Bought a 1956 Non-Reflex Bolex H16 - Focusing

Technical talk about 8mm, Super8, 9.5mm, 16mm and 35mm ++ motion picture cameras.

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Real name: James Peterson

Bought a 1956 Non-Reflex Bolex H16 - Focusing

Post by ppeterso2 » Wed Mar 29, 2017 7:57 pm


I wanted to try out 16mm film-making as a hobby. I never had a working 16mm camera until now--enter my $25 1956 Bolex H16 non-reflex. I really like the build quality of it!

It works well and runs smoothly and as it is supposed to (I tried some old exposed 16mm film I had). I thought it had a knock in the motor while running until a realized that it is an audible "timer" that can be suppressed with the lever between the reels!)

I have read posts about the top viewfinder cup (mine doesn't have the eye-level view finder :( but does also have the trifocal contraption on the side).

I am trying to find some lenses that won't break the bank and they are very expensive!--but I've been practicing operating the camera an getting familiar with the mechanicals. Because I don't have any lenses (I guess lol), when I look through the top eye cup I see the focusing prism (it is rather dirty)--It looks like a white square of light. As I've read in other posts, I can focus by swinging the taking lens up to the focus prism and then swing it back to the taking position.

My questions are:

How should I safely clean the focusing prism behind that screw out magnifying glass under the eye cup?

Is there anyway to verify that the focusing prism is working without a lens? I see light--is that good?

What 2 economical lenses could I locate/purchase to shoot 2 or 3 reels of reversal film (I have a couple of 16mm projectors to use because I collect film). I'm not shooting a Hollywood feature :D , but I don't want to ruin a $50 spool of film either.

My camera came with a slide in filter but there is nowhere to put it on the side of the turret--Where does it go?

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Joined: Sun Apr 23, 2017 4:59 pm
Real name: Luis P

Re: Bought a 1956 Non-Reflex Bolex H16 - Focusing

Post by loonatic45414 » Sun Apr 23, 2017 5:12 pm

I recently bought a similar camera.

Mine came with a lens adapter that allows me to use Nikon F lenses & I am running early shooting tests with a 28-105mm zoom, which admittedly goes from slight telephoto to extreme telephoto. I'm guessing a normal lens is around 23 or 25mm?

It seems that you may be able to adapt older manual camera lenses using a cheap adapter from eBay. If don't have any, at least you won't break the bank with an old zoom & quality should be more than acceptable.

In a related question, I'd like to ask the community about my camera.

My take up spool drive shaft seems a little lazy. What would be the cause?

One repair shop has said it would involve a complete teardown costing over double the camera's value. Another said it may be just old congealed lubricant.

I'm very good with electronics and have tools. Where could I find out how to remove the cover and at least inspect it for myself?

Also, I plan on developing my own film in a bucket, at least until I get good at figuring exposure & learning the camera. If I project a negative image & record with a digital camera, what's good freeware or cheap software I can use to edit/invert colors & possibly add sound?

I look forward to seeing amateur films & maybe meeting other filmmakers!

Long live film.

Luis P. in Dallas
Last edited by loonatic45414 on Sun Apr 23, 2017 5:12 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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Real name: Simon Wyss
Location: Near Basel, Switzerland

Re: Bought a 1956 Non-Reflex Bolex H16 - Focusing

Post by Mmechanic » Tue Aug 15, 2017 9:48 am

James and Luis, I have only now seen your posts and should like to give some answers.

Although available for little money today the Paillard-Bolex H are cameras for the engaged amateur and retain a useful value of several hundred Dollars. The point is that they should be understood and maintained.

As a professional motion-picture film equipment service person, a trained mechanician, and longtime technician with cinemas and labs let me give you the following advice. Have your camera overhauled by someone that has the necessary instruments and experience. One can easily bring damage to an H, if tinkering about. To have a look inside won’t help the layman because he doesn’t know what to check. Not that I wanted to disapprove anybody’s mental capabilities and dexterity. It simply takes the knowledge of some years of work with fine mechanical apparatus in order to service a film movie camera correctly. Don’t you want to be able to rely on the camera when shooting expensive film?

