Film camera

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Arriflex 300 35mm film camera in a heavy blimp

A film camera is a photographic apparatus, especially in cinematography that

  1. exposed any number of photographic images on a perforated photographic film in rapid succession . In contrast to a still camera (see photo camera ), which is used to take individual pictures, or the digital cinema camera , which records on electronic memory, the motion picture camera (film camera) uses a film drive to record series of individual images on film, which are later taken with it can be shown as moving images on a film projector .
  2. exposing photographic frames onto photographic film; this now obsolete name once distinguished the roll film camera from the plate camera , which was the dominant photographic recording technology until the 1930s, see camera .

The film camera exposes on a (perforated) photographic film. In contrast to this, a distinction is made between analog cameras such as video cameras and video camcorders , which record on a magnetic carrier ( electronic camera ), and digital cameras, such as today's digital camcorders, which record digitally on magnetic tape or electronic memory, as well as all forms of digital cameras , which can also record moving images with sound on electronic memory cards .


Cameramen in front of the Berlin City Palace, 1907

The first film camera was completed by the pioneer Louis Le Prince in 1888. Almost simultaneously, William Friese-Greene (1888–89), William KL Dickson (1891), Léon Guillaume Bouly (1892), Georges Emile Joseph Démény (1893), Birt Acres (1894), Max Skladanowsky (1894–95) constructed the Trio Charles Moisson - Lumière brothers - Jules Carpentier (1894–95) and Newman (1896) Kine apparatus. The kinetograph was designed by William KL Dickson (chief engineer at Thomas Alva Edison ) in 1890–91 , built by Johann Heinrich Krüsi (mechanic at Edison) and patented in the USA in 1894.

The invention of sheet film by Hannibal Goodwin made the decisive step from chronophotography to cinematography possible. Eastman and Reichenbach in Rochester, USA, and Thomas Henry Blair in Kent, England, manufactured celluloid roll film from the summer of 1889 and from 1893 respectively. At the beginning of 1896, the photo plate and sheet film manufacturer Victor Planchon joined forces with the Lumière brothers in Lyon to produce cinema films.

These are the most important film technology pioneers:

Louis Le Prince
William Kennedy Laurie Dickson
Léon Guillaume Bouly
Georges Emile Joseph Démény
Eugène Augustin Lauste
Birt acres
Max Skladanowsky
Charles Moisson (1863-1943)
Lumière brothers
Jules Carpentier
Arthur Samuel Newman

Several pioneers have found mechanical solutions for the basic cinematographic tasks. It's about

the frame rate , i.e. at least about 15 momentary photographs per second for motion resolution,
the image stand, that is a moving image that is as steady as possible,
Flicker-free and
safe image sharpness.

Even today the problem of the picture position has not been completely solved. The weak point lies in the copying technology, where neither the geometry of the camera nor that of the projectors is taken into account. Compared to film, video offers absolute picture stability, however, because the electronic motion picture is structured completely differently, which is definitely a factor that cannot be overlooked in the success of electronics.

The Skladanowsky and Lumiere are approximately at the same level of invention within the chronophotography because the Bioscop insufficient the image steadiness and the Domitor must flicker at all times. Showing Lumière films without flicker is historically wrong. Carpentier himself, who built the Lumière, the device later called Cinématographe, owned a patent in France on multiple interruptions of the light beam. With the Bioscop, the performance is flicker-free .

The cinematography begins only when all the basic tasks are solved. The film camera is still being developed. Important innovations were moving dowel pins by Newman and Woodhead in 1896 and Pierre Noguès in 1897, fixed dowel pins with the first Bell & Howell film cameras in 1909 and 1911, viewfinder with a view of the film in the picture window (Pathé industriel, 1905, Parvo Debrie, 1908), Spring mechanism drive from 1920, in 1925 ARRI (Arnold & Richter) is the new camera manufacturer for professional films, today ARRI is the leading company in the field of film cameras; High-speed regulator for the spring mechanism (Bell & Howell, 1929), electric motor (Bourdereau, 1924, Hodres, 1935), reflex viewfinder (Arnold & Richter, 1936) and noiseless running from 1960 on various products.


