Bolex H8 Reflex - Old-World Charm!
Bolex H8 REX seen here with the fabulous 150mm Macro-Yvar f3.3
Upon the demise of Kodachrome film, many of my super 8 cameras became a little bit more cumbersome to use if I still wanted color reversal film as the final product. The whole thinking process of determining whether the camera would correctly expose for Ektachrome 64T became yet another thing to worry about prior to pressing the trigger on a super 8 camera.
It was in these times that Ektachrome 100D, a very saturated fine-grain film, became available for the regular 8mm format (sometimes referred to as the double 8mm format). I was at a fork in the road. I looked down the new super 8 path about as far as I could. Then I pondered the Ektachrome 100D path, looking just as fair and perhaps offering better looks. Though upon projection they should both look the same to most viewers. Ultimately, two films appeared upon the scene at the same time and I took the one harder to come by and that has made a big difference.
Here's a brief view of Ektachrome 100D taken in August 2008:
As you can see the colors are incredibly saturated. The digital transfer was performed with my Canon GL2 and my Workprinter-XP. You can just notice a small hair or something in the bottom (center) of the frameline. Unfortunately, on one of my reels, about 75 feet had a hair get trapped inside the gate (hanging down from the top) and was quite annoying. There are programs that can eliminate this by copying adjecent pixels but I have yet to embark down that learning curve. Such are the pitfalls of shooting with real film. Ultimately, there is no perfect format. The registration was quite good. At this point, as this example suggests, it may be the transfer device giving me the minor ups and down. But then again, it might just be the nature of ther perforations on the regular 8mm filmstock. Again, that's just the nature of film. The human head bobs and weaves all the time and our eyes take that into consideration and smoothes our vision. It seems we just get ultra critical when viewing human representations through mechanical means such as projectors.
more look at Ektachrome 100D filmed with a Macro-Switar
Single frame captures such as these represent Ektachrome 100D in the regular 8mm format at its finest. As with most small format filmmaking, you get the most pleasing results if you keep your subject close and preferably fill the film frame. Of course, these stills frames are sharper than presented here when in motion on the screen. They do give you a very good representation of the types of colors to expect though.
According to Kodak, "Ektachrome 100D Color Reversal Film/5285 is a 100-speed, high-color reversal motion picture camera film intended for photography under daylight illumination (5500 K). It offers strikingly saturated color performance while maintaining a natural gray scale and accurate flesh reproduction."
Kodak goes on to state, "(i)t is excellent for advertising, nature cinematography, documentaries, music videos, and is especially good for telecine transfers and television filming." So that pretty much covers the whole range of situations you may find yourself in. As for flesh tones, I offer up a couple of images to let you see for yourself how well this film performs. My tones tend to be a bit hot/red but again, you can alter this as you wish in either the original telecine capture or on the video timeline of your editor. I tend to just leave everything as is. I don't mind the warm skin tones personally. I would tend to conclude that the film tends to have a saturated-driven, accurate color reproduction capability. For me it works perfectly. Here are the low-resolution still frames from my Sony Vegas timeline viewer:
If you are looking for a camera that can give you complete manual control of every setting there is, this camera is it. Nothing is automatic. From setting the variable shutter or picking a film speed, this camera requires a lot of thought prior to capturing your images. No light meter so you will have to use your own. I use a Pentax Spotmeter and simply set the film speed ASA to 100 when using Ektachrome 100D. From there, I change either the aperture, the film speed based, or the variable shutter depending upon my needs and shooting conditions. On the right here you can see the various shutter openings and the resulting shutter speeds that Bolex H8 REX offers. "0" means wide open in the normal position. "1/2" means the shutter is 1/4 closed and the "1" means the shutter is 1/2 closed. These shutter speeds are the "adapted" shutter speeds listed in the instructions. And, if you are doing single frame exposures, the "adapted" shutter speed is 1/40th of a second. In the window frame, there are little triangle markers to indicate what setting the variable shutter is in while filming. In practice, I typically had the camera in the "0" position and set at 18 frames per second. This resulted in a 1/60th shutter speed. Upon taking my light meter reading, I would adjust the aperture to match 1/60th of a second and 100ASA on the Spotmeter. Check out ebay or other stores for getting one of these cool old light meters. Mine has never let me down. The Pentax Spotmeter takes a single 9-volt battery.
A few more words on the variable shutter. It can be locked in four different positions by gently pressing the lever into the camera body. The 1/4 closed position requires you to open up the aperture by 1/2 of an f-stop to compensate for the reduced light hitting the film. The 1/2 closed position requires the aperture to be opened up one full f-stop.By opening up, this means going from f8 to f5.6 as an example.
Obviously, this is a rather difficult camera to use! However, after you are halfway into a 100-foot roll of film, it begins to become very "ergonomic" if that's even possible with something like this. I soon found myself guessing at the distance and the aperture, pre-focusing the lens, winding the clockwork mechanism and then shooting from the hip. I got some really great footage this way. My biggest concern was making sure the camera was always wound up and counting the seconds of my scene and wondering if the spring would have enough seconds left for the action. At times I found myself NOT winding between takes and being frustrated the camera stopped two seconds into an important moment. Live and learn. After a few of these, you quickly learn to wind up the camera after EVERY scene.