Very broadly speaking a complete service job on an H-16 takes about four hours of work. Since I take 90 Swiss Francs per hour you would look at initial costs of 360 Francs (around $360 today). Please believe me, that money is well invested. Your camera will return cleaned, freshly lubricated, and adjusted in every way, within some boundaries also according to your personal needs. Here I mean the frame rate which can be predominantely adjusted for the lower or the middle section depending on whether you shoot at silent or sound speeds. The initial idea was to offer fine tuning between 24 and 8 frames per second, still more differentiated than what the Ciné-Kodak Special offered at the time.

Of course can you start cleaning the focusing prism with a cotton swab moistened with some alcohol. It is accessible for that. Still I’d like to suggest you have the camera gone through and measured. I have found displaced prisms, even mechanical parts from manufacture out of tolerance (yes!). I think everybody wants the certainty that the flange distance is within specifications. Else, no lens can deliver sharp images.

Speaking of lenses, there is no need to spend ridiculous amounts of money on optics that have become the victim of a craze. Traditionally you have Kern-Paillard lenses with Paillard-Bolex equipment. The Yvar 75 mm, f/2.8 for example has lift off the ground of common sense. Never pay more than $300 for one of these unless it’s been serviced by someone who knows the stuff and grants a warranty on her/his work. After all, it’s only a triplet. The 100 mm and 150 mm Yvar are offered at entirely mad prices, up to $2,400. Stay away from that. Wide-angle lenses, most often consisting of six to eight elements, may cost more. The Kern Switar 10 mm is good but other makes are nice, too. I can recommend Schneider, Rodenstock (if you happen to stumble over one), Voigtländer, Zeiss, Leitz, Taylor-Hobson Cooke, Angénieux, and a few American ones. Berthiot are interesting, too, with some exceptions due to poor iris mechanics. Kinoptik can be had second-hand, individually matched elements lenses, therefore expensive but excellent.

Most every lens manufacturer made different versions of a focal length. With Kern-Paillard we have four possibilities at normal focal length for the H-16 Standard:
  • Yvar 25 mm, f/2.5; triplet
  • Yvar 25 mm, f/1.8; four elements
  • Pizar 26 mm, f/1.9; five elements
  • Switar 25 mm, f/1.4; six elements
Same goes with the double focal length where we have the Pizar 50 mm, f/1.8, a five-elements design, and the Switar 50 mm, f/1.4. This one is the bigger brother of the Switar 25-1.4, similar to it but not quite the same. A Schneider Xenotar or Xenon belongs to the higher class as well, you will have beautiful images from them. Among the American optics Bausch & Lomb and Wollensak are preferable to Elgeet, Ilex, and others. Bell & Howell never made lenses themselves, they’re Wollensak, TTH, Meyer, later on from Japan.

Finally, do yourself the favour of not misusing the turret concept of the H-16. It is there for a choice of prime lenses, not for a zoom. With the relatively compact and lightweight fixed focal length optics you have a maniable camera system. Additional lenses are best carried along in a rugged case. A lens may also be in terrible need of an overhaul. Never force lens rings, you can badly damage the diaphragm. That’s why some diaphragm leaves are found derailed today, people twisted them kaputt. They can stick together heavily by dried oil.

The diagonal rackover accessory belongs to the standard H camera. Check the internet trades, it can be had inexpensive. The most important accessory you should use, though, is a tripod.

Posts: 199
Joined: Sat May 09, 2009 12:57 pm
Real name: Simon Wyss
Location: Near Basel, Switzerland

Re: Bought a 1956 Non-Reflex Bolex H16 - Focusing

Post by Mmechanic » Tue Aug 15, 2017 10:05 am

Oh, I forgot the filter, James. If your camera doesn’t have a slot, you cannot use a slide-in filter. Paillard added that feature in 1954, I think.

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