Elevation of Acres' Cinetic Camera (1895)

Despite numerous technical innovations since its invention, the basic structure of the film camera has been preserved to this day. Its elements are the light-tight housing as a camera obscura with picture window and optics , the film drive , the rotary shutter coupled with this , devices for unwinding and winding up the film and the viewfinder .

In almost all cases, these are plug-in, reloadable light-tight film cassettes or so-called daylight reels.

The original film cameras were rectangular boxes made of wood, mostly mahogany or walnut, which, not yet so perfectly, already contained all of these elements. At the end of 1911, the first all-metal camera appeared with, as it was called at the time, an “exchangeable magazine”, ie a film cassette. The electric motor gradually replaced the hand crank that was directly connected to the mechanism. The terms turning, turning, briefly referred to as “turning” in the industry, have remained from the cranking days to this day, they are used even with the most modern digital technology.

Technical innovations

In addition to the perfection and downsizing of the existing technology, most of the technical innovations of the film camera since its invention can be found in improved handling and ease of use. Erich Kästner , chief designer at Arnold & Richter ( ARRI ), was involved in two decisive innovations in the field of camera technology . In 1937, a single-lens reflex system was presented at the Leipzig Trade Fair , which made it possible for the first time to see a flickering, but bright, section-identical and laterally correct image in the viewfinder even with the camera running.

Amateur cameras

Amateur cameras have also been developed since around 1900. As early as 1898, Birt Acres applied for a patent in England for a film camera called Birtac , which initially exposed half the width of the 35 mm film and then inserted it again after the end to expose the remaining half. After developing, the film was then split in the middle (so-called 17.5 mm split). This system is seen as the forerunner of the 16 mm cameras that were later widely used . The split did not prevail in the picture, but was later resurrected as a synchronously running magnetic tape ( magnetic film ) perforated on one side during the film editing and the mixing of 35 mm cinema films, same perforation .

In 1921, Emanuel Goldberg developed the Kinamo at ICA , a very compact 35mm film camera that was suitable for the growing needs of amateurs and semi-professionals. In 1923 he added a spring drive that made filming free hand possible. The Kinamo was used by Joris Ivens and other documentary filmmakers in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In 1925, the first camera built by ARRI was a 35mm amateur hand-cranked camera ( Kinarri ). The oldest system with security film was Pathé-Baby (Christmas 1921) with a film width of 9.5 mm .

The heyday of the amateur film camera lasted from 1922 to 1976, when a certain development through integration was completed. Over time, the crank and spring mechanism camera turned into a device that automatically regulates the aperture, adjusts the focus (on a few models), records sound on a magnetic track on the raw film and even controls this automatically. It is estimated that a total of 6 million cine film cameras have been sold worldwide, including those for instant film ( Polaroid Polavision ).

Cine camera

Arriflex 16 from 1972, with compendium and on a wooden tripod
Film tour in an Arriflex 16

At the beginning of March 1923, the Pathé Baby Camera, so named, was released for 9.5 mm film, and on June 15, 1923 the Victor Cine Camera was the first for 16 mm film. In the same year the Bell & Howell Filmo came out, in 1924 the Ciné-Kodak, in 1925 the Ciné-Nizo as the first European cine film camera.

The Swiss manufacturer Paillard produced popular devices with the Bolex H models from 1935 to 1969; they have a spring mechanism motor. The company has been operating as Bolex International since 1970 and today there are still two models on offer.

Although it was initially developed as an amateur camera , the 16 mm film camera was increasingly used in reporting, documentation and, above all, topicality in television because of its handiness . Here 16mm film was in use until the late 1980s. Accordingly, there were also many manufacturers in the "golden 16 mm era", at the top Arnold & Richter with several Arriflex models, from 1951 onwards called the ST (ST stands for Standard, but it was very loud, Today it is still called stubbornly defiant "Mute"), later the 16 BL (BL for Blimped, a reasonably handy self-blimped and quite quiet camera for tripod use), then the ultimate, the 16 SR (SR stands for Silent Reflex), a lot quiet, coaxial cassettes, quartz synchronous.

