Which Bolex H16 do I have or am I likely to come across?
In this section I have put together a selection of the sort of
cameras you might well come across and for what purposes they are both recommended and not recommended. There are
no hard and fast rules though, finances and availability may heavily influence your decision at the end of the day.
If you intend to film with an H16 avoid the early cameras that still have a double sprocket drive system, these can only use double-perforated 16mm which is virtually impossible to find these days - all H16 cameras with serial numbers greater than 76471 (after 1952) will take modern single-perforated film.
Reflex cameras don’t have the parallax problems associated with older non-reflex ones, early reflex cameras have very small viewfinders so don’t go for these if you have less than perfect eyesight. You can also live without the 1:1 drive if you only want to use the internal spring motor, similarly you can live without the 400’ (120m) magazine facility if you are doing animation rather than drama etc. If you intend using large, heavy lenses then go for the later bayonet mount cameras. Happy hunting!
1. Original pre-war H16 - no built-in frame counter, earliest models have a one-piece winder and no built-in focussing. Example shown with uncoated Meyer lenses and the old Trifocal viewfinder. This is not the most useable H16 and only recommended for the truly destitute or masochistic film student. However this is a historically important camera and a must for the collector.
2. Post-war H16, still has the key wind option but now has a built-in frame counter and usually comes with the folding winding handle. Picture shows a camera fitted with an early full set of deep mount Kern lenses, winding key rather than winding handle and top-mounted eyecup for focussing. Not so easy to use but collectable with the original key and when in nice condition.
3. H16 Standard non-reflex camera post 1956, fitted with eye level focussing attachment, turret handle and later Kern lenses: f2.8 16mm and f2.8 75mm Yvars and an f1.4 25mm Switar are typical. One of the most commonly found H16s, often in immaculate condition - small improvements make it much more useable. In the U.K. don't pay more than £100 or so for a good one of these.
4. Round base reflex H16 from 1956 on. After 1959 they have the variable shutter mechanism. This one is fitted with a nice set of Switars - f1.9 75mm, f1.4 25mm Rx and f1.8 16mm Rx. The small viewfinder image (6x) takes a bit of getting used to and can be difficult in critical focussing. Worth three to four times the equivalent non-reflex model with these lenses or a Vario-Switar 86.
5. Original round base H16M (1959 on), cheap and simple, useable as a visual notebook camera and in the original type under-water housing. Not worth as much as a turret non-reflex of the period. Often fitted with the heavy Som-Berthiot zoom which has a reflex viewfinder that fits down the side of the film chamber. This combination can be awkward to use though.
6. The H16M gained a flat base and 1:1 drive shaft in 1964, and a 400’ magazine saddle in 1968 to become the H16M5 shown in the picture. Add an external motor, magazine and a zoom with a close-fitting external reflex viewfinder (such as the Pan-Cinor 85 f2 17 to 85mm) and you have a low-cost professional kit. Not that easy to find but worth a lot more than the original H16M.
7. Flat base reflex H16 (1964 to 1966), this has the larger 10x viewfinder of the very last round base reflexes but the old sector I-T switch and the 8:1 drive shaft so can only be used with older type motors. Still worth more than the round base reflex models though. If you don’t need an external motor this is a very good value general purpose camera.
8. Often termed the RX4 (1964 on) this is the first of the H16 cameras with the 1:1 drive shaft - it does not have the 400' magazine saddle of the RX5, SBM and electric cameras. The picture shows this camera fitted with a Kern Vario-Switar 86EE and Rx fader accessory. A very useable camera body, particularly for animation where the 400' magazine option is not required.
9. RX5 (1966 on) early models have the 10x viewfinder, later ones have 13x and 14x frame viewfinders (sometimes marked with TV frame). The example shown has probably the best ever set of standard primes f1.6 10mm Switar Rx, f1.1 26mm and f1.9 Rx 75mm Macro-Switars, all in the late black finish. Late models of the RX5 are partly finished in black Hammerite paint. Very, very desirable. The RX5 and subsequent cameras are the most suitable models for Super 16 conversion.
10. SBM camera (1970 on), apart from the mount the same as an RX5 - expect to pay a premium for the sturdier bayonet mount when compared to the equivalent turret camera. Very sought after to use. The bayonet mount zoom lenses also often have a higher value than the equivalent 'c' mount versions. The H16 SB (not shown) is 100' load only version of the SBM and does not have the 400’ magazine saddle.
11. EBM camera (1971 on), a robust camera designed for professional use. Can get heavy with the full kit of magazine, power grip and large zoom lens. An external crystal unit plus a DAT or Minidisc means you're set up for sound. Not recommended for holiday movies - note that the EBM is the only H16 that does not do single frame exposures.
12. EL camera (1975 on) - as with the EBM, this camera is intended for more professional use - there are three models - the Mk.I, II and III (the example shown is a MkII with Kern Vario-Switar MC 12.5 to 100mm zoom plus the 6.5mm Aspheron). The later models and Super 16 versions are obviously the most expensive. All EL models do single-frame and take a crystal drive. Despite the pain in the pocket, buying is often better than renting, you can usually sell such a camera for close to what you paid once you've finished your grand opus.