The Revelation of Ultra 16mm

Ultra 16 Chart - Courtesy of Cinelicious

Introduction

16mm has gone through many wonderful changes over the years.  It was originally created in 1923 by Kodak as an amateur format, but today it holds its own as a professional gauge right along side 35mm and 65mm.  No longer restrained to industrial, educational, and television films, 16mm has risen to remarkable heights thanks to innovation in lenses, fine grain film stocks, and wide-screen modifications.  One of these new revelations in advancement is called “Ultra 16mm.”

Regular 16mm

Before jumping into Ultra 16, one must start at the beginning with Regular 16mm.  Regular 16mm has a native aspect ratio of 1.33:1 or 4×3, which is nearly square.  The actual camera aperture measurements are 10.26 by 7.49 mm.  The 1.33 ratio matched that of the original aspect ratio of 35mm film.  A regular 16mm print can contain both picture and sound.  An optical soundtrack can be included right along side the image.  Originally, if you were to shoot and finish on 16mm with sound you needed to shoot on straight up 16mm.  Regular 16mm was double perforated for registration.  This is where the modified “silent” 16mm formats of Ultra 16mm and Super 16mm differ.

Super 16mm

You are probably familiar with Super 16mm – which uses the soundtrack space to maximize image resolution on the 16mm negative.  Super 16mm has a native wide aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with gate measurements of 12.42 x 7.49.  This aspect ratio makes Super 16 excellent for blowing up to 35mm and/or transferring to high definition video (1920×1080 pixels) which has an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.  Super 16mm was created by Swedish cinematographer Rune Ericson who in 1970 modified an Eclair NPR camera in 1970 to shoot the film Lyckliga Skitar (Blushing Charlie). He widened the gate to one side so that the image ran from inside edge of the perforation all the way to the other edge of the film.  You can read more on Ericson’s story on Kodak.com. Nearly all of today’s 16mm film is single perforated for this factor – one can shoot Regular 16, Super 16, and Ultra 16 on the same piece of film.  Only when high speed cameras are needed would double perf be necessary.  So from 1970 onward, independent filmmakers began embracing the new Super 16mm conversion, which allowed them to shoot wide-screen movies with very compact and versatile cameras.  Recent films like The Hurt Locker, Ken Burns’ The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, and Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan continue to use Super 16mm for its painterly and malleable qualities.

Rune Ericson

Ultra 16mm

Ultra 16mm is the inexpensive brother to Super 16mm.  A Super 16mm conversion usually prices around $1,200.  In many cases one also needs to buy new lenses to cover the larger gate.  Ultra 16mm widens both sides of the gate between the two perforations that define the frame.  This creates a native wide aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a gate measurement of 11.80 x 6.25.  When scanning to HD 1.78:1, you use about 95% of the total format.  Since you are widening between the perfs, there is no need to recenter your lens mount or purchase new lenses.  You simply widen the gate and add the new aspect ratio markings to your viewing system, and voila you are ready to go!  The cost of an Ultra 16 modification can usually be done for around $600 for smaller cameras like the Bolex H16, Krasnagorsk K3, or the Canon Scoopic.  Full package cameras like the Eclair NPR will cost anywhere from $900-$1400.  The overall cost of Ultra 16 will be about half of what it would cost you to convert to Super.   And the best part is you can still frame and shoot 1.33:1 Regular 16mm with your converted camera.  So if you love shooting reversal film and projecting it, this is still an option for you.

Beaulieu R16 Manual Cover

Camera Modification

These 16mm cameras can be picked up on ebay or craigslist for low prices.  They offer great versatility in size and lens selection.  They are perfect candidates for the Ultra 16 treatment.  Whether you make visual poetry or prefer to write lengthy dialogue, the list below offers just the camera for your style.

