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Home Movie Cameras in 1971 Question

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#1 Sarah Beauchemin

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Posted 09 September 2016 - 12:13 AM

Hi everyone, 

 

I'm a writer doing research for a character in my novel, set in 1971. I'm wondering if there were any home movie cameras in existence during that time that had reels that filmed longer than 3-4 minutes at a time. 

 

Basically, I'm trying to write a scene where the character leaves a camera running on a table (somewhat inconspicuously) and it captures a rather shocking event. But in order for this scene to make sense, the camera would need to be recording for at least 20 minutes. 

 

My initial research has revealed that there were several popular handheld 8mm movie cameras that year, such as the Kodak M22, but most of them used standard 50 ft reels that could only capture 3-4 mins of action. I did see that there are 7" reels (400 ft) that could record upwards of 25 minutes. But these reels are huge, and I imagine not many consumers owned cameras large enough to run these reels, right? They were more film studio cameras? (And such cameras certainly wouldn't be very inconspicuous in a room, I'm guessing). 

 

Thanks in advance for your help!

 

Cheers,
Sarah


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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 09 September 2016 - 12:26 AM

Your research is basically correct: there are few if any film formats that would permit a run that long. You could, I suppose, assume that the camera could be set for a very low frame rate, which would get you rather jerky pictures. I think some of them would do six frames per second, perhaps someone else could confirm a specific model. That would extend running time by about three times, as 18 frames per second was often standard. That'd only get you nine minutes or so, though, on a 50-foot reel of super-8. The 400-foot reels are used on projectors, to show a longer production edited from many 50-foot camera cartridges, though there are (or were) 200-foot reels of camera stock at some point, I'm not sure when. Certainly the Beaulieu 6008S camera, which could take them, was not introduced until the late 70s.

 

You could hypothesise that someone had a 16mm camera. This would make them richer even than the person shooting super-8, but 400-foot runs are common. That's ten minutes at 24 frames per second, which again, could be extended for a security-camera sort of application by reducing frame rate.

 

That would address another issue, which is the amount of light. Colour super-8 film of that era would have been 50 ASA or less, which would require noticeably more light than would be normal in a domestic setting, unless the area was sunlit. At lower frame rates, you get more effective exposure per frame, so more normal light levels are workable.

 

You could invent some sort of device for automatically starting and stopping the camera based on some sort of trip switch. It could be done by a reasonably competent home experimenter with access to a radio shack. This would certainly be a more attractive option than having it burn through a whole magazine of (expensive) film.

 

Bear in mind that home movie cameras of that era were not silent running in the way that a modern studio cameras are. In a silent room it would easily be heard, although if you were to pack cushions around it and rely on a bit of background noise it might go unnoticed. Also, sound recording, via a magnetic stripe on the edge of the film, was not introduced until 1973, so you would get picture only unless your clandestine observer also rigged up a tape deck to record audio.

 

P


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#3 Sarah Beauchemin

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Posted 09 September 2016 - 12:53 AM

Thanks very much for your help, Phil! 

 

I feel that the 16mm camera might be the way to go. Do you know of a popular model that I could reference? My character is wealthy, so it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for him to own an expensive camera that would use a 400 ft reel. Even 10 minutes would probably be enough for my scene to realistically take place. 

 

The scene would also be occurring indoors at night, but with an overhead light on, so the room would be reasonably well-lit. There would also be music playing, which I think would provide a good explanation for why the camera went unnoticed in the room. Thanks for pointing out the bit about audio being absent on the film, too! 


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#4 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 09 September 2016 - 01:54 AM

The Character could be using a Sony Video Rover, which came out in 1967 and could be taken as a rich man's toy at the period.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portapak

 

The quiet16mm film cameras weren't that small. you're probably talking about an Arri 16BL or Eclair NPR, perhaps an Auricon. I understand that the Eclair ACL had just come out in 1971, so may be a cutting edge possibility. 


