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New Owner Intro with some questions

Dave Goodwin

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I've just recently inherited an older non-reflex Bolex H16.  Hasn't been used in quite some time, I'm sure.  It seems to be complete and in quite good shape.  I'll check it later on but the serial number is in the 70,000s.  It came with 3 lenses that seem to match the included F25 labeled viewfinder.  The glass on them looks good and the diaphragms all work well but they were essentially focus-frozen.  I did get them to focus by working them a lot but they are really tight.  Old grease I am sure.  2 are Wollensaks and one is a Berthiot.  I don't recall which is which but they are 15, 25 and 75mm.  It also came with a decent condition original case, the manual, a small hand crank, a chrome gadget that I think is for a cable release based on my research and a case of "filters" which are nothing more than thin metal slides with not a filter in sight.  I'm guessing maybe they were gels that are long gone.  I also have two caps for the lens cavities.

It had an old spool of film in it, so I practiced loading it up based on some YouTube videos and the manual.  Operation seems pretty good.  At 24fps I'm getting about 32-33 seconds of runtime and the speed control dial works.  While doing this I discovered that it has the dual sprockets and that film of that type seems unavailable.  I've been in touch with ProCam and they can convert it pretty cheaply to use single perf film. Single frame and T function also looks to be working fine.

Now the first couple questions.  My camera has some sort of plastic counter box attachment stuck to the outside of it in the upper right corner of the side with all the controls.  Seems to be a frame counter but it's not as indicated in the manual.  Would this have been an option added later or something added at the factory?  It has a shaft sticking out of it with a roll pin through it that I assume is for the little crank.

The camera has the footage counter in the usual place near the back of the right side but it doesn't work.  Opening the door doesn't zero it, and it never moves when the camera runs.  Guessing this is not something I can/should try to fix myself?  On a related note, what resets that counter?  Is it the tall plunger at the back of the film chamber?  That depresses freely but otherwise does nothing.

I've been shooting film for still photography a while but this is my first movie camera.  If I can get everything all sorted out, I'm looking forward to fiddling with it a bit.  Thanks!


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Congrats on the inheritance! 

The stiff lenses need to be overhauled and given fresh lubrication if you want the focus freed up. An experienced lens technician can do it, but not all are experienced with vintage gear. ProCam could probably service them along with the Bolex, or give you a recommendation.

The external frame counter was an accessory that could be added to early cameras that only had the footage counter. See:

The non-functioning footage counter on your camera could be a simple fix, but you'd need to remove the inner camera mechanism from the housing to access the footage counter assembly. This means removing the top viewfinder (if you have one), the front (which can be tricky on non-reflex cams), and all the dials and knobs held by screws. Then undo some of the large screws inside the film chamber, and the whole inner mechanism can be lifted out. If you're keen to try, post some pics of your camera for guidance.

To see what it looks like to remove the mechanism, there are some photos (though it's a reflex Bolex) on my blog:


Otherwise I'm sure ProCam could help with that too.

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Thanks Dom.  That helps a lot seeing that page on the external frame counter and confirming that's what the crank was for.  I'll post up some photos shortly.  I doubt I want to try taking it apart.  I've read some posts and watched what videos I could find and it looks pretty tricky, especially since I have no clue what some of the stuff talked about even means, like pull-down shutter timing, etc.  I'll probably just get the known problems done when I send it in for service.  ProCam warned me there's probably no financial justification for doing it given the age of it, but I may still do it anyway.  At the very least, I must get the sprockets converted.  I'm also checking in with Chambliss to see what they think and can offer.

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Your camera has the cardioid cam driven claw and the 190 degrees opening shutter, thus offering longer exposure time than most other 16-mm. cameras. If you’d like to have it overhauled in Bolexland, I’d gladly do the service. But let me direct you to one thing before you deliberate, the chrome plated parts. Inspect the sprocket guards and the loop formers. If you find chrome coming off, the camera’s value drops to almost zero. There can be rust underneath. What concerns the lenses you might want to invest in other ones since there are hundreds of offers around. The Wollensak could be a wide angle, nothing special, the Berthiot is perhaps a normal focal length Cinor. These are good although not bloomed meaning a bit less of contrast.

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I've attached some links to photos.  I was wrong on the serial number - it's in the 17,000s not the 70,000s.  I looked over the internals and all the chrome still looks good.  I still have no idea on those filters - haven't seen any like it in my research.  I'm guessing aftermarket, and perhaps they were dipped.  It's a solid slide so there's no putting a gel into it.  It also fits quite snugly, so I don't believe it could have been adhesive either.

I've gotten the footage counter to start going backwards while rewinding with the crank.  Still doesn't reset to zero though but maybe it will once I get it back down to the start position.  We'll see...

I found out about the focusing prism behind the upper lens position.  I can take out the little screw lens on top of the camera.  Can the prism be gotten out or should I just try brushing it gently through the holes on the top and front?  It's quite dirty.  I can clean the screw-out part easily.

Outside View

Inside View

Serial Number

Filter Slide

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Great. The filter slide is an aftermarket and an American upgrade similar to the ones made to Bell & Howell Filmo 70s from 1940 on. Could be by National Cine Labs of New York City

You can’t take the focusing prism out. Clean it with a cotton swab and some Isopropanol or ethanol.

Film perforated both edges:

  • Fomapan R 100
  • Orwo UN 54 negative
  • Orwo N 74 negative
  • Orwo PF 2 V 3 print film
  • Kodak Vision 3 500 T color negative
  • Kodak Vision Color intermediate film type 3242, Estar (polyester) base
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Thanks Simon!  I think I've got it mostly figured out now mechanically and feature-wise.

One operational question remains.  What would the preferred method of shooting be for ending the reel of film?  Do you stop short and then rewind by hand crank back onto the source reel, or do you allow the film to run completely through onto the take-up spool?  I know the camera can be loaded in subdued light with daylight spools.  Can it be unloaded the same way or must that be done in a dark bag or darkroom?

Any popular recommendations for places to get film developed and/or printed here in the US?

Thanks again to everyone for the advice.

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