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A Bolex H16 REX-5 spring-wound clockwork 16 mm camera

Bolex (Bolex International S. a. of Yverdon) is a Swiss manufacturer of motion picture cameras, the most notable products of which are in the 16 mm and Super 16 mm formats. The H-16 camera was particularly important for early television news, nature films, documentaries and the avant garde, and is still favoured by many animators. While some later models are electrically powered, the majority of those manufactured since the 1930s use a spring-wound clockwork power system. The 16 mm spring-wound Bolex is a popular introductory camera in film schools.

Bolex no longer manufactures its cameras in series, but produces 16mm and Super 16 cameras for customers on special order. This company has only little to do with the former Paillard-Bolex S. a. which got sold to Eumig of Vienna in December 1969.


Jacques Bogopolsky (a. k. a. Bolsey or Bolsky) founded Bol S. a. in 1923. The trade mark Bolex was registered in 1924 on the names of J. B. and Charles Haccius of Geneva, his financial partner. Two camera models for 16-mm. film were sold, the Auto Cine with 50-ft. capacity and the Auto Cine B that takes 100-foot spools. The Geneva Bolex cameras have ½" springs. The bankrupt company was taken over in September 1930 by Paillard S. a. of Ste-Croix. Paillard had begun investigating the field of motion picture equipment in 1929 when the decline of record-players sales was definite and the New York stock market crash pulling down many businesses. Typewriters became the most important business of Paillard at that time.

Hidden internal markings with the die-cast housing and the lid indicate that the Paillard-Bolex H camera has been prepared since 1931 at the least. Announcement of a new small-gauge film format, Double-Eight, in early 1932 as well as news from the death of George Eastman in March 1932 during the deepest economical crisis made Paillard halt the project. When Double-Eight had proven successful the necessary installations were undertaken in 1934. First examples of the H-16 camera were sent to various European sales places in April 1935. Sales began in July 1935 with serial number 7501. The Geneva Bolex serial numbers went into the 7000s.

An H-9 version for the 9.5mm format and an H-8 for Double-Eight film followed. The H-16 was highly successful. Accessories and refinements were added one by one. Among them is the rackover support, the eye-level viewfinder attachment, and the frame counter. The H cameras have a larger spring. The mechanism is very different from the Bolex one in almost every point. Imperial measures can be found with the H design, too.

Paillard-Bolex introduced the L8, a pocket Double-Eight film camera, in 1940. L stands for Elle or Lady. The Bell & Howell Co. was the pacemaker in small-gauge film equipment since 1923. With the postwar boom in home movie making, Paillard-Bolex continued to develop its 8mm and 16mm ranges with the H-16 increasingly adopted by professional film makers. The company also made a successful range of projectors for all the film making gauges.

In 1952, during the golden era of 3D film, Paillard, together with Kern of Aarau, offered the Bolex Stereo: a 3D kit for their H-16 camera. This included a dual lens that recorded a slightly different image on each half of the film. The movie would be viewed with a model G projector using a specialised lens and polarized glasses.[1]

In 1965 Kodak introduced the Super-8 system.[2] Paillard-Bolex were slow to introduce a Super-8 camera although they quickly modified the 18-5 8mm projector for the new format as the 18-5 L. In 1966 the Bolex 16 Pro camera was introduced. The Pro models were manufactured in Germany in a joint venture with ARRI as a technically advanced professional camera more suited for television use than the H-16.

Effective January 1, 1970 Paillard sold the Bolex division to Eumig.[3] In 1971 Eumig rationalised the Super-8 range and Super-8 equipment production in Switzerland was discontinued. The Bolex product brand was retained while being manufactured in Eumig or Chinon factories. The H-16 cameras were still made in Switzerland.

In 1981 Eumig went into liquidation and Bolex was bought by a management team which set up Bolex International in 1982.[3] Today, the Bolex factory in Switzerland continues to produce new 16mm and Super 16 film cameras and also can convert Bolex H16 reflex models to Super 16mm.

