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Daniel Smith

So how difficult is it to use 16mm?

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Hi.

 

I haven't had any experience in shooting cine before, only digital. But I was wondering how easy it is to actually 'operate' these 16mm or even 35mm cameras?

 

By operate I don't mean, point in the right direction, I mean, load the film, start rolling the film, stop the film etc.

 

For instance, could I rent out a 16mm or 35mm camera, spend half hour getting to know everything, load up some film and begin shooting?

 

Reason I ask is because I doubt that I will ever go to go to a 'film school' as such, but on the other hand I wouldn't mind shooting film one of these days.

 

Any advice appreciated.

Dan.

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Hi.

 

I haven't had any experience in shooting cine before, only digital. But I was wondering how easy it is to actually 'operate' these 16mm or even 35mm cameras?

 

By operate I don't mean, point in the right direction, I mean, load the film, start rolling the film, stop the film etc.

 

For instance, could I rent out a 16mm or 35mm camera, spend half hour getting to know everything, load up some film and begin shooting?

 

Reason I ask is because I doubt that I will ever go to go to a 'film school' as such, but on the other hand I wouldn't mind shooting film one of these days.

 

Any advice appreciated.

Dan.

 

At my local non profit filmmakers foundation, I rented a Bolex, got a half hour

training and went out and shot. That place doesn't exist anymore but what a lot of people do is intern at a

camera rental shop. If you're out of school but working and could swing even four hours a week you might

find a place that would be friendly and teach you quite a bit in exchange for your sweeping some floors and

other such chores. Write a letter to the proprieter of your local shop and introduce yourself. Good luck.

 

Most of the well paid, working assistant camera people I know, as well as some DPs, started out doing just

that. Also, the more hours you can give, the less sweeping you'll probably have to do.

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Depends what you want to do. Loading and running an older and smaller 16mm camera like the Arri S or the K3 is very easy as far as loading and running. If you're in the market for larger pro-cameras like the Aatons and Arri SR or 416, you probably will need a run-through on the loading and some of the basic functions, although I don't think that either are particularly difficult. Operation-wise, the first two I mentioned are very lightweight and only take 100' spools (although neither is silent). The Aaton was specifically designed for shoulder-usage, as was the 416. The SR is slightly less handheld-friendly, but you can easily rent out a shoulder extension piece for that purpose. (The total weight will be more than the other cameras, though.)

 

If you really want to get down and dirty with the cameras just for familiarity's sake, save your money and find a rental house that will let you sit down and learn the equipment on a day when you and they are both free. They won't take kindly to your wanting to use the opportunity to shoot a short for free, but if you just wanna roll a smallish quantity of film for test purposes and can supply your own, you probably won't incite anyone's wrath. (Also, don't buy fresh film for practicing loading - the rental house should be able to provide you junk stock for free.)

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It's a pain; I absolutely never shoot film (well, I hardly shoot film anyway, but...) unless I can have someone to do all that for me.

 

The problem is that as a beginner you're liable to be renting the oldest, crappiest film-advancement-box-thing, or camera, that you can get your hands on, and the older they are, the harder they are to load. I've shot a bit of 35mm on a Konvas and while slapping the mag on the back of the camera is easy as pie, it's recognised as being one of the trickier mags to load.

 

Obviously having to do it every few minutes isn't a highlight either.

 

Film cameras also tend to be very nasty to handhold, especially if you want or need to pull your own focus - not because it's hard to actually hit focus (though it is, on 35) but just because the lenses go round twice from end to end and you can't get there in time. Often a shoulder pad and appropriate handgrips are optional extras.

 

Older, crappier cameras also tend to have rubbish viewfinders - you're looking at a colour image, but it's probably dark, soft, grainy, vignetted, offcentre, misaligned, dimmer on one side than the other, and when you're rolling, it's flickering like a migrane-inducing disco strobe. The frameline markings may or may not line up with where the frame actually is, may or may not be adequately visible, and may not even be available in appropriate layouts for your target format.

