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Webster C

Wall 35mm camera

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I was helping an old animator-pal of mine out this last weekend in Seattle, and in a closet he had two immaculate Wall cameras (35mm). The Wall was the first proper 35mm camera that I purchased many years ago for animation and I have always loved this seldom-seen beast.

 

I believe that they were made by Western Electric, newsreel cameras, sometimes with an optical sound attachment. There was also a 16mm version.

 

One of the two that my friend had came with very nice Baltar lenses.

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Edited by Webster C
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I think that they came out after the Bell & Howell 2709, but pre-Mitchell. Hopefully someone here knows more about the history.

 

They utilize B&H mags, and the design of the movement is really clever - it seems as though Arri was influenced by the design when they were making the Arri BL. The dual registration pins and pulldowns are all self-contained along with the gate in a little module that easily slides right out of the camera and is driven by one cam on the backside.

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Edited by Webster C
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Here's a couple close-ups of the movement, out of the camera body. In the first picture the registration pins are retracted and the pulldown claws are in the middle of their arc, in the second picture the pins are engaged and the pulldowns have retracted and moved back up into position to pulldown the next frame of film.

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Edited by Webster C
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I love this era of movie cameras. Everything is machined by hand and built to last. I had to look these up, but the rackover system seems pretty slick, almost accordion-like. If someone were mechanically minded, these would still take gorgeous pictures. Those Baltars would certainly help. These cameras will go on working as long as parts can be machined. Pure muscle power. Love the simplicity.

Edited by Timothy Fransky

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I believe the Wall was developed and primarily geared toward newsreel photography in the very late 20's and early 1930's. Look at the AEO light port on the bottom, right side of the camera body (open camera door). That's where the optical sound valve protruded into the camera body and exposed the track onto the main drive sprocket.

 

Like most newsreel cameras of that era, the track displacement was shorter than projection advancement; roughly 9 frames verses the typical 20. So, if you ever find a composite negative camera original with only 9 frame advance on the track, there is a good chance it was shot with a newsreel camera.

 

We preserved a large portion of the Fox Movietone News Archive and that 9 frame displacement initially caused some confusion when printing directly from camera original negatives.

 

Having examined a Wall in a collection at a University I once worked at, I will agree they are beautiful chunks of precision metal!

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Thanks Frank, that's great information!

 

I have seen some pictures of the Wall set up with the optical sound attachment, and I thought that you had to thread it thru an additional set of rollers so that the distance would be the standard. Good to know that it's different.

 

This is off-topic, but I had heard about a shorter sound-to-picture displacement on some 16mm mag sound cameras.

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Here's some pictures of the backside of the cameras, opposite the film chamber. The first is heavily modified with an animation motor, the second one has its original (I think) wiring for live action.

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Edited by Webster C
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Thanks for posting those pictures, Webster. There's sparse information to be found about Wall cameras.

 

According to "Motion Picture Photography: A History, 1891-1960" by Raimondo-Souto, the Wall 35mm sound-on-film camera was first launched around 1934, and was manufactured for several decades, with various improvements over the years. The entry on Wall is included in this Google books preview, and has some interesting information:

https://bit.ly/2ATTQLo

It's possible the author got the date wrong and there were earlier versions.

 

As Frank mentioned, they were primarily newsreel cameras, and don't seem to have been used as studio cameras.

 

The J.M. Wall Machine Co did produce cameras in the mid 20s for the Movietone inventors, Case and Sponable, but there's little information about those cameras, some of which may have been modified Mitchells.

 

The movement does look similar to the Arriflex 35BL movement, although the closer comparison seems to me to be the Moviecam (and thus Arricam) movement, which is also easily removed from the camera (unlike the BL), and shares the sloping gate design and even the wedge shaped lever.

 

 

 

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We have what we believe to be one of the earliest Movietone Cameras in our film lab; a modified 2709 with a Mitchell-like movement. Strangely enough, we acquired it via Government Surplus channels, sight unseen, to press into service for recreating film title cards during the restoration of some of the Paper Print Collection. It was only an accident that it arrived at our lab how and when it did...

 

I will try to get photos to post next week; it is an interesting camera. It still sports the animation motor and Nikon F mount lens I adapted to the camera to make it functional.

 

James Cozart, our former Quality Control Expert, did a lot of research into that camera that is now regrettably lost when he passed-away a couple of years ago.

 

Anecdotally, I recall discussing this subject with him and he indicated that Wall initially attempted to build the Fox Movietone cameras on the B&H 2709 platform, but that the problems of silencing the shuttle movement were insurmountable at the time, so they switched to a movement that is very similar to the Mitchell, but not exact (as you will see in the photos).

 

If you examine the actual Wall camera body backside under the sheet metal cover, it DOES have more than a passing resemblance to the body of a 2709!

 

Just a general note: if you know someone who has this sort of history floating around in their head, you might want to do what I didn't do; document it. I wish I had...

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As you can see, the camera is a 2709 body on a Mitchell Standard rackover base with a Mitchell-like movement. The Turret was replaced with a fixed 2 lens port; one Nikon F and one rack type focus mount with an enlarging lens for flat field copying.

 

 

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Wow, and the research into who put that camera together is lost? It is quite a feat of engineering and machining.

 

I would hazard to guess that the Mitchell-like movement in the 2709 body was there before the animation motor and Nikon mount were added; that the work to add those was done later. I see that there's a serial number on the movement, it would be interesting to know if there's a matching serial number somewhere on the body or if it's a miss-match.

 

Has it always been on the East Coast or was it shipped out from California?

Edited by Webster C

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As I posted, I put the nikon mount and animation motor on the camera; the rest was already as it was.

 

Beyond getting it surplus, we (now) know very little other than anecdotal information about the camera.

 

Terra incognito...

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