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Are regular 16mm cameras worth investing in?


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I work in TV, so when it comes to 16mm I'm just an enthusiast, and all of my 16mm footage so far has been on my Krasnogorsk-3, which has served me well. Having said that, I would like to eventually shoot some more ambitious projects on film (requiring sound, longer takes, etc), but unfortunately the closest place I could rent a film camera from is about five hours away.

Because of this, I occasionally find myself browsing eBay for cameras, and often Regular 16 cameras such as Arri SRs, Aatons, or CP-16s are available. I can't help but wonder how worthwhile buying a Regular 16 camera is though; Super 16 seems to be preferable in every way. I guess Regular 16 is good if you want a 4:3 aspect ratio, but it seems like most people would prefer to shoot Super 16 and crop the sides instead. Likewise, if you wanted a wider aspect ratio, you could crop the top and bottom of your Regular 16 image, but Super 16 would require less cropping and give you a bigger image area. It's also worth noting that many Regular 16 cameras can be converted to Super 16, but for the cost it seems like you might as well have just bought a Super 16 camera in the first place.

As I said, I'm not a professional when it comes to film, so I'm not sure if I will ever be able to justify purchasing my own professional-level 16mm camera. However, the (generally) lower cost of Regular 16 cameras does make it a little tempting sometimes. What do you guys think, are Regular 16 cameras worth investing in?

 

Note: Yes, I recognize that both Regular 16 and Super 16 would widely be considered "obsolete" these days, so strictly speaking they probably aren't worth "investing" in. I just mean this in the context of those who enjoy shooting celluloid.

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In my opinion if you want 16:9 or want to crop even wider, S16 is the best option. Having said that, current filmstocks have the finest grain there has ever been. Keeping that in mind cropping R16 is not as bad as it might have been once. After all, some Kodak V3 50D in super-8 looks like 16mm of the past, or so they say.

Converting cameras to S16 is becoming more difficult, as there are less shops that'll do it. Cameras like Eclair ACL and Bolex still have such services available and they are relatively cheap, but if I was buying a S16 professional camera now, I'd probably try to get an Aaton or Arri that already was S16. Servicing them might be more expensive though.

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Film is not obsolete. You can make a film, 16mm or 9.5mm or 8mm, today and win prizes. Analog video is obsolete. 4:3 isn’t obsolete, either. It’s still the most dynamic aspect ratio.

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Heikki is right... there's not so much of a reason now to shoot S16 if you're using 50D. The grain can look quite respectable when cropped 16:9.   And I agree with Simon too.  The old 4:3 ratio in some ways is becoming more desirable artistically perhaps, as we are  swamped with 16:9 images everywhere.

Edited by Doug Palmer
deleting words
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9 hours ago, Simon Wyss said:

Film is not obsolete. [...] 4:3 isn’t obsolete, either. It’s still the most dynamic aspect ratio.

Point taken. I was actually thinking about this after I posted and regretted using the word "obsolete;" it's much stronger than what I meant. I was really just anticipating responses from the point of view that film is outdated and we should all move on.

As for 4:3, I happen to really like it and appreciate when modern films use it. Too many young filmmakers seem to think that in order to look "filmic" you need to put Cinemascope letterbox bars on everything, so it's refreshing when I see aspect ratio being recognized as a creative tool. It's strange to say but I find myself occasionally having to remind people that some of the best movies of all time are in Academy Ratio. I'm also quite curious, why do you say that it's the most dynamic aspect ratio?

This is another reason why I find myself considering a Regular 16 camera; 4:3 is just not a deal-breaker for me. I might add that my K-3 is regular 16 and I'm quite content with that. I've seen so many people insist on converting their K-3, but to me, considering the benefit versus the effort, that just feels like trying to make the camera into something it's not.

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OP...if reg 16 is your budget...then that is it.

I want a Lasergraphics scanner but the Retroscan is my budget...so I make due. 

Either rent or buy. And if you can't afford to buy what you want, then go digital. You don't want to be stuck with putting gear above art. Whether it be film or cameras.

