S8 to FCP – Page 2: Technical Details

Technique and Technical details

My first film camera (in New York, 1968) was a Kodak Box Brownie. I can’t remember the model. To say that I was starting from scratch is best illustrated by a few scenes still existing from these first efforts. They show that I’d tilted the camera on its side, like a still camera utilising a portrait frame.

Bolex 160

The second, and most cherished, was a Bolex 160. It looks a bit like an Aztec six gun, and the revolver analogy is pertinent in that it was beautifully balanced. This was especially useful for shooting footage from a moving car. It will hardly be a surprise, I’m sure, that to do this effectively requires you to be quick. The scene is sliding by at a rate of knots and there are no second takes. The Bolex 160 was perfect for this. I could leave it on the seat besides me, with the lens cap up. All I had to do was pick it up and press the trigger, preferably in one fluid motion. (It might be worth pointing out – as in ‘Don’t Do This At Home’ – that I never looked through the viewfinder and drove at the same time.) This speed of response seems to me to be a distinct advantage of Super 8 over digital cameras, with their need to ‘fire up’. The drawback to the Bolex was that its lens was of middling quality (apart from Macro use, where it was razor sharp). I kept this camera for years, using it as a trusted reserve, and it never malfunctioned.

There were a variety of other cameras that I used in those situations where borrowing one was necessary. The two that made an impression were the Canon 814, and, for low light work, the Canon 314 (I think – the one with a variable shutter blade?). The drawback to the 314 was that it could only shoot 18fps. I’ve always shot at 24fps, a speed that has stood me in good stead when it came to telecine transfer later (who knew of such a thing in 1968).

The reference to low light work is a bit misleading. I did that perhaps two or three times at most, mainly as the film stock of choice was Kodachrome 40. Note the 40, as in ISO speed rating. On a few occasions I did try Ektachrome, but the colours were more muted, it was more expensive, and the emulsion was much softer than Kodachrome. That’s an important factor when the film gets handled physically. Kodachrome won out for its obvious superiority with saturated colours. My visual pool tomatoessense of America had been formed by Life magazine in the 1950’s, the ads filled with gorgeous, vivid colours, the antithesis of food rationing, austerity Britain. It also didn’t hurt that, luck of the draw time, I might pass by a KMart when they were doing a special on Kodachrome. It was possible (occasionally) to pick up 20 rolls at less than $3.00 a roll, including processing.

My top of the line camera was a Nikon R10. It had a lens of absolutely stunning quality made up of several elements, though this turned out to be an eventual Achilles heel when it was dropped and the lens elements were slightly pushed out of true. I couldn’t afford the repair costs. Since returning to the UK in 1982, I’ve used a Nizo 801. This is another camera with superlative lens quality. I also own a Gitzo tripod but haven’t used it all that much (usually on top of the car when I do). The nature of keeping a film diary is that it’s necessary to carry the camera at all times (I used to keep mine in a workman’s lunch pail), so carrying a tripod around as well just isn’t something that fits into the round of daily activities.

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