16 mm film

16 mm film

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 film.


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 16 mm 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).

A variation of the Super 16 format is the DIY-crafted "Ultra-16", which is formed by widening the gate of a standard 16 mm camera to expose the area between the perforations. The placement of the perforations on a standard strip of 16 mm film (to the left of the division between frames) allows for use of this normally unexposed area. The Ultra-16 format, with frame dimensions of 11.66 mm by 6.15 mm, allows for a frame size between those of standard 16 mm and Super 16 while avoiding the expense of converting a 16 mm camera to Super 16, the lens requirements of Super 16 cameras, and the image vignetting caused by traditional 16 mm cameras. Thus, standard 16 mm optics may be used to achieve a wider image.

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 16 mm and super 16 mm such as Kevin Smith's 16mm 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 and some even until the early 90's, 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 .


Professional cameras

Today, the professional industry tends to use 16 mm cameras from Arri and Aaton, most notably the Arriflex 16SR3, Arriflex 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, Krasnogorsk, Mitchell, and others.

Technical specifications

*40 frames per foot (7.6 mm per frame)
*400 feet (122 m) = about 11 minutes at 24 frame/s
*vertical pulldown

16 mm
*1.33 aspect ratio
*enlarging ratio of 1:4.58 for 35 mm Academy format prints
*"camera aperture": 0.404 by 0.295 in (10.26 by 7.49 mm)
*"projector aperture" (full 1.33): 0.378 by 0.276 in (9.60 by 7.01 mm)
*"projector aperture" (1.85): 0.378 by 0.205 in (9.60 by 5.20 mm)
*"TV station aperture": 0.380 by 0.286 in (9.65 by 7.26 mm)
*"TV transmission": 0.368 by 0.276 in (9.34 by 7.01 mm)
*"TV safe action": 0.331 by 0.248 in (8.40 by 6.29 mm); corner radii: 0.066 in (1.67 mm)
*"TV safe titles": 0.293 by 0.221 in (7.44 by 5.61 mm); corner radii: 0.058 in (1.47 mm)
*1 perforation per frame (may also be double perf, ie one on each side)

Super 16
*1.66 aspect ratio
*"camera aperture": 0.493 by 0.292 in (12.52 by 7.41 mm)
*"projector aperture" (full 1.66): 0.463 by 0.279 in (11.76 by 7.08 mm)
*"projector aperture" (1.85): 0.463 by 0.251 in (11.76 by 6.37 mm)
*1 perforation per frame, always single perf

Ultra 16
*1.89 aspect ratio
*"camera aperture": 0.459 by 0.295 in (11.66mm by 7.49mm)
*"projector aperture": 0.459 by 0.242 in (11.66mm by 6.15mm)
*1 perforation per frame (may also be double perf, ie one on each side)

ee also

*List of film formats

External links

* [http://www.saunalahti.fi/animato/filmhist/filmhist.html Sub-35mm film formats history webpage]
* [http://www.saunalahti.fi/animato/s16/s16.html Modifying] a Bolex 16 mm camera for Super 16
* [http://www.studiodaily.com/filmandvideo/technique/craft/f/shooting/4340.html "Sweet 16: A-list Cinematographers Say the Emulsion’s Never Looked So Good, Here’s Why..."] , written February 1 2005 and accessed December 29 2005.
* [http://www.moviemaker.com/magazine/editorial.php?id=30 "Snapshot of a Trend: Against All Odds, Super 16 Keeps Growing"] , Spring 2005 issue, accessed December 29 2005
* [http://ukfilm.org/features/shooting-super16mm Shooting Super-16mm On A Low Budget] - a practical filmmaking guide
* [http://www.super8camera.com/processing.html DIY processing 16 mm] - guide for DIY processing of black/white 16 mm. film

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