 

Moving the camera around too roughly may even cause the viewfinder groundglass to flop around inside the camera, making it impossible to achieve consistent framing and making telecine even more horrendously expensive as you fix the problems in post. And the single most insidious film problem of all: what appears to be in focus in the viewfinder may or may not be in focus on the film.

 

I had one SR1 conversion (which has since taken a dip in the sea and is no longer with us, thank Farquharson) which had all these problems and more, on which the magazine lid catches were so old and worn that the feed side door just swung open at the end of a shot. We slapped it closed in a heartbeat and got away with it, but you'll want to mummify the thing in camera tape before shooting.

 

Video taps can have exactly the same problems as the viewfinder, while simultaneously disagreeing with the viewfinder on almost any level.

 

This is a horror story list of more or less everything that can go wrong, but I have had these problems all at once on one camera. If you go and rent a brand new SR3 and you can afford to have it all prepped properly and expert camera assistants to help you, you will not have these problems. If you go on Shooting People and rent the cheapest SR1 mod you can find, well, I would expect you to see at least some of them.

 

Phil

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It's a pain; I absolutely never shoot film (well, I hardly shoot film anyway, but...) unless I can have someone to do all that for me.

 

The problem is that as a beginner you're liable to be renting the oldest, crappiest film-advancement-box-thing, or camera, that you can get your hands on, and the older they are, the harder they are to load. ...

 

Older, crappier cameras also tend to have rubbish viewfinders - you're looking at a colour image, but it's probably dark, soft, grainy, vignetted, offcentre, misaligned, dimmer on one side than the other, and when you're rolling, it's flickering like a migrane-inducing disco strobe. The frameline markings may or may not line up with where the frame actually is, may or may not be adequately visible, and may not even be available in appropriate layouts for your target format.

 

Moving the camera around too roughly may even cause the viewfinder groundglass to flop around inside the camera, making it impossible to achieve consistent framing and making telecine even more horrendously expensive as you fix the problems in post. And the single most insidious film problem of all: what appears to be in focus in the viewfinder may or may not be in focus on the film.

 

I was going to say, "and you'd have problems with crappily-maintained 30 year old video cameras too," but then I realized such video cameras can't even produce an image anymore... :P But you did qualify that newer cameras aren't prone to these problems.

 

All cameras have their quirks. In general the simpler the camera, the fewer the quirks. An Arri S is a great starter camera. Shy on bells and whistles (and ergonomics), it's pretty simple to load and operate. For something more "pro" you could try an Eclair NPR.

 

My first 16mm experience was with a non-reflex Bell & Howell springwound. I managed to make it work.

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Pick up an Arriflex 16S and a few Zeiss, Cooke or Schneider lenses, and a couple of 100 ft daylight spools of Kodak. Go the the web site below and find the "Arriflex 16S, 16S/B, and 16M Manuals" page and download the free PDF operating manual for the camera. Go shoot some film. It's an easy camera to load, very easy camera to hand hold, and can make some very nice images. And it will give you a feel for what film can do for you that video cannot.

 

Arri16S.com

 

Have fun,

-Tim

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Find a used K3 online or in your local paper. Get some dummy film and practice loading in different places. (a dark bathroom, infront of the TV while not looking at the camera) get used to the sound of the camera. Buy some film, shoot a couple hundred feet and see what happens. From this practice you will know the sound if the film isnt running correctly. Once you have shot your film, send it off to your local film lab. Get it the transfer back on miniDV. If all goes well you will have a beautiful 16mm film tansfer and you will see what you could never shoot using any DV camera.

give it a try. have fun.

~Chris

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A Bolex H16 with reflex viewfinder is a great camera to learn 16mm on. It auto loads very easily, and if you do enough practice loads with a dumby roll, you can easily do it in a dark bag.