Arri BL, S, M – The 16 S is small and capable of both 100ft and 400ft magazines.
Beaulieu R16 – Inexpensive, well engineered camera with 200ft magazine capabilities.
Bolex H-16, Rex 4, 5 – Extremely versatile spring driven camera that continues to do it all!
Canon Scoopic – Compact motor driven camera that is upgradable to a crystal sync motor.
Cine Kodak K100 – Non-reflex camera with sharp glass and 60 seconds on a wind!
CP Gizmo, 16A, 16R –  Quiet news camera that mounts a nice 12-120mm Angeniux lens.
Éclair NPR, ACL – If you want a whisper quiet levels suitable for sync sound, stop here!
Kinor 16mm – Great camera that bridges the gap between Eclair and Krasnagorsk K3.
Krasnagorsk K3 – Fast zoom lens and great construction at extremely low prices.

You can also research these models on the Kodak Camera Info page.

 

Bolex H16 REX 5

Conversion

You should budget any camera you purchase on ebay to be serviced (clean, lube, and adjustment) on top of an Ultra 16mm conversion.

Courtesy of Super 16, Inc.

Bernie with Kinor 35mm Camera

Super 16mm, Inc. which is owned by Bernie O’Doherty and his wife Julie offer exceptional camera services at fantastic rates.  Bernie can work on any motion picture camera model from any era.  The VCUarts Department of Photography and Film recently had Bernie convert their Eclair NPR to Ultra 16.  Once you talk to Bernie and Julie they will quickly become your best friends.  Bernie will make your camera better than new with his golden touch.  They offer both student and academic pricing.

Lab/Post Services

You cannot just go to any lab or post house for Ultra 16 processing and HD telecine transfer.  It is extremely important that the lab takes great care of the film so as not to scratch the picture information between the perforations.  Labs that are not used to handling Ultra 16 may neglect that the film needs special considerations.

“When we were pioneering the post work-flow for U16mm we tested a lot of different processors.  What people need to ask for is a “Demand Drive” processor that has no sprockets.” – Paul Korver: EP/Principal, Cinelicious

Alpha Cinelab in Seattle, WA has been working with independent filmmakers for years.  They mix great soup and keep a clean house.  Nobody does black and white processing like Alpha.

Cinelicious owned by Paul Korver is a wonderful haven for celluloid filmmakers of all types.  Paul and his team really love film and are passionate about the indie artist.  They offer academic pricing and an inexpensive Ursa Diamond scan for the budget conscious.  Truly, they lead the pack in Ultra 16mm to HD scanning on their Spirit Datacine.  You have to see it to believe it! Ultra 16mm Demo from Cinelicious on Vimeo.

Cinelab in Fall River, MA offers good budget friendly service with generous student discounts.  A number of my students like the work done here.

Bonolabs – located in Arlington, VA gives the Richmond filmmaker the closest thing to a local lab and post facility.

Bottom Line: The Alpha Cine/Cinelicious duo are a fantastic match for Ultra 16mm!

Conclusion

There is no reason for anyone to default to shooting digital video when there are so many amazing options for working with film!  Simply look around you and get involved.  From the James River Film Society to the VCUarts’ BFA Film program, you are just one step away of being a part of a historic and magical process.  Ultra 16 is just one of the many celluloid revelations that has been making its way through the filmmaking community.   It is a format that offers a 1.85: 1 aspect ratio which is great for both HD scanning or 35mm blowups.  Compared to Super 16mm, you maintain more of your original resolution in the HD telecine process.  The cost of conversion is relatively inexpensive (I have had students pick up a Bolex H16 Rex 4 for $80!  Add $800 for Ultra 16 and cleaning and you are set!), and you can continue to use all of the lenses and accessories that you use for Regular 16mm.

Trust me, once you put a fresh role of Kodak Vision 3 200T 7213 or Fuji Eterna Vivid 160 8643 stock into one of these classic 16mm cameras converted to Ultra, and there is no going back to digital.  So log onto Ebay, scout local yard sales, and start making images that last!

VCUarts BFA Film students Jonee Kemp and Tommy Bell shoot a scene from their short film "The Gauntlet" with an Eclair NPR camera.




