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Amateur Motion Picture Cameras

( Originally Published 1924 )



THE choice of a motion-picture camera depends necessarily upon the kind of work to be done with it, just as is the case with still cameras. For the present, therefore, I shall consider this subject from the point of view of the average amateur. In considering these amateur cameras, there are various points wherein they differ from the professional motion-picture camera, such as in size, portability, movement and, finally, in the kind of film used. The physical form of the film varies widely in different cameras, although it is usually a continuous ribbon with holes punched along one or both edges. Others use broad belts, discs, and other forms of film. In considering cameras I shall start with that form most widely different from the professional and work up to those using the standard motion picture film in rolls of two hundred and four hundred feet.

First, there is the strictly amateur motion picture camera manufactured by the Vitalux Cinema Company. This camera uses an endless belt of film about six inches wide and roughly eighteen inches in circumference. This film is driven in a circular path by means of a series of sprocket holes in upper and lower edges. As each individual frame is exposed, the lens drops a slight fraction of an inch, so that at the end of the first revolution of the film belt the exposed frame lies immediately below the first frame exposed. The film continues until filled in this manner with a long spiral of pictures. The individual frames exposed by this camera are much smaller than the standard frame, and the belt provides room for 1664 frames. Made and projected at the rate of fourteen per second, as recommended by the manufacturer, this belt will provide approximately a two minute run, slightly less, or an amount equal to one hundred and thirteen feet of standard film.

This camera is light and compact, it measures 4 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 11 inches, a size which is easily handled. The films coated on non-inflammable stock are carried in individual magazines which can be interchanged by daylight, so that as many films as desired may be exposed without recourse to a darkroom. The camera is fitted with a Goerz f/3.5, short focus motion-picture lens and is photographically as efficient as a professional type of camera costing more money.

One of the most appealing features of this camera is the low cost of operation. For purposes of future comparison I shall outline the usual standard cost. The standard reel contains one thousand feet and runs on the screen sixteen minutes. The negative costs forty dollars, development of the negative, printing of the positive, cost of positive stock and development of the positive will cost at least sixty dollars more making the total cost one hundred dollars, sixty-five of which is the actual cost of the stock, and thirty-five for printing and two complete developments. This makes standard gauge film cost six dollars and twenty-five cents per minute screen time.

To return to the Vitalux camera. The film costs seventy-five cents per belt and the same for the positive. Complete development service is furnished for twenty-five cents making the total cost one dollar and seventy-five cents each, or eighty-seven and one-half cents per minute screen time.

This company also makes reductions from the familiar screen-productions featuring favorite artists, also scenics and other films; in short, a complete assortment of screen features, which are sold at a price comparable to that of a phonograph record, namely, one dollar and ten cents each; or more for special productions.

The gravest disadvantage of this camera is that certain imperfect or superfluous frames cannot be removed, so that the film must be "edited" as it is being made. It also renders impossible the operation of tinting sections of the film different colors, a process which, although requiring care, is not beyond the capabilities of the average amateur and one which adds greatly to the appearance of the finished film.

Recently, several cameras have appeared which use the new sixteen millimeter sub-standard film which was originally produced for use in the Cine-Kodak. This film is furnished in rolls of fifty and one hundred feet, but these are equivalent to one hundred twenty-five and two hundred fifty feet of standard thirty-five milli-meter film respectively. The one hundred foot reel of sub-standard film costs six dollars, which is the total cost. When the film is exposed it is sent to the Eastman Kodak Laboratories at Rochester and the finished positive is returned ready for projection, postpaid, with no further cost. This film is not printed as is the standard film. Instead, the film is taken through a process of reversal so that the positive which is returned is the actual ribbon of film which was exposed in the camera. Arrangements have been made, however, to obtain duplicates of any film desired at the original price or six dollars per hundred feet. Four hundred feet of film, costing twenty-four dollars, has the same screen time as the thousand foot standard reel, or one dollar and fifty cents per minute, screen time.