 

My first experience in 16mm was with the Canon Scoopic, basically a consumer model 16mm camera from the 70's...I think. So if you can find a cheap one, it's a good option for you as well.

 

There are various reasons why I prefer shooting film to video. But one of the big factors is the ease of shooting. All you have to worry about is film type, f stop, focal length, depth of field and your framing, then you're ready to shoot.

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hi

i don't get your point

a camera isn't a toy to play around with.

if you are curious about exposing, take a reflex camera and shoot stills with the manual device. same with a DSLR.

 

rental houses are company working in an industry imagine someone comming in a plane factory and asking to practice on one of the equipment!

why? because i have not donne any training before i'm a total newbe but i'm cutious on how it works!!!!

 

 

i'm not sure you'll be welcomed.

 

but if you have a film project, you admit you are a newbe and you ask how to shoot with film and who could help you to do that without compromising the camera and the image itself, the rental house may introduce you to a yong dp they support to mentor you with your project.

 

or buy a cam on ebay, buy film, roll it, process it, print it, screen it, you will have the same result with a still but you'll be broke!

practice moving picture is a lot more easy on video

 

my tow cents

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Daniel, keep in mind that 16mm started out in the 1920's as an amateur format. If Grandpa could figure out how to run his Kodak, you probably could, too. Of course if you're planning on renting an Arri 416 or a new Aaton, you'll want to RTFM and get a little practice at the rental shop (where you will have already signed the million-dollar insurance form, right?).

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It's easy. Just buy a Arrflex S, a Bolex H16 or a K3. But some film and a meter and just practice. You don't need any film school. Takes about 30 seconds to load and 5 seconds to unload those cameras.

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Once you go through the whole process and see the results, you'll understand why it's still around and here to stay. 16mm stands at an interesting position; it can look extremely professional with the Vision2 negative stocks or it can look very warm and "home movie" like with a reversal or b&w stock. Those are both looks that videographers are always after but can't quite get.

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Keep in mind that lenses are very important to the final quality of the image. A cheap or poorly maintained lens can make the best-shot film look amateur. If you're renting or borrowing "just to get your feet wet" with film, don't sweat the lenses too much -- shoot and enjoy. But if you're going to purchase, check the lenses before you plunk down your $$.

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After shooting video for years I told myself I wouldn't get hooked on film when going back to school.

 

too late.

 

I feel like there is probably more to learn in terms of exposure than there is hardware-wise on most starter 16mm cameras if your background is in video. On the flip side, I've also found super16 negative to be SO much more forgiving than video. You'd be amazed at what you can correct in film. I ran off some footage on a sunny day with the aperature wide (1.4, 500t) open while setting focus and at the post house the processed film was a white screen. They actually pulled the full image back in except for parts of the sky - trees, grass, a creek. Of couse it was pretty grainy because it had been so overexposed, but just the fact that the film holds such detail is pretty amazing having come from video!!!

 

I know the community college in my area has film classes that are very inexpensive (when i took them it was 300 bucks for the semster and that included 3 rolls of reversal and processing!) if you want to get your hands on gear and a bit of instruction.

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I would point out to all you happy, happy people that Mr. Ashley-Smith is in the UK, and therefore there are no 16mm cameras "in the local paper." There is also absolutely no availability of 16mm short ends either, nor is there any telecine available beyond the £500/hour super high end stuff. Shooting film is three to five times more expensive here and really can't be done as a hobby.

 

Phil

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I would point out to all you happy, happy people that Mr. Ashley-Smith is in the UK, and therefore there are no 16mm cameras "in the local paper." There is also absolutely no availability of 16mm short ends either, nor is there any telecine available beyond the £500/hour super high end stuff. Shooting film is three to five times more expensive here and really can't be done as a hobby.

 

Phil

not quite sure what you are talking about, there are tons of places in the US to have film transferred, unless you are speaking of somewhere else..

