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Nick Korompilas

ARRI 16 S/B in 2019

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Hey guys,

I am a working DP whose projects are mainly fashion and commercial focused, and I hope to begin incorporating some 16mm into my workflow to make both commercial and personal films. 

I am looking for a camera to operate solo + remain portable. To start, I intend to use this for visual pieces only (b-roll and commercial fashion videos). I don't anticipate requiring crystal sync or 400' mags for a while, however I am not opposed to these nicer options for future proofing. My format preference is S16 but I feel pretty good about the 4:3 ratio as well. Most of my outputs are 1080p; my work often displays on on in-store TVs and social media platforms. After endless hours of research, I am still completely undecided about what to do. I hope someone here can help!

I have boiled my selection down to three cameras:

1) Arri 16 S/B w/ Angenieux 12-120mm - $2k
* Camera has been recently cleaned and rebuilt, also comes with short warranty from a reputable dealer in NYC
* I love how the 16SB feels, but the major drawback is that a S16 conversion is virtually impossible (and not recommended).
* I have heard the Ang lens is optically mediocore, but when I start looking at the Zeiss 10-100mm or Cooke Kinetals the price bumps up significantly, putting me in a territory of S16 cameras. 
* I have confirmed the SB + Ang are in good shape - no obvious problems, haze, fungus, etc.

2) Bolex SBM w/ Kern Vario 16-100mm - $2.5-$3k (R16)
* I have the opportunity to purchase this kit within/around the same price range. 
* I like to have the option for S16 conversion, but it seems like the lens selection is limited and reports of poor image quality with S16 on wide lenses/shallow DOF. Is this true?
* Price bumps up to $4k-$4.5k with S16 conversion, putting me in another territory of pro S16 cameras. 

3) Aaton LTR S16 w/ Canon 7-56mm (A-Mount) - $3-6k (?)
* A reputable dealer is potentially offering me one of these, the Canon is in poor condition but they said they can sell the package a decent price. I am still waiting on pics/more info. 
* This price range also puts me into ARRI SR2 territory, however I do not own, or plan to own, PL glass anytime soon. 
* The Aaton is very attractive to me, however it seems rather large/cumbersome for my needs. 

What do you guys think, can anyone help me choose my first 16mm? Should I save and get S16, or go Bolex and upgrade to S16?

My budget is flexible for the right camera, although I was initially hoping to spend about $2.5k-$3k for a body and lens. 

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I don’t think buying a standard 16 camera and converting it to S16 is cost effective these days, you’re better off waiting and buying an already converted camera. Spending over 4K on a wind-up Bolex is way too much for example.

The Arri 16S/B is a great camera, if you get one in good condition it should keep running with minimal service needs.. they’re built like a tank. Kinetals shouldn’t be that expensive, nor should a Zeiss 10-100. If you don’t mind standard 16 that would be my recommendation. If you wait for an auction you can pick up these cameras cheaper, but a serviced camera with warranty is worth paying more for. 

The LTR is also great, if you ever needed to do sync sound or run 400 ft mags and it’s S16. Aaton mount lenses are harder to find, but you can find an adapter to use Arri S or B lenses. Not PL however unless you change the mount. It’s not at all cumbersome, quite the opposite. If you can afford it with a decent lens, this would be the best option out of those. That Canon 7-56 is a standard 16 zoom, which is an odd thing to have on a S16 camera, so check with the dealer. A canon 7-63 would be nice.

Bolexes are wonderful student cameras, and should be cheaper than the more professional ones by Arri and Aaton. Again, if you wait, you should be able to get a good Bolex with lens for cheaper than 3K. C mounts are cheaper (though harder to use) and service costs are lower. I love wind-ups, you can take them anywhere without the need for batteries and chargers (factor that cost into any of the others too) but it does mean you’re limited to 25 second takes and might miss something because you need to wind it up again. Once you add motors and mags to a Bolex, it does become cumbersome. 

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If I could throw one more option into the mix if the Aaton is too pricey.

The Eclair ACL is quite versatile.

It can do 100' and 400' , and there's a 200' magazine that makes it compact for a sync sound cam.

It has a c mount and adapters for Arri Standard/bayo , camflex, etc.

Many ACL II's are Super 16, and it's also a good candidate for Ultra 16 conversions. 

A cheaper option to the Aaton LTR , but similar in approach and with a c mount prime and 200' mag it's pretty darn small. 

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Another good thing about ACl is that there are a few mount adapters floating around. They all fit on the camera's TS mount, the flange with the C mount and thread around the outside.  There were various mount adapters made, and there are still people who can make them.  I have Arri-S, Arri-B, Cameflex, PL. All the mounts are very strong. Actually, I think they are the same mounts, or mount adapters if you will,  that the lens projectors have that are used by the lens technicians.

Other good things about ACL vis a vis Aaton (LTR/XTR etc), they are a bit smaller. And if you have some 200' mags, a lot smaller. An ACL I is much the same weight as an LTR.  Also, the components building the camera are fairly easily interchangeable compared to other cameras. The mounts I mentioned, but also the motors. The motors can be swapped out in the field.

The only less than good thing I can say about ACL is that a poorly adjusted mag lock on an ACL i can cause the mag to fall off if it has a bad bump. I jumped off a truck once and the mag fell off. All credit to the mag designers, it was un-damaged. I fit it back on and kept shooting. Later I learned how to adjust the mag lock so that would not happen.