The projectors used with this film accommodate four hundred feet of film, which is equivalent in screen time to the one thousand foot reels used on standard projectors. This small film may be cut, spliced, tinted, edited, titles inserted and in every way subjected to the same processes by which the professional films are completed. The stock is non-inflammable and may be used in an open projector without enclosing booth. Many of the projectors are so arranged that a single frame may be projected motionless, on the screen giving the added advantage of the stereoptican.

The usual lens on this type of camera is of twenty-five millimeter focus. It is well known that the shorter the focus of the lens, the greater the depth of focus at a given aperture. This short focus lens has made it quite practical to use a fixed focus mount, as, indeed, one manufacturer has done, with retention of detail sufficient for satisfactory projection. The actual frame exposed measures seven twenty-fourths by ten twenty-fourths of an inch. This is usually projected at a maxi-mum size of thirty by forty inches, or an enlargement of ninety-six diameters. The standard film projected in proportion will render an image eight feet wide, but as the screens used in theatres are usually nine by twelve feet and larger, it will be seen that the small film, made with a lens of greater depth of focus, is subjected to a lesser degree of projection enlargement than the standard. Naturally, this means that all chances are in favor of the smaller picture being the better. It is only the skill of the professional cinematographer which brings the balance back to the side of the standard film. Briefly, the new sub-standard cameras should yield the utmost satisfaction in the hands of even the most inexperienced amateurs.

The first camera to appear which used this film was the Cine-Kodak. This is a beautiful instrument entirely in keeping with the other de luxe products of this company. It measures 6 x 4 5/8 x 8 5/8 inches and weighs but 7 1/4 pounds. It is fitted with the Kodak anastigmat lens, f 3.5, of 25 millimeter focus. It is also fitted with a range finding finder which accurately indicates the field of view at any distance. On the back of the camera are dials which indicate the lens diaphragm, the distance scale and the amount of film exposed. The camera is of metal, finished with flake black enamel and has a folding hood which protects both photo-graphic and finder lenses, and which acts as a sunshade when opened. The intermittent is said to be fool proof and of such design as to be practically indestructible. The outfit as furnished by the factory includes a revolving and tilt head tripod and a projector. A tripod of this design is almost a necessity to the worker in cinematography, as it saves a great deal of time which would otherwise be lost in arranging the tripod. The camera is readily portable; and it is needless to say that its performance is of the best as may be expected of an Eastman product.

Soon after the Cine-Kodak appeared on the market, the Victor Animatograph Company announced their Victor cine camera and a projector to accompany it. This camera has not the de luxe features to be found on the Cine-Kodak, but as it costs less than one-third the price of the Kodak, it is certain to gain wide popularity.

The Victor camera uses the standard, sixteen millimeter miniature film, or the sub-standard as it is sometimes called. The magazines have a capacity of one hundred feet of this film, equivalent to two hundred fifty feet of standard thirty-five millimeter film. The camera is box form, measuring 3 x 5 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches and weighing five and one-half pounds. It is finished in flake black enamel, and presents a handsome appearance. It is made of aluminum, and will not be greatly affected by atmospheric changes.

The intermittent is a double push-claw and is as nearly indestructible as a moving mechanism can be made. This, with the simple three gear driving mechanism, makes this an ideal camera for the average amateur, or the greatest enthusiast. The shutter is the fan blade type common to motion cameras, the lens a 25 mm., focus working at a maximum aperture of f 3.5. The finder is of the sure-shot type, mounted on the top of the camera, and is, of course, subject to the error common to this type of finder when used at short distances. I should suggest the use of a divergence determiner with it.

The Victor camera has some very useful refinements which will appeal to the amateur. A special exposure meter is furnished which is of great value, saving many feet of film. The shutter has a maximum opening of 2200 which is unalterable. The usual professional camera has an adjustable shutter with a maximum opening of 170 or 180. The Victor shutter, of course, admits more light per revolution. The exposure at the normal speed of two crank revolutions per second is approximately 1/25 of a second. This is fast enough for ordinary work, but will not give satisfactory film when exposed on rapidly moving objects, such as automobile races. As the crank ratio is but 7:1, two frames per second are saved, so that every seven seconds a second is gained. The speed of fourteen to the second is satisfactory and the subjects photographed on a given length of film may be lengthened by one-seventh, a considerable saving. The lens of the Victor camera is fixed focus, so that focusing may be dispensed with. As explained before, the short focus of the lens and the comparatively small degree of projection enlargement make this feature practical. This leaves but the single adjustment, the diaphragm opening, to be considered by the opera-tor. This simplifies the operation of the camera. The camera is provided with sockets to take both the standard camera tripod and the standard motion picture tripod. Thus, for hiking, picnics and other journeys when the picture making is incidental, a light, still tripod may be easily carried, but in making home dramas, the motion tripod with its features of revolving and tilt head may be utilized. Probably the greatest refinement of the Victor camera is an arrangement whereby the beginner's tendency to slow on the up-crank and push the down-crank movements is auto matically compensated, so that the inexperienced operator can produce passable film. These features with the low selling cost of the camera will make it widely popular.

A third camera using the sixteen millimeter film appeared, and promises to make a strong bid for supremacy in this field. The Bell & Howell Company, who make the world's approved standard motion camera for the highest class of professional work, have, after a long period of research, produced a camera which seems to have all of the refinements which could be asked in an amateur camera.

This camera is as easily carried as a field glass of the old type, or as a larger size roll film camera. The camera measures 3 x 6 x 8 inches and weighs but 4 1/2 pounds. It is finished in flake black enamel. The capacity is 100 feet of sixteen millimeter film. The lens is the usual sub-standard 25 mm., focus, f 3.5 motion picture lens. The manufacturers state that the intermittent is only surpassed by that used in their professional cameras for reliability, accuracy and wearing qualities. In short, the materials and workmanship are of the highest possible quality, and the accessories of the best. The finder is of the direct tube type, very similar to that provided on the Bell & Howell professional camera.

The two bug-bears of amateur cinematographers are cranking and the necessity of carrying a bulky tripod. Both are eliminated in the Bell & Howell Automatic camera. The camera is held and sighted in a manner very similar to that used in handling field glasses. With the subject located in the finder a button is pressed and the mechanism starts and runs at the proper speed. The subject may be followed through both horizontal and vertical planes, without the jerkiness so evident on the screen when films are shown which have been made by an amateur trying to operate the pam and tilt of the professional tripod. In addition, the camera may be set to make single exposures, 4000 of them with a single loading. The projector, which will be described in its own place, is adjusted for showing single frames, so that this camera provides all facilities for lantern slide work as well as motion work. I believe that it will be a long time before this camera is surpassed. It is the last word in simplicity. Raise the camera, sight the subject and press the button. In addition it is manufactured by the firm which have set the standards in motion picture apparatus and who do nothing else. This camera can be safely recommended without reservation to amateurs who want good film from the first reel.

Some years ago the Pathescope Company announced the manufacture of a home projector using an in-candescent lamp for a light source. They also announced a library of films of various subjects which could be obtained for a modest rental. The plan proved to be very successful and soon a camera was demanded by the public. This was produced on the lines of the Pathe Field camera, but it was too ex-pensive to prove widely popular. This company then produced their Pathescope Home camera, which is in-expensive, but a remarkably well made instrument. It is of leather covered wood construction and measures 4 3/4 x 9 1/2 x 9 1/2, with the lens projecting 2 1/2 inches complete with sunshade and focusing mount. The lens provided is a Butcher-Aldis, 1.7 inch focus, working at a maximum aperture of f 3.1. The mount is very sturdy and will stand abuse which would ruin the delicate jackets of the usual focusing mount.

The intermittent is a double claw, an adaptation of the Williamson movement so widely used in English cameras. This movement works behind the film gate, and with all other mechanism is enclosed in the single chamber of the camera box and is readily accessible for adjustment or repair. The crank is attached to the feed sprocket which is of approved professional type, feeding the film into the gate from its top side and taking up the exposed film on its bottom. On the same shaft is a master gear which operates the balance wheel and the 90 spiral gears which in turn operate the shutter. A spring belt from the master gear operates the take-up which is of professional pattern, and finally the film register, a novel idea in this line, is actuated by the master gear. This register is a large dial calibrated in 100 divisions, each marking one foot, with half way calibrations between. At each crank revolution this dial is advanced one notch, giving an easily read and positive film register.

The camera generally is of the type used widely for professional work before the introduction of the Pathe Professional Camera, and a type which is widely used in England at the present for professional work. The camera has a single chamber, and a single casting upon which are mounted the master gear and two 90 spiral gears, the take-up spool, the film register, the shutter shaft, the claw crank and the feed sprocket. There are no other moving parts subject to friction or wear. The shutter is double bladed and makes but one-half a revolution to each complete cycle of the claws, reducing the actual speed of the shutter by one-half.

The film used is the Pathescope standard 28 mm., non-inflammable film. This film has 20 frames per foot, or a 25% increase over the 35 mm., standard film. The saving in not great, nor would the establishment of a new standard have been justified from this viewpoint alone, but as this film was made for use in home projectors without the use of an enclosing booth it was necessary to provide some means to prevent the owners of such projectors from using the larger inflammable film. For this reason the 28 mm. gauge was established. The Pathescope film may be readily recognized for on one edge it has one perforation only for each frame, this perforation being located directly opposite the frame line. On the other edge it has the usual four perforations, one of which occurs opposite the frame line as in European cameras. The Safety Standard film, as adopted by the Society of Motion Picture Engineers in April, 1918, is the same size and style, but has four perforations per frame on each edge of the film. Thus safety standard may be used in Pathescope cameras and projectors, but not vice versa, for the usual safety standard projector has a full-toothed sprocket and the original Pathescope film has no perforation for these teeth to engage.

The Pathescope outfit is not the ideal camera for the enthusiastic amateur, who has the modus operandi as his great interest, but for the usual man who wants a good home outfit, with a great film library accessible from which he may rent films of almost any imaginable subject, it is the ideal camera. A glance through the pages of the Pathescope film catalog will be a revelation to those interested in home projection.

For the manufacturer who wishes to provide his salesmen with film showing his products, for the traveling lecturer, for the school and for all purposes where a highly efficient system of motion picture making and projecting is required and where the picture must be projected without the use of an enclosing booth this system cannot be surpassed. As a means of home entertainment it is in every way equal to, and to my mind, far superior to either the phonograph or radio. This camera is supplied with a tilt and pam tripod ready for use. The film is supplied in spools, the end being protected by black paper as in the usual roll-film cartridge so that darkroom loading is not necessary.

The demand for motion cameras for amateur use first resulted in the manufacture of small cameras using short lengths of standard film, and many of these are selling with great success. There is one advantage which this type of camera will always possess. If it is any good at all it will produce news film which may be sold to the publishers of news reels and as the usual price paid is one dollar per foot for all acceptable film, the opportunity to make cinematography pay for itself is very good, indeed. Here already we have the friendly differences among amateurs which we find when any subject is broached. The amateur cinematographic world is divided into three camps. The sixteen millimeters, the twenty-eight millimeters and the standards. Surely! You will always find that the standard convert usually capitalizes, underscores and italicizes that word. It is his fetich. Well, joy to him. I may as well confess that as a professional cinematographer I belong to his camp, but to whisper of treachery, I believe that I shall soon possess a sixteen millimeter outfit. Why? There are thousands of scenes I wish to preserve for my own use, scenes which I could never hope to sell, and the difference between twenty-five dollars and an amount which may range any-where between one hundred and one hundred fifty is enough to buy a lot of equipment which I do not need but which I want badly. That difference is the difference between the finished costs of the full reels of standard and sixteen millimeter film.

