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Is a Bolex good enough?


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#1 Jay Taylor

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Posted 11 November 2006 - 08:02 PM

The basis of my question is this?

Assuming my lighting/composition/etc are good, will a bolex with standard switar lenses give me a good picture when transferred to HD? Can it look at all professional?

I'm sure if it was transferred to SD, it could. The smaller resolution might smooth it all out, so to speak. But what about HD? I'm talking 1080/24p.

The telecine makes a lot of difference. What would you recommend?

I guess when I say "professional" I mean shows like The O.C., Scrubs, Sex and the City, etc. I realize they were shot in s16mm, but how much of a difference did their equipment make? If those shows were shot on bolex's with switars, would it look like crap?

Trying to decide on a camera is really frustrating!

I've looked into renting cameras, but I'm somewhat confused by all the paper work. Credit applications, insurance, blah blah blah. The only credit I have is from paying back student loans. I honestly feel like I wouldn't be eligible to rent.

Anyways, help me out!

Jay
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#2 Evan Kubota

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Posted 11 November 2006 - 08:17 PM

The basis of my question is this?

Assuming my lighting/composition/etc are good, will a bolex with standard switar lenses give me a good picture when transferred to HD? Can it look at all professional?

I'm sure if it was transferred to SD, it could. The smaller resolution might smooth it all out, so to speak. But what about HD? I'm talking 1080/24p.

The telecine makes a lot of difference. What would you recommend?

I guess when I say "professional" I mean shows like The O.C., Scrubs, Sex and the City, etc. I realize they were shot in s16mm, but how much of a difference did their equipment make? If those shows were shot on bolex's with switars, would it look like crap?

Trying to decide on a camera is really frustrating!

I've looked into renting cameras, but I'm somewhat confused by all the paper work. Credit applications, insurance, blah blah blah. The only credit I have is from paying back student loans. I honestly feel like I wouldn't be eligible to rent.

Anyways, help me out!

Jay


Those shows are generally shot on 35mm, not S16... and all things considered, an HD transfer is going to look better than SD if they are both 10-bit with the same color sampling and equally skilled/proficient colorists.

To answer your other question, a well-maintained Bolex with clean Switars gives quite good images as far as regular 16 goes.
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#3 Tim Carroll

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Posted 11 November 2006 - 08:19 PM

The basis of my question is this?

Assuming my lighting/composition/etc are good, will a bolex with standard switar lenses give me a good picture when transferred to HD? Can it look at all professional?

I'm sure if it was transferred to SD, it could. The smaller resolution might smooth it all out, so to speak. But what about HD? I'm talking 1080/24p.

The telecine makes a lot of difference. What would you recommend?

I guess when I say "professional" I mean shows like The O.C., Scrubs, Sex and the City, etc. I realize they were shot in s16mm, but how much of a difference did their equipment make? If those shows were shot on bolex's with switars, would it look like crap?

Trying to decide on a camera is really frustrating!

I've looked into renting cameras, but I'm somewhat confused by all the paper work. Credit applications, insurance, blah blah blah. The only credit I have is from paying back student loans. I honestly feel like I wouldn't be eligible to rent.

Anyways, help me out!

Jay


Jay,

Quick answer to your question, probably not.

Long answer. Depends on alot of factors. You are right, regular 16 is not going to "blow up" to HD as good as Super 16 will. But let's accept the fact that you can only afford to shoot regular 16 (and many people would argue that it would be much smarter to rent a Super 16 camera for a project than to spend the money trying to own a regular 16 camera for the same project). But for discussion sake, let's say you are going to shoot regular 16.

To get a "Sex in the City", "Scrubs", etc look the first thing you are going to need is a camera that shoots 24 fps, and if you want to record sound in sync, you need a camera that shoots 24 fps crystal sync. Most Bolexes do not shoot 24 fps crystal sync, and the spring wound ones will not even run at a constant 24 fps (or constant enough not to effect exposure), so you will need a motor for your Bolex, and probably a crystal sync for that motor. Clive Tobin makes a nice one.

Now that you have your Bolex that can shoot a constant 24 fps, you will need to look at glass. The Switars are nice lenses, but they are not quite to the level of "professional production" lenses. They make nice images, but can not really compare to Zeiss or Cooke glass. So your image is going to suffer somewhat. And there really are few options to make Zeiss or Cooke lenses compatable with a Bolex.

And finally, if you want to do sound sync recording, the Bolex is extremely loud, although you could do the Rodriguez/El Mariachi routine of recording sound "wild", after the camera is turned off, and trying to sync in post.

