Hey guys. Audio guy here looking to learn a little bit about 16mm cameras. I'm looking for an older inexpensive 16mm video camera. I was looking to shoot some lo-fi looking music videos. After some research, I found that many of these cameras don't shoot for longer than 30 seconds straight. I was looking for a camera that would be able to shoot for about 10 minutes continuously. Also, it would be preferable if the camera had some sort of audio. I wouldn't be using the audio from the camera, but it would most likely make syncing the video to pre-recorded audio a bit easier. Anyway, can anyone shed some light on this? Any recommendations? Just a noob looking to learn, go easy on me. Thanks in advance.
Wind-up cameras only shoot for 30 seconds or so at a time. But those motors are exceedingly uneven, meaning as the spring that powers the camera loses tension, the motor slows down. But even still, with cameras with electric powered motors, when you set them to 24 fps they actually turn at about 24 fps -- sometimes it's a little more, sometimes a little less. For picture, this isn't a problem as the change in framerate is so small it doesn't really effect motion. But for audio being recorded at a constant sample rate, those small changes cause the sound to drift around inconsistently. That makes it a real task to sync audio by eye, and mathematically impossible to get a hard sync.
The solution to this is "crystal-sync". This uses a quartz crystal (like in a watch) to keep time and control the motor, keeping it spinning at a constant rate, and thus keeping any audio in hard sync. All you need to sync up the audio is to synchronize one point, usually a clapper slate at the beginning of the take. Slip the audio of the clap to the frame where the clappers meet, and the rest of the take will be in hard sync as well. Some crystal speed controllers only allow 24 or 25 fps, others allow control down to decimal points. That all depends on the camera.
There are a lot of posts on the forum for camera recommendations. I'll list a few that I recommend here, but I won't go detail about which is better or has which features because there are already tons of threads about that and they tend to go on for days. One thing to note, non-sync cameras tend to be smaller/more handheld and much cheaper, but also much louder since nobody expects to record sound with them running.
Non-sync cameras: Arri S, Bealieu R16, Bolex H16
Sync cameras: Eclair ACL, Eclair NPR, Arri SR (I, II, III), Aaton XTR, CP16
You will need a motor driven camera that can take a 400' magazine for 10min takes. 400' of 16mm at 24fps is roughly 11min. You will not find any film cameras that have the ability to record audio. Just get a camera with a crystal sync motor and record audio with a separate digital recorder. Make sure to clap a slate at the beginning of picture and sound recording so you can sync them up later.
Really nice 16mm/Super16 cameras can be had for $2000 or less these days. I would be looking for Arri SR3's or Aaton XTR Prod's with 2 or more mags.
Also, what do you plan to do for lenses? The cameras these days are cheap, but PL mount lenses (as would fit on an Arri SR3 or Aaton XTR Prod) are still quite expensive since most can used on digital cameras as well.
If you are really on a fixed budget of >$2k, I would consider compromising on the ability to do 10min takes and crystal sync audio and opt for a simple camera with fixed or relatively affordable lenses like the Canon Scoopic M or the Bolex SBM or Rex5 that take 100' daylight spools. These cameras are cheaper, lighter, and easier to load. You can still shoot music videos with them, you will just be limited to shorter non-sync shots which can be worked around with creative editing.
I also want to add that there are 16mm cameras that record audio directly on the film optically: Auricons! However, these cameras and the audio equipment that accompanies them are very out of date and exceedingly cumbersome. Plus the audio quality is very very muddy, so I really doubt it's something you or anyone who wants to do a narrative sort of project would be interested in. But there are people who are just into vintage filmmaking equipment, and I really like that stuff.
Here's a film someone shot earlier this year with an Auricon 600 and Kodak Tri-x. I think this is just super cool:
Edited by Josh Gladstone, 11 December 2014 - 05:17 AM.
Wait, what would be the typical workflow on something like this? Transfer etc? I'm assuming you'd need special lab facility of some kind. What sort of "kit" (mics etc) would pop this plan into action? And what is that film, just regular 16mm with an optical sound strip on the side?
For filming with an Auricon? It's a regular 16mm aspect ratio camera because it records sound information optically on the side of the film, in the area now utilized for picture information in super16. There is a separate exciter lamp inside the camera that exposes sound information onto the film a few frames after the picture is shot. This ends up looking like a waveform on the side of the negative. You can shoot on any type of film and process at any lab, although as Simon noted above, some stocks are intended for recording sound information, whereas the stocks we usually put in cameras is optimized for picture information. Any transfer house should be able to get the audio track. Or you could also just run it through a 16mm sound projector and watch it that way. If you shoot Tri-x, like in the video I posted earlier, you could even conceivably pull the film out of the camera, process it at home, and run that very same film through a projector a few hours later and have a sync-sound film.
I'm sure the kit was a miracle back in the day for being able to record synchronized sound motion pictures portably and without a studio full of equipment, but by today's standards it's pretty massive in size and weight. In addition to the heavy 50s era camera, there is a separate box for the tube amplifier, which controls the mic levels as well as the exposure setting for the lamp in the camera that makes the waveform exposures on the film.
