Bolex is a Swiss company (Bolex International S.A. of Yverdon) that manufactures motion picture cameras and lenses, the most notable products of which are in the 16 mm and Super 16 mm formats. The Bolex company was initially founded by Jacques Bogopolsky (a.k.a. Jacques Bolsey or Bolsky) in 1927. Bolex is derived from his name. He had previously designed cameras for Alpa. Bolex cameras were particularly important for early television news, nature films, documentaries and the avant garde, and are still favoured by many animators today. Whilst some later models are electrically powered, the majority of those manufactured since the 1930s use a spring-wound clockwork. The 16 mm spring-wound Bolex is a popular introductory camera in film schools.
Today, the Bolex factory in Switzerland continues to produce new 16mm and Super 16 film cameras and also can convert Bolex H16 reflex models to super 16mm.
In 1930 Jacques sold the company to the Paillard Company who retained his services until the mid 1930s. The 1935 H-16 camera is a development of the Auto Cine B model. 9.5mm and 8mm versions followed. The H-16 was highly successful and Paillard Bolex introduced the L-8 for the market for a smaller 8mm camera. With the post-war boom in home movie making, Paillard Bolex continued to develop its 8mm and 16mm ranges with the H-16 increasingly adopted by professional film makers. The company also made a successful range of high end movie projectors for all the film making gauges.
To take part in research about early Bolex cameras and for more information, follow the link: http://bolexserialnumbers.wix.com/bolex#!home/mainPage
In 1965 Kodak introduced the Super 8mm format. Paillard Bolex were slow to introduce a Super 8 camera although they quickly modified the 18-5 Auto 8mm projector for Super 8 as the 18-5 Super. At about this time the 16 Pro Camera was introduced as a technically advanced professional camera more suited to television use than the H-16.
In 1970 Paillard sold the Bolex division to Eumig of Vienna. In 1971 Eumig rationalised the Super 8 range and Super 8 equipment production in Switzerland was discontinued. The Bolex product brand was retained while being manufactured in Eumig or Chinon factories. The H-16 cameras continued to be made in Switzerland.
In 1981 Eumig went into liquidation and Bolex was bought by a management team who set up Bolex International in 1982. Today, the Bolex factory in Switzerland continues to produce new 16mm and Super 16 film cameras and also can convert Bolex H16 reflex models to super 16mm.
The technical Aspects of the Bolex:
An internal spring drive motor powers the Bolex. In order for this motor to run, one must turn the winding crank counter-clockwise. After winding the spring fully, the Bolex will shoot for 28 seconds.
While cleaning or loading the camera, the side cover must be removed.This is done by turning the “lid lock” catch. The camera’s internal capacity was 100 ft. A 400 ft magazine (on the Rex 5 – or converted Rex 3 or 4) could be attached to the top of the camera. Just like with a still reflex camera, the Bolex has a viewfinder, which allows the filmmaker to view what he or she is filming. The Bolex has what’s called a “reflex viewfinder.” This specific viewfinder is made up of a reflex prism that deflects into the viewfinder about 20% of the light going through the lens.
The H16 Bolex usually has three lenses. Often,the camera was provided with a 16mm Switar or Yvar, a 25mm Switar or Yvar (and considered the “standard” lens) and the third lens was often a 75mm Yvar or 50mm Switar. It should be noted that only lenses with the designation “RX” in 25mm or less, can be used on the REX (Reflex) Bolexes. Lenses with desgnation “AR” were designed for the non reflex Bolex cameras. In the case of non reflex Bolex movie cameras, the taking lens could be swung into a high position and the image critically viewed/focused through a magnification tube. This provided accurate focusing but, of course, didn’t offer the parallax accuracy inherent in a reflex camera. Many people, nonetheless prefer to use the non reflex Bolex with the side mounted viewfinder. The side viewfinder is parallax corrected and was surprisingly accurate. The fact that there wasn’t light loss through the prism, enabled the non-reflex Bolex to perform slightly better in low light. An expensive optional lens is the 10mm Switar. This lens gives about the same angle of view as would a 30mm lens on a 35mm full frame still camera. The 10mm Switar is highly sought after. Some people had their H16 Bolex camera converted to “Super 16”. This format was highly suited to telecine conversion, as Super 16 is close to the 16:9 electronic image format. Some conversions were more successful than others. Bolex (latterly) did offer a factory Super 16mm camera. This has the appropriate markings in the viewfinder and the film gate was machined and polished to professional standards. These cameras are fairly rare and always expensive to purchase. Sadly, most Switar and Yvar lenses that were below 50mm would vignette, to some extent, on the Super 16 format The 10mm lens will provide acceptable images, provided the iris is not stopped down to below F4. The 25mm Switar just abouts gets away with little vignetting. Photographers often didn’t bother about this too much, regarding the subtle corner vignetting as a price worth paying and part of the character of such cinematography.
First generation Super 16, shot on (now defunct) Kodachrome was a visual treat. The image quality, sharpness, contrast and tonal range were superlative. Some movies were so excellent, that they were upscale printed to 35mm and used as full theatrical presentations. It is interesting to note that Bolex never used a registration pin (a registration pin jams into one or more sprocket holes, to stabilise the film during exposure). Many professionals regarded this as a failure – not accepting that simple friction could provide an image free of weave and chatter. My personal experience is that this view is incorrect. Many professional cameras didn’t have registration pins and provided very steady images but a well set up Bolex probably has the best steadiness of all 16mm non-registration pin cameras. Bolex did have a foray into purely professional cameras (Bolex Pro 16). Again, they decided against a registration pin and this (along with the fact that the gate cooudn’t be checked for hairs or other foreign bodies, whilst filming) probably was the cause for the cameras to not be a commercial success. The image quality from the Pro 16 was, nonetheless, outstandingly good. It just was introduced a few years too late and never gained traction in the market. This camera was only offered with 400 ft magazine capacity.