Classic Motion Picture Cameras

Akeley  |  Auricon  |  Bell & Howell  |  Bolex  |  Bouly  |  Caméflex  |  Debrie  |  Éclair  |  Éclair ACL

Éclair NPR  |  Ernemann  |  Eyemo  |  Lumière  |  Mitchell Standard  |  Mitchell BNC  |  Mitchell NC

Moy & Bastie  |  Pathé  |  Prestwich  |  Prévost  |  Technicolor 3-Strip

Page 1: Classic Motion Picture Cameras
Page 2: Modern Motion Picture Cameras
Page 3: Digital Motion Picture Cameras

Bouly Cinématographe [1892]



Manufactured by Léon-Guillaume Bouly [1872-1932] in Paris, France. In the Bouly Cinématographe, the film is driven by a segmental roller, and stopped intermittently by a pressure pad. Bouly deposited a second patent, 27 December 1893, for a machine said to be capable of both filming and projecting. The Bouly bands were not perforated, and would not have given a steady projection.

Lumière Cinématographe [1895]



The brothers Louis Jean [1864-1948] and Auguste Marie Louis Nicolas Lumière [1862-1954] were the most successful photographic plate manufacturers in France. They first saw an Edison Kinetoscope in the summer of 1894. Impressed by the demonstration but put off by the high prices demanded by Edison's agents, they decided to develop their own product. In February 1895, they patented a combined camera, projector and printer, which used an intermittent claw derived from the mechanism used in sewing machines to move the cloth. The intermittent pull-down of the film was accomplished by a claw driven by two cams, one of which produced the vertical motion of the claw, and the other its insertion into the sprocket holes in the film before pulldown, and then its withdrawal afterwards. The apparatus was called the Cinématographe. [The small box on top contained the unexposed negative.]



The first public presentation was made at the Société d'Encouragement pour l'Industrie Nationale in Paris on 22 March 1895. The public saw a one-minute film of workers leaving the Lumière factory in Lyons ['La sortie des usines Lumière']. Encouraged by its reception, further films were made and for the first time on 28 December 1895 an audience [33 persons] paid to see projected, moving photographic pictures in the 'Salon Indien' of the Grand Café, Boulevard des Capucins, Paris.


At the end of October 1895, Jules Carpentier [1851-1921] began to manufacture the Cinématographe [the first model had been built at Lyons]. The machine traveled to and fro between Lyons and Paris, for the final delicate adjustments, and the definitive model was finished by the end of the year. Lumière then asked Carpentier to make 200 of them. At least 700 or 800 Cinématographes were eventually made.




Designed by John Alfred Prestwich [1874-1952] and manufactured by the Prestwich Manufacturing Company in London, England, in ca. 1898. The camera [Model 4] had 400ft external magazines, but Prestwich and all the other camera manufacturers, except for Pathé, soon decided that for reasons of light leaking on the film it was best to enclose the magazines inside the camera body [Model 5]. When there are no second takes, reliability of the camera is of the utmost importance. This is the reason Frank Hurley, the Australian photographer and cinematographer of the Shackleton Antarctic Expedition, chose a Prestwich as his cine camera. In October 1914, Hurley sailed on the wooden ship Endurance from Buenos Aires for Antarctica. He had to abandon his camera when the ice crushed the ship on November 21, 1915.

Pathé [1903]



Charles Morand Pathé [1863-1957], who had earned his first money with selling Edison Phonographs, saw a new opportunity in the Edison Kinetoscope. In 1895 he went to London and bought pirated Kinetoscopes manufactured by Robert Paul and resold them to fairgrounds in France. His clients became tired of always seeing the same films, and the copies wore out rapidly. Pathé met the engineer and inventor Marie Henry Joseph Joly [1866-1945], who offered to make a camera in order to renew Pathé's stock of films. Pathé advanced the necessary funds and on 26 August 1895, Joly filed his patent for a camera capable of serving both the projector and Kinetoscope. In 1896, Pathé came to understand the importance of the camera-projector manufactured by Joly. He broke with the inventor but reserved for himself the rights to the precious camera and started to exploit the machine and its films, with great success.

