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Advice on a "crash course" for operating a 35mm movie camera?

35mm operating film

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#1 Brook K

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 01:08 AM

For someone that is not going to film school (if film schools even TEACH 35mm anymore), or who isn't planning on film school and just wants the basics of operating a 35 mm motion picture camera, what (if any) options are there to learn?  What resources are there and what do you recommend for learning once the resources have been located?

 

This obviously is presuming that the person already has access to such a camera. (Which in my case I do not, but hope to someday; I have films I'd like to make!) 

 

I am a photography student interested in making the natural graduation from still photography (digital AND film), to motion picture film. Yes I realize film is almost unused anymore and takes a high learning curve (or so I've gathered), but there's a mystique and an attraction to it I just cannot deny!

 

Questions that arise for me are: how similar is it to a regular 35 mm still film camera? I'm sure motion picture cameras have F-stop controls of course, but what about shutter speeds?  I assume photography "stuff" all applies, such as dynamic and detail ranges, inverse square law, keeping highlights and shadows at an even balance, Sunny 16 Rule, composition (a huge one for ANY type of photographer), decisive moment,  blah blah all that BS?  LOL

 

So hit me up with some feedback, everyone! :)


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#2 Jeff L'Heureux

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 01:56 AM

In my experience, most camera rental houses that have 35mm cameras for rent would be glad to show the renter the basics on using one, especially if it meant renting from them.  Of course, how helpful they are would depend on how extensively you want to use their cameras.  Don't expect a full afternoon of instruction if you're just taking out the camera for a day.  If, however, you were shooting an entire short on 35mm, I'm sure you could get the basics.  I brought an old, obscure 16mm camera to a rental house years back on a slow day and the entire camera department was happy to spend over an hour figuring out how it worked as we were all interested.  They even lubed up the gears and gave me a scratch test roll of film for free.

 

However, I wouldn't go to a rental house expecting to learn about dynamic range, composition etc. That's what actual film school/photography courses would be for.  At most they'll show you how to load the film and run the camera.


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#3 Brook K

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 02:03 AM

In my experience, most camera rental houses that have 35mm cameras for rent would be glad to show the renter the basics on using one, especially if it meant renting from them.  Of course, how helpful they are would depend on how extensively you want to use their cameras.  Don't expect a full afternoon of instruction if you're just taking out the camera for a day.  If, however, you were shooting an entire short on 35mm, I'm sure you could get the basics.  I brought an old, obscure 16mm camera to a rental house years back on a slow day and the entire camera department was happy to spend over an hour figuring out how it worked as we were all interested.  They even lubed up the gears and gave me a scratch test roll of film for free.

 

However, I wouldn't go to a rental house expecting to learn about dynamic range, composition etc. That's what actual film school/photography courses would be for.  At most they'll show you how to load the film and run the camera.

 

Thanks for the information.

 

As for the "basic photo stuff" like composition and all of that, I already KNOW that stuff.  That's why I said I was a photography student and was asking if all that still applis to a motion picture camera. :)


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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 02:15 AM

Brook K, the forum rules when you registered should have asked you for a first and last name.  You can contact the site administrator Tim Tyler to get your User Name updated.

 

"Operating" in the film industry tends to mean the actual person behind the viewfinder who is composing the frame while panning & tilting to follow action, etc.  What you are asking about is a bit broader, which is wanting to know both what an operator knows and what the camera assistant has to know in terms of threading, loading mags, powering the camera, etc.  Though on a smaller 35mm camera used for MOS stuff in a second unit scenario, it may all be one person handling that.  It just tends to be a lot of gear for one person to move and set-up.  But as I said, there are some small, older cameras like an Arri 2C which are just large versions of their 16mm equivalent.

 

The operation of these cameras tend to be unique to their design and there are manuals for each type of 35mm camera out there.

 

Yes, it is like photography in terms of setting exposure with the f-stop based on the ASA rating; however, you don't set a shutter time like on a still camera, the frame rate combined with the shutter angle determines the shutter time -- for the standard combination of 24 fps with a 180 degree shutter angle, the shutter time becomes 1/48th of a second.

 

With a reflex camera, light can leak through the eyepiece and fog the film so you have to keep your eye tight against the eyepiece cup while the camera is rolling; sometimes this is a challenge when the camera is booming up & down and/or you are doing a big pan.  If it gets too complicated, you can close-off the eyepiece to light and use a video tap going to an onboard monitor to operate.

 

I have to admit that in 25 years of shooting in 35mm, I've never had to thread the camera or load a magazine -- I hire an AC for that -- though I used to do that all the time when I shot 16mm in film school.