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Phil is absolutely right, you guys in the states have no idea how privileged you are that film is alive and well and still a viable option to high end digital video. I've actually stopped offering quotes for both film (s16, s35) and digital video, they just skip through until they find the HD-cam digi-beta quote and say "why do you need 2 people to operate the camera" I think the rental house is the best way to go for experience of film cameras, learning how to prep a film camera is just the best hands on education you can get!

 

Kieran.

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Hi Daniel,

 

Remember 16mm was released as an amateur format in 1926. It lasted long enough so it can't be that difficult.

 

Stephen

 

And all those people shooting kodachrome with a "light meter" that consisted of little drawings of a sun, a cloud and a shady spot!

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And all those people shooting kodachrome with a "light meter" that consisted of little drawings of a sun, a cloud and a shady spot!

 

Hi Patrick,

 

I seem to remember it worked rather well!

 

Stephen

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Hi.

 

I haven't had any experience in shooting cine before, only digital. But I was wondering how easy it is to actually 'operate' these 16mm or even 35mm cameras?

 

 

 

Hi Dan. You can easily go to a local camera equipment rental company and ask them to let you sit in the corner and practise loading a camera. I used to work in an equipment shop and I could have someone loading and operating a 16mm camera within a couple of hours. Make sure you do it when they aren't busy and they're usually happy to help out

 

Another way to go would be to offer to load for someone on a shoot. I did many freebies when I was starting out loading or assisting. That way you'll become more familiar with the processes. It's not as scary or arcane as it might seem. It's actually really pretty easy. And despite what Phil says, it's actually pretty easy and very rewarding. Just like any video camera there are do's and donts.

 

It's easy to operate them.

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The problem is that as a beginner you're liable to be renting the oldest, crappiest film-advancement-box-thing, or camera, that you can get your hands on, and the older they are, the harder they are to load. I've shot a bit of 35mm on a Konvas and while slapping the mag on the back of the camera is easy as pie, it's recognised as being one of the trickier mags to load.

 

Obviously having to do it every few minutes isn't a highlight either.

 

Why are they crappy phil ? Because they are old ? I just did a short film on the weekend with a 35 BL4...at least a 20 year old camera. But it still make very very lovely pictures. Simple to load. It takes about 2 minutes for an experienced loader to reload a mag. In the scheme of things on set, I find I'm more often waiting for the director or makeup or design or sound. Not usually the camera reload. (which can also be done in about a minute)

 

 

Film cameras also tend to be very nasty to handhold, especially if you want or need to pull your own focus - not because it's hard to actually hit focus (though it is, on 35) but just because the lenses go round twice from end to end and you can't get there in time. Often a shoulder pad and appropriate handgrips are optional extras.

 

Older, crappier cameras also tend to have rubbish viewfinders - you're looking at a colour image, but it's probably dark, soft, grainy, vignetted, offcentre, misaligned, dimmer on one side than the other, and when you're rolling, it's flickering like a migrane-inducing disco strobe. The frameline markings may or may not line up with where the frame actually is, may or may not be adequately visible, and may not even be available in appropriate layouts for your target format.

 

Every camera kit I've ever rented has handgrips. Optional extras like handle bars are usually tossed into my kit's for nix if I ask for them. Film cameras are beautiful to hand held. You don't have to have cables running into them, The are smaller and more compact that the equivalent resolution camera in video. They have colour optical finders that show you at least 20% more of the image than what is being shot so you can see the boom BEFORE it's in shot. They have a viewfinder that can be swung over 180 degrees so you can as easily operate from the left shoulder as the right. Every single camera operator I know prefers a film camera viewfinder to a video one.

 

I have often done my own focus in hand held situations and have no problems at all getting to the marks. I'd much rather a bit more travel. I was shooting the other day with a 40x Canon on an F900 with the double. The focus action was in micrometers and was almost impossible. And if I hear another operator complain about the strobing of 24P video viewfinders.....

 

 

 

Moving the camera around too roughly may even cause the viewfinder groundglass to flop around inside the camera, making it impossible to achieve consistent framing and making telecine even more horrendously expensive as you fix the problems in post.

