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Strengths and weaknesses of 16mm? (1 reply)

Zach Antle
10 months ago
Zach Antle 10 months ago

Would love to try and shoot something on that format but I'd like to know what kind of camera I'd need or which is the best for it, and what are the things 16 does best, and worst?

10 months ago
Mike 10 months ago

There is no difference between 16mm and 35mm as they share the same roll of emulsion. Film is made from 1 metre widths and then chopped up in the required gauge S8, 16, 35 or 65mm to special order. Sprocket holes are also punched out during this process. 

Tv production normally uses super 16mm but occasionally 35mm has been used. In the US they used more 35mm for TV shows infact 35 was the standard format from the 1950’s onwards. Eg, the ‘I love Lucy’ show actually used 4 Mitchell 35mm camera’s filming to a ‘live’ audience was typical shooting of the day. In Europe 16mm was extensively used for TV production. Even today 16mm is still used but is slowly being taken over by digital camera’s. Infact, nearly all high end users now use Digital eguipment including their telecine facilities.

You now have a whole choice of 16mm camera’s coming on the market at very cheap prices. The camera types which have been converted to super 16mm can be narrowed down to just 2 or 3. These are Aaton (pronounced A-ton) and Arriflex. There are many more types on the market but are difficult to convert. The film gate has to be enlarged which is fairly simple in itself but the VF markings have also to be extended. The difficult part is then moving the lens mount over so the center of the lens is in line with the larger gate. Only a handful of people in the world can do this now as it is labour intensive and people do not want to pay top dollar.

The 16mm camera is obviously much lighter to use but in terms of image quality you will not notice the difference if you saw 16 and 35 side by side on a TV screen but on a larger screen you will certain see the film grain but it all depends on lighting and how the camera was used. For a small crew then a lighter camera is the way to go. It’s just not the camera of ofcourse, it’s also the tripod, battery box, lenses, film containers etc etc. The Aaton S16mm is a real ‘sweetie’ to hold and once on your shoulder it feels just right and the balance is spot on, even with a full film load. You can focus using the ‘Mickey Mouse’ ears on the lens while the other hand is holding on to something. You can do this with an Arri too but the balance does feel as comfortable even with a should mount bolted on.

I suggest you grab yourself a Bell and Howell filmo and practice with that. These cameras are now cheap as chips and you have a choice of lenses to go with it. Taylor Hobson is my personal favourite which also cheap nowadays. Not Super 16mm but the images can be quite stunning. Otherwise, go for Super 16mm when one comes up but remember ARRI and Aaton do not repair camera’s over 15 years old. Which is why I mentioned B&H, these cameras are robust and will last a life time. Built like a tank!

Processing 16 and 35 costs the same these days and so add that on to new film stock and then you wonder why everyone uses digitals.

 Buying a cheap professional camera is one thing but keeping it running is another, but you will be impressed with image quality once you have mastered it.  It’s how you light it that matters.


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