Among the first "short-strip" cameras to appear on the American market was the Sept camera, an instrument of French manufacture. It takes only sixteen and one-half feet of film, and uses standard gauge film, but withal it has made for itself a lasting place in the cinematographic world and has won a wide and great popularity. It is a camera of which the owner will enthusiastically say, "It's a great little instrument!" The camera is of metal construction and measures 3 x 4 x 5 inches and weighs less than four pounds. It is furnished with a carrying case and six magazines. The lens is a two inch (50 mm.) f 3.5 lens in a micro-meter focusing mount. This is the primary optical equipment of the expensive professional cameras. This arrangement allows the production of negatives which may be enlarged to 16 x 20 inches. As the camera is equipped for single frame exposure, this feature alone makes it worth the price for a tourist camera, containing film for 250 exposures at a filling. The manufacturers state, and their statement seems to be justified, that this camera is eminently suited for home portraiture, landscape, pictorial, commercial and any type of photographic work which is ordinarily done by amateur and professional: In addition it is a really efficient motion picture camera. Its quality may be judged by the fact that professional travelers, news men and the large studios have added Sept cameras to their equipment for quick action work. The falcon fight which appeared in Fairbank's "Robin Hood" was made with a Sept.

This camera is automatic in action. Merely press the button and it automatically operates, leaving both hands free to follow the subject in either the "sure-shot" or the "brilliant" finder both of which are provided. The combination of portability, highest grade optical equipment, automatic action and single crank exposure make this one of the most nearly universal cameras ever manufactured. It is indispensable to the news man. Although it is entirely practical to use the Sept in the hand, a tripod socket is provided for use when desired.

There recently appeared on the market a small motion picture camera bearing the Ica trademark. This camera, known as the "Kinamo" is made with all of the care and attention to detail which characterize all Ica products. It is covered with leather and although of slightly different dimensions, it does not look unlike a Kodak of one of the larger sizes. The crank is sufficiently large for ease in manipulation although not at all obtrusive. The camera is equipped with an Ica iconograph finder which folds back against the camera when not in use. The Kinamo is made in two models, the "A" model measures 41/2 x 2 1/2 x 6 and weighs 2 1/4 pounds. Its capacity is fifty feet of standard gauge film. The model "B" measures 2 1/2 x 5 1/8 x 6 and accommodates eighty feet of film. Other-wise the two models are very similar.

The Kinamo is equipped with a Carl Zeiss' 40 mm. f 3.5 lens in focusing mount. Focusing is done by scale. The camera is provided with a tripod socket to take the standard still tripod, the camera being too light to make the use of the bulky motion tripods practical.

The camera has two crank shafts, one for the usual 8:1 motion work, the other for single exposures, making this camera an efficient tourist camera. It is also provided with a punch to mark the termination of each scene and a register to indicate the amount of film exposed. The Kinamo has no competitors and is unusually well adapted to its particular field. It provides a camera worthy of a place among news cameras, which is easily portable and which takes a sufficient footage to secure almost any desired subject. It would be manifestly unjust to compare it with the bulky news cameras, for it is intended to cover a different field, for the same reason it cannot be compared with the sub-standard cameras. It fills a certain need and one which is satisfied by no other camera.

So much for the purely amateur camera. Yet the border line between amateur and professional is so vague that the last three cameras described, although they are marketed for purely amateur use, are used in both professional and semi-professional work. It is difficult to choose from among these cameras, and the only hint which can be given is this: Determine the amount your pocketbook will stand, then carefully study your prospective field of work and purchase the best camera which will adequately cover this field. Each of the cameras has outstanding features of its own and any of them will yield the most gratifying results.

I have purposely omitted the cheaper grade of toys and inferior cameras which will not produce results. However, I do not wish the inference to be drawn that all cameras which have been omitted fall into this class. Neither have I tried to cover the foreign field. There are, undoubtedly, many excellent cameras which I have not described and of which I have never heard in the foreign field. I know that there are American cameras I have omitted solely because I have not had the opportunity to examine them nor the opportunity to obtain authoritative information concerning them. I have, however, covered all of the types of motion cameras which have been proved to be practical, and the type description should be a guide in the purchase of any camera.



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