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

Bolex is a Swiss company (Bolex International S.A. of Yverdon) that manufactures motion picture cameras and lenses, the most notable products of which are in the 16 mm and Super 16 mm formats. The Bolex company was initially founded by Jacques Bogopolsky (a.k.a. Jacques Bolsey or Bolsky) in 1927. Bolex is derived from his name. He had previously designed cameras for Alpa. Bolex cameras were particularly important for early television news, nature films, documentaries and the avant garde, and are still favoured by many animators today. 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 will produce 16mm and Super 16 cameras for customers on special order.


The Bolex company was initially founded by Jacques Bogopolsky (a.k.a. Jacques Bolsey or Bolsky) in 1927 under the name of Bol. Bolex is derived from his name. He had previously designed cameras for Alpa. In 1930 Jacques sold the company to the Paillard Company which retained his services until the mid-1930s. The 1935 H-16 camera is a development of the Auto Cine B model. 9.5mm and 8mm versions followed. The H-16 was highly successful and Paillard Bolex introduced the L-8 for the market for a smaller 8mm camera. 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 high-end movie projectors for all the film making gauges.

In 1952, during the golden era of 3D film, Bolex offered the Bolex Stereo: a 3D stereo kit for their H-16 model recorders. This included a dual lens that recorded a slightly different image on each half of the film. The movie, which was then half as wide as a normal film, would be viewed with a projector using a converter and polarized glasses.[1]

In 1965 Kodak introduced the Super 8mm format. Paillard Bolex were slow to introduce a Super 8 camera although they quickly modified the 18-5 Auto 8mm projector for Super 8 as the 18-5 Super. At about this time (1966) the 16 Pro Camera was introduced to compete with the Arriflex 16 BL camera, as a technically advanced professional camera more suited for television use than the H-16.

In 1970 Paillard sold the Bolex division to Eumig of Vienna. 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. 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. 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.

Bolex Cameras and Projectors, Selected List[edit]

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

  • Auto Cine A (1928)
  • Auto Cine B (1929)
  • H-9 (1935)
  • H-16 (1935)
  • Model G Projectors (1936)
  • H-8 (1938)
  • L-8 (1942)
  • M8 and M8R Projectors (1949)
  • B-8 (1953)
  • C-8 (1954)
  • H-16 Rx (1956)
  • D-8L (1959)
  • S221 Projector (1960)
  • P1 (1961)
  • 18-5 Projector (1961)
  • K1 (1963)
  • H-16 Rx-5 (1966)
  • Bolex 16 Pro (1966)
  • 150 Super (1967)
  • SM8 Projector (made by Silma) (1967)
  • S321 Projector (1968)
  • 7.5 Macrozoom (1969)
  • H-16 SBM (1970)
  • H-16 EBM (1971)
  • H-16 EL (1975)

The technical aspects of the Bolex[edit]

For passing “The Bolex Test” or for general use of the Bolex camera, a better understanding of the controls is necessary. Along with learning the different controls of the camera, as well as the proper way to load film, one must also understand the standard mechanics of the Bolex. When filming with a Bolex it is important to keep an eye on what the frame rate reads. The standard motion picture film rate in the US, especially for sound shooting, is 24 frames per second (fps), 25 fps in Europe, meaning that the partial disc that makes up the camera shutter rotates 24 times per second. Filming at speeds faster than 24 fps creates a slow-motion effect when the film is projected normally. Filming slower than 24 fps produces a fast-motion effect. Never run an empty Bolex faster than 24 fps, because this could damage the camera's motor.

An internal spring drive motor powers the Bolex. For this motor to run, one must turn the winding crank counter-clockwise. After winding the spring fully, the Bolex shoots for 28 seconds.

While cleaning or loading the camera, the side cover must be removed.This is done by turning the "lid lock" catch. 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 has a viewfinder, which allows the filmmaker to view what he or she is filming. The Bolex has what is called a "reflex viewfinder." This specific viewfinder is made up of a reflex prism that deflects into the viewfinder about 20% of the light going through the lens.

The H16 Bolex usually has three lenses. Often,the camera was provided with a 16mm Switar or Yvar, a 25mm Switar or Yvar (and considered the "standard" lens) and the third lens was often a 75mm Yvar or 50mm Switar. It should be noted that only lenses with the designation "RX" in 25mm or less, can be used on the REX (Reflex) Bolexes. Lenses with desgnation "AR" were designed for the non reflex Bolex cameras. In the case of non-reflex Bolex movie cameras, the taking lens could be swung into a high position and the image critically viewed/focused through a magnification tube. This provided accurate focusing but, of course, did not offer the parallax accuracy inherent in a reflex camera. Many people, nonetheless prefer to use the non-reflex Bolex with the side mounted viewfinder. The side viewfinder is parallax-corrected and surprisingly accurate. The fact that there was no light loss through the prism, enabled the non-reflex Bolex to perform slightly better in low light. An expensive optional lens is the 10mm Switar. This lens gives about the same angle of view as would a 30mm lens on a 35mm full frame still camera. The 10mm Switar is highly sought after. Some people had their H16 Bolex 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 to professional standards. These cameras are fairly rare and always expensive to purchase. Sadly, most Switar and Yvar lenses that were below 50mm would vignette, to some extent, on the Super 16 format The 10mm lens provides acceptable images, provided the iris is not stopped down to below F4.[citation needed] The 25mm Switar may be used with little vignetting. Photographers often did not bother about this too much, regarding the subtle corner vignetting as a price worth paying and part of the character of such cinematography.[vague]

First-generation Super 16, shot on (now defunct) Kodachrome was a visual treat. The image quality, sharpness, contrast and tonal range were superlative. Some movies were so excellent, that they were upscale printed to 35mm and used as full theatrical presentations. It is interesting to note that Bolex never used a registration pin (a registration pin is inserted into one or more sprocket holes to end-position the film before exposure so that the film is precisely located and stabilised every time during exposure, ensuring picture steadiness during projection ). Many professionals regarded this as a failure - not accepting that simple friction could provide a vertically steady image. Many professional cameras such as the Cinema Products CP-16 and Eclair ACL did not have registration pins and provided very steady images but a well set up Bolex probably has the best steadiness of all 16mm non-registration pin cameras. Bolex did have a foray into purely professional cameras (Bolex Pro 16). Again, they decided against a registration pin for mechanical simplicity, to keep the camera as quiet as possible for sync-sound filming, and this (along with the fact that the film had to be cut inside the camera body before the film magazine could be removed) was probably the cause for the camera to not be a commercial success. This camera was only offered with 400 ft magazine capacity.


Directors David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, 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 fotoage.[2] A second product is being undertaken by Swiss director Alexandre Favre.[3]

See also[edit]


  • Bolex History: Cameras, Projectors etc. by Andrew Alden. Published by A2 Time Based Graphics (April 1998) ISBN 0-9533075-0-6
  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. ^ Jones, Mark. "The BOLEX Goes Digital & Becomes A Documentary". Retrieved 13 August 2014. 
  3. ^ "July Meeting". LA 3D Club. Retrieved 15 August 2014. 

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