In September 1896, Charles and his brothers Émile, Théophile and Jacques founded their company Société Pathé Frères, whose office was at the rue de Richelieu, Paris. The aim of the company, at first, was to build cameras and projectors. A year later, the company became the Compagnie Générale de Cinématographes, Phonographes et Pellicules [Anciens Établissements Pathé Frères] under the direction of Émile for the phonograph and of Charles for the cinematograph.
In August 1900 the company merged with the Manufacture Française d'Appareils de Précision to form the Compagnie Générale de Phonographes, Cinématographes et Appareils de Précision. From then on Charles Pathé developed both the manufacture of negative and positive film, the creation of factories and studios, and the making of cameras and projectors.


The camera above was built by Pathé around 1903. The design of the camera [hand-cranked (the crank handle projected from the back of the camera) - leather covered wood - 2x 400ft magazines on top] was closely based on that of the original Lumière camera, but it was rather larger, and also had a few extra features.


'The camera lens was mounted on a precision dovetail/keyway and focus change was actuated by an external lever against a calibrated scale. The lens iris was controlled by an external lever and scale. The opening of the rotary shutter was controlled externally. Originally the rotating shutter had a fixed opening but later refinements provided an adjustable opening shutter. Further refinements provided an adjustable shutter that could produce lap dissolves from an external control. The camera hand crank input could be used for the standard 16 fps or variations thereof. A separate hand crank input access was provided for a single frame per turn for special effects or animation.
Just before WW1 the Pathé studio camera was the most used movie camera in the world. In America the Pathé camera was copied by the Sigmund Lubin studio and by the Wilart Instrument Company. They both added metal bodies.
With the introduction of the great Bell & Howell 2709 cine camera in 1911 the popularity of the Pathé began to wane. During the post war period there was still difficulty in producing a good copy negative from the original negative. Two negatives were required so that the second one could be expeditiously sent to Europe for that concurrent movie market. Often two cameras were operated at the same site so as to generate two original negatives. The Pathé was increasingly delegated to the second camera designation.' [From article by Wes Lambert in the Summer 1994 issue of the 'Operating Cameraman'.]


The Studio model of the Pathé camera was still extensively used in Europe in the early 1920's, and even in America some impoverished [the price of the camera was $ 552] or conservative cameramen continued to use it.


'The Pathé camera was commonly called a cracker box, because of its light wooden construction. It might with more justice have been called a Pandora's box, for all the troubles it could loose upon a poor defenseless cameraman. Something was forever going wrong with these Pathé's, so something was forever having to be fixed, generally with the black sticky tape used by electricians.' [Karl Brown in 'Adventures with D.W. Griffith', 1973.]



Charles Pathé was one of the great figures of the period. He became the first international 'film czar' and his company dominated Europe, and for a while America as well, for more than a decade. 'Je n'ai pas inventé le cinéma, mais je l'ai industrialisé!'

Debrie 'Le Parvo' [1908]



Joseph Jules Debrie [?-1919] founded the Établissements J. Debrie in 1898 in Paris, France. In 1918, his son André [1891-1967] took over the company.

In 1908, Joseph Debrie developed the Le Parvo [meaning 'compact' and of small dimension] camera, described at the time to be robust, compact and at the height of technology. The original models were constructed from polished hardwood, but the Le Parvo series also included metal bodied cameras in a variety of model types designed for studio and location work, the 'L' [for studio work], the 'E' and the 'K'.