To get an idea of what images from a Bolex can look like, here is an experimental film I shot years ago. The interior scenes were shot with a Bolex, the exterior scenes were shot with another camera on a different film stock. So the interior scenes can give you some idea of the lens quality. Unfortunately, Quicktime 7 is required to view this footage, so make sure you have Quicktime 7.

Interior footage shot with Bolex EBM crystal sync

Hope that helps,
-Tim
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#4 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 11 November 2006 - 08:20 PM

The Bolex is a fine 16mm camera. TONS of beautiful independent shorts have been shot on it.

But as usual, what REALLY matters is "the glass". How good your lens is. If you have a low quality lens, and run an HD telecine, you'll see the lack of quality in your image.

What kind of film are you hoping to make? The Bolex is only good if you're making a film without any sound, as it is a very loud camera.
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#5 Allen Achterberg

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Posted 11 November 2006 - 08:23 PM

The basis of my question is this?

Assuming my lighting/composition/etc are good, will a bolex with standard switar lenses give me a good picture when transferred to HD? Can it look at all professional?

I'm sure if it was transferred to SD, it could. The smaller resolution might smooth it all out, so to speak. But what about HD? I'm talking 1080/24p.

The telecine makes a lot of difference. What would you recommend?

I guess when I say "professional" I mean shows like The O.C., Scrubs, Sex and the City, etc. I realize they were shot in s16mm, but how much of a difference did their equipment make? If those shows were shot on bolex's with switars, would it look like crap?

Trying to decide on a camera is really frustrating!

I've looked into renting cameras, but I'm somewhat confused by all the paper work. Credit applications, insurance, blah blah blah. The only credit I have is from paying back student loans. I honestly feel like I wouldn't be eligible to rent.

Anyways, help me out!

Jay



I'm not exactly sure what camera gear they use on these shows, there's a reason it's cheaper to buy a bolex than to rent one of these packages for a day. They use much better optics than that of a Switar for sure, think more about lenses than about the camera body. If a bolex is what you can afford, then it's what you can buy. I don't think you'll be displeased, just don't forget the price difference and the optics you are using. You could look for a S16 Bolex, or convert the one you buy. Wouldn't hurt to do a little testing either.


All the Best,
Allen Achterberg
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#6 Jay Taylor

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Posted 11 November 2006 - 08:31 PM

For starters, if I decide on a Bolex, I'd probably get one from JK Camera. So it'd already be converted to super16. And I've already been looking into crystal syncs, so I understand all that.

There's two sides to my camera choice, because on the one hand, I've got live action. On the other, animation. I know the Bolex works well with animation motors.

With my live action stuff, mostly not a lot of dialogue. I realize the bolex is supposed to be loud. Think music videos, yet not a music video. I think all my live action stuff would be synced to music, and maybe I could record the dialoque with the music. Haven't quite figured all that out yet.

If there's another camera that could double for live action and animation, let me know! Plus, handles better lenses, and doesn't cost a fortune. Of course, better lenses seem to cost a fortune. Which brings me back to renting?

How does renting work? These applications scare me!

Jay
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#7 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 11 November 2006 - 08:44 PM

You may want to check out your local non-profit filmmaking foundation. A lot of times, they have their own insurance, thereby making it easier for filmmakers to check out equipment from them. Just be sure to respect the equipment, take really good care of it, and return it in better than you got it.

Insurance shouldn't be too scary though. Find out what agencies in your area offer insurance on camera rentals and find out what the premiums are. Usually, if the equipment is worth less than $2000, then insurance isn't even necessary. But if it's over $2000, then you may have to pay a reasonable premium.

It's not scary, just sort out the figures and start filming.
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#8 Jay Taylor

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Posted 11 November 2006 - 09:02 PM

Is there an older set of cooke or zeiss lenses that wouldn't cost so much now? But would still be high quality?

I've looked into 35mm as an option, too, but there's much higher costs involved obviously. A Mitchell GC is perfect for animation. Then for live action, maybe an Arri 2c with a soundblimp? No idea where to find those original 120 sound blimps, or how much they'd go for.

Don't assume I'm set on 16mm. If I can stretch to 35mm without a HUGE increase in cost, I'll do it.

I've been researching this stuff for months now, and it doesn't seem I've gotten anywhere. So I'm hoping you guys can help me finally decide on something!

Jay
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#9 David Sweetman

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Posted 11 November 2006 - 09:02 PM

Those shows are generally shot on 35mm, not S16...

Not so, I know for a fact The OC currently shoots super16 with sr3's from Keslow Camera, and I believe the only 35 show was the pilot, but the first season may have been 35, I'm not sure. I thought I remembered hearing S&TC was s16 too, but I've never seen an episode (of either of those shows, actually.)

With a r16 bolex and a switar lens, you'll have considerably less negative area than s16 and the image will probably be softer because of the lens. My guess is it will look much different than an episode of The OC you'd see on TV, especially since they have plenty of light which they can put anywhere they want on their stage.
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#10 Evan Kubota

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Posted 11 November 2006 - 11:26 PM

Not so, I know for a fact The OC currently shoots super16 with sr3's from Keslow Camera, and I believe the only 35 show was the pilot, but the first season may have been 35, I'm not sure. I thought I remembered hearing S&TC was s16 too, but I've never seen an episode (of either of those shows, actually.)

With a r16 bolex and a switar lens, you'll have considerably less negative area than s16 and the image will probably be softer because of the lens. My guess is it will look much different than an episode of The OC you'd see on TV, especially since they have plenty of light which they can put anywhere they want on their stage.


Interesting. I've never seen any of those shows either. According to imdb Scrubs is S16 on an XTRprod and sometimes A-Minima. This is honestly pretty surprising as I thought 35mm or HD were the standards for dramatic television in the US. Are they really saving money by using 16mm? Nip/Tuck is certainly 35mm.
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#11 David Sweetman

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Posted 12 November 2006 - 12:28 AM

I've been researching this stuff for months now, and it doesn't seem I've gotten anywhere. So I'm hoping you guys can help me finally decide on something!

I went with the Arri 16bl myself, and I'm very happy with it. I've heard that in the short-film range, 35mm is generally 4x more expensive than 16mm, but I've never used 35mm so I couldn't tell you if that's true or not. If sound is an issue, I think you'd definitely want a quiet camera; dealing with a huge blimp looks like a hassle.

I think the reason s16 is used might be the "good enough" factor - since it's only being displayed on television sets, s16 has plenty of resolution. It must save some money or else it would make no sense. Or maybe it allows them to rent more cameras and roll more film since it's cheaper to do so, and the cost turns out the same...
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#12 Bryan Darling

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Posted 12 November 2006 - 04:48 AM

Honestly, I feel if you are asking these questions you should stick with something very simple. You can always upgrade and spend more money on more and better things. However when you're starting it's best to get a simple reliable camera and just start shooting things. Do simple transfers to a format you can use. Once you've mastered that and you are making money, you'll be able to afford many things and many options. But if you try and start out with the best of everything, you'll wind up wasting a lot of money because the results you get back won't be what you are looking for.

Using the best cameras with the most amazing lenses will not give you the best results just because you are using them. You have to start somewhere. A skilled, experienced, and talented person can take any piece of gear and make it work. It's getting to that point that takes time. I've used a Bolex and an Arri and honestly they both create great images, but it is not the camera and its optics that are creating those great images- they are allowing them. It is you, your talent, skill, and experience that are creating those great images.

So stop torturing yourself, spending hours and hours, days and days, months and months online looking and reading things. Grab a Bolex with a basic set of Switars or Schneiders, or whatever you can afford, and go with it. Load up some film, take a meter reading, and press the trigger, process the film, through it up on a projector or look at it on a TV screen. Then start over again this time doing things different based on how you felt you did or didn't get the things you wanted the first time.

When it's time to get another camera or some "better" lenses it will come, but you have to start somewhere. The important thing is to just start, not to worry about what you're starting with.
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#13 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 12 November 2006 - 07:03 AM

"...and the image will probably be softer because of the lens."

Although Switar lenses would not be in the same league as modern professional motion picture lenses, I don't think it's right to associate Switars with soft imagery. I have an old documentary at home called 'The World You Never See' where a few segments have been shot with a Bolex with Switar lenses and these images are extremely sharp. Though I would imagine that modern pro lenses would probably be superior at rendering very fine detail.
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#14 Bernhard Zitz

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Posted 12 November 2006 - 10:17 AM

I think Switar primes are not bad. I did amazing stuff with them; it looked better in SD than another thing I did on zeiss distagon and ARRI SR1, but it could be the telecineguy who screwed up the SR1 footage...

Switars are very small, hard to put a followfocus on them. REX4, REX5 or SBM with external crystal-motor will be very noisy, I never tried a EBM or EL, I think they're noisy as well and expensive...

The major difference between a simple bolex + switars(in good shape) and a more "professional" 16mm-camera won't be so much the final picture quality but the handling and accesoires of the camera: cristalsync, noise, followfocus, matte-box, video-assist, changeable 120m mags etc...

A good example for a switar zoom on bolex is "sans soleil" by chris marker, it has some amazing shots and is not to grainy, even at night, if you consider the stocks that were available in 1982...
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#15 Michael Ryan

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Posted 12 November 2006 - 11:03 AM

Hello Jay,

I'm going to add a little perspective here.

First, it's always good to use the best equipment you can get. Using first rate equipment is a very good goal and we should all strive to meet the highest standards of current technology.

Now, having said that, let me give you an example. About 25 years ago I saw Alfred Hitchcock's VERTIGO for the first time. However, I didn't see it on a huge movie screen with a restored print. I watched it on a 20 inch black and white TV that had all kinds of issues. The print the TV station was running was in horrible condition with lots and lots of physical defects.

The last scene in the movie, that scene where Jimmy Stewart looks down and slighty opens his arms, a moment where his despair hit me like a ton of bricks. That moment has stayed with me for 25 years. I have seen VERTIGO since on a huge screen, restored print, but you know that last scene wasn't any more powerful than the first time I saw it on that 20 inch black and white TV.

If you have a story that will move people that's what it is really all about. The technology, not so important.

Mike
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#16 Andy_Alderslade

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Posted 12 November 2006 - 11:34 AM

This is honestly pretty surprising as I thought 35mm or HD were the standards for dramatic television in the US. Are they really saving money by using 16mm? Nip/Tuck is certainly 35mm.


One Tree Hill, Friends and Veronica Mars are/were also shot on super16. So are most quality dramas made in the UK and the rest of europe.

With regards to Super16 being used in the US, I doubt the logic is based on economics.

There is an interesting article floating about on the internet by the original DOP from Scrubs explaining the reason to shoot on super16, and the decision appears to be based largely on logistics. The shoots are simply so fast paced (often over 30 scenes per episode) that they need small, relatively light-weight cameras which they can shoot quickly with. Scrubs is shot on location in a disused hospital so doesn't have the luxury of a studio enviroment - and super 16 gernerally provides the smallest and lightest high quality format.

With regards to Sex and the City I doubt the reason was economic either considering the global ratings and cost of the talent envolved, but maybe logistics shooting so much on location had some affect to.

It seems more likely that cost is a reason to shoot super16 in teen shows like The OC and One Tree Hill however, however I wonder if the choice is more creatively based, and i'm speculating here, but as the OC, One Tree Hill and even Sex and the City are glamour based shows - perhaps they are using super 16 for its slightly softer more flattering look.

Edited by Andy_Alderslade, 12 November 2006 - 11:36 AM.

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#17 Evan Kubota

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Posted 12 November 2006 - 03:22 PM

So are most quality dramas made in the UK and the rest of europe.


Right, which is why I said 'in the US'...

http://www.abelcine....p...8&Itemid=32

http://www.kodak.com...y....3.10&lc=en

It seems that more shows than I expected are using S16, but the 'big' shows are still either 35mm or HD. According to imdb 'Lost' is 35mm (3-perf) while '24' was 35mm until season 3 when they switched to HD. 'Seinfeld' was 35mm... I haven't done a huge amount of research on this but my guess would be that it's only in the last 5-10 years that scanning and film stocks advanced to the point where S16 becomes viable for mainstream shows in the US (and also the proliferation of smaller-budget dramatic television on smaller networks).
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#18 Robert Hughes

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Posted 12 November 2006 - 03:37 PM

At the risk of repeating the obvious one more time, the single most important component of the filmmaking chain, as in driving, is the nut behind the wheel. An experienced, qualified DP shooting on a decent Bolex will run rings around any film student with any camera you can name, simply because a student doesn't know how to light, frame and shoot like the DP. So don't worry about whether a Bolex is "good enough" - it's probably better than you will be for quite some time.
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#19 Andy_Alderslade

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Posted 12 November 2006 - 03:44 PM

It seems that more shows than I expected are using S16, but the 'big' shows are still either 35mm or HD. According to imdb 'Lost' is 35mm (3-perf) while '24' was 35mm until season 3 when they switched to HD. 'Seinfeld' was 35mm... I haven't done a huge amount of research on this but my guess would be that it's only in the last 5-10 years that scanning and film stocks advanced to the point where S16 becomes viable for mainstream shows in the US (and also the proliferation of smaller-budget dramatic television on smaller networks).


From what i've been told '24' flirted with HD and then returned to 35mm. It seems that the 'big' shows still arn't taking HD seriously, with the exception of the odd Sci-Fictition.
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#20 David Sweetman

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Posted 12 November 2006 - 04:21 PM

while '24' was 35mm until season 3 when they switched to HD.

Yeah 24 is still 35mm, only two or three shots in the final episode of season 4 were shot with the Genesis; it was used on either a second unit or as a b-cam, can't recall which. In its fifth season the show is still shooting on Panavision Millenniums if I remember it right.
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