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Mario A. Peraza

How were tracking shots done with old film cameras?

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I'm looking at some old films done on analog film cameras and a lot of them feature some type of tracking shot. I mean those with long focal lengths or with the camera moving alongside/forward/behind the subject and the subject is NOT following a straight path. I'm trying to wrap my head around spending hours upon hours of constant rehearsal and blocking just to get it right, and if you don't you have to practice all over again after watching the dailies. Was that how it was done? It's a lot easier with monitors now having focus peaking and having to rehearse once and having to keep a light note of the distance the actors are going to be.

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If you’re talking about focusing, the focus puller worked from tape measurements of distances to subject combined with experience at estimating distances.

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I can't imagine not having reflex viewing. To me, that's the biggest thing that's changed the way cameras were used. I look at all those beautiful push-in's from the early days and I'm shocked they did them so well. Even today we struggle to get such a clean focus pulled look. Then with talkies and technicolor, the camera being the size of a Smart Car, using huge crane arms to make those shots, that must have been intense. I've always wanted to get the experience of using one of those blimped cameras, just to know how hard it was. 

One thing they had going for them, was light. Stopping down a lot, helps with the focus pulling a tad, you don't have to be as accurate. When Mitchell came out with the direct viewing system, that was a breakthrough. At least you could rehearse the shot and get your measurements right before shooting. 

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Even with reflex viewfinders most of the time the focus puller is using measurements since they aren’t the one looking through the viewfinder during the take.

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47 minutes ago, David Mullen ASC said:

Even with reflex viewfinders most of the time the focus puller is using measurements since they aren’t the one looking through the viewfinder during the take.

Ohh for sure,  I was just thinking that at least an operator could "see the shot" whilst operating a reflex camera. You knew nothing about the shot when shooting rangefinder. 

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If a camera is unaltered from the factory or correctly serviced, the rackover and lens swing system is as precise as a reflex finder system. Spectators would see nicely framed and well focused images before the Bell & Howell Standard camera came into existence. The operators observed the image formed on the film from behind with a loupe. Newman & Guardia had the first camera with a reflex prism behind the film in 1905. The Parvo of Debrie features direct film view through an ocular. In 1921 the Parvo L offered  ground glass preparation in addition. There was an accessory to the 2709 available in 1932 that allowed to see the image on the film from behind, magnified. The 1930 French Le Blay and the 1934 Californian Akers camera have behind-the-film reflex prisms, too.

Equally precise framing is feasible with a MItchell. To focus you have a fine ground glass, in fact not ground but etched. The lens remains in place, that is one advantage over Bell & Howell.

Camerapeople of yesterday developed a feel for depth of (sharp) field. Lenses were commonly closer together in design and simpler to some extent. Very often the normal focal length lens was a Tessar type. Taylor, Taylor & Hobson added the dialytic four-elements type in the late 20s. The six-elements Opic came into use during the 20s. You have that family of Planar-Opic-Xenon-Biotar-Baltar lenses. These were used unchanged through 40 years, just bloomed since after the war. A few products got coated in the war already. The depth-of-field behaviour of those lenses is easier to sense out than that of younger designs.

Camerapeople didn’t outsource control over the image, they kept a conscience about what they do. Can I make myself understood? Today many people only stare at a monitor, having split themselves from the image forming device, the CAMERA OBSCURA, in the first place.

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