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#5 Simon Wyss

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Posted 09 September 2016 - 01:54 AM

Forget it. In 1971 there was not one home movie camera with which one could get 20 minutes, not even if Eastman-Kodak Special-Order stock on thin base was used. Kodak High Definition aerial Film, 3414 on an Estar ultra-thin base, was available in 1970. Triple lengths were possible, meaning 300 feet in a camera for 100-ft. loads. That would be 12,000 frames. For 20 minutes running time the camera would have to run at 10 frames per second. With regular thickness film the frame rate would drop to 3⅓ f. p. s. We need a minimum of about 15 fps for smooth motion reproduction.

 

A person wanting to use the above-mentioned stock would have had to purchase for about $20,000.


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#6 Michael Lehnert

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Posted 09 September 2016 - 06:27 AM

Super 8 as a cine-film format would allow for this set-up to be possible if the character would own a Bauer C Royal 10E or Bauer C Royal 8E Makro (click here and here). They were on the market in 1971, and top-of-the-line production cameras used by very wealthy enthusiasts, but also used by documentary filmmmakers or German broadcasters who wanted to shoot on Super 8 during street protests in Europe, Asian revolutions in Vietnam, Rangoon etc. without evoking obvious suspicion using a 16mm camera.

 

Juan Carlos, in 1969 declared to become the future King of Spain by Generalísimo Francisco Franco, famously owned one and used it to shoot private movies during his playboy yacht years with his wife since 1962,  Princess Sofía.

 

Both these cameras had a time exposure feature: by swinging out the leftside external lightmeter under bad light conditions (e.g. interiors or at night time), an intervalometer-derived capability of the camera automatically exposes one frame of cine-film just for such a long time until the camera deems it correctly exposed, and clicks forward to the next frame, repeating the action. The camera simply automatically adjusts the exposure time within a range of from 1/10 sec to 1 min. This means you can get a correctly exposed film under restrictive light conditions – no studio lights or unusual articifical light required, on general usage film stock like Kodak Kodachrome 40 T (7268).

 

There's a time period counter on the camera that works as a scene length pre-selector and is required to be set for this feature to be activated. You dial in by turning the knob to any pre-selected time from 12 seconds to 1 seconds for the camera to shoot in this way, and it will be automatically stopping the camera when it has counted down and reaches 0 sec.

Note that the 12 seconds don't mean that the camera will run for 12 real-time seconds, no, it will operate for as long as it takes until it has exposed, frame-by-frame, 12 seconds of actual film to be projected in a regular Super 8 film projector running at the standard 18 fps of that era. The original runtime duration the camera can continuously shoot, i.e. expose frame after frame, can be up to 3 hours maximum, (if it exposes every frame for the max of 1 minute).

 

If you only need 20 minutes for it to shoot during the action, that means you could have a available light interior for your scene, one character could toy around with this camera, set the feature in motion to film something without extraordinary light conditions, and after 20 minutes of realtime events, it would have a film strip, motion-blurred and thus even more "mysterious to decipher" yet absolutely possible to analyse – the action would be seen, but faces might be motion-blurred – of 12 seconds of this compressed event on film.

 

The clicking of the camera could be easily interpreted by, say, an intruder or a third party, as the clicking of a mechanical clock, so that too would work.

 

The Bauer Royal cameras are in terms of features and operational procedure very close to the later re-issued 1977-80 Bauer A 508 and Bauer A 512 (the latter I own and shoot regularly with, including the above mentioned feature, extensively ^_^ ), and thus their manuals available online give a good indication on how to operate them.

 

An Eclair 16 NPR with 120m magazine would only shoot for 11 minutes 7 seconds at 24 fps. You would need specific motors for the Eclair 16 NPR to run an lower filming speeds (to extend the time it can shoot), such as 18 or 9 fps. Those motors where bulky and expensive. Even industrialist playboys like Gunter Sachs who owned 16mm gear of such production/broadcast standards was not spending Mercedes 190 SL kind of money on a variety of camera motors for a film camera. And you would need higher speed film stock for the camera too, and developing negative film stock was studio-class expensive (broadcasters shot on reversal) – this all in all reduced the probability of someone just accidentally starting a 16mm camera and forgetting about it.