The wooden casing was an enclosing shell. The gears, film gate, etc. were mounted on, and contained within a metal chassis. On the front panel was a brass knob to open the front of the camera and a further brass knob to unlock the shutter mechanism. The camera had a fold-out Newton finder and eyepiece. The rear of the camera featured a footage counter dial marked in feet, a cranking speed indicator marked 16fps and 24fps and a pull-out focusing eyepiece with diopter adjustment and an eyepiece light-trap cover. Also on the rear panel was a spirit level to level the camera on a tripod. The camera front lifted up and the side panels were hinged to reveal the very impressive movement and two 400 feet co-axial metal film magazines.

The hand-cranked Le Parvo was at one time the most popular European made camera. Even in the early 1920's, the Le Parvo was the most used camera in the world. Famous users included F.W. Murnau [for his silent film 'Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens'] and Leni Riefenstahl to film the 1936 Berlin Olympics.



In 1921 followed the Super Parvo with an automatic dissolve facility.

Moy & Bastie [1909]



At the age of 16, Ernest Francis Moy [ca.1869-1926] was placed in charge of the lighting at London's Her Majesty's Theatre, one of the first electrically lighted theatres. He quickly progressed within the industry and met another electrical engineer, Percy Henry Bastie. In 1895, they set up a public company, Ernest F. Moy Ltd., to manufacture electric fuses, switches and circuit-breakers. They were introduced to the newly emerging science of cinematography through a customer, Robert W. Paul.

From 1897, Moy published various patents to produce cine items and the company began producing films on the flat roof of their London factory. The partners quickly formed a new company, the Cinematograph Company Ltd., to handle this side of their interests.

In 1900 Moy and Bastie launched their own film camera with daylight loading. The camera was soon competing with Williamson, Darling and Prestwich. One of their cameras was taken on Captain Robert Scott's Antarctic Expedition of 1905.

In 1909, the company began producing its most famous camera, a well-made and practical design described in their catalogue as 'Simple - Efficient - Reliable.' It was a professional hand crank 35mm motion picture camera in the English 'upright style'. The camera was constructed from mahogany and had two internal 400 foot film magazines. Focusing was achieved by viewing the image through the film via a tube from the rear. The camera utilized a unique film transport featuring the 'drunken screw' movement to achieve film pull-down. The Moy & Bastie camera was well known for its impressive chain driven movement and brass gear wheels. The largest version had a price tag of £108, with an extra £5 for the Cooke lens. A 400ft external magazine, attached to the top of the camera, and a viewfinder mounted on the top right side were later additions to the original basic design.



By 1911 Moy cameras were in constant use by British studios and topical film makers worldwide. It is said that the first picture shot in Hollywood was shot with a Moyer camera [also popularly known as Moy].

Ernemann Normal Kino [ca. 1908]



Heinrich Ernemann [1850-1928] founded his first company in Dresden, Germany, in 1889. The company was called Ernemann-Werke AG since 1917. In 1926, Ernemann merged into Zeiss-Ikon AG. The company manufactured plate cameras, film cameras and film projectors [it still manufactures projection systems in Kiel, Germany, as Ernemann CineTec GmbH.]. Ernemann made his first film camera, the Kino Modell I [17,5mm], in 1903. The Normal Kino Modell A [wood & hand-cranked] was manufactured in ca. 1908.

Prévost [ca. 1910]



Manufactured by the Établissements Lucien Prévost in Paris, France. The camera played an important part in Buster Keaton's film 'The Cameraman' [1928] [see photo below].



[Not to be confused with Attilio Prevost, Sr. (1890-1954), the founder of the Italian company S.R.L. Prevost. Attilio introduced his first camera in 1907.]