The French Eclair NPR (Noiseless Portable Reflex) and later the ACL, a 16 mm reportage camera with the special feature of having a pendulum mirror for the reflex viewfinder in addition to the rotating lock, are legendary. The chief designer at Eclair later went into business for himself and built, so to speak, a hybrid of ACL and the Arriflex 16 SR, the Aäton, very successful, very reliable, but expensive. The camera from the American manufacturer Cinema Products (CP) with the strange GSMO (Gun Sight Man Operated) played a strange role . Because of the low price it was the dream of the administrative directors, looked very professional and also had contemporary coaxial cassettes, but the film ran from the raw film side to the exhibition side via a kind of spiral staircase. The associated scratching problem could not be brought under control, the many expensive re-shoots have not been forgotten to this day.

Makes for 9.5 mm film

Pathé, Ercsam, Ligonie, Beaulieu, Nizo, Ditmar, Eumig, Paillard-Bolex, Heurtier, Arnold & Richter

Some brands of 16mm film cameras

Arco, Ikonoskop, Beaulieu, Eumig, Canon, ETM, Frezzolini, Geyer, Mitchell, Debrie, Siemens & Halske, Zeiß-Ikon, Pentacon, Zenit, Revere, Keystone, Argus, Bell, Cinclox, Irwin, De Vry, Wall, Schalie -Collée, Krasnogorsk, Ensign, Suchanek-Meopta, Agfa, Paillard-Bolex, Nizo, Pathé, Facine, Bell & Howell, Kodak, Arnold & Richter, Panavision, Ansco

Double 8 cameras

Meopta, Keystone, Pentacon, Bauer, Agfa, Ditmar, Beaulieu, Ercsam, Kodak, Bell & Howell, Fairchild, Revere, Zeiß-Ikon, Carena, Christians, Paillard-Bolex, Zimmermann, Brumberger, Wittnauer, Silma, Nizo, Dralowid, Emel, Leitz, Elmo, Yashica, Yelco, Canon, Arco, Nikon, Minolta, Crown, Lévèque

Super 8 and single 8 cameras

Chinon, Elmo, Canon, Agfa, Bauer, Beaulieu, Kodak, Paillard-Bolex, Eumig, Bell & Howell, Nizo, Zeiß-Ikon, Leitz, Minolta, Fujica

Cameras for double Super 8 film

Canon, Arnold & Richter, Zenit, Meopta, Pathé, Elmo

The sound film

Opened Arriflex 300 -Blimp

The technology of the sound film initially required three- or single-phase synchronous electric motors, a sound seal for the devices that were too loud for sound recordings and a trick for synchronizing image and sound. This consists of the so-called synchronous flap. Initially, sound recordings were only possible in the studio, where the heavy and loud camera was banished to a soundproof box. From the mid-1930s, blimps were developed in which the camera could literally be packaged. However, the first blimps were initially unwieldy and hampered the cameramen at work. It was not until 1957 that a large, absolutely soundproof blimp was created for the Arriflex 35 II b , in which the camera could be installed with little effort, and a blimp was also developed for the 16 mm Arriflex 16 ST camera.

In 1960, the Eclair NPR (Noiseless Portable Reflex) appeared, the first self-blurred 16 mm film SLR camera.

In 1968 Joachim Gerb constructed a 35 mm shoulder camera ( Arriflex 35 BL ) that was suitable for sound and enabled the use of a handheld camera while recording sound at the same time. The designers Joachim Gerb and Erich Kästner were awarded the technical Oscar in 1974 for the innovations .

To this day, cinema films are largely recorded on 35 mm film , although production with digital cinema cameras (e.g. Sony 750/900 HDCAM / SR, Thompson Viper) has become more and more important in recent years . In the professional sector, 16 mm film is still sometimes used in television productions . The companies Arnold & Richter ( ARRI ) and Panavision share the market for professional 35 mm film cameras worldwide . Niche manufacturers like Aäton (formerly Eclair) and Mitchell-Fries no longer play a role in the field of large cinema productions these days. High-speed cameras from Photosonics are used at speeds of 360 fps (with gripper mechanism and intermittent movement) up to 2100 (as prism cameras) for advertising, special effects and research. 16mm cameras are also made by other companies.