 

In order for noise to not be a disruptor in your story, you would have to go for this one type of camera model – these cameras, even the low-noise NPR, are quite audible, and 120m magazines can generate additional noise levels if the film reel is "weaving" a bit within the magazine and no soft blimp is wrapped around the mag.

 

OR an Auricon 16, in the modification pioneered by D.A. Pennebaker, see here.

 

But these cameras are simply not inconspicuous. They are obvious, and at that time stood out. You can't hide them under cushions, and they easily clutter up a regular desktop in an office. And even wealthy people would not just handle them in such a way that they accidentally have a reel of film in it, and start it up. As someone now able to own "vintage" 8, 16 and 35 gear that was once studio class gear and very exclusive, it's not a behaviour that I deem realistic, now or then.

These cameras could have been standing on a workbench for maintenance, or be mounted on a tripod, as a item to see, own and appreciate in a private studio space when out of their boxcases. But then again, due to the focal lengths of the lenses used on 16mm, you would have the camera point very obviously at the area of the action for it to get captured in a normal-sized room (say 5 x 8 metres). The wide angle of a Super 8 camera, due to shorter focal lengths available for this smaller format, would capture a wider area in a room, and again sound more probable to happen outside a novel.

 

Right, now that was a fun thought experiment over lunch break  ;)


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#7 Chris Burke

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Posted 09 September 2016 - 07:23 AM

Eclair NPR or ACL would be historically correct. However do you really want to have a 20-minute scene with no cutaways? Watching any movie from that period and see if they have 20 minute scene with just one shot. Very few. And even fewer succeed at that. You could easily shoot it on modern-day Super 8 500 speed tungsten with cutaways and not have any worry about run time.
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#8 Chris Burke

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Posted 09 September 2016 - 07:26 AM

You can suspend disbelief and have more than just one shot. Sure there will be a few people that will say wait a minute no camera ran that long in 1971. But really does that matter?
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#9 Chris Burke

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Posted 09 September 2016 - 07:28 AM

I should read posts more thoroughly. You're writing a novel not prepping for actual production. Stick with the 16 millimeter cameras.
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#10 Kenny N Suleimanagich

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Posted 09 September 2016 - 12:52 PM

The Brian De Palma film "Dressed to Kill" has one of the main characters (who is established as a tinkerer) set up a timelapse trigger camera for surveillance using Super 8. When he goes to pick it up he pays $4. That was 1980.
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#11 Andrew Payne

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Posted 09 September 2016 - 01:35 PM

Hi everyone, 

 

I'm a writer doing research for a character in my novel, set in 1971. I'm wondering if there were any home movie cameras in existence during that time that had reels that filmed longer than 3-4 minutes at a time. 

 

I don't know if you're committed to a film camera, but there were early consumer video cameras available at the time (albeit the high end consumer market).  1971 predates VHS, so these devices recorded to open-reel video tape, and were capable of 20 minutes and longer.  The cameras were medium sized.  The recorders were big, but could be placed away from the camera since they were connected by cables.  Plus as video cameras, they required no developing of film.

 

This is what they looked like:

 

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#12 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 09 September 2016 - 01:40 PM

That's the video rig I was suggesting earlier in the thread.


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#13 Sarah Beauchemin

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Posted 09 September 2016 - 02:38 PM

Thanks everyone for your thoughtful and thorough answers. Very much appreciated. Brian and Andrew, I didn't even know that Portopak existed - super cool. That might be an even more compelling solution for my character than a 16mm . . . 

 

Really appreciate your help, all!


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#14 John E Clark

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Posted 09 September 2016 - 02:50 PM

Having contemplated making 'movies' in the era... two things come to mind...

 

16mm Bolexes (wind up) were about $300 in then dollars.... which according to my CPI calculator is approx $1800 in today's dollars.

 

A Bolex with a motor was more, and one with crystal sync to go to a tape recorder was even more... and of course one had to buy said tape recorder.

 

And then there was the Stock + Processing costs.

 

8mm was of course cheaper, but still was the plaything of those who could afford such.

 

Oh, yeah, anything more than the windup Bolex... was even more expensive than a Bolex + motor...