Digital Bolex D16[edit]

Main article: Digital Bolex

In 2012, Cinemeridian, Inc. licensed the named Bolex from Bolex International to create a digital Super 16mm cinema camera called the Digital Bolex D16.[4][5] Digital Bolex announced their collaboration with Bolex via the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform on March 12, 2012 at the SXSW Film Festival where they had a trade show booth.[6]

Bolex and Paillard-Bolex cameras and projectors[edit]

Swiss made with the year of introduction except for the Italian Silma made SM8

  • Auto Cine, 1925
  • Auto Cine B, 1926
  • Model G Projectors, 1933
  • H-16, 1935
  • H-9, 1936
  • H-8, 1938
  • L-8, 1940
  • M8 and M8R Projectors, 1949
  • B-8, 1953
  • C-8, 1954
  • H-16 Reflex, 1956
  • D-8L, 1959
  • S221 Projector, 1960
  • 18-5 Projector, 1960
  • P1, 1961
  • K1, 1963
  • H-16 RX-5, 1966
  • Bolex 16 Pro, 1966
  • 150 Super, 1967
  • SM8 Projector (made by Silma), 1967
  • S321 Projector, 1967
  • 7.5 Macrozoom, 1969
  • H-16 SBM, 1970
  • H-16 EBM, 1971
  • H-16 EL, 1975

The technical aspects of the Bolex[edit]

The camera′s internal capacity is 100 ft. A 400 ft magazine (on the Rex 5 - or converted Rex 3 or 4) can be attached to the top of the camera. As with a still reflex camera, the Bolex Reflex has a viewfinder, which allows the filmmaker to view what he or she is filming. This specific viewfinder is made up of a double prism that deflects into the viewfinder about 20% of the light going through the lens.

The Paillard-Bolex H-16 has a revolving turret for three lenses. The H-16 M model, M for Marine, has one C-mount thread. It was meant to be used in an underwater housing.

Some people had their H-16 camera converted to Super-16. This format was highly suited to telecine conversion, as Super-16 is close to the 16:9 electronic image format. Some conversions were more successful than others. Bolex (latterly) did offer a factory Super 16mm camera. This has the appropriate markings in the viewfinder and the film gate was machined and polished.


Directors David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, Will Vinton, Maya Deren, and Spike Lee all began their careers shooting on Bolex cameras[citation needed], and the Bolex has developed a cult following as the result of being used for decades as a beginner camera in film schools worldwide.[citation needed]

There are currently two documentaries in production about the history of the Bolex camera. Beyond The Bolex, a biographical film about Bolex founder Jacques Bogopolsky (later anglicized to Bolsey), is directed by his great-grand daughter Alyssa Bolsey, and features an in-depth look at the inventor′s original notes, schematics, prototypes, and footage.[7] A second product is being undertaken by Swiss director Alexandre Favre.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Zone, Ray (July 6, 2012). 3-D Revolution: The History of Modern Stereoscopic Cinema (1 ed.). University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0813136110. Retrieved 12 July 2015. 
  2. ^ "Super 8 mm Film History". Kodak. Retrieved 29 December 2015. 
  3. ^ a b R. James Breiding (10 January 2013). Swiss Made: The Untold Story Behind Switzerland's Success. Profile Books. pp. 385–. ISBN 1-84765-809-1. 
  4. ^ Kif. "Old-School 16mm Moviemaking Goes Digital". Wired. Retrieved 29 December 2015. 
  5. ^ Sonja Schenk; Ben Long (1 January 2014). The Digital Filmmaking Handbook. Course Technology. pp. 157–. ISBN 978-1-305-25906-5. 
  6. ^ Hardy, Robert. "First Impressions of the Digital Bolex from SXSW, and a Short Documentary About the Camera". No Film School. Retrieved 29 December 2015. 
  7. ^ Jones, Mark. "The BOLEX Goes Digital & Becomes A Documentary". Retrieved 13 August 2014. 
  8. ^ "July Meeting". LA 3D Club. Retrieved 15 August 2014. 
  • Bolex History: Cameras, Projectors etc. by Andrew Alden. Published by A2 Time Based Graphics (April 1998) ISBN 0-9533075-0-6

External links[edit]