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Tips for Handling a 16 mm Film Camera

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/20/2010

Here are some tips for how to specially care fore and handle a 16 mm film camera for motion.

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    Handle With Care

    Handling a 16 mm film camera, such as a Bolex camera, is much different than digital cameras that people are filming with usually. The main reason for this is a technical balance that occurs in 16 mm cameras. The film itself has to run through the camera in a way that it connects with all of the appropriate parts while still capturing the appropriate images on the film stock. You have to adjust everything on the camera perfectly and need to use special techniques to keep it working appropriately. What this ends up with is a special pattern for handling the 16 mm camera so that it can maintain what you have intended.

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    Secure Your Camera

    Making sure everything inside the camera is secure is one of the most important aspects of caring for the 16 mm camera while filming. You have to feed in the 16 mm camera roll so that it is rolling through the camera and capturing images. Each 16 mm film camera is slightly different, so there is no universal feature to the inside of a camera. You are going to have to get to know your film camera so you know what you have to secure. Make sure everything is clipped in and that the casing is secure so the camera does not open up and expose the film. You may want to tape up the area that the 16 mm camera opens so that there is no chance it opens up. Use correct Gaffers tape and not electrical or duct tape as these will be difficult to remove when you are finished.

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    Camera Support

    Using a tripod or support of some sort is always important, but may be even more so with the 16 mm film camera. The reason for this is that not only will motion of the camera show up even more than on many digital video cameras, but also major motion will jar the film inside the camera. All markers of film footage counters as well as the film feed need to stay perfectly balanced, so do not allow for too much movement. At the same time these cameras are often sensitive, old, and difficult to fix. Trauma of any sort should be avoided, so keep it in safe and stable locations.

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    16 mm Camera Settings

    You are not usually going to have the ability to know what you are filming in the way that you would with a digital video camera. A digital video camera essentially gives you an image on an LCD screen of what you are recording. Instead, with a 16 mm film camera you are going to adjust settings but not see all of the changes through the viewfinder. To make sure that you handle the camera to get what you want you have to be very sure about every setting you make. If you change the frame rate from twenty four FPS you have to have a reason, such as getting slow motion or sped up images. Make sure you use the light meter so that you can get the right iris / shutter speed settings. Always calibrate the zoom and make sure that you get the colors and depth of field you are looking for.