They do come up on ebay now and again, and I've even seen a few whole kits in spectacular condition go for a few hundred dollars. I've been tempted to get one just for the heck of it, and to be able to shoot and project synchronized picture and sound, but it's not something I really need. Especially for the space. And I know for a fact they are difficult to repair.
Here's an example to give you and idea of the size:
It's actually the specific quality of the optical audio degradation that interests me the most about the Auricon, or other optical systems I suppose. The sound is unlike even magnetic tape. Magnetic tape tends to round off the highs and depending on the machine, accentuates the mid tones, and definitely saturates in much more pleasing ways (hey, kind of analagous to other analog media....hmmm!). Anyway, optical sound has a very "certain" ancient quality to it as well, which is a particular aesthetic, but I can see it servinv very particular needs too. That and I'm just used to hearing it on really bad, old films that are restored from surviving prints. It's something you just can't replicate.
As far as heft goes, I have one of these at home I plan on doing overdubs with for an upcoming 16mm short. If I ever got a crytal sync motor for my K3 (unlikely for a variety of reasons) I'll be dragging this to shoots! It's kind of like in a world stuck between an overgrown cassette 4 track and a Nagra...depending on how you look at it. It's integrated mixer may or may not come in handy, but it will certainly keep me far away from digital junk. And, it frankly sounds good. It's simply but very warm. the best part though, is that this machine LOVES and I mean looooooves mid range frequencies. So it really helps round off the human voice in a naturally pleasing way, with natural compression....and because the tape width is skinnier than a Nagra (Nagra's are basically 2-track mix-down decks on 1/4" tape, which is still a lot of headroom - this Tascam is on 1/8" tape and 8 tracks....much thinner and lower hedroom), it actually distorts and compresses much sooner and I guess, you know, offers that effect. It's something a lot of the old farts would understand but not many kiddies my age. The pleasnatries of analog saturation and "distortion". The whole goal for me is to actually make stuff that feels like its from the period I actually love. The 60s and 70s. Particularly arthouse and exploitation and "genere" cinema that has more of a high-brow quality to it while still being uhhh....not "trashy", but certainly...."direct".
Is it posible to get mag stripe anywhere? There were mag stripe modules that went in CP-16s.
I actually remember the tail end of the CP-16 days in NZ, when all news and most docs was shot 16mm, sound transfered from 1/4" (Nagra) to 16mm sepmag, given a mix, sepmag tracks to sepmag master, then transfered straight to tape with picture.
If one shoots with an optical (or mag stripe) recording module now, I guess one can't cut it, yes? The sound and picture are displaced along the film.
@Matthew. If you really want to have a direct visceral reaction to what you have shot. Project a workprint. One could say that it is an approximation, that it's not a perfect literal imprint, but it is the closest thing to that. It's the best answer to the question..... what is my negative? what did I just attempt to photograph?
Edited by Gregg MacPherson, 11 December 2014 - 06:36 PM.
Gregg I see what you're saying when it comes to a straight edit left as a composite unit, but I think id want to just use the flavor of the optical audio by dumping it off into WAVs for re-import to a tape machine mix. So there would be a transfer (digital or analog, it would end up getting taken off the optical for edit) So I guess making multitrack recordings full of that stuff, soundtracks and mixing foley and other overdubs on the Tascam alongside the pulled in optical stuff from takes.
I'm just thinking out loud of a way to incorporate the strange sonic characteristics that optical recording impart on audio. I probably actually might even see a use for some of those hard cuts that blatantly butcher the heads and tails and split off into no mans land at times! I kind of like the jarring effect of that sometimes. It also subliminally makes people think you're making a "bad" decision, which can be a useful piece of wool to drape over the minds eye of a viewer.
I'd probably have a place record that optical to a separate WAV file and then put it to tape on a mix as needed later on my 8 track in places and do fades and stuff to just keeps the craziness off the heads and tales for the most part. Probably just watching the film over and over again. Rewinding. You know that old button that used to do an actual action haha! Lot of work but a lot of fun to think about! And certainly unique. Or I could just have a guy hold a Zoom and go "that's what other people have done" and call it a day!
As for projecting work prints...I'm totally coming alive to that idea thanks to some kind folk from here who have been helping explain it to me! I'm really loving how this place sort of unravels it's totally awesome collective knowledge.
I mean in reality this whole process is just a way to try to resort to analog as often as possible instead of resorting to convenience. I also just really like masochistic processes. It forces you to do things a lot slower and dwell in the tedium of it. It's kinda like flogging yourself and has a little bit of a parallel to I guess how monks would force themselves into discomfort for what they believe in. It's not really something about "ease". Or even "quality". Unless by quality you mean it in the sense of being fingerprinted. I can't shoot optical with a K3 obviously but I'll be doing the rest of this just doing MOS and foley and all that and basically making a wreck for myself to clean up, which is all the fun because it's all the challenge.
Then why not try to thread a Berndt-Bach Auricon or a Kodak Reflex Special with two different stocks, going with an image film through the gate, with the sound film past its recording works, the rest Sandwich style. I don’t know whether it’s possible, never tried it, I only know that it’s possible with some sound projectors.
You cannot do too crazily with film. Believe me, I had a black-and-white film lab and had customers with really mad intentions.