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Question for BOLEX users

Stéphane Mandelkern

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Dear all,

Bolex cameras are worldwide used. I personally owns a BOLEX H16 REX3

But I realize that with its technical principles of beamsplitter behind the lens, shooting and focus a moving target is more and more difficult as the aperture closes. That is the case when using a 500 ASA film in daylight.

The variable shutter permits only to win one stop of aperture.

The auxiliary lateral viewer permits to follow a moving target but not to adapt the focus.

Is film sensitivity the only solution ?

How do you manage this question ?

Thank you for your advice.

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Although I service and repair Paillard-Bolex H Reflex cameras, always strive for the best result to satisfy my clients, I openly declare that I am not fond of the beamsplitter system. As an immediate reply let me suggest the following solutions.

  • Use a non-reflex Bolex. You have a critical finder built in that allows to set focus as accurately as with a reflex model, also to frame precisely on static shots. It’s not as intuitive or shall I say responsive as the reflex finder but no less accurate. In dim light conditions the side finder lets you see more, that’s the case with any non-reflex camera. A younger Filmo model offers quite bright a finder view.
  • Use a zoom lens with an incorporated reflex finder. Somewhat better
  • Use a mirror shutter reflex camera that allows 100 percent of the light to the film and 98 percent (or so) into the finder.
  • Shoot in good light conditions.
  • Use a slow film stock.
  • Keep the eye on the finder until you’ve got the take. Our eyes adjust to changing light levels slower than we think. The eye at the ocular, enclosed by a rubber cup to keep stray light away, will see more after about 20 seconds. Try that out, it’s a valuable countermeasure to the not so bright Bolex reflex finder.
  • Free yourself from shallow depths of field, at least now and then, by shorter focal length lenses, by relying more on the depth indicators of lenses, by pulling focus always a tad shorter than perceived at first sight, i. e. to screw the lens a little farther towards the scene, just a smidge. Here you enter the subject of hyperfocal distance. I know that’s a huge discussion.
  • Free yourself from illusions. It’s maybe a dream that people pursue, namely the idea that the old masters were able to pull focus while on the run, say, with an Arriflex or a Bolex pressed against the head, always nailing sharpness. Oh, no.
  • Have the optics of your Bolex finder cleaned by a specialist. Beaulieu R 16 are typical victims of dust and oil on finder elements, too.
  • Film in broad sunlight. Did I suggest that already?
Edited by Simon Wyss
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Yes the viewfinder is the weakest element of the Bolex system. The 13x viewfinder as found in later models like the SBM is quite an improvement, but they are expensive cameras these days.  If you can find a non-functioning SBM/EBM for cheap you could replace your viewfinder.

Otherwise, definitely use a slower film for outdoor day filming, and learn to utilise depth of field - often you don’t need to nail a focus pull if you are stopped down or using a wide angle lens. It usually becomes more critical at close distances or when shooting at open apertures with shallow depth of field. You could also learn to use the distance scale on the lens and estimate the distance to subject.

If your camera hasn’t been recently serviced it can help to have the optics cleaned. I professionally service Bolexes and often find a lot of haze and sometimes fungus in the optical path, which doesn’t help matters. 

A good eyecup can also be useful to shield outside light and allow your eye to adjust.

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