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Camera engineer George Mitchell started making cameras in By , he had a mechanism that could shoot steadily at fps.
At the heart of the BNC was the famous and beautifully designed Mitchell movement with double claws and register pins, rock-steady, reliable and quieter than other cameras at the time. This meant the body of the camera with the film chamber was moved out of the way so the operator could check focus and framing on a ground glass screen. When satisfied, the camera body would be racked back in place and the operator would switch to a side-finder to view the shot.
This system would continue to be used well into the s. Mitchell designed and built the movement that was at the heart of the massive 3-strip Technicolor camera , then described as the Rolls Royce of cameras. No way could you hand-hold a Mitchell — it took two people to mount it on a tripod.
The coming of sound had a drastic effect on the size and weight of cameras. The Mitchell not only dominated movie production in the post-war era, it was also the camera that was used on a multitude of American TV series. The Mitchell movement was also at the heart of the widescreen VistaVision 35mm film running horizontally and Todd-AO 65mm cameras of the s.
Vintage Cine Cameras
The Mitchell movement was also the basis of the Panavision cameras which would dominate cinema production for the rest of the century and are still widely used today. If you covet an expensive Swiss watch, it is sure to be a mechanical design, even though the digital clock on your phone or almost any gadget in your house probably keeps better time.
We love film cameras in a way it is hard to love digital ones. They are physical and tactile, we can understand how they function just by looking at them, whereas digital processes will always remain invisible and remote. Movie cameras are beautiful things. This is part of the reason, I believe, as much as picture quality, that 35mm film has survived well into the 21st century.
It is interesting that, throughout the history of filmmaking — while there are filmmakers pushing technology to make cameras lighter and more portable and crews smaller Super16, digital cameras, smaller formats — there is an opposite tendency that makes cameras more sophisticated, resulting in larger cameras and larger crews 3-D, larger formats, separate recorders.
The movie industry tends to be conservative in relation to new technology. This is understandable, as producers want to limit risk in an inherently risky business and crews want equipment that is familiar and totally dependable. There is no denying the Mitchell was a superb camera and a whole way of working has grown up around it, but it is worth asking the question how it maintained its position for so long when new technology was creating cameras that were smaller, lighter and more versatile.
This is a question we will pursue in the next part of this story. It would be great to hear from readers who have actually worked with the Mitchell — please tell me your story, and of course, correct my mistakes! Roland Denning is an independent filmmaker and writer based in London. He still shoots when he can't afford to employ anyone else. Its release was delayed and already the first camera "Robot I" included its hallmark spring motor. August Nagel Kamerawerk for the Retina. The camera does not have a rangefinder , as it was designed for use mostly with short focal length lenses e.
It was about the size of the much later Olympus Stylus although it weighed about 20 ounces, approximately the weight of a modern SLR.
The die-cast zinc and stamped stainless steel body was crammed with clockwork. A spring motor on the top plate provided the driving force for a rotary behind-the-lens shutter and a sprocket film drive. The film was loaded into cassettes in a darkroom or changing bag.
Vintage cameras: collectable, usable and affordable - Amateur Photographer
In place of the velvet light trap on modern cassettes, the Robot cassette used spring pressure and felt pads to close the film passage. When the camera back was shut, the compression opened the passage and the film could travel freely from one cassette to another. The rotary shutter and the film drive are like those used in cine cameras. When the shutter release is pressed, a light-blocking shield lifts and the shutter disc rotates a full turn exposing the film through its open sector; when the pressure is released the light-blocking shield returns to its position behind the lens, and the spring motor advances the film and recocks the shutter.
This is almost instantaneous.
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With practice a photographer could take 4 or 5 pictures a second. Each winding of the spring motor was good for about 25 pictures, half a roll of film. Shutter speed was determined by spring tension and mechanical delay since the exposure sector was fixed.
The camera had other features not specifically related to action photography. The small optical viewfinder could be rotated 90 degrees to permit pictures to be taken in one direction while the photographer was facing in another. When the viewfinder was rotated, the scene was viewed through a deep purple filter similar to those used by cinematographers to judge the black and white contrast of an image. The camera had a built-in deep yellow filter which could be positioned behind the lens.
In Berning introduced the Robot II , a slightly larger camera with some significant improvements but still using the basic mechanism. The special Robot cassettes type-N continued to be used for take-up. A small Bakelite box was sold to allow colour film to be rewound into the original cassettes as required by film processing companies.
The camera was synchronized for flash. The swinging viewfinder was retained, but now operated by a lever rather than moving the entire housing. Both the deep purple and yellow filters were eliminated in the redesign. Some versions were available with a double-wind motor which could expose 50 frames on one winding. Civilian versions of the Robot were discontinued at the outset of the Second World War , but it was used as a gun camera by the Luftwaffe. Robot Royal III has a main spring, when tightened, the camera can take 4 to 5 pictures in succession.
It has a built in rangefinder, eight interchangeable bayonet mount lenses. There are two versions, Robot Royal 36, produce 36 24x36mm images on a roll of film, Robot Royal 24 makes 50 24x24mm images on film. In the s Robot introduced the Robot Star. Robot then introduced the "Junior", an economy model with the quality and almost all the features of the "Star" but without the angle finder or the rewind mechanism. The length stayed the same but the height increased by half an inch. The drive and shutter too were improved. By the hallmark stamped steel body was replaced by heavier die castings.
The camera became, with slight changes, the Robot Star 25 and Star The Robot Star 25 could expose 25 frames on a single winding, and the double-motor Robot Star 50 could expose 50 frames.