Technical details

Simple principle of how a film camera works

Working principle

The operating principle of film cameras and projectors (or television film scanners ) is based, similar to flip books, on the inertia of the eye ( after-image effect ), which enables the viewer to interpret a sequence of individual images at more than 15 per second as flowing movement. A natural sequence of movements is given when you film and project with the same walking speed or frame rate .


The opening angle of the shutter determines the exposure time depending on the frame rate . At a frame rate of 25 per second, the exposure time at 180 ° aperture is 1/50 second. The possibility of adjusting the light sector of a specially designed shutter results in different exposure times. A film is usually exposed at 24 frames per second. This applies to cinema films and is the international standard in this area. The opening of the light sector is mostly 172.8 degrees. For an initial use on television, however, 25 images (light sector 180 degrees) are filmed per second.

The most recent development in film camera construction is a design with a switching ratio of 24 to 1, which means an exposure time of twenty-fifth of a second at 24 frames per second. This corresponds to an opening angle of 345.6 degrees in the wrap-around closure, double that of the 172.8 degrees mentioned.

Originally due to the power frequency of 50 Hz and the number of fields generated in the picture tube, 25 pictures are also used for filming. If movies are broadcast on television, this also happens with 25 pictures, which means that the playing time of the film is shortened by 4 percent. See also: PAL Speed-up .

SyncSound and MOS

In addition to the film format , professional film cameras are differentiated according to different areas of application: SyncSound cameras are used for recordings in which the sound is recorded with an external audio recorder parallel to the image. With operating noise of less than 20 dB, they are very quiet. Loud MOS cameras (the most common model, the Arri 435) are usually only used when no parallel sound recording is necessary (e.g. commercials, high-speed recordings, effect recordings, landscapes, etc.). According to legend, the name MOS comes from the early days of Hollywood: MOS meant "Mitout Sound", i.e. mute. Whether and which filmmaker of German origin introduced this designation is not known. MOS explain other interpretations with “Motion Only Shot” or “Microphone Off Stage”.


In the 1920s, cameras from Pathé , Ernemann , Debrie , Askania , and Éclair were most widely used in film productions in Europe . In the US, on the other hand, technically more complex and much more expensive recording devices were preferred, the best known of which are those by Bell & Howell and Mitchell .

Other types of cameras


  • Irving Browning: Camera's of the Past [sic]. In: American Cinematographer, June 1944, pp. 188, 189 and 206
  • Baynham Honry: The Film Studio. In: British Kinematography, March 1953; Pp. 81-82
  • H. Mario Raimondo Souto: The Technique of the Motion Picture Camera. Focal Press, London and New York, 1967-1969-1977. ISBN 0-240-50917-X
  • Verne and Sylvia Carlson: Professional Cameraman's Handbook. Amphoto, 1970-1974-1981. ISBN 0-8174-5548-5
  • David W. Samuelson: Motion Picture Camera Data. Focal Press, London and New York, 1979. ISBN 0-240-50998-6 , 0-8038-4718-1 (USA)
  • Barry Salt: Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis. London, 1983
  • David Bordwell, Janet Steiger and Kristin Thompson: The Classical Hollywood Cinema. Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960. London, 1985/1988
  • Marita Müller: Bavarian Film Prize for Erich Kästner . ARRI NEWS, June 1995, p. 17
  • Jochen Thieser and Marita Müller: Happy Birthday Erich Kästner . ARRI NEWS, 5-2001, p. 38
  • Matthias Uhlig: Manual of the film camera technology , Camera Obscura Verlag, April 2007 ISBN 978-3-9807533-1-9

Film documentaries

  • Visions made of light. The history of camera work (Original title: Visions of Light. The Art of Cinematography ). American documentary (1992) directed by Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy and Stuart Samuels

Web links

Commons : Movie cameras  - collection of images, videos, and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Zeiss Ikon Kinamo S 10 in the Wolfen Industrial and Film Museum
  2. ^ Michael Buckland : The Kinamo camera, Emanuel Goldberg, and Joris Ivens. In: Film History 20 (1) (2008): 49-58.
  3. Patent DE 1280667A, Arriflex35BL gripper, May 17, 1967
  4. ^ S. Walter Fischer: Technical. In: L'Estrange Fawcett: The world of film. Amalthea-Verlag, Zurich, Leipzig, Vienna 1928, p. 191