Bell & Howell 2709 [1911]



Theater projectionist Donald Joseph Bell and camera repairman Albert Summers Howell [1879-1951] founded the Bell & Howell Company in 1907 in Chicago [Bell sold out in 1921 and Howell retired from the company in 1940]. They made their first camera [of wood] in 1909, followed in 1911 by the hand-cranked [later an electric motor], all metal body Bell & Howell 2709. Its unique features included the first use of a body machined from cast aluminum, a four lens turret and a rack-over system, giving precise through-the-lens viewing and focusing. It had 400ft twin compartment magazines [later 1,000ft]. The film movement was quite different to any that had been before; a 'shuttle gate' clamped on the film and lifted it forward, depositing its perforations on fixed register pins for each advance of a frame. This was in fact the first camera to have register pins holding the film completely steady and in a precise position. This fixed pin movement was used by Walt Disney in camera #50 to shoot the Technicolor feature 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs'. The design was so good that the basic camera body remained in factory production unaltered until 1957. [Bell & Howell merged with Böwe Systec Inc. in 2003 to become Böwe Bell + Howell, one of the leading suppliers of equipment and services for information-related services and products.]


Rack-over system: The camera has been slid over to the right of the head into the fine focusing

position with the taking lens rotated to the left side of the turret.

The focusing eyepiece is in front of the crank handle.

Akeley [1917]



Made by the Akeley Camera Company in New York in 1917.

Explorer Carl Ethan Akeley [1864-1926] needed a camera that could withstand the rigors of wild-life filming. There were no commercially available cameras that came close to filling his needs. So he designed and built his own camera, which, due to its unique shape, was nicknamed the 'Pancake' Akeley. The round body was integrated into the camera's flywheel-smoothed ['gyroscopic'] pan/tilt head; the camera could tilt straight up while the viewfinder remained in a fixed position. On the front of the camera a pair of identical lenses were mounted side by side, one being the taking lens, and the other the viewfinding lens, and they were coupled together so that focusing the image through the viewfinding lens simultaneously focused the taking lens. The quick-change internal magazines let an operator reload in 15 seconds.

Cinematic adventurers quickly adopted the Akeley. Director Robert Flaherty took two cameras to Hudson Bay to shoot 'Nanook of the North' [1922]. Aerial cameraman Elmer Dyer used his Akeley on Howard Hughes' 'Hell's Angels' and many other films, and Harry Perry used the camera for most of the airplane work in 'Wings' [1927]. The 'Pancake' was still being manufactured in the 1940's.

Mitchell Standard [1921]



On September 13, 1917, a camera maker named John E. Leonard walked through the doors of the Static Club [soon to become the ASC] in Hollywood, shook hands with President Charles Rosher, stepped in front of the membership, and demonstrated the prototype of the most famous camera in cinema history - the Leonard Camera.

Within two years, Leonard sold his designs to Henry Boger and George Alfred Mitchell, who used Leonard's work as the heart of their new machine - the Mitchell Standard.

Leonard's patented work defined the Mitchell's look and ensured the Mitchell's popularity. He filed for the first two patents in 1917: these covered the variable shutter, driven by planetary gears, and the distinctive rack-over device for focusing, which set the Mitchell's appearance for the next half-century.

The Leonard film movement revealed his familiarity with Albert Howell's work; it used a flexible film guideway, pinned at the top, that alternately placed the film on either the pulldown claws or the fixed register pins. This is the same method Howell used in his first eight cameras, the wooden Bell & Howells.

In 1920, Leonard added the patent for this movement to the package. According to a Mitchell company history being prepared in 1954, the Leonard movement wasn't very satisfactory and a new design had to be substituted on short notice. The modified version added a third cam to improve the lateral stability, and it brought movable registration pins in from behind, rather than fixing them in front. This design worked much better; it became known as the AA movement and it was the only drive available for the Mitchell until 1925. George Mitchell filed for a patent for this variation on May 12, 1920 and it was issued on January 10, 1922.

