What exactly is the longevity of 35mm cameras such as the Panavision Panaflex Millenium XL2, the Arricam, the Arriflex, the MovieCam Compact, and the Aaton Penelope? Film cameras run off of motors, while digital cameras run off of circuits or chips. Do you think 100 years would be the longevity of one of the film cameras that I have mentioned? I mean by how long the camera lasts until it breaks down or something?
Without proper maintenance nothing last too long and that's true for film cameras as well. However, compared to digital cameras film cameras -- especially ones without computer chips -- can be serviced much longer since it is easier to manufacture mechanical parts than some patented chips with closed source code.
Is 100 years possible? Well, there are some working examples of cine cameras from the beginning of the 20th century. Also, quite many amateur cine cameras are from the 50s and 60s, so those have already passed half of 100 years.
But those exact cameras you mention? Depends on the amount of proprietary electronical components in them. It might be possible to replace the electronical parts with something else even when there no longer are replacement parts available. After all, as long as some motor is moving the film in the camera and opening & closing the shutter, image is recorded.
A properly maintained film camera will probably outlive you. And since they are mechanical in nature, for the most part, they can be quite easy to fix. Back in film school we were using cameras made in the 1950s and they almost all ran just perfectly (with the exception of #22... that bolex and I did not get along). Even the Aatons we moved up to for S16mm shooting were almost all LTRs dating back to the 1970s or so. To a certain extent film cameras are like cars. Some parts may wear out-- but on the whole the thing keeps chugging along (and you can replace most of the parts).
Digital is a diff beast because they get outdated, or the formats on which they shoot become more and more of a trouble to work with in post. But with a film camera, so long as they keep on making the negative stock, you can digitize it into whatever the flavor of the day is. Just in my time we went though going to D-Beta, to HDCam, to HDCamSR, and now it's mostly file based, either DPX or Tiff or ProRes of some flavor. What's great is that if I was to go back to the stuff I shot in film school, I could re-scan it at whatever is "appropriate" now and it'll still look damned good--- try uprezzing something off of miniDV....
As George Hill said in 1950: The perfect camera has yet to be built*.
A friend of mine has restored a couple of Bell & Howell and Mitchell cameras from the 1920s and 1940s, respectively. They run like new.
Real professional film motion-picture cameras can be serviced a long, long time. These are made after mechanical traditions and stand up shocks and vibration.
Not so many amateur products like, for instance, the Pathé WEBO M. Its front is only held by the axial forces of four screws. If it gets skew a little by a bop the governor can become blocked and nothing moves anymore. The Revere 101-103 have a finely made film gate but other points are rather weak. The Paillard-Bolex H cameras also have most annoying hidden things. And so on
Probably the best professional ciné camera until today is the Bell & Howell 2709. No other apparatus is as effective and precise as this icon. The Bell & Howell Filmo and Eyemo are also made with very tough steels inside and the possibility to oil the mechanism on the spot. The Ciné-Kodak Special is another solid instrument. It has a unique and most effective lateral film guidance that helped Kodacolor pictures stay centered for correct colours.
*British Kinematography, Vol. 17, No. 4, October 1950, pp. 105 ff.
Coming back to the cameras you mentioned, Jordan, these products must not be compared to each other without knowing that a Panaflex got updated during its life because it was for rent, never for sale, the word is Millennium by the way, that the Arricam has a magnesium alloy body that is perhaps a little less sturdy than an aluminum alloy, that the ARRIFLEX was designed in the 1930s and therefore is a daddy (the Victorian wooden cameras being the granddaddies), that the Moviecam has ceased to be sustained manufacturer-wise, and that an Aaton Penelope is out of the league based upon it not being a four-perf advance camera.
Your question beats around the bush. See what comes out?
Edited by Simon Wyss, 15 September 2013 - 07:30 AM.
It depends on the mileage going through. A camera that’s run couple of hundred feet once in a while stays in good shape for years but when you pull down load after load even the best mechanism needs cleaning and lubrication. One example, a Mitchell NC has felt pads around the registration pin shafts. These are kept damp with oil. Many joints of the fast moving parts can be kept lubricated but some internal bearings and most of the gears can’t. So you are right, maintenance is the magic word. At this point differences exist between service-friendly makes and slab fighters.
