User Review: the 16mm Kiev Alpha 16 'PolyAutomat'

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Krasnogorskistan
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User Review: the 16mm Kiev Alpha 16 'PolyAutomat'

Post by Krasnogorskistan » Sat Jul 15, 2017 12:19 am

I thought I'd post a few comments on this camera. I've now got a couple of these, but as this latest one came to me as essentially a 'New Old Stock' type deal, I thought it would be interesting to describe some of the common positives and negative for a camera 'out of the (very old) box'.

Various versions of the Alpha 16 appear to have made, including a battery powered model (16E), and later production types with and without an internal lightmeter, the Polyautomat being the clockwork version with internal lightmeter.

The main attractions of the camera is its size and very low weight and unusually for a Soviet, its C mount lens fitting, and it has to rank as one of the smallest and lightest 'modern' 16mm cameras available, especially when fitted with its tiny original F2 20mm lens, but that big plus is only a plus IF the camera can be made to work reliably right? One of the many negatives of the camera that I'd heard about was the viewfinder system, that relies on a tiny angled piece of glass (referred to as a pellicule) that sits at 45degrees immediately after the shutter to direct a whole stop of light up to your eye. This sits only fractions of a millimeter behind the deepest threads of the C mount itself so is super vulnerable, limits your use of C mount lenses to only those with NOTHING protruding beyond the first thread of the mount, and finally, was attached to the camera in the factory using something similar to PrittStick....ie after 40 years or so, if you blow a little too hard it will probably fall out........ The big plus with this system is that there is zero flicker while filming and the viewfinder in really bright....

First thing you are going to notice when setting up the camera is the rubbish diopter adjustment, there is no screw to hold the diopter in place you simply push or pull to your desired location and then twist to 'lock'. It is very easy to knock this out of position in use, and you really need to check this every time you use the camera.

Loops are manually formed and need to be as large as the film chamber allow, there are some rounded surfaces in the plastic (thats not really plastic, its some kind of coal-related plastic alternative) inner film chamber, that gives you a pretty good idea where the loops need to be.

Its a clockwork camera, with a large winding handle the end of which tucks back into the body when you are done. Take care to make sure that the slot in the handle fully engages with the drive pin every time you wind, the metal of the handle is not the best and its really easy for the handle to slip and the slot to become enlarged if you dont make sure its at least at 90 degrees to the drive....

I made up a little pack of 3 Wein Cells to see if I could get the internal light meter working. Fired up straightaway, and I must say is extremely accurate on this one. Remeber to close your lens or use a lens cap as the meter sparks into life when there is sufficient light entering the lens, the little red button on the side switches the meter on or off, but light seems to override this.

First outing with this particular camera had some positives and negatives. I ran a roll of 50D negative through it as a test, and hooked up one of my cheap but fave lenses, my Canon 17-102mm TV zoom. This is just over F2 at wide open, C mount version, and a real cracker, only shame is it doesnt go a bit wider.

Overally I can say that the camera performed well first time out. It really is very handy to use and the motor very smooth. The sound is very 'super8y' as opposed to the clatter of a K3 or the slightly more refined noise of a Bolex. Images are nice and clean without the scratching that you instinctively think is going to be inevitable with the tortuous route the film has to take via the coaxial spool and roller arrangements through the camera. Registration appears fairly good, exceeding super8 standards easily. Obviously make sure the door is well taped up to avoid light leaks and start a shot for a few frames to avoid any startup light flashes. I have found that when using an Alpha 16 handheld its light weight means it can be quite tricky to keep the camera upright and perpendicular to the horizon, it just doesnt have the mass to be held perfectly steady that easily.

It wasn't till the second roll that I had a jam, and this was through inadvertently leaving the camera partially wound overnight til I used it next day.....I've got a feeling that if left wound the motor can 'creep' a little, and take out the bottom loop. just a theory, but its the only time Ive ever had one of my Alphas jam on me.

Although I had brushed out the gate before using the camera, it wasnt until I got my first roll back from telecine that I realised that my gate had some light sealing goo around one edge from the factory. I've removed this now with a razor blade, but is something worth checking, probably only about a mil or less in the gate itself, its annoyingly visible in the frame of this test roll.