 

What ? This doesn't even make sense. Are you saying the ground glass fell out on a camera you were shooting with ?

 

 

And the single most insidious film problem of all: what appears to be in focus in the viewfinder may or may not be in focus on the film.

 

One could easily say that the video camera had a dirty head that meant you thought it was recording but all you've got is pixellated rubbish......

 

 

This is a horror story list of more or less everything that can go wrong, but I have had these problems all at once on one camera. If you go and rent a brand new SR3 and you can afford to have it all prepped properly and expert camera assistants to help you, you will not have these problems. If you go on Shooting People and rent the cheapest SR1 mod you can find, well, I would expect you to see at least some of them.

 

 

Phil..I reckon I can produce a horror story of equal proportions for video cameras as well. I live in Australia which is NOT the US. I have no trouble finding telecine for $250 per hour to Digibeta. (a spirit here is $1000 per hour)

 

You mustn't be a very happy person.

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Well, I thought I was being scrupulously fair, but OK, if you insist:

 

> Why are they crappy phil ? Because they are old ?

 

Not at all. They're (often) crappy because they're hard to load, hard to handhold, have dark, vignetted, grainy, misaligned viewfinders, they're noisy...

 

Not all old cameras are like that, but most of the affordable ones I've come across tend to have at least some of these issues. Except Thomas Worth's excellent little Konvas, which seems to have very few vices and has been upgraded since I used it (but I'd want him around to load it, and it's MOS...)

 

> It takes about 2 minutes for an experienced loader to reload a mag.

 

Our original question was from someone who is not an experienced loader - but more on this anon.

 

> Every camera kit I've ever rented has handgrips.

 

Odd that. The only time I've ever had proper handgrips on a film-style setup was actually when I was using a mini35 lens adapter. Define irony!

 

> I have often done my own focus in hand held situations and have no problems at all getting to the marks.

 

It's OK if you actually have a follow focus mounted. Pulling focus by grabbing the barrel is a real pain in the neck.

 

> What ? This doesn't even make sense. Are you saying the ground glass fell out on a camera you were shooting with ?

 

On that SR1 mod, if you tilted the camera from side to side, the groundglass would move about twice the width of the framelines. Dire I know and clearly a fault that should have been fixed but I have seen it on other cameras too.

 

> One could easily say that the video camera had a dirty head that meant you thought it was recording but all you've got is pixellated rubbish......

 

Yes but you know on the day.

 

> I live in Australia which is NOT the US. I have no trouble finding telecine for $250 per hour to Digibeta. (a spirit here is $1000 per hour)

 

Nor is it the UK with our standard approach of making everything pointlessly expensive.

 

> You mustn't be a very happy person.

 

Of course not, Geoff Boyle isn't dead yet.

 

But here's the thing. Looking at your website, you're clearly a successful DP. Fine, good for you. But like the most ardent proponents of photochemical origination, you are insulated from its problems. You don't have to load mags, you don't have to pay for it. If it breaks you scream at the rental house until they send you another one. You have no reason to know about most of the problems of film because you simply never have to care about it. Other people do that for you.

 

The experience of shooting film under fully-funded conditions is quite significantly different to trying to do it on a shoestring.

 

Furthermore:

 

> You can easily go to a local camera equipment rental company and ask them to let you sit in the corner

> and practise loading a camera.

 

No, you can't. Not only are there only about three such places in the UK, so the chances of one of them being local to Mr. Ashley-Smith is tiny, but they're constantly inundated with requests like this. If I ran one of them, I'd be turning people down - and I'm a fantastic human being. There are so many wannabes and so little work, all you'll do with requests like this is poison the water for the future.

 

> Another way to go would be to offer to load for someone on a shoot.

 

There are no small scale productions shooting film in the UK. If you can afford film, you can afford the best crews. There is no starting-out here.

 

Phil

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