Collecting Vintage Bolex-Paillard Home Movie Cameras

November 7th, 2008

In this interview, Michael Tisdale talks about collecting vintage Bolex-Paillard home movie cameras and related ephemera. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Michael can be reached via his website, Bolex Collector, which is a member of our Hall of Fame.

Collecting Paillard-Bolex cameras was something I started doing by accident. It was a combination of several interests I had, including, photography, broadcasting and even collecting vintage records and magazines. I became really passionate about the Swiss craftsmanship and the high quality of the cameras. And I started trying to trace the history of the Paillard Company and the fascinating range of items they produced.

I didn’t really set out to start a collection of cameras, it was really something that happened gradually.I didn’t even see the cameras at first as being collectible, and to some extent, I still don’t. But they’re really very usable cameras. You can still buy 16mm and 8mm film, and there are still technicians who will repair or modify the cameras. They’re still used in film schools by students, and many people still use them to shoot independent films and documentaries. It’s an odd thing to collect because their value is really determined by the usability and features and not so much age or rarity. Even though most of them are 40 or 50 years old or more, they’re excellent cameras and just too nice to sit on the shelf and not run film through.

At the same time, I’ve become passionate about appearance of the cameras and even the history of the company itself. I’ve found myself adding more and more of these cameras to my collection over the years, whether they’re working or not. They’re wonderful to display and look at. And best of all, most of the models are fairly inexpensive these days compared to the small fortune they cost during the 1940s and 1960s.

When I bought my first Bolex camera around 1991, I was looking for a cheap motion picture camera that offered the ability to shoot single frames and timed exposures. I was majoring in broadcast journalism and photography, and wanted to experiment with some simple animation and time-lapse photography.

I found a Bolex H16 for $90 in the classifieds section of a camera magazine, and thought it was a good deal. It included a set of lenses, the original case and some accessories. But when it arrived in the mail, it ran really poorly and looked even worse. It was rusty and the leather was peeling, and there were insect carcasses and what appeared to be vegetation in the viewfinder. I didn’t know where to get it fixed at the time. But even if I had, it wouldn’t have been worth it. It still sits on my shelf now. At least I’ve been able to salvage the accessories and stuff.