The Leonard/Mitchell Standard wasn't a surprise on the same grand scale as the Bell & Howell. It was a child of the 2709, a natural enrichment of the new themes: all-metal construction [painted or enameled metal], detachable single piece 'mouse ear' magazines holding 400ft of 35mm film [1,000ft magazines became necessary with the advent of the talkies], built-in ground glass with an improved rack-over system for parallax-free framing and convenient through-the-lens focusing [rather than moving the whole camera sideways on the tripod head to put the viewing lens in the position normally occupied by the taking lens for focusing, only that part of the body behind the front plate, which carried the lenses on a turret, was slid over for this purpose], and so on. Leonard and Mitchell reflected on the 2709, saw its shortcomings, and found solutions that made life easier on the set.

Early Mitchell Standards could also be equipped with an extensive array of optional effects devices between the lens turret and the shutter. The first layer was an iris that could be adjusted to any part of the frame. Below that lay a set of four straight-edged mattes that could be adjusted independently into the picture area from top, bottom, left and right. Then there was a wheel with nine pre-cut mattes [binoculars, keyholes, etc.] that could be swung into place behind the lens and an equal number of blank matte holders for custom mattes.


Cameramen showed their gratitude by swamping the Mitchell Camera Company with orders, completely overwhelming the firm's limited production facilities. Between the time Floyd Jackman bought the first Mitchell camera in 1921 and the sale of a Standard to Fox Case Corp two days before Christmas in 1927, Mitchell sold 104 cameras. It was individual cameramen who bought most of the company's output in the 1920s.

Many of Hollywood's cinematographers became the camera's first owners. In 1921, Tony Gaudio bought a Mitchell [#10]. Charles Rosher began shooting with Mary Pickford's Mitchell [#8] in the middle of 1922 and bought his own [#61] in 1925. Attracted by the rack-over feature, Arthur Miller joined the Mitchell club in 1923. His Mitchell Standard replaced the Bell & Howell he got from Famous Players-Lasky, which in turn replaced the Pathé he'd bought as a newsreel cameraman. [From article 'MITCHELL - The Standard' by L. Sprague Anderson in the July/December 1997 issue of 'The Operating Cameraman'.]

Eyemo [1926]



The Eyemo, made by Bell & Howell in 1926, was intended for amateur use, but this hand camera [driven by a clockwork mechanism powered by a hand-wound spring motor] became a major part of the equipment used by newsreel companies all over the world in the 30's, 40's, 50's and 60's. A camera with a 100ft load, the Eyemo was particularly rugged and practically indestructible. The Eyemo came in a number of models ranging from a simple single lens version through three different lens turret models [1929]. The 'Q' had a spider turret with a facility for accurate focusing through a rear mounted prism and a mount to take a 400 ft magazine with an auxiliary 12 volt motor.


During World War II the Eyemo was used by the US Army Signal Corps as a combat camera.

Mitchell NC



Mitchell introduced the much quieter Mitchell NC [for 'Newsreel Camera'] in ca. 1930. The camera was hand-cranked, later motor-driven. 744 NC's were made.

Mitchell BNC [1934]



In August 1934, Mitchell introduced the prototype Mitchell BNC [for 'Blimped Newsreel Camera'], but it was not put into series production until after World War II. The BNC was developed from the NC by adding a closely fitting soundproof cover integral to the existing base-plate and front plate over which the main body slid when being 'racked over' for focusing. The BNC had a fixed mount for a single lens.

Because of World War II, there was only one camera made between 1939 and 1946: #18, in June of 1941. After the war the production increased dramatically and by 1947 Mitchell was making 32 cameras a year. There were 364 BNC's built [no #13!]. Reflex versions of the BNC were being made by independent companies from 1962 and by Mitchell [the BNCR] from 1968 onwards.

Technicolor 3-Strip



As early as 1924, the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation [founded in 1915 by Herbert Kalmus, David Frost Comstock and W. Burton Westcott] envisioned a full-color process, and by 1929, the company was actively developing such a process. Hollywood made so much use of Technicolor in 1929 and 1930, that many believed the feature film industry would soon be turning out color films exclusively. By 1931, the Great Depression took its toll on the movie industry, and they began to cut back on expenses. The production of color films had decreased dramatically by 1932, when George A. Mitchell and Joseph Arthur Ball completed work on a new three-color movie camera.

