16 mm film  

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16 mm film refers to a popular, economical gauge of film used for motion pictures. Other common film gauges include 8 mm and 35 mm. 16 mm refers to the width of the negative.



16 mm film was introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1923 as an inexpensive amateur alternative to the conventional 35 mm film format. During the 1920s the format was often referred to as sub-standard film by the professional industry. Initially directed toward the amateur market, Kodak hired Willard Beech Cook from his 28 mm Pathescope of America company to create the new 16 mm Kodascope Library. In addition to making home movies, one could buy or rent films from the library, one of the key selling aspects of the format. As it was intended for amateur use, 16 mm film was one of the first formats to use acetate safety film as a film base, and Kodak never manufactured nitrate film for the format due to the high flammability of the nitrate base. 35 mm did not abandon nitrate until 1952.

Production evolution

The silent 16 mm format was initially aimed at the home enthusiast, but by the 1930s it had begun to make inroads into the educational market. The addition of optical sound tracks and, most notably, Kodachrome in 1935, gave an enormous boost to 16 mm fortunes. The format was used extensively in WW2, and there was a huge expansion of 16 mm professional filmmaking companies in the post-war years. Films for government, business, medical and industrial clients created a large network of 16 mm professional filmmakers and related service industries in the 1950s and 1960s. The advent of television also enhanced the use of 16 mm film, initially by its advantage of cost and portability over early larger television technology. Initially as a news-gathering format, the 16 mm format was also used to create programming shot outside the confines of the more rigid television production sets. Thus thanks to the compact size and lower cost, 16 mm was adopted for use in professional news reporting, corporate and educational films, and other uses, while the home movie market gradually switched to even less expensive 8 mm film and Super 8 mm format.

16 mm is also extensively used for television production in countries where television economics make the use of 35 mm too expensive. Digital video tape has made significant inroads in television production use, even to the extent that in some countries, 16 mm (as well as 35 mm) is considered obsolete as a TV production format by broadcasters. Nevertheless, it is still in extensive use in its Super 16 ratio (see below) for high-quality programming in the US and UK. Independently produced documentaries and shorts (intended mainly for TV use) may still be shot on film. Furthermore television documentary film-makers will frequently use clockwork 16mm cameras to shoot scenes in extreme climates.

Format standards

Double-perforation 16 mm film has perforations down both sides at every frame line. Single-perf only has perforations on one side of the film. The picture area of regular 16 mm has an aspect ratio close to 1.33, and 16 mm film prints use single-perf film so that there is space for a monophonic soundtrack where the other perf side would be on the negative. Double-sprocket 16 mm stock is slowly being phased out by Kodak, as single-perf film can be used by regular 16 mm as well as Super 16, which requires single-perf.

Today, most of these uses have been taken over by video, and 16 mm film is used primarily by budget-conscious independent filmmakers. The variant called Super 16 mm, Super 16, or 16 mm Type W uses single-sprocket film, and takes advantage of the extra room for an expanded picture area with a wider aspect ratio of 1.67. Super 16 cameras are usually 16 mm cameras which have had the film gate and ground glass in the viewfinder modified for the wider frame. Since Super 16 takes up the space originally reserved for the soundtrack, films shot in this format can be "blown up" by optical printing to 35 mm for projection. However, with the recent development of digital intermediate workflows, it is now possible to "digitally blow up" to 35 mm with virtually no quality loss (given a high quality digital scan).

There is also a variation called "ultra-16" where the image falls between the perforation using frame dimensions of 11.66mm x 6.15mm. The reason for the advent of this is because the super-16 format can put severe limitations on the lenses used. Traditional 16mm film lenses tent to vingette, or cut off the corners of the images on super-16 cameras. It is also expensive to modify a standard 16mm camera to super-16 so a rather ingenious (but unnamed) person cut the gate of their standard 16mm camera wider to expose the image into the area between the perforations. This gives the advantage of a wider image than regular 16mm but standard 16mm optics can be used.

Modern usage

The two major suppliers of 16 mm film today are Kodak and Fujifilm. 16 mm film is still used in television today, such as for the Hallmark Hall of Fame anthology series and "The O.C." in the US. In the UK, the format is still exceedingly popular for dramas and commercials; in fact, the BBC has a large part in the history of the format. They worked extensively with Kodak back in the 1950s and 1960s to bring 16 mm to a professional level, since the BBC needed cheaper, more portable production solutions while maintaining a higher quality than was offered at the time, when the format was almost exclusively for amateur filmmaking. Today the format also is frequently used for student films, while usage in documentary has almost disappeared. With the advent of HDTV, Super 16 film is still used for some productions destined for HD. Some low-budget theatrical features are shot on Super-16 such as Kevin Smith's 1994 independent hit Clerks.; ironically, thanks to advances in film stock and digital technology - specifically digital intermediate (DI) - the format now seems to be seen as revitalized option. Vera Drake, for example, was shot on Super 16 mm film, digitally scanned at a high resolution, edited and color graded, and then printed out onto 35 mm film via a laser film recorder. Because of the digital process, the quality of the final 35 mm print is high enough to often fool professionals into thinking the footage was shot on 35 mm.

In Britain most exterior television footage was shot on 16 mm from the 1960s until the 1980s, when the development of more portable television cameras and videotape machines led to video replacing 16 mm in many instances. Some drama shows and documentaries were made entirely on 16 mm, notably Brideshead Revisited, The Jewel in the Crown, The Ascent of Man and Life on Earth. The advent of digital television and widescreen sets led to the widespread use of Super 16. However, improvements in film stock have resulted in a dramatic improvement in picture quality since the 1970s.

The Academy Award winning Leaving Las Vegas (1995) was shot on 16 mm. To see more films filmed in Super 16 mm, see Super 16.


Professional cameras

Today, the professional industry tends to use 16 mm cameras from Arri and Aaton, most notably the Arri SR3, Arri 416, and the Aaton XTRprod. Recently Aaton released the A-Minima, which is about the size of a camcorder and has been used for specialized filming requiring smaller or more versatile cameras. Photo Sonics have special extremely high speed cameras for 16 mm which can go up to 10,000 frames per second. Panavision even has a rarely-seen model known as "the Elaine" which appears to be making somewhat of a comeback.

Amateur cameras

For amateur, hobbyist, and student usage it is more economical to use older models from Arri and Aaton as well as Auricon, Beaulieu, Bell and Howell, Bolex, Canon, Cinema Products, Eclair, Keystone Mitchell, and others.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "16 mm film" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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