About Jacob Dodd

Jacob A. Dodd is an independent filmmaker and educator who creates short films in 35mm, 16mm, and Super 8mm motion picture formats. He specializes in personal memoir documentary and fiction filmmaking and combines traditional production techniques with experimental practices. Dodd has an MFA in Photography and Film from Virginia Commonwealth University and a BFA in Film, Photography, and Visual Arts from Ithaca College. Dodd's fascination lies in the linkage of time periods to examine private histories. He uses traditional film techniques to bring forth a feeling of nostalgia, a transcendence of time, and a sense of the familiar. Dodd is an Assistant Professor of Cinema and Screen Studies at Oswego State University of New York. Dodd's films have been screened nationally and internationally, and have garnered several awards. Some notable film festivals include the Sharjah International Children's Film Festival in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, Lahore International Children's Film Festival in Lahore, Pakistan, the Children's Film Festival of Bangladesh, Portobello Film Festival in London, UK, Virginia Film Festival, Athens International Film + Video Festival, Big Muddy Film Festival, Rosebud Film & Video Festival, James River Film Festival, Johnstown Film Festival, Jacksonville Film Festival, and the DC Independent Film Festival.
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19 Responses to The Revelation of Ultra 16mm

  1. Giorgio Ventola says:

    Thank you all for keeping film alive. stay well, eat well, be creative, follow your dreams and never give up!

  2. Kaled Sidik says:

    Can you please spread the word around, if anyone knows or seen a Beaulieu News 16 camera converted to Super16mm with Video Tap. Please let me know. Appreciate it.
    Sidik

  3. Matt says:

    Maybe a stupid question, so please forgive me: What is the widest possible image you can get with a 16mm camera? Is it possible to use an anamorphic lens to get a 2.35/2.40 ‘scope aspect? Thanks.

    • Jacob Dodd says:

      Hi Matt,

      Yes indeed, you can use an anamorphic lens on a 16mm camera -regardless of Ultra or Super. Most anamorphics are a 2x squeeze – so you will get a 2.40 aspect ratio. Due to the weight and relative slowness of anamorphics, most 16mm cinematographers often choose to shoot Super or Ultra and frame for 1.78 or 1.85. However, lenses and film stock is so solid these days that you do see a number of films – like “The Wrestler” shoot Super 16 and cropping for 2.35. If you can pick up some good 16mm anamorphics the 55% increase would be worth it.

  4. Flavio says:

    Nice.

    Can you please inform us of another mechanist tat works on conversion to ULTRA 16mm?
    There’s just Bernie listed here, and sure he’s capable, but his prices range from $900 to more…

    If there’s any other with best prices, please share.

    Thanks,
    F

    • Jacob Dodd says:

      Thanks.

      I have only gone to Bernie for Ultra 16 conversions so I cannot vouch for other places. Bernie’s very friendly and open to working within your budget. If you have not talked with him yet, I suggest giving him a call. However, if you want to explore other options you could try asking Cameras Pro, Duall Camera, Cinematechnic, Visual Products, and Les Bosher. Since Ultra 16 is not considered by many camera houses as a “professional” format, these other businesses may be reluctant to do the conversion for you. However, it never hurts to ask. I have gone to Duall for a Bolex Super 16 conversion and their prices are reasonable. Please let me know if you find success with any of these other camera techs.

      Sincerely,

      Jake

  5. Guy Bodart says:

    CAMERASPRO will convert your camera to ULTRA 16mm for 395.00. He is the cheapest I know.
    He converted Super 1mm cameras for the 3 James Bond movies with Pierce Brosnan for the high reputable cameraman/DP Sonny Miller
    Super 16mm conversion start from $995.00

  6. Flavio says:

    Hi Guy.

    Thanks.

    I tried to contact Cameras Pro in the past… But never got an answer from the email on their website.
    Do you have any email from there?

    Do you know if they do also the overhaul, cleaing/lub, ground glass laser-brightening and lenses collimation?