Technicolor could now promise studios a full range of colors, as opposed to the limited red-green spectrum of previous films. The camera exposed three separate negatives simultaneously through a single lens, which had a 45 degree split-cube prism behind it. Green light was recorded through a green filter on panchromatic film, while the other half of the light passed through a magenta filter and was recorded on bipack film stock with two strips running base to base. On this stock, the front film was sensitized to blue light only, backed by a red gelatin layer which acted as a light filter to the panchromatic film behind it. This process accurately reproduced the full color spectrum when optically printed using a dye-transfer process in cyan, magenta and yellow.

There was no rack-over arrangement for rapid through-the-lens viewing of the image, and focusing was usually done by using the scale on the lens. It took at least 3 minutes to change magazines and rethread the film, so it was usual practice to have a second camera on the set already threaded so that there would be no halt in production.


The first theatre release made with this Technicolor Process #4 was the Disney cartoon 'Flowers and Trees'. The first feature was 'Becky Sharp' [1934-35; ph: Ray Rennahan]. The most famous film produced in Technicolor 3-strip was 'Gone with the Wind'.


The blimped Technicolor camera on the set of "Rope" [1948]

c.op Edward Fitzgerald - c.op Paul Hill - dir Alfred Hitchcock - cph William V. Skall -

tech Jim Potevin - actor James Stewart - other actors

Bolex H-16 [1933]



The Bolex 16mm camera has long been a favorite of independent filmmakers and specialist cinematographers, mainly because it has great features such as single frame and, in some models, auto fades in and out.

The story of Bolex started with the Ukrainian designer Jacques Bogopolsky [he later changed his name to Bolsky], based in Geneva, who developed a 35mm cine camera aimed at the growing amateur cine market. The design was patented in 1924 as the BOL-Cinégraphe. Later, Bogopolsky produced a 16mm camera, the Auto Cine. In 1930, he sold his business to the Swiss company Paillard [founded by Möise Paillard].



In ca. 1933 the Bolex H-16 16mm camera was introduced. The design was loosely based on the Auto Cine camera, but vastly improved. In 1956 the Bolex H-16 Reflex appeared on the market. In 1969 the company was sold to the Austrian company Eumig. When Eumig went bankrupt in 1981, the managers of Bolex International bought the 16mm business and founded Bolex International S.A. in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland, which is still manufacturing 16mm and Super 16 cameras.




The Auricon professional 16mm sound-on-film [originally only optical sound; from 1955 also magnetic sound] cameras were produced by Berndt-Bach, Inc. [later Bach-Auricon, Inc.] since 1931 in Hollywood. The company was founded by Eric Berndt and Walter Bach.

The original Auricon had a 3-lens turret, focusing by lens calibration or measuring tape and 100ft magazines. Several models were produced. e.g. the Cine Voice [100ft internal spool - optical sound (1949)], the Pro 600 [600ft magazine (1952)], the Super-1200 [1,200ft magazines - focusing through-the-lens (1952)] and the Cine Voice II [1958].

The cameras were mainly used for newsgathering and formed the basis for all network news departments by 1960. But the Auricon was also used by filmmakers like Andy Warhol ['Harlot' was the first sound film that Warhol made with the Auricon camera he had purchased in the summer of 1964] and the camera [sometimes with considerable modifications] played an important part in the development of 'direct cinema' in the USA, e.g. 'Primary' [1959, Robert Drew; ph: Richard Leacock & Albert Maysles].