The camera purrs beautifully with a gentle click every so often - the click marks the passage of each 8 inches of film or every 3 soconds of film at the speed of 18fps. The nice thing about the later model Bolex cameras is they offer both 16 frames per second and 18 frames per second. At times I also used the 24 frames per second. There are no click stops so you just have to hope for the best. I had no issues upon telecine since you can usually "tweak" what looks natural on playback by increasing or decreasing the rate by a few decimal places.
My camera is fitted with the Bolex Rex-O-Fader on the side. It attaches to the variable shutter and allows you to perform in camera fades and dissolves. I tended not to use this feature as I tend to shoot very unscripted (randomly??) and did not want to forever tie two scenes together. But it's a very well made device and highly useful if on-film fades or dissolves are required.
Speaking of film, just a reminder that the regular 8mm format is actually 16mm wide and you shoot the full 100-foot roll and then, upon reaching the end, flip the film over and reshoot another 100 feet on the other half (8mm). You end up with 200 feet of 8mm-wide film. The folks at the processing plant develop your film in its 100-foot, 16mm wide length and then slit the film, splice the ends together, and return a single 200-foot 8mm wide film back to you. I have all my processing done through Dwaynes Photo Services in Parsons, Kansas (www.dwaynesphoto.com).
That "I" and "T" setting allow you to perform either normal filming (I) or time-exposures (T) on your film. However, in practice, it takes a whole lot of patience and dilligence to expose multiple frames using the T setting. Typically, people use special machines to engage the Bolex H8's trigger to get consistent and accurate time-lapse exposures. To use these settings, make note of which way you push the slider at the bottom: M essentially means MOTION/SELF FILMING and P means PULSE. In practice, when pressing the camera trigger in, in a normal fashion, the slider moves to the M side. If you keep on pushing it, it will lock in the M setting and thereby allow the filmmaker to get in the scene for as long as the spring will run for. This assumes you have the camera on a tripod! For single frames, you must manually slide the lever towards P.
Also note that use of the MOT-0 lever allows you to backwind the entire 100-foot roll if you so desired.A rather useful feature. But be careful though.You must slide the lever to the 0 setting to disengage the motor - the lever is actually a clutch mechanism. If you feel a slight resistance near 0 position, do not force, but press the front release while pushing the lever (the front release is the normal trigger release). Set the side release to position M (locked). Close the variable shutter by lowering it and pushing it inward. Then, insert the hand crank over the rewind shaft and turn it in the direction of the arrow without attempting to go faster than the governor allows. Be sure you remember to close the variable shutter when rewinding the film. Once rewound, remove the hand crank, push the side release to STOP and the clutch lever to position MOT. Do not forget to open the variable shutter. Lastly, do not, under any circumstances, use the reverse cranking for filming in reverse. Serious harm could occur to your camera.
The little silver tab you see on the housing on top of the camera body allows you to close the eyepiece to avoid stray light when shooting from a tripod or other positions.There is also a shoe mount on the top of the camera to hold the special Bolex Light Meter. However, as I mentioned, I prefer the spot meter for more accurate readings. My camera came with the standard Macro-Switar compliment of three "pre-set" lenses: The 36mm f1.4 Marco-Switar, the 12.5mm f1.3 Macro-Switar, and the 5.5mm f1.6 Switar. Switar is a step up in quality from Yvar lenses. In turn, Yvar lenses are a step up in quality from the Pizar lenses you may come across. I was also fortunate to acquire the Macro-Yvar 150mm f3.3 H8 RX lens. This lens is marked on its base as "H8 RX" so you know its made for the 8mm and not the 16 mm version of Bolex cameras. Interestingly, this camera retailed for $650 with these three lenses. If you wanted it with only the 12.5mm lens, the cost was reduced to $450.
Pre-set lenses were a innovation back in the day that allowed you to view and focus your subject with a wide-open aperture. Once focused, you merely slide your aperture lever (the black one) gently back to where it bumps into the preset lever (the silver one on the lens). On my camera, I managed to break the preset lever on the 5.5mm Switar but that had no impact on the ability to use the lens. I merely lost that function. The pre-set silver lever does not actually affect the operation of the lens in any way. Just goes to show that these cameras are quite rugged even if you accidently jam then into your camera bag on hectic travels as I am apt to do.
In use, the lenses are best used with no filters of any kind. Utilize the variable shutter to reduce the light hitting the film on bright sunny days. You will also get sharper images as a result. The 12.5mm is a bit tight when used in normal conditions. I would have preferred a 9mm lens of some sort if there is such a thing. The 5.5mm lens is quite generous in its angle. The 36mm is best used with some type of support. My dream lens for this camera is the Vario-Switar that was available at one time. If you have one, I am interested! Send me an email.
To sum up, this camera has been my regular user for the past two years. Yes, I am giving up some resolution compared to that offered by super 8. However, since Ektachrome 100D is currently readily available in the regular 8mm format, it's a winner, hands down. I will revisit Ektachrome 64T and super 8 but for now, my Bolex H8 Reflex camera is my preferred camera of choice for many occassions.
PS - Here's one more example of Regular 8mm Ektachrome 100D: