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HD Cinematographer new to 16mm filmmaking


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#1 Roger Richards

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Posted 04 May 2008 - 11:52 AM

Hello everyone, I would like to ask for some help on a Super 16mm kit for a documentary project. I have been shooting DV and now HD for ten years, and have a background as a documentary still photographer using film for over twenty years.

I have a project that I have been considering adding film footage to for aesthetic reasons. It is being shot primarily in 1920x1080 HD, specifically a Sony XDCAM EX-1. The S16mm camera I am considering is the Aaton A-Minima, specifically because of its compact size and low profile. My idea is for the film footage to not be the primary source of footage, as interviews will be shot in XDCAM EX.

I would be very grateful for any suggestions on this specific camera and what 2 PL-mount lenses would be recommended to get started. I also have Nikon mount lenses so these would also be in the mix.

Thanks.
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#2 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 11:52 PM

I'd look at an Aaton XTR instead unless you really need the extra small size. The reason is that the film is easier to get and lasts twice as long, it may also prove to be more comfortable in the long run. The Minima uses the special 200ft. loads while the XTR uses standard 400ft rolls and lasts 11 minutes instead of 5.5.

Lens choice would have something to do with what kind of content you are shooting. If I had to throw numbers out there, I'd guess a 12 or 16mm and a 25mm would cover a lot of doc situations. Look for Optar or Zeiss Superspeeds. These will be fairly lightweight and easy to find.

You'll be glad you went with film for your non-interview shots. It will only add value to the show.
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#3 Roger Richards

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 09:42 AM

Hi Vincent,

Thanks very much for your reply. What you said about the 200ft reels, and that only Kodak makes it as a special product, is one large concern. I really like the small size of the A-Minima, and Aaton's reputation for reliability. My first DV camera years ago was the Canon XL-1 and that design was actually modeled on the Aaton LTR series. An XTR would be nice but I cannot afford to own/justify the purchase of one of those with the amount of film work I will need to do. It is also quite large.

Anyway, my investigation has also led me to look at the Bolex H16 SBM cameras, which are also really compact. As sync sound is not really a priority at this time I wonder if perhaps this type of camera in S16 would do the trick, allowing for 100ft and 400ft options.

You have given me a good start with lens suggestions. I have been trying to find a conversion to approximate equivalent focal lengths in 35mm, so I can mentally picture what the coverage of S16mm lenses is like.

This is an exciting move for me, beginning to shoot motion film. As much as I like HD the aesthetic quality of film is unique, and I only shoot film for my documentary still projects.

All best to you.

I'd look at an Aaton XTR instead unless you really need the extra small size. The reason is that the film is easier to get and lasts twice as long, it may also prove to be more comfortable in the long run. The Minima uses the special 200ft. loads while the XTR uses standard 400ft rolls and lasts 11 minutes instead of 5.5.

Lens choice would have something to do with what kind of content you are shooting. If I had to throw numbers out there, I'd guess a 12 or 16mm and a 25mm would cover a lot of doc situations. Look for Optar or Zeiss Superspeeds. These will be fairly lightweight and easy to find.

You'll be glad you went with film for your non-interview shots. It will only add value to the show.


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#4 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 11 May 2008 - 02:16 PM

Nothing Aaton makes is large at all. Hold an LTR/XTR and you'll see. If the XL was based on an LTR, they must have starting drinking during their design work. I was asked to shoot something very short with an XL a few years ago and found it to be the most uncomfortable camera I've ever held. It's consumer gear so I didn't expect much anyway but that's pretty bad. My LTR54 is far easier to shoot with and isn't much larger with a prime.

I assume you meant lens focal lengths with similar fields of view. Half the 35mm lens number for a rough idea. A 25mm lens on S16 is about like a 50mm on a 35 camera.
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#5 James Baker

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Posted 11 May 2008 - 02:46 PM

The Minima is not a fun camera to use. Unless you really, really need to use it under a car or something like that. That's just my opinion.

All the other Aatons have a small footprint as it is....
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#6 Chris Burke

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Posted 11 May 2008 - 05:33 PM

Hi Vincent,

Thanks very much for your reply. What you said about the 200ft reels, and that only Kodak makes it as a special product, is one large concern. I really like the small size of the A-Minima, and Aaton's reputation for reliability. My first DV camera years ago was the Canon XL-1 and that design was actually modeled on the Aaton LTR series. An XTR would be nice but I cannot afford to own/justify the purchase of one of those with the amount of film work I will need to do. It is also quite large.

Anyway, my investigation has also led me to look at the Bolex H16 SBM cameras, which are also really compact. As sync sound is not really a priority at this time I wonder if perhaps this type of camera in S16 would do the trick, allowing for 100ft and 400ft options.

You have given me a good start with lens suggestions. I have been trying to find a conversion to approximate equivalent focal lengths in 35mm, so I can mentally picture what the coverage of S16mm lenses is like.

