Monday, March 26, 2012

Article: Which Bolex Is It?

The Bolex H-16mm RX spring-wound camera. Every film student usually gets to use a Bolex and anyone who considers buying their own movie camera will surely look at Bolexes. One of big the problems with finding the right Bolex is sorting through the many different models that have been released over the years. I’m going to describe the differences between most of the common desirable spring-wound Bolexes as a guide to tell them apart. I hope that this is helpful to any students or filmmakers who are interested in buying one of these great cameras.

First up is a Bolex non-RX (non reflex) model, which is probably the most common type of Bolex H16. There are many variants of this model such as the H-16S and H-16M. RX means reflex viewing, defined as looking through the camera’s eyepiece and seeing a direct through the lens view of the taking lens visible while shooting. The non-RX viewfinder permits through the lens viewing for focusing purposes, but only when the lens is out of the taking (center turret) position. Therefore, non-RX cameras are much less desirable and should command a far lower price than a true RX model. The viewfinder running along the top of the camera is detachable and there are several different styles of viewfinders which are suitable for different purposes. Non-RX Bolexes require a side “octameter” finder which attaches to the camera door to allow reasonably accurate parallax viewing for different prime lens focal lengths. It is also common to find non-RX Bolexes paired up with zoom lenses with a built in reflex “dog-leg” finder which tend to be bulky and impractical.

Next, we have a Bolex RX (pronounced REX) sometimes just called a REFLEX or RX0. This camera does have true reflex viewing while shooting, but lacks a variable shutter. This big improvement would come along with the RX1.

Here is a RX1. It’s very much the same as a RX0 with the addition of the variable shutter feature. For those seeking complete manual control, the variable shutter is a very desirable option that allows in-camera fades and dissolves among other features. The reflex viewfinder of the RX and RX1 gives an adequate, though small through the lens image that is somewhat difficult to use. The RX2 would improve on this aspect.

Here is a RX2 with the newer logo design. This model features a larger (10X) magnification viewfinder. Notice the viewfinder is more pronounced with a squared-off appearance. The eyepiece has also been improved with a more sophisticated means to set the diopter to your own eyesight. The RX2 in this photo is fitted with a Rex-o-fader for creating automatic fades.

The RX3 was improved with a flat base, so the camera can balance on a flat surface without falling over & allow for matte-box attachments with less added parts.

The RX4 included a change in design of the I/T switch from a lever to a knob and an additional motor shaft, known as the 1:1 shaft, which can accept an accessory 24fps sync sound motor. The RX4 happens to be my personal favorite of the Bolex line due to how well it combines the best classic features with new improvements.

Before moving on to the RX5, it’s important to mention the H-8 line. These are standard 8mm Bolexes that are the same dimensions as the H-16 line. They look just like the 16mm versions with some minor differences that can easily escape notice. The brand plate above the spring crank will state that it’s 8mm. Also, it will have some different mechanical parts on the inside. The H-8RX models are especially confusing since they accept the same c-mount lens thread as the 16mm models. The H-8RX lenses will mount on the H-16 models with some unusual results.

The RX5 is considered by many to be the ultimate Bolex and is easily identifiable with its top magazine mount. This one also has the 13X viewfinder & eyepiece made of metal with silver trim, which provides the biggest and brightest reflex viewing experience. Early RX5s still have the 10X viewfinder and are not as desirable. Also, shooting with a 400’ magazine can’t be done unless you have an electric motor attached with a secondary motor to give torque to the magazine. Not a very practical system, really. If shooting 400’ loads, it probably makes more sense to use a different camera like an Arri 16 BL. The magazine mount also foils the flowing design aesthetic of the rounded top on earlier Bolexes.

Lastly, this is a Bolex SBM (single bayonette mount) that does away with the 3-lens turret in place of a pro-level bayonette mount for hefty zoom lenses. This one has black paint covering the silver trim, adding a stealth factor. SBMs are usually very expensive and H16RX compatiblebayonet lenses are incredibly rare and expensive. These cameras are usually supplied with an adapter for C-mount RX lenses to make them a bit more versatile.

So, which Bolex is the best? For most users who want the basic Bolex experience and would like to save some money, a RX3 is probably the best value with all of the most useful features. For the right price, a RX4 is also a great choice. If you have more money, a RX5 or SBM with a 13X viewfinder is very desirable due to more recent manufacturing and the larger viewfinder really makes a difference when critical focusing. -Gordon Nelson copyright 2012

Some images are from and