ECLAIR NPR. The Eclair NPR was introduced in 1960 and was the first 16mm camera to embody all of the criteria for 16mm sync cameras. It is light ("Eclair" means "light" in French), quiet, has a crystal-controlled motor, coaxial 400-foot capacity magazine, and rests on the shoulder for steady hand-held shooting. The magazine can hold reels or spools, with a seperate footage-counter for each. It has a turret that holds two lenses; one lens mount is the Eclair CA-1 and the other is a standard C-mount. The CA-1 mount is ingeniously designed to accept a number of adaptors, including one for the ubiquitous Arri bayonet mount. As with most used cameras, NPRs are usually sold in packages consisting of the body, a crystal-sync motor, battery, cable, 2 magazines, a zoom lens (usually an Angenieux 12-120mm, but occasionally a Zeiss 10-100mm), and a case or cases. Prices are about $3,000 for a package without a crystal motor (it has a non-sync motor instead) to $10,000 for a highly modified wide-screen camera with video tap. Standard 16mm packages usually go for about $4,000 - $5,000 and Super-16 packages are around $7,500. My personal camera was made in 1978. I have transcribed the Eclair 16 manual into a Word document. Text only, no pictures. NEW!!! Eclair 16 manual now online!!! If you download it please let me know, as I'd like to know if it helps anyone.
BOLEX H-16. This ubiquitous Swiss camera has been made for decades. Mine was made between 1938 and 1940. Bolexes come with a spring-driven motor or an electric one; and with a reflex viewfinder or a parralax (non-reflex) viewfinder. Spring-driven cameras can be fitted with motors, including crystal-sync motors (about $895). Non-reflex cameras can use zoom lenses with built-in ("dog-leg") reflex viewfinders. These lenses have a port on the side that allows the cinematographer to look through the lens while filming. All will hold internal 100-foot reels, and some of the later models ("Rex" cameras, EBM and SBM) will accept 400-foot external magazines. Most of these cameras will have a spring-wound motor, a 3-lens C-mount turret, and 15mm, 25mm and 75mm lenses. Expect to pay around $300-$500. New ones are still being made and are in the $10,000 neighbourhood for the top-of-the line model. Your basic wind-up H-16 body costs about $3,500 new. I paid $60 for my Bolex body, $200 for a set of prime lenses (which I had replaced with a reflex-zoom lens for $300), and $175 for a complete overhaul. They frequently turn up in garage sales ("Oh, Uncle Ed used to make home movies! Would you like to see his camera?") so good deals on these wonderful little cameras can be had.
KRASNOGORSK-3 ("K-3"). With the move to a free-market economy in the former Soviet Union, the Krasnogorsk 3, or "K-3" as it's commonly called, made its way to the West. This Russian camera has one BIG advantage over other 16mm cameras commonly available: It's cheap! When they started showing up in the mid-1990s, they were being sold for about $500 brand-spankin'-new. They come with a nice zoom lens, zoom lever, reflex viewfinder, viewfinder cover, rubber eyecup, 2X filter, coloured filters for B&W photography, pistol grip, shoulder stock, plastic lens shade, cable release and a leather case. The case and lens hood are really crappy, but the rest of the kit is great. I've found that if I remove the spacer in my Tiffen lens hood/filter holder that I use on the Zeiss lens on the Eclair, the hood fits nicely on the K-3's Zenit zoom. The K-3's lens mount, by the way, is a 42mm Pentax mount, so you can use the same lenses you use on your still camera (if you have a Pentax!). Just a note here about using 35mm still camera lenses on a 16mm camera: "Normal" lenses for a 35mm camera are 50mm. "Normal" field of view for 16mm is 25mm. So if you use 35mm camera lenses on your 16mm camera -- any 16mm camera -- expect them to be "telephoto". The Krasnogorsk operates between 8 and 48 fps and will run about 27 seconds on one full wind of its spring motor. The motor is wound by a permanently-attached "key" that is more difficult to use than the crank on a Bolex. Unlike many 16mm cameras, the K-3 has a built-in light meter. It's notoriously inaccurate and the batteries are hard to find (although you can rig a commonly-available button-type battery that will work fine). There is a potential problem with the Kras. Some are fine right out of the box. Others will jam every time. It seems to depend on the ability of whoever put it together. Reel Trading in New York will do a "Pro Mod" on your camera. This involves polishing the film path and removing the automatic-threading mechanism. You'll have to form the loops manually, but it's said to be a lot easier to load. Crystal motors are also available, but installation requires removal of the spring motor; so once it's converted there's no going back. The K-3 is MUCH too noisy to use when you're shooting dialog, but with the crystal motor it's fine for music videos. I've seen used K-3s sell for $300, but the sellers are in former Eastern-Bloc countries. While I've read reports on the K-3 mailing list that some of these people are reputable, you're taking a chance sending money to a foreign country with a shaky economy. Caveat Emptor! Reel Trading sells the basic, new, K-3 with accessories for about $1,200 including their "Pro Mod" conversion, and a modified camera with a Tobin crystal motor for about $2,000. Unmodified, spring-wound K-3s from other companies go for about $900. An Acrobat Reader-format owners manual is available from NCS. Overall, I'd say this is an excellent "first camera" and a good choice for "grab-and-go" shooting.