Last but not least: How much does your camera cost? I mean, a quarter million Dollar thing like a self-blimped ARRIFLEX BL II, III or 4 should be serviceable almost ad infinitum. I’m saying should for threads (to hold screws) wear out. Electronics get older not only from generation to generation but beforehand material. Solder points can go cold (contact, resistance), capacitors can have holes in the insulating coil, it’s almost endless. In the old days of vacuum tube electronics one would kick out hole sets of tubes. Today who goes and replaces motherboards in an hour?
A purely mechanical camera lasts longest. As a mechanic and machinist I can assure you that any trained craftsman, sorry, of course also craftswoman, will be able to service an Eyemo or a Kinamo or a Wilart or a Hamaček or a Mitchell still in 400 years. Just don’t buy any plastic.
I have never really seen or felt an Arricam, Arriflex, or Panaflex in person, judging by the fact that I'm autistic, and my mind thinks in pictures, I am pretty dog gone sure that those cameras are not made out of plastic. The body of the Panaflex Millenium XL2 weighs 11.8 pounds, definitely not the sound of plastic. I'm pretty sure that the Arricam or Arriflex are just about the same. Naturally, on a single day, I believe you should just shoot 2 to 3 scenes a day, prep for rehearsal, then roll cameras, and it may take about 1-7 takes to get the scene right, depending on the experience of the actors. I actually feel this sort of thing when I shoot with my Panasonic DMC-ZS20 for a long duration. After I stop recording, the camera feels hot. May be the same with any camera, film or digital. If you overdo it, the camera will get hot and be worn out. I sometimes like to compare it with running a 5K or a marathon. You start out good but over the course of the run your body wears out and you get sweaty. A trick I have learned while running is to pace yourself. In the same way, you should pace the camera, make sure you keep it at a steady go round.
A film camera's mechanics only operate when the camera is running. If a film camera is running hot, you probably have problems with your bearings, just like a car they need servicing to ensure correct lubrication.
I have never really seen or felt an Arricam, Arriflex, or Panaflex in person, judging by the fact that I'm autistic, and my mind thinks in pictures, I am pretty dog gone sure that those cameras are not made out of plastic. The body of the Panaflex Millenium XL2 weighs 11.8 pounds, definitely not the sound of plastic.
What are we talking then? Without any feel you won’t make a film or I shouldn’t want to see it. Get your feet wet (and hands dirty). This abstract cat-and-mouse game is most annoying.
I have a 16mm Kodak camera from the early 1920's that works great.
Just a quick peak onto a rental house's shelves will show film cameras from the 50's still going strong. It's like asking how long a sewing machine will last...as long as it's maintained I would think. A digital camera will be obsolete well before it fails (in general).
Like Simon said, the purely mechanical cameras will last longest. A Bell & Howell 2709, stored well, could conceivably still work in 500 years with a little restoration and lubrication. I've restored a Mitchell NC and a Debrie Parvo (both over 80 years old) to working order with very little needing to be done, these things were hand-built to incredible standards.
Something like an Arri 35 2C would also last a very, very long time if properly stored and maintained. They're very simple and sturdy, if precise, machines. Run enough film through them and you'll start to get wear, but they'll probably keep working until the motor dies. I work for a rental house that has among its inventory 2Cs, 35-3s and BL4s - Arri cameras between 20 and 50 years old - that are all still perfectly functional (thanks to in-house maintenance).
More modern 35mm cameras like Arricams, Moviecams and Milleniums are also very well made, but have more things that can fail, complex electronic controls and such. They need to be quiet as well as steady, which requires fairly regular maintenance if they're being used a lot. In time (or even now) some of the components won't be available any more. But you could probably store an Arricam for a couple of decades, pull it out and give it a light lubrication and it will work just fine. Toughest modern camera is probably an Arri 435, those things are virtually indestructible.
Simpler amateur cameras from up to 90 years ago can still work OK today if they've been stored well, though of course they had less exacting performance requirements than professional studio cameras.