I don't know what it is about this little camera, but it definitely has something about it that makes you want it to work. I've run a few rolls through it now, with a mixture of lenses, and am always happy to use it. It doesnt have the watch like reliability of the best Bolexes or the rugged build of a K3, but I think its better than a mere curio, and in truth has no more foibles and weakess than many other wildly more expensive cameras.

What you should see below if Ive attached correctly is a couple of screen grabs direct from telecine, no alterations/corrections in post etc, both handheld. The loco in the second still is probably around 80 feet or so away from me at its closest.

Happy filming!

K
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Pj
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Re: User Review: the 16mm Kiev Alpha 16 'PolyAutomat'

Post by Pj » Sat Jul 15, 2017 9:51 pm

A great review. I have used several of these cameras, they are all a bit different. It's strictly 16mm as I don't think it can be successfully modified to Super 16, it's size is the greatest thing and it takes great footage, you do need to take a bit more care as these cameras are temperamental.

Pav


Mmechanic
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Re: User Review: the 16mm Kiev Alpha 16 'PolyAutomat'

Post by Mmechanic » Tue Jul 18, 2017 10:02 am

Wrote about the camera here https://www.filmvorfuehrer.de/topic/248 ... herkamera/. Please let me know whether a translation is needed.


doug
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Re: User Review: the 16mm Kiev Alpha 16 'PolyAutomat'

Post by doug » Wed Jul 19, 2017 10:45 am

Pj wrote:
Sat Jul 15, 2017 9:51 pm
A great review. I have used several of these cameras, they are all a bit different. It's strictly 16mm as I don't think it can be successfully modified to Super 16, it's size is the greatest thing and it takes great footage, you do need to take a bit more care as these cameras are temperamental.

Pav
Do you think it could be modified to Ultra-16 ? Examining Mmechanic's great informative images... perhaps possible. I've yet to come across one of these cameras. As you probably know, I'm always interested in the possibility of making 16mm as compact as possible.
BTW the GIC camera isn't suitable for modifying to U16 because of the claw proximity, but should work with S16. But I know Mmechanic will throw up his hands in horror at all this widening talk :))
Doug
www.filmisfine.co


Pj
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Re: User Review: the 16mm Kiev Alpha 16 'PolyAutomat'

Post by Pj » Wed Jul 19, 2017 12:00 pm

I have tried both Super 16 and Ultra 16 and gave up, I have accepted that this is a good compact 16 only camera, basically the shutter is too small to cover any greater width, unless you replace the shutter with a slightly larger disc, which would require a lot of work and I don't think there is room for a bigger shutter.

Pav


Mmechanic
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Re: User Review: the 16mm Kiev Alpha 16 'PolyAutomat'

Post by Mmechanic » Thu Jul 20, 2017 12:01 pm

doug wrote:
Wed Jul 19, 2017 10:45 am
I know Mmechanic will throw up his hands in horror at all this widening talk
Couple of years ago I should have gone berserk but I’m getting older and, hopefully, riper. Each one can do with her or his camera what she/he wants.


doug
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Re: User Review: the 16mm Kiev Alpha 16 'PolyAutomat'

Post by doug » Fri Jul 21, 2017 10:37 am

Mmechanic wrote:
Thu Jul 20, 2017 12:01 pm
doug wrote:
Wed Jul 19, 2017 10:45 am
I know Mmechanic will throw up his hands in horror at all this widening talk
Couple of years ago I should have gone berserk but I’m getting older and, hopefully, riper. Each one can do with her or his camera what she/he wants.
Just to be clear, I like the idea of extracting as much as possible from the 16mm format along with the impact of widescreen.... but I also love the traditional 4 by 3 ratio. Krasnogorskistan's images are enough proof of its beauty. Anything that has strong vertical information is perfect in this ratio, and Imax is of course the ultimate form of useage. There is so much widescreen ratio on TV these days that it doesn't look so special anymore. There should be a definite artistic reason to make a film in widescreen.
Doug
www.filmisfine.co


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