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I have some basic questions about Bolex 16

João Pedro

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Hello guys. 

I recently bought a bolex h16 non reflex, I have read a lot of topics here and watched a lot of videos to understand everything but I still have some dumb questions. 

First, it's a non reflex model, so will the finder above the camera help focus or just measure light?

On the  focus thing , I saw some people measuring the distance of objects to the camera before filming, do you need to have an exact measurement to be able to adjust it on the lens? And if Iuse a nikon lens how am I going to adjust the focus?

Is the side viewport going to show me the field of view that the bolex is shooting?


Thank you to everyone who can try to help me. Happy Christmas 

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The viewfinder of a non reflex Bolex will let you see an approximation of the framing that is going to be captured on the film. That's it!

The viewfinder won't tell you anything about focus, exposure or depth of field. Actually I don't think there is any Bolex with internal light meter. You have to calculate your exposure using a light meter. You can use a light meter app. There is no prism on the non reflex Bolex so you don't lose any light and you can use any lens. You don't need RX lenses and no the shutter angle of the Bolex is not 180° so do your research for the appropriate shutter angle for your camera.

When it comes to getting images in focus you have to measure, yes. You measure the distance from your subject to the focal plane and you set the lens to that distance. A Depth of Field Calculator chart or app can help you to get a close estimation of the area that is going to be in focus. In order for a lens and a camera to perform well under those circumstances the lens must be collimated and the flange focal distance of the camera has to be right on the spot. If you have lenses that came with the camera you can use those and expect to have good results. Using Nikon lenses with the camera would require the adapter to be perfectly set  to the correct flange focal distance of Nikon lenses (46.5mm) Still photography lenses were not designed to be used this way, so you cannot assume that the witness marks of a Nikon or any other still photo lens is perfect. That means, the image may not me in focus when you set the lens to a given distance even if the adapter was set properly.

It's not impossible filming with a non-reflex camera. It has its limitations, but it is possible. You have some points and termsthat can help you to continue your research and testings.

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There are essentially two viewfinders on non-reflex Bolex cameras, one on the top and one on the door.

The one on the door is only for framing while you shoot, it will give you an idea of what the lens is seeing, but tells you nothing about focus. You need to adjust the finder to match the focal length of the lens you’re using, and adjust the distance setting to compensate for parallax - which just means that the viewfinder is offset to the side compared to the lens, so it needs to change angle depending on the distance to subject.

The top viewfinder is a reflex finder, but it looks through the top lens port, not the middle one which is exposing the film. So to check focus, you can swivel the turret so that the taking lens goes up to the top and you can look through it. To film you would need to return the lens back to the middle position. So you can’t focus by eye while filming, you can only check the focus before hand. This is why the camera is called “non-reflex”. On reflex Bolexes you can see through the middle port lens even as it exposes the film.

If the camera and lenses are correctly adjusted, you can rely on the distance marks on the lens barrel. Often with wide lenses it can be hard to judge exact focus by eye so you’re better off using the distance scale. You usually don’t have to get it exactly right with 16mm if your aperture is closed down a bit, you will have enough depth of field so that things in front and behind your subject will still be in focus. So you can just estimate the distance and set the lens barrel accordingly. For longer lenses or wide open apertures (say f/2 and below) or closer distances things become a bit more critical, so that’s when swivelling up to the top reflex viewfinder to check focus and/or measuring distances more accurately is useful.

For a lens like a Nikon, which will need an adapter, and is probably fairly long for 16mm format (focal lengths of about 40mm and above would be considered long) you would want to check the focus with the top viewfinder before filming.

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