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#5 Brook K

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 02:22 AM

Brook K, the forum rules when you registered should have asked you for a first and last name.  You can contact the site administrator Tim Tyler to get your User Name updated.

 

"Operating" in the film industry tends to mean the actual person behind the viewfinder who is composing the frame while panning & tilting to follow action, etc.  What you are asking about is a bit broader, which is wanting to know both what an operator knows and what the camera assistant has to know in terms of threading, loading mags, powering the camera, etc.  Though on a smaller 35mm camera used for MOS stuff in a second unit scenario, it may all be one person handling that.  It just tends to be a lot of gear for one person to move and set-up.  But as I said, there are some small, older cameras like an Arri 2C which are just large versions of their 16mm equivalent.

 

The operation of these cameras tend to be unique to their design and there are manuals for each type of 35mm camera out there.

 

Yes, it is like photography in terms of setting exposure with the f-stop based on the ASA rating; however, you don't set a shutter time like on a still camera, the frame rate combined with the shutter angle determines the shutter time -- for the standard combination of 24 fps with a 180 degree shutter angle, the shutter time becomes 1/48th of a second.

 

With a reflex camera, light can leak through the eyepiece and fog the film so you have to keep your eye tight against the eyepiece cup while the camera is rolling; sometimes this is a challenge when the camera is booming up & down and/or you are doing a big pan.  If it gets too complicated, you can close-off the eyepiece to light and use a video tap going to an onboard monitor to operate.

 

I have to admit that in 25 years of shooting in 35mm, I've never had to thread the camera or load a magazine -- I hire an AC for that -- though I used to do that all the time when I shot 16mm in film school.

 

Thanks so much David! You are a huge help! I am glad you are answering these questions for me. Someone who has shot film for 25 years in Los Angeles! Can't think of someone who would be more knowledgeable to answer my questions than such a person! :)


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#6 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 02:57 AM

Messing about loading magazines and so on is sufficiently time-consuming that you'll almost certainly want to have someone to do it, especially if you haven't done it much yourself. Otherwise the process is startlingly similar to shooting anything else. You need to meter for exposure, but that's not rocket science because the film is fairly forgiving of even quite large exposure errors.

 

People used to video cameras - especially proper shoulder-mounted news-style cameras - will find film cameras generally awkward, no matter what the film people say. They're often very heavy, uncomfortable to carry around and especially to shoot with handheld, the viewfinders can be soft, dim, and flickery, and it's often very difficult to hold shots in focus because the lenses require more rotation than common video lenses for a given amount of focus distance change. Film cameras are (frequently, not exclusively) big ugly blocks of metal with very little thought given to operability, especially outside the rarefied environment of an enormous film shoot. I mean seriously; where do you even pick this thing up?

 

lightweight-ii.jpg

 

 

On high end productions, with the most modern cameras and all the accessories, people to carry it around for you and deal with the inconveniences, all of this is very much minimised. If you're on a constrained budget, though, I think it's fair to describe film as a pain. And that's before you worry about paying for it.

 

It can be done, but there are downsides.

 

P


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#7 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 03:04 AM

Honestly, I'd just experiment with a cheap 16mm camera and go have fun. You can buy books all about cinematography and they'll teach you the basics. Once you understand them, it's a lot easier to adapt your knowledge and work with another format like 35mm or digital. 16mm has some huge advantages, one of them is cost, another is being able to shoot something and project it on film at home. You can't do that with 35mm, you'll always be watching digital versions of your film, never really knowing where you messed up.

Motion picture cameras are all very similar, so once you learn one, it's not so difficult to take a brush-up course at a rental house before you use a different one you're unfamiliar with. In that sense, what format you use is almost irrelevant.

The camera I suggest you purchasing is a Bolex R16. You can by them on ebay. You can buy a book about using a Bolex online as well. It has a fixed shutter speed, beam splitter viewfinder and easy to use lenses. It's really easy to shoot with and requires no batteries since it's wind-up. Then all you need is a projector and some money for stock. It won't give you sound movies, but it will give you exactly what you need to experiment and film is A LOT of fun to experiment with! :)
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#8 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 06:12 AM

35mm Film cameras are different animials to the 16mm film cameras, which were made for use by TV stations, so were designed for everyday handheld use. Their Viewfinders are different to those on video cameras, but the later ones are much better than the early ones with improved optics and screens. The flickering worked well to let you know the camera was running, .


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#9 Vivek Venkatraman

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 12:03 PM

A related question to all,

 

My school does not teach us film, is there any workshop that delves into shooting film exclusively[not the other stuff] that you might have come across ?


