What is a good introductory 16mm film camera for someone aspiring to shoot feature films?
May 5, 2012 6:32 PM   Subscribe

What is a good introductory 16mm film camera for someone aspiring to shoot feature films?

I'm looking to purchase a secondhand 16mm film camera with control and flexibility that typically goes for under $100 and could really use some suggestions. I'm mostly looking to do some out and about point-and-shoot photography on some cheap reversal film.

Basically I want to experiment (that's where control and flexibility comes in) with a medium I have been itching to use since I encountered movies.

If there's something that goes for between 100 and 200 dollars that might also be an option but for the most part I'm looking for that sub 100 dollar introductory price so I can experiment before (hopefully) taking the hobby to the next level.
posted by dr handsome to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you are check ebay regularly you might be able to score a bolex h16 and one fixed lens for under 200. Any bolex with the 3 lens turret mount would be a good choice.
posted by 2ghouls at 7:12 PM on May 5, 2012

For under $100, the classic Bell and Howell Filmo. I see several on ebay. They are simply indestructible other than water damage. Many newsreels and silent location travelogues, or parts of them, even pieces of Hollywood movies, from the 1920s into the 1980s were taken with this camera or its very similar brothers.

For even less money, a Kodak, or Revere, or Keystone, if there are any listed (not as reliable though). Note for any brand of 16mm camera, do not get a "magazine" type or "auto-load" type. You want the kind that loads manually and uses a 100' roll of film with a take up spool.

Here is one complete kit on ebay, this is not a recommendation of the seller but the kind of camera to look for (any brand) with lots of pictures in this listing. For any of these, if a seller says "it runs but I don't know anything else", it runs and works. A working B&H will outlast everyone using mf. Film might not...

I hope you have a source for film and processing. Kodak no longer makes color reversal film.
posted by caclwmr4 at 7:13 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

As far as I know, Bolex cameras are all mechanical-drive, which means 1) they are too noisy to use with sync sound recording in most conditions, and 2) they are not consistent enough in terms of film speed to use for sync sound recording. If you want to experiment visually and aren't, concerned with live sync sound this may be alright, but if you want sync you should probably look for a battery-powered motor drive Arri or something similar. No idea if they're in your price range these days though.
posted by Alterscape at 7:16 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

A large percentage of feature films now are being shot digitally, and that's increasing with time. If you're truly trying to prepare yourself for a job in the industry, you'd be better off with a digital camera. Film is for dinosaurs.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:48 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

The models with sync/motors are not in my price range unfortunately but then for under 100 I'm not looking to record audio but to simply experiment with a bit of reversal stock and a relatively budget friendly film-to-video transfer.

But those are helpful answers when I find myself with more money and experience.
posted by dr handsome at 7:51 PM on May 5, 2012

If you can't find a good Bolex, try searching around for a used Krasnogorsk package. Those were highly affordable Russian cameras that came into vogue a little bit before the digital revolution. A lot of music video directors were shooting with those back in the 90s because they were so cheap and easily affordable.
posted by cazoo at 7:57 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

And my goal isn't to prepare myself for industry standards but to work on a hobby level (though I hope to be a professional one day) with film.

I'm equally interested in digital production and would most likely end up with a digital print of the thing anyway.
posted by dr handsome at 7:57 PM on May 5, 2012

I have no idea what the market for them is like now, but 20 years ago Bolexes were the workhorses of the entry-level film student. I remember them seeming pretty bombproof and they do take nice footage.
posted by usonian at 7:58 PM on May 5, 2012

The Canon Scoopic is one of the easier 16mm cameras to learn. It takes 100 ft. daylight spools, and is self-winding, which is a huge plus for a beginner.

I know that this is a hobby for you, but just know that motion picture film is on the way out. Kodak has already declared bankruptcy. It's not the end of film yet, but we'll certainly see fewer stocks produced moving forward. Regional film labs are closing down rapidly - the middle of the country only has literally a couple left. Depending on where you live, you will probably have to get your film developed through the mail.
posted by MythMaker at 8:45 PM on May 5, 2012

Hmm. I love film, but...

...you really need a digital rig. If you decide down the line, you want to live and breathe retro - awesome! You need to build your skills with a digital rig, because film is expensive, and developing is even more money. You need to understand what focal length and aperture does to your shot. You need to understand follow focus. You need to understand exposure.

In the "good old days" you'd learn all this by burning film - which means you're also wasting money on studio rental, actors, extras and crew for failed shoots. The camera is the least expensive part of film-making with actual film - if you buy a $100 camera, you will be spending tens of thousands of dollars on film and development.

By all means, buy a Bolex or Arriflex to pursue your film-maker dreams... just buy a Panasonic GH2 to learn the craft first. It will be cheaper and more gratifying.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:52 PM on May 5, 2012 [7 favorites]

I can't imagine shooting a feature with a bolex. Unless you get the larger magazine, a feature is a whole lot of 100 ft. daylight spools. Without reading your budget, I almost typed "Arriflex SR3," but that would run you a lot more than $100.

But shooting on a bolex is fun, and what you shoot on film will look infinitely better than anything you shoot digitally (at your price point). And burning through some daylight spools will teach you a lot.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:12 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just bought a Bolex 155 super 8 for $15. Why not go super 8? My idea is to combine the super 8 footage with digital camera movie footage, recording the sound separately using a boom and reasonable quality mic and recorder.
posted by JohnR at 4:19 AM on May 6, 2012

Apologies if you know this already, here's just a comment about the difference between learning about the moving image from film and from video.

Firstly, 100' of 16mm film is about 4 minutes long (100' is the size of cassette you load into these basic film cameras - some of them you can fit an extra magazine that takes 400'. It's not cheap.) On a clockwork Bolex the longest possible take is about 17 seconds before the spring winds down. So if you learn using a Bolex, you learn a great deal about visual economy. Also you can take the camera anywhere without worrying about a power source, yay!

With a video camera it's easy to shoot for 20, 30, 40, 60 minutes without having done anything particularly interesting. You can end up with like, 10 hours of tape to edit down to 10 minutes - you think you've covered all the bases but IMO, at the expense of sharpening your critical thinking skills.

Learning to tell a visual story with film is a beautiful process, it teaches you SO MUCH about structure, resonance, tightness, that would take you a lot longer to learn if it didn't matter how much film you were wasting. That's why film schools traditionally have used Bolexes - not just because they're cheap and robust but also because their limitations force disciplined creative thinking.

As posters above have said, film may be on it's way out. Yet practitioners love it because it looks gorgeous. Very good luck with your project, and I hope the difficulties of sourcing and printing stock don't get in the way of your pleasure. There are always little indie festivals and galleries, internationally, that are happy to show well-made 16mm work.
posted by glasseyes at 6:00 AM on May 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

There are always little indie festivals and galleries, internationally, that are happy to show well-made 16mm work.

Yes. 16mm Directory has a list of 16mm-equipped venues, if a list of such places would be any encouragement to you.
posted by bubukaba at 3:12 PM on May 6, 2012

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