 

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I've owned and shot with all of these cameras and still have a Bolex EBM and of course Aaton XTR today. 

Here are my thoughts on this subject. 

First and foremost, if you're doing fashion stuff, you'll want to put the camera in odd places to get unique angles most likely. One thing that nobody really talks about is the lack of a movable viewfinder on the Bolex or S/M. This means your face has to be at the back of the camera to check the shot. No video tap, no monitor to check framing, nothing. This is a HUGE inconvenience and it can be very costly because time is money and sometimes, that magic moment happens and if you're not able to get it because you need to put the camera somewhere where you can't be behind it and look straight down the viewfinder, you're in trouble. 

Second, lens mount is a big deal. I would say the Bolex C mount is the most versatile mount on the market. You can convert it to PL, Nikon, Arri B and many others, with adaptors that aren't too much money.

Third,  The Bolex also has a few features like being able to rewind for effects and hand crank if need be. The SBM and EBM can also run 400ft magazines, which is super nice to have and batteries are readily available. The Bolex cameras are NOT mirrored reflex, so the image is pretty dark compared to the newer cameras, which adds to the annoyance of having to look through the viewfinder from the back. 

Fourth, where I do like the S/M, I do think it's days are numbered. Mechanically, they are great cameras. However, they are a bit heavy and the motor and battery system is less than elegant. I got one for free (without glass) and wound up selling it because I knew I'd never use it. I shot with an Arri M once and it was a cool experience, but the Arri BL was a better camera because it was quiet and had a rotating viewfinder, which means you can put the camera on your shoulder vs holding it in front of your face. Where it's true, Arri (and Bolex) do have shoulder mount adaptors, they are hard to find these days. 

I would NEVER spend money on converting a camera to Super 16, you're literally throwing money out the window. The Bolex and early Arri cameras, do need quite a bit of work to convert to Super 16, it's not an easy process. So it's expensive AND because they were made for standard 16, all of the roller's, sprockets and even the gate, have surfaces that touch the image where it's not suppose to. With the Bolex, you can swap nearly all of them out, but not with the S/M. So there is a higher likelihood you'll get scratches in that area. 

The Aaton LTR is a first generation camera. I would steer clear myself having owned one. Where it's super lightweight, the cameras are getting super old and things like the drive belts for the magazines are no longer being made. So it becomes a huge problem over a short period of time if you aren't careful. Plus, LTR parts specifically are nearly impossible to find. They didn't make as many LTR's as XTR's, so where the XTR part supply does exist, getting LTR parts is more about finding a dead camera and yanking parts off it. From experience, they are very fragile compared to the Arri's, so screws come loose very easily and things bend/break much easier. I do think the LTR creates a more stable image than the Arri counterparts and I love the design (I'm a die hard Aaton guy), but I wouldn't recommend one to a newbie. I think they're good for experienced people who aren't going to use them very much. I struggle to keep my last generation XTR Prod in one piece. 

I personally wouldn't get near a multi-thousand dollar Arri S/M or Bolex. I've spent around $500 on BOTH of my Bolex and S/M. I think for that price it's worth the "investment", but for the pricing you're posting, no way. 

If you're doing hand held fun stuff, a very basic standard REX-5 H16 Reflex Bolex will do you fine. You can get them for peanuts, find a decent C mount lens and you're in business. They're wind-up, but they're cheap, easy to use and create great images if in good shape. Once you graduate from the Bolex, you can step up to an Aaton XTR Plus or Prod, for $8k lol 😛 (the prices are crazy these days) and learn what it's like to work a real camera. But lenses will kill you. Mod's will kill you. I mean everything kills you on the more expensive cameras. So you either go super cheap like the Rex-5 Bolex, or you throw everything at it and buy a modern real sync sound camera. 

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In the 80s, any artist who was interested in film might fiddle with a Bolex. Actually, this is a great tradition to explore. Formaly, the visual possibilities are inexhaustible.  So, while I hate to agree with Tyler...if you are interested in the escence of moving pictures, the bolex may be useful tool.

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I couldn't agree more with what Tyler said.

For an "extra camera" at a fashion shoot, a Bolex is a great way to start (as long as you don't overpay for your system). Also - it shouldn't matter but it does - while we all want to be seen with modern, slick-looking gear on-set, the Bolex is familiar to people and has a quaint cache. You (probably) won't be the laughed at for being seen with it.

Edited by Webster C

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Just to throw in a different perspective. Always been a big fan of the Arriflex 16S/B. Have owned the Bolex, and Aaton LTR. The Arriflex is really nice and simple, and I found it easier to hand hold compared to the Bolex, and a lot more compact and maneuverable compared to the Aaton. And with one of the periscope finders attached, you can shoot the Arriflex from many different angles. 

If I were doing what you're talking about doing, I'd find a good Arriflex 16S/B (which should not cost you $2K) and a Zeiss 8mm T* lens, and just have at it. Had this combination a decade ago and although I still have the 16S/B, I stupidly sold the Zeiss lens. Because it is 8mm (and make sure you get one with the T* coating) camera movement is not an issue. And you can get in really close and make some really wonderful footage with it.

Just my 2¢ worth.

Good luck with whatever you choose.

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