This is an exciting move for me, beginning to shoot motion film. As much as I like HD the aesthetic quality of film is unique, and I only shoot film for my documentary still projects.

All best to you.



A LTR 54, fully overhauled is going to be much cheaper than a A-Minima. Infact, you might even be able to get an XTR or the same money. Cool thing about an XTR is that it can take 800' mags that have a 22 minute run time, perfect for interviews. However, the Bolex will be cheaper than both. It is a perfect intro camera. Isn't the SBM series Super 16 or can be modified as such? You can also use PL lenses with an adapter for the Bolex. I started making films with Super 8 as a kid, then as a teenager and young adult in college I used video. In the past two years I went back to film in the Super 16 format. For my own personal work, which is 99% of what I do, I will always use film. It is like no other. Happy shooting.
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#7 Mark Lyon

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Posted 11 May 2008 - 08:23 PM

It sounds like you're using film for b-roll, which makes me think immediately of the a-minima. It's a terrific camera for that application (less great for interviews, because of the 200' loads). After doing a lot of documentary projects on S16 with two Aaton cameras (a-minima + LTR, XTR, or Xtera), I've noticed that a disproportionate amount of our best b-roll footage gets shot on the a-minima. I attribute it to there being something about the camera that makes you want to pick it up and use it, so you end of getting shots that would've been missed with the bigger camera. Also, the daylight loads are great for run-and-gun situations.

Best of luck with your project.
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#8 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 08:30 AM

The minima is a nice camera, but again, I would suggest perhaps going with an LTR or an XTR as they're just better all around and owning them, well, you'll get more use out of them I'd think.
I saw an LTR 7 fully overhauled and S16mm for 9G on visual products site.
As for lenses, perhaps look into a PL zoom to use as a variable prime; it'll be more costly, of course, but then you have a lot more focal lengths to deal with. I think the Canon zoom 7~63 or a Zeiss 10~100, which'll be 'round 9g as well; still cheaper than an A-minima package which is generally around 15~18,000 w/o lenses.
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#9 Roger Richards

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 10:28 AM

Hey guys, thanks very much to all of you, I really appreciate your help and your best wishes. I actually have been looking at the Aaton LTR7 as a possibility over the A-Minima, it might be a more cost efficient way to get in to film. I was also looking hard at the Bolex cams but not sure if I really want to go that route. I will do some more research before actually tasking the plunge. renting is out of the question for me as it makes more sense financially to have my own film gear. Much of what will be shooting is overseas, and for weeks at a time.
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#10 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 11:09 AM

Bolex is great, but the problem is it's a bit of an older camera and many of them cant do sync sound. Also they are primarily used with 100ft daylight spools, as opposed to 400ft mags.

Best of luck with your shoot!
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#11 Will Montgomery

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 05:05 PM

Since you're talking b-roll and if your film shots will have decent light (outdoor b-roll in full or partial sun) you could also consider a Canon Scoopic MS or MN. Especially if you're considering a Bolex. I've found the lens on the later Scoopic models to be remarkably sharp with modern stocks in the middle F-Stop range.

You could buy at least 10 of these in pristine condition for the price range of an A-Minima. They are of course only 100FT rolls but they are the easiest 16mm camera to load ever created. These are only Standard-16 too and that should certainly effect your choice, but I've telecined some shots with Vision2 50D on a Millenium machine to HD and been really amazed at the quality.

Perhaps you could pick one up to test since they are so cheap and simply keep it as a backup. They are really small and easy to get into tight situations.

The major negatives are: a fixed (but good) zoom lens, 100FT loads, somewhat noisy, No Super 16 (without MAJOR reconstruction).

Major Pluses: Easy and quick to load, very small, inexpensive, reliable (in my experience)

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#12 Roger Richards

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 11:45 PM

Will, thanks for the info on the Scoopic, I had heard about it but not in the detail you provided.

Since you're talking b-roll and if your film shots will have decent light (outdoor b-roll in full or partial sun) you could also consider a Canon Scoopic MS or MN. Especially if you're considering a Bolex. I've found the lens on the later Scoopic models to be remarkably sharp with modern stocks in the middle F-Stop range.

You could buy at least 10 of these in pristine condition for the price range of an A-Minima. They are of course only 100FT rolls but they are the easiest 16mm camera to load ever created. These are only Standard-16 too and that should certainly effect your choice, but I've telecined some shots with Vision2 50D on a Millenium machine to HD and been really amazed at the quality.

Perhaps you could pick one up to test since they are so cheap and simply keep it as a backup. They are really small and easy to get into tight situations.

The major negatives are: a fixed (but good) zoom lens, 100FT loads, somewhat noisy, No Super 16 (without MAJOR reconstruction).

Major Pluses: Easy and quick to load, very small, inexpensive, reliable (in my experience)

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Rig Wheels Passport

Visual Products

Metropolis Post

The Slider

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

FJS International, LLC

Willys Widgets

Glidecam

Wooden Camera

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

CineTape

Technodolly