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#10 Nathan Walters

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 12:36 PM

I posted a similar thread a couple weeks ago, though I'm not coming from the photography side.

Only thing I can really add to the conversation here is to recommend David Elkins' book "The Camera Assistant's Manual."  It has some great insight on the actual threading of film into the camera and best practices.  Great knowledge if you find yourself in a situation without an assistant and where you have to do it yourself.


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#11 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 12:42 PM

35mm Film cameras are different animials to the 16mm film cameras, which were made for use by TV stations


Really? So learning focal length, depth of field, aperture, shutter angle, ASA, magazine loading and threading, is somehow different between the formats? Arriflex 2C vs Arri M or BL?

Sorry didn't mean to be cheeky, but I've shot a lot with 16 and plenty with 35, never minding which one I shot. Professional 16mm cameras like the SRIII and 416 are just like 35mm cameras, only A LOT smaller and lighter. The biggest difference between 16mm and 35mm is when you walk into Panavision. They use the Mitchell mechanics and that requires a 10 minute conversation to adapt your knowledge into that world. Otherwise, all the critical things about shooting motion picture film, are pretty much the same.
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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 12:49 PM

The important stuff you can learn on a 16mm camera, and for less money than on a 35mm camera.  There's no reason to start out on a 35mm movie camera if you just want to learn film cinematography.

 

A basic 35mm MOS camera like an Arri 2C is just a larger version of something like a 16mm Arri-S.  The only real difference other than the size of the negative are the aspect ratio issues.

 

A modern advanced 35mm sync-sound camera like a Panaflex Millennium or an Arricam-ST is a bigger leap in mechanical operation, menu functions, accessories, etc. but you don't necessarily need to know how to set-up a camera like that if you are a beginning cinematographer.


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#13 Gregg MacPherson

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 04:26 PM

 

....Bolex R16. ....It has a fixed shutter speed.....


They did/do have a variable shutter. Mine still does. It was one of the cool things about them.
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#14 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 05:02 PM

They did/do have a variable shutter. Mine still does. It was one of the cool things about them.


I thought it was only a limited adjustment, designed to help with super bright situations where you wanted less light in the camera. Not a fully adjustable shutter like current mirrored shutter cameras.
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#15 Gregg MacPherson

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 05:30 PM

There's a little lever you pull out, then rotate, just behind the lens turret. Continuously variable shutter down to zero degrees. There is a little mechanical gizmo you can attach to the side if you want to vary the shutter while the camera is running or single framing, so you can do in camera fades or disolves.

The detents for locking the shutter position are a bit limited, only 5 positions. The outer positions I'm sure are fully closed and fully open, with 1/2, 1, 2 marked in between.

Edited by Gregg MacPherson, 09 September 2015 - 05:38 PM.

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#16 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 05:33 PM

Oh I remember playing with the shutter angle on the bolex-- bygone days.

 

To continue a bit-- many of the basics you can learn with stills camera as exposure is exposure. Just limit yourself to 1/60th on your still camera and you're basically in the ballpark of a 35mm camera. Of course 35mm stills has much shallower DoF than does 35mm Motion Picture-- but you can get the basics.

The major differentiation in my mind between stills and film is the fact that film images-- move.

Camera movement and movement of objects within the frame, as well as Depth of Field considerations are a slightly different modality of thinking than one has when one is composing a still frame (either lit or found).

All that said-- hell If you have some spare cash-- pick up a 35mm camera system-- something cheap, a Konvas2M or the like, get some film-- play around. If it looks great, great, and if it looks awful-- well-- no one has to know but you and the lab/colorist.


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#17 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 05:36 PM

There's a little lever you pull out, then rotate, just behind the lens turret. Continuously variable shutter down to zero degrees. There is a little mechanical gizmo you can attach to the side if you want to vary the shutter while the camera is running or single framing, so you can do in camera fades or disolves.


Maybe that's why I never figured it out, didn't have the gizmo. Huh… very cool! Learn something new every day! :)
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#18 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 07:13 PM

Really? So learning focal length, depth of field, aperture, shutter angle, ASA, magazine loading and threading, is somehow different between the formats? Arriflex 2C vs Arri M or BL?
 

 

I was replying to Phil and his comments about film cameras v ENG cameras. Especialy since he was using a Panaflex as a visual example.


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#19 Brook K

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 10:57 PM

Thanks SO much guys, for your informations and contributions to this thread! This information is invaluable to me and you've no idea how much I appreciate it!! It might help my dream of making a few independent films  a reality someday!! Thanks again so much. :)


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#20 Alex Waye

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Posted 16 September 2015 - 02:37 AM

It's not what you know it's who you know and how you work.


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