Good luck!

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The fate of us techs is that we depend on the wording. We are trained and used to call a spade a spade, just to get along with all the things in the first place. But flexibility of mind can handle a lot of unhappy terms.

The triangle 3/4/5, image sides and diagonal, has the smallest whole numbers as those lengths for a right-angled one. That gives it a unique tension. You either feel it or you don’t.

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  • 1 month later...

Here's something shot on an Arri SR1 standard 16mm. I left it as standard format but I could have had it scanned to 16:9 with no grain problem. Don't remember the stock but it was probably 50D or 100t. Lens was a Zeiss 10-100 T2. Scanned to HD on a Spirit with a good colorist.

Some of it is a little shaky as I was getting used to shoulder shooting when zoomed in. I would say if you get a good deal on an SR1 standard go for it. Super 16mm is more practical but not at double the cost unless you're a professional and that's a requirement.

 

b157.jpg

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There are a lot of benefits to standard 16mm; cheaper cameras, cheaper lenses, more lens selection, more camera selection. The tiny sliver of image increase of super 16 ain't the end of the world. I've been matting standard 16mm to 1.85:1 for 30 years without a problem. Nobody would know the difference. 

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3 hours ago, Will Montgomery said:

Here's something shot on an Arri SR1 standard 16mm. I left it as standard format but I could have had it scanned to 16:9 with no grain problem. Don't remember the stock but it was probably 50D or 100t. Lens was a Zeiss 10-100 T2. Scanned to HD on a Spirit with a good colorist.

Some of it is a little shaky as I was getting used to shoulder shooting when zoomed in. I would say if you get a good deal on an SR1 standard go for it. Super 16mm is more practical but not at double the cost unless you're a professional and that's a requirement.

 

b157.jpg

Beautiful!!

Where did the grain go though? Was that the Spirit that smoothed it out or was it you in post?

 

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I've done what Will and Tyler describe. Shoot regular-16, use slow film stock like 50D or 100T (I've even gotten by with 250D) and have it scanned to HD with a Spirit. It's very do-able if a regular-16 camera is all you can afford. Try to use good lenses, like the 10-100 Will listed above, or any of the first generation Zeiss Super Speeds with the bayonet mount, or if you can find a decent set, I always had great luck with the Cooke Kinetal line of lenses, and the Cooke Varokinetal 9-50mm T2.5 cine zoom is excellent.

Best, -Tim

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On 4/16/2021 at 3:08 PM, Raymond Zananiri said:

Beautiful!!

Where did the grain go though? Was that the Spirit that smoothed it out or was it you in post?

 

Thanks Raymond. There was no grain reduction...just exposed properly on a sunny day with low speed stocks. Between the Spirit and Resolve it was definitely color corrected in transfer of course. If you want grain there's always 500T and my favorite B&W Double X!

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Posted (edited)

Nothing wrong with shooting in 1:33/R16.  If seen quite a few films shot on 1:33 and the audience is not jumping out of their seats.  Actually shooting in a different format makes you stand out. And yes, a well maintained R16 camera is worth investing in. 

Edited by CJ Wallace
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  • 2 weeks later...
On 4/23/2021 at 3:24 PM, Will Montgomery said:

Thanks Raymond. There was no grain reduction...just exposed properly on a sunny day with low speed stocks. Between the Spirit and Resolve it was definitely color corrected in transfer of course. If you want grain there's always 500T and my favorite B&W Double X!

Also keep in mind that modern film stocks are designed NOT to show a ton of grain if properly exposed...even 500T; especially in 35mm. For many years Kodak was pouring millions in research dollars into reducing grain and perfecting color. Now in 16mm we love some grain...but just enough to remind people that it's film. 🙂

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If you have an amazon prime video account (Netflix's compression is way to aggressive), have a look at some of the interior and night scenes in Mississippi Burning. I could not get such a grainy image on 16mm, even if I pushed 500T by a stop.

Edited by David Sekanina
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