Edited by John E Clark, 09 September 2016 - 02:51 PM.

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#15 Sarah Beauchemin

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Posted 09 September 2016 - 02:50 PM

Oh, wow - this gives a pretty interesting history of the contexts in which the Portapak was used during the late 60s / early 70s: http://www.experimentaltvcenter.org/portapak-camcorder-brief-history-guerrilla-television 

 

"In 1968, with the arrival of the first truly portable video rigs (the half inch, reel to-reel CV Portapak), video freaks could hang out with drug-tripping hippies, sexually liberated commune dwellers, cross-country wanderers, and yippie rebels, capturing spontaneous material literally on their doorsteps. During the summer of 1968 Frank Gillette taped a five-hour documentary of street life on St. Mark's Place in New York City, unofficial headquarters of the Eastern hippie community." 

 

This is just what I'm looking for! 


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#16 John E Clark

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Posted 09 September 2016 - 02:53 PM

Oh, wow - this gives a pretty interesting history of the contexts in which the Portapak was used during the late 60s / early 70s: http://www.experimentaltvcenter.org/portapak-camcorder-brief-history-guerrilla-television 

 

"In 1968, with the arrival of the first truly portable video rigs (the half inch, reel to-reel CV Portapak), video freaks could hang out with drug-tripping hippies, sexually liberated commune dwellers, cross-country wanderers, and yippie rebels, capturing spontaneous material literally on their doorsteps. During the summer of 1968 Frank Gillette taped a five-hour documentary of street life on St. Mark's Place in New York City, unofficial headquarters of the Eastern hippie community." 

 

This is just what I'm looking for! 

 

While I did not use any video equipment in the 60s, I did try to use my college's 'offering' for video in the mid-70s.

 

It was a reel-reel recorder, and could be perhaps considered 'lugable'... in portability. The tape I had was perhaps 30 minutes long.


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#17 Keith Walters

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Posted 10 September 2016 - 12:20 AM

Hi everyone, 

 

I'm a writer doing research for a character in my novel, set in 1971. I'm wondering if there were any home movie cameras in existence during that time that had reels that filmed longer than 3-4 minutes at a time. 

 

Basically, I'm trying to write a scene where the character leaves a camera running on a table (somewhat inconspicuously) and it captures a rather shocking event. But in order for this scene to make sense, the camera would need to be recording for at least 20 minutes. 

 

My initial research has revealed that there were several popular handheld 8mm movie cameras that year, such as the Kodak M22, but most of them used standard 50 ft reels that could only capture 3-4 mins of action. I did see that there are 7" reels (400 ft) that could record upwards of 25 minutes. But these reels are huge, and I imagine not many consumers owned cameras large enough to run these reels, right? They were more film studio cameras? (And such cameras certainly wouldn't be very inconspicuous in a room, I'm guessing). 

 

Thanks in advance for your help!

 

Cheers,
Sarah

The problem is, while all the solutions described above would be theoretically plausible, they all involve some rather specialized preparation, which would require anticipation of the said extraordinary event.

A common plot hole in both story and script writing is the "two many extraordinaries" problem, basically extraordinary things happening to extraordinary people is one too many extraordinaries.

You know, like the TV cop goes on vacation and there's a murder in the Motel he's staying at. I mean face it: How many motels have you stayed in, and how many times has there been a murder while you were staying there? Why would it be any more likely to happen to a cop? It's a very common plot device much used by lazy scriptwriters, but statistically, it's absurd.
So while it's entirely possible that some well-heeled enthusiast could be one of the say  300 people in all the USA owning such a setup (or with access to it at any rate), you'd be stretching credibility somewhat if he just happened to have a situation crop up where the camera was exactly what he needed.

It would be more plausible if he suspected something was going down and hired or otherwise obtained the camera from someone who specialized in that field.

The thing is, there were bound to be people in the surveillance industry who had equipment like  that custom made. The beauty is that all you have to say is: "he hired a modified super-8 camera capable of taking 800 foot rolls of film". For the vanishingly few people who would even know or care what sort of cameras were available in 1971, that would be sufficient explanation :rolleyes:
 


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