'I am a retired D.P. in the non-studio field. Before ever getting my hands on a 35mm camera, when moving up to cinematographer in my early 20's, I went into Lloyds Camera in the late 50's and purchased an Auricon single system sound camera. The thing is, in your fine discussion of motion picture cameras, you showed and discussed the Auricon Cine Voice, the Pro 600, and the Super-1200. You forgot the Auricon Pro 200, which is the one I owned for years, used as a sync camera for double system sound. It was a self-blimped camera with the shape of "Mickey Mouse Ears" mag at the top, but that was for looks, it accepted 200ft Kodak etc. metal spools, giving a longer run for production as opposed to news. It was a great looking camera and at 19 or 20+, I practically slept with it, at first, least until I got to operate a Mitchell NC.' [Bill Dewar]

Éclair '120' [ca. 1932]



The six lenses could be used as six different lenses or in pairs, one for viewing above the taking lens.

Caméflex [1947]



The Établissements cinématographiques Éclair were founded in 1907 as a production company in Epinay-sur-Seine, France, by Charles Jourjon [the company opened an USA branch in 1911 in Fort Lee, New Jersey; Éclairs cameramen were Lucien Andriot, Arthur Edeson, René Guissart, a.o.].

In 1912, the manufacture of professional motion picture cameras became an activity of Éclair [the Éclair 'Gillon', with a prismatic focusing unit geared to the lens, was a unique innovation at the time]. In 1920, the Caméréclair, designed by Jean Méry, was introduced and became a rival for Debrie's Le Parvo. In 1927 followed the Camérette Éclair [with a 100ft magazine], the dream of reporters and rich amateurs. In 1932, the Caméréclair Radio [renamed in 1937 as the Caméréclair Studio] was introduced. This portable camera could record film and sound simultaneously on two separate films.

In the 1930's, Charles Jourjon was succeeded by his son-in-law Jacques Mathot. Mathot surrounded himself with 2 new collaborators, Marcel Terrus for the laboratory division, and André Coutant for the camera division. In 1947, Éclair introduced the 35mm Caméflex [or Camérette]. The Caméflex was a reflex camera allowing through-the-lens viewing. It could film in 35mm or 16mm with little more than a change of the film magazine and the film aperture plate. The camera came in two parts. The body contained the mechanism and the lens turret. The magazines, containing either 35mm or 16mm film, were pre-loaded and could be changed in 2 seconds while the camera motor was still running, since the film loops and the back pressure-plate of the film gate were included in the magazine. The camera could, of course, be tripod mounted and it could be hand-held with the magazine being balanced on the shoulder.

Éclair NPR



In 1963, Éclair virtually created the concept of the 'independent filmmaker' with its breakthrough 16mm camera design [by André Coutant] for the Éclair NPR [for 'Noiseless Portable Reflex']. The NPR placed the sprocket drive and pressure plate in the magazine itself, so that reloading was merely a matter of snapping magazines on and off a body that resembled more of a conduit for the lens, motor and magazine than a conventional motion picture camera. Originally, this 16mm camera had a rotating lens turret with places for two lenses, and almost invariably one of these was an Angénieux zoom. The camera was designed for sync sound filming. The Éclair NPR played an important part in the development of the 'cinéma vérité' movement in France. A close competitor was the Arriflex 16 BL.

Éclair ACL



In the late 1960's Éclair began the design of a next generation 16mm camera, which would be smaller, lighter and less expensive than the NPR. The Éclair ACL was the result, the letters standing for the initials of its two designers - Austin Coma and Jacques Lecoeur. By employing a design in which the mirror was not a part of the shutter, but instead moving back and forth on its own shaft, it was possible to cram a very quiet mechanism into a tiny space. This also provided the ability to get the shutter as close as possible to the aperture, allowing for the greatest possible exposure accuracy of any camera before or since. The camera achieved rock-steady images without the use of a registration pin thanks to a wedge-shaped claw design that itself acted to register the frame.


Circa 1972-73, British film producer Harry Saltzman bought the Éclair company and the camera moved its base of manufacture from France to England to take advantage of British investment incentives. Aaton ultimately bought the remains of Éclair in the 1980's.