For U16 it would depend on how much you expanded the frame each side, if you went all the way to the edge like Robert's modification pictured above you might get a corner smearing on certain cameras. A Bolex doesn't need shutter modification for S16 though, so it completely depends on the camera.

 

S16 conversions were often for professional cameras that needed the footage to be reliably free from scratching or other issues, so every part of the transport that may have touched the previously unused soundtrack area had to be machined back. Because it expanded the frame by 2mm only to one side the lens really needed to be recentred to maximise the lens coverage and to prevent zoom tracking issues or offset distortion. Sometimes the viewfinder optics also needed expanding or recentring.

 

Ultra16 is much more of a DIY conversion, with less concern for scratching and an attempt to keep the image centred with existing optical pathways to avoid needing any altering of lens mounts or viewfinders. It depends on the camera and how much you expand the gate, but a certain amount of expansion should be possible without altering these things. However any part of the new frame that is now in contact with the transport surfaces - sprockets, rollers, guides, gate rails - will potentially scratch the image area. So a "proper" conversion should really have these areas machined back, just like a S16 conversion. But being a cheap, DIY thing, it usually doesn't happen, and the perf side is problematic, since sprockets and claw recesses etc need to contact this surface.

 

When SRs were first being converted to S16 the gate rails were often left unmachined, as well as the mag rollers and guides. Scratching was actually relatively rare, but it happened often enough on professional shoots where any scratching is unacceptable that the practice of completely removing any transport surface that contacted the picture area became standard in conversions and factory S16 cameras. But for amateur use in U16 conversions it might be an acceptable risk.

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I don't know about NPRs but Arri SRs needed the shutter modified (or the pull-down speed increased) to cover S16.

Can you just change the timing of the shutter to make it work?

 

Ohh and yea, 2.2mm is the difference in Straight 16 to S16. I was thinking the difference of Ultra 16 for some reason, got mixed up in numbers, whoops.

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Thanks Dom. So you don't see U16 as a path to professional productions?

 

I'm still on the fence so let me know. I have a drama to shoot next Spring and need to take all this into consideration.

No I don't think it's a professional format, but again, depending on the camera and how much you expand each side it might be fairly reliable, as long as the modification is done by someone competent. I don't know how much edge code might cause issues either.

 

But really, if you want professional 16mm production quality, I would recommend more modern cameras for a range of reasons. These days a good, modern and reliable S16mm camera is not much money in the scheme of a decent production budget.

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Can you just change the timing of the shutter to make it work?

No on SRs at least the timing was so tight you had no room to move. The only options were to enlarge the shutter (from memory it was only about a 5% reduction in shutter angle), or modify the movement so that the pull down phase was quicker.

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Dom explained perfectly, my English knowledge wouldn’t allow anything the like. That’s perhaps part of an explanation why I can come across rude or something but I never mean it.

 

I disagree with Dom inasmuch as I should see Ultra-16 the better way for wider image aspect generation than Super-16 because excentricity isn’t of professional thinking. When you read up about the coming of S-16 you’ll learn that Rune Ericson and John Egermark started with a centered frame on an ARRIFLEX 35.

 

To me an image area between and beyond the perforation hole rows is DIY or naive tinkering. There must be a physical support to the flexible band, the wider the better. The film’s borders were made wide enough for its guidance and structure around the perforation is useful with assembly, duplication, and projection. When looking at formats such as 9.5 mm with a central hole row you encounter a completely different concept, a simpler one. It’s got its advantages and drawbacks like everything. 16 mm is the geometrically trickiest of all film formats and when one hole row was to be omitted for a sound track there was considerable opposition by some manufacturers. It was feared that a film would fall into uselessness, if the single perforation got damaged. They weren’t so wrong about that.

 

Aaton have made a very good step towards a reliable system with a slightly curved gate. I think we haven’t seen everything yet in innovation. Isn’t a technically sharp image from a simple lens more valuable than a not quite sharp exposure from the most expensive latest-cry glass? So let there be film rails where they’re needed most.

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No on SRs at least the timing was so tight you had no room to move. The only options were to enlarge the shutter (from memory it was only about a 5% reduction in shutter angle), or modify the movement so that the pull down phase was quicker.

poop, so you can change the phase of the SR shutter via? Would it be a gear ratio change?

 

It's interesting because I've seen some shotty SR conversions, so maybe they just enlarged the shutter just slightly to compensate.

 

I know my LTR had a similar trick done to cover S16 as it wasn't made that way from the factory.

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The conversions Panavision Sydney did added a small sector of black painted balsa wood to the shutter, P&S converted the movement, others may have done something else.

Interesting. On my LTR, it looks like they glued on a different shutter plate and mirror, nothing extended past the mirror. Abel did the conversion and it worked well. I did a cursory timing check and it was right on the money.

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Samuel, have you tried running some new pristine stock to see whether, as Tyler and Simon suggest, there is any wear at the gate ? This could be done initially without filming anything... simply load up and run a few feet, then mark with ink the positions of gate, rollers and sprockets. Withdraw film carefully and examine with a powerful magnifier, both sides: base and emulsion. This test should confirm if there's a problem anywhere along the film's path.

Here's something about modifying a Bolex

https://filmisfine.com/blog/converting-a-bolex-h16m-to-ultra-16-part-2/

 

but I don't know about Eclair. Interesting as I have one I was thinking of modifying. So beautifully quiet :)

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No I don't think it's a professional format, but again, depending on the camera and how much you expand each side it might be fairly reliable, as long as the modification is done by someone competent. I don't know how much edge code might cause issues either.

 

But really, if you want professional 16mm production quality, I would recommend more modern cameras for a range of reasons. These days a good, modern and reliable S16mm camera is not much money in the scheme of a decent production budget.

 

 

Dom, I want to finish my film in 2.35:1 and I feel that U16 would work better for this, because I would need to crop the top and bottom of S16 anyway.

 

The one thing that prevents me from shooting 35mm is the low availability of 2-Perf cameras. For 16mm, I think my Eclair NPR is a GREAT camera, even though I could use a couple new mags. For places where I'd get kicked out from if I tried taking in a huge film camera, there's always my K3.

 

I imagine that if I were to save for it, in a matter of 10 months or so I could afford an Aaton XTR Prod but they are grotesquely expensive and if I had that kind of money I'd buy a Techniscope/2-perf camera.

 

The other thing is, I hear people don't finish in 35mm anymore. I heard cinemas are projecting digital files. That's a shame. But if that's true I don't have to worry about blowing up from U16 to 35mm if I ever make anything worth trying to distribute. ;-)

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