AATON. Aaton is another camera from France. The LTR, LTR-54, and XTR series are incredibly comfortable and easy to load. The LTR can be had for about $9,000 to $15,000. The XTR series is the main competition for the Arriflex SR II and SR III. Some cinematographers think the Aaton is the best 16mm camera available. Others think the Arri is. The Aaton can be configured with Aaton, PL or Panavision lens mounts. The XTR has a CCD chip for video taps that it actually stays inside the camera instead of being tacked onto the viewfinder. They are so well designed that "cat on the shoulder" has been used to describe how they fit when you're handholding. They're really comfortable. Probably their best feature though is that they are easily convertible to shoot either regular 16mm or Super-16 formats. To top it all off, many users call it the quietest 16mm camera ever. The XTRprod pictured here goes for about $60,000 for the body, new. A used XTR package is about $28,000 and a used XTRplus package will set you back about $45,000.
1999, Aaton introduced the Minima. This is a Super-16mm only camera
about the size of a camcorder. Like all Aatons, it is very quiet. It
be nice to have regular 16mm capability and larger magazines than the
magazines that are available for it. But it's cheap! A firm price has
been set at this writing, but 55,000 francs (about $12,500) seems the
for a new body. That's about 1/4 or less what you'd pay for a new Arri
SR III body.
ARRIFLEX SR I, II and III. These cameras are the industry standard for 16mm film making. In the 1970's, the Arri SR series incorporated all of the features of the Eclair NPR into a complete "camera system". They are all crystal controlled. They have a flat base that accepts the bridge plates that support the matte box, follow-focus unit, electric zoom, and so on. The orientable viewfinder can be fixed with a "periscope" for ease of use when the camera is on a tripod, and a video tap can be installed such that the viewfinder is still usable (the video tap on an Eclair fits over the viewfinder so you can't look through it). The magazines are VERY easy to load. Most Arris I've seen for sale come with the same package as described in the Eclair paragraph, above. The biggest disadvantage to Arriflex cameras is the price. Prices for an SR-I package (note: be sure to get the GERMAN manufacture, not the French) are around $15,000. SR-IIs are in the $20,000-$40,000 range, and SR-III's are... Well, don't ask. Arri web page.
ARRIFLEX 16S and 16SB. This is a sturdy, rock-steady camera that sounds something like a blender. Definately not for sync-sound use. It is similar to the Bolex in that it has an internal 100-foot capacity, but it is much more rugged and uses a reflex viewfinder. It can use a 400-foot external magazine and uses a variety of electric motors. The difference between the 16S and the 16SB is that the 3-lens turret on the 16SB contains one Arri bayonet mount and 2 Arri-standard mounts. The 16S has 3 Arri-standard mounts. These wonderful cameras are often not sold in packages. A body and motor is in the $2,000 range, and packages run from about $2,500 to $4,000. Robert Rodriguez used an Arri 16SB to make "El Mariachi". He did a camera take first, and then had the actors re-inact the scene for a sound take! His often-praised fast-paced editing was necessitated by the fact that he was not in sync. Whenever the voice and image became to far apart, he made a cut! Wacky. And ingenious!
There will be photos and descriptions of other cameras as they become available...
Krasnogorsk 3 photo is courtesy of Reel Trading and it may not be re-used or reproducecd without the express permission or Reel Trading.