Fox contracted them, for Grandeur; Technicolor contracted them, for Process IV; the BNC was a longtime standard; Fox contracted them, again, for 65/70; the name "Mitchell" seems to still command respect - why?
What was special about Mitchell Camera?
Posted 05 April 2015 - 08:28 PM
Because they were a major camera manufacturer -- their work was top-quality. There weren't a lot of choices for well-made movements back then other than Bell & Howell's, which was considered to be the most precise and steady... but too loud for sound cameras, even blimped. Besides, there were never enough 35mm movies cameras sold yearly to support a lot of manufacturers getting into the business.
Posted 06 April 2015 - 04:19 AM
Only about 350 BNCs were ever made which says a lot.
Most of them are still around. Aardman animation owns a tenth of them.
Posted 06 April 2015 - 05:51 AM
John Leonard, the inventor of the camera, had simplified the focusing process. With the then most widespread professional camera in the USA, the Bell & Howell 2709, operators had to not only rack over the camera but also rotate the lens by 180 degrees in the turret. With the Mitchell the lens stays in its turret position. I think that fundamental advance must not be overlooked.
After it was clear to the Bell & Howell Co. that the sound stage was lost, around 1924 when they introduced the 1000-ft. magazine for Vitaphone, the 35-mm. version of their hand camera was made. Together with other American and European handheld cameras that have been making their appearances since 1919 Bell & Howell Co. put more emphasis on small-gauge equipment and portable standard film cameras. To my belief they developed the mirror-shutter reflex finder design in the second half of the 1920s. On March 6, 1934, the Vinik patent elapsed, leaving the field open for corresponding activity from the next day on.
Mitchell and Bogner recognised the need for a silent operating camera. The early Mitchell camera had a hinged clapper movement. In 1925 a ball-bearing version for higher speeds came to life. The Newsreel Camera (NC) of 1927 then had the moving steadying pins movement. Hollywood studio executives wanted noiseless cameras and nothing groggy handheld, so the weight played a minor role. On the contrary, sound film production got rather static at first anyway. In 1934 the Mitchell sound camera as it was called rested majestically on tripods, dollies, and cranes for a public that expected glamour, elegance, opulence. You can’t institute such with the cat-on-the-shoulder-approach which, by the way, is a French idea but not from the 1970s. The Bourdereau Cinex offered it in 1925. Bell & Howell also couldn’t reenter the studios via Technicolor. The three-strip camera of 1932 has Mitchell movements in it. The more Europe became important to BH where rumours were heard of one-strip colour films, Agfacolor, Gasparcolor. Ironically, the American Kodachrome system incited concurring activities across the Big Pond.
Unions set labour standards with film crews. Much less so in Europe where two people, perhaps three, were in charge of moving camera and accessories around. The Parvo of Debrie, equipped with steadying pins from 1921 on, was much lighter and more compact (compared with 400' load). On the other hand the Debrie doesn’t have a lens turret. I think that the heavy Mitchell contributed in a positive way to a cinema of flow, of levitation. This is, as far as I can survey, something very American.
Posted 06 April 2015 - 08:29 AM
Can anyone shed some light on the history of Fries Engineering? When did they start/end modifying these cameras? As far as I know, Mitchell was defunct by the 60s, which laid ground for Panavision to start engineering their own cameras (which were based on heavily modified Mitchells). But I'd like to know some more about Fries and their contribution to the industry. It's remarkable that these cameras were more or less in service until/through the 90s.