    Thanks,
    Flavio

  7. vivaXImago says:

    Hi,
    Ultra 16 is very new to me.
    As far as I understand, its a pretty solution for 1.85 blow-ups or 16X9 screenings being reasonable than Super 16 conversion. No centering makes happy the people having R 16 lenses.
    What about the ground glass markings?
    One friend have already made NPR conversion leaving the ground glass in original state. How gonna he frame the shot w/o any U 16 markings, I don’t have any idea…
    I already own an ACL II I want it to be converted.
    Thank you!
    [Prof. Erkan Umut, Istanbul]

    • Jacob Dodd says:

      Hi Prof. Erkan Umut,

      Thank you for reading my article and asking this question. I am very glad you are interested in converting your ACL II to Ultra 16! Many technicians do not convert the ground glass to show exactly what the film will see as it would be labor intensive and more costly to do so. Ultra 16 shines in its inexpensive modification. Going further into modification, it would make sense to go Super 16. However, often times camera technicians will draw a 1.85:1 line on the ground glass so you have a better idea of your framing for Ultra 16. You will receive more information on the left and ride side of these markings. This is a great question and worth asking when discussing an Ultra 16 with the technician of your choice. In the U.S. Super 16 Inc. and Cameras Pro are the go to guys for the job.

      Best of luck! Keep shooting film and have fun with your gorgeous ACL II!

      Sincerely,

      Jake

      • vivaXImago says:

        Dear Jake,
        Thank you for this invaluable reply!
        I am the 2nd Admin of http://eclair16.com. Welcome to post anytime. Please share your ideas and info with us…
        Please visit http://www.erkanumut.com/?s=16m and http://www.erkanumut.com/?s=acl.
        Keep in touch!
        All the Best,
        Erkan

      • Jacob Dodd says:

        You are most welcome, Erkan! Thank you for the invite to http://eclair16.com/! I have been to your site numerous times in my 16mm camera research and have been considering picking up an ACL II for my Cinema Program. We could use a light, quiet crystal sync 16mm camera. Right now we have Bolex cameras and the K3. The ACL’s compact design is perfect for students and working with small crews. I see you have the Scoopic too! It’s another camera I’ve been considering. I’ll be sure to visit both your websites regarding your wealth of info on these excellent cameras!

        We will be in touch!

        Best Always,

        Jake

  8. vivaXImago says:

    I do think that this format solution is one of the few invaluable contributions for the indie filmakers, who will have survived the celluloid. Yes, this is really so important! Look at Super 8 stock, new stocks are always available in the market, how nice! Contrary more and more pros incl. me move to digital solutions, because producers play important role nowadays 😦 Otherwise, we might face to losing the job…
    I recently finished a text which you might be interested in: http://www.filmfoundation.info/article-Choosing%20the%20right%20medium.html
    Thanks for reading!

    • Jacob Dodd says:

      Erkan, this is a very well written article on the organic and tactile qualities of film. Indeed we connect more to tactile forms of art….this is what allows us to enter into the cinematic experience. I find the sterile qualities of digital to be a barrier. Seeing moving images on digital projection is its own art form – like television or video games – it is not cinema. Cinema is tied to celluloid film. You put it so well when you wrote – “The human brain – our personal CPU – works in an analog fashion and analogue media – such as celluloid film – encode information as a continuum.” Yes, Ultra 16, Super 8 and the many new film stocks are technological advances that many folks do no know about. Only filmmakers hear about film advances, the masses are oblivious. Teaching as you also note is the best way to spread the word about the beauty and creative possibilities that comes from motion picture film. Thank you for sharing! I will surely pass this article along.

      • vivaXImago says:

        Thank you for your good words and excellent replies!
        I have a quote: “So far, we only needed film. Now film needs us! Please continue to shoot on film…”.
        You teach, I teach and many others who grew up with film. We have to be missionaries!
        I have read some articles about brain’s analog activities thou the explanations are so scientific.
        Some of my students ask me why I do not teach digital cinematography only, but the common similarities. And I reply: If you learn to drive the car in a complicated traffic, then you can drive well everywhere. 🙂 But some might find this absurd…
        What about you? Are the students in the States much more considerate?

  9. Pingback: Can I Shoot Movies on My iPhone?: A Student’s Guide to Cameras | Cahiers du Whatever

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