Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Common Problems When Loading/Running 8mm Film

It’s common practice on spring wound film cameras to fully rewind the motor after each shot and to always "run down" the spring motor at the end of filming for the day. This is the procedure recommended by Bolex in all their camera manuals. Older cameras may or may not have weaker spring motors. If they do, it is typically at or near the end of the spring motor's stopping point.

Do NOT film to the end of the wind, as this can cause the footage to be filmed slightly slower. When run on a projector the film will appear to run slightly faster than filmed.

2) Make sure the film is put in correctly. 8mm film has a glossy side and a satin finish side. The satin finish side is the emulsion side. Its typically a different color which is no help if you are using a changing bag or a dark room.

The emulsion side always faces the front of the camera. A little practice with a fingertip will tell which side is which. If film is accidentally shot on the wrong side, reload it making sure the satin or emulsion side faces the gate (and lens), and reshoot the film. Both ends of the film, for a foot or so, will be unusable.

3) If installed improperly, the leader of the film slips out of the take-up reel slot at any time, resulting in a lack of pulling force on the film through the gate. This can, in turn, cause the claw to not fully engage the film’s sprocket hole and the shutter mechanism will automatically stop the camera. This is a very common problem, perhaps the most common problem.

If you suspect the film has slipped out of the take-up reels slot, cover the camera with a jacket or use a changing bag, open the door, pull the pressure plate release lever and while your fingers hold the top reel (feed reel) from turning, rotate the take-up reel clockwise trying to manually wind film onto the take-up reel. If the take-up reel continues to turn and no tension is felt on the feed reel (top reel), there is a very good possibility that the film end has slipped off the take-up reel.

Some people install the top feed reel of film onto the top spindle, then thread 6” or so of film thought gate and then and then tuck the loose end of the film into the slot of the take-up reel and drop into onto the take-up reel. Then they flip the pressure plate lever, close and lock the door and finally, wind the camera. If the film hasn’t slipped from the slot, it’s still possible it can slip later.

I recommend loading 2-3 full turns of film manually onto the take-up reel outside the camera. The extra turns will hold the film in the slot securely. Film comes off the top spindle feed reel at the bottom of the reel. You do not need to see this when loading film. Your fingers can confirm this inside a changing bag or under a jacket. If you don't have access to a changing bag or jacket, use a closet or dark area such as in the shade. Once loaded, I place the feed reel on the top spindle with my right hand re-confirm than the film is coming off the bottom of the reel.

Then, while holding the take-up reel with my left hand, I thread the film through the gate with emulsion side facing forward (toward the gate), and finally drop the take-up spool onto the lower spindle. If you need a little more film, pull from the feed reel. Then thread the end of the film into the takeup reel slot, close the gate and wind the camera.

With your free hand fingers usually the right hand for right handed people, I hold the top reel from turning and with your other hand, turn the bottom reel clockwise to take up the slack. You should feel resistance when the film is taught. Then push the pressure plate lever forward to close. The pressure plate should now be firmly against the film gate.

4) Make sure the pressure plate is full forward towards the front of the camera when the pressure plate lever is pushed toward the lens of the camera.  Close the fim door. The door cover will not shut if the pressure plate lever is pulled back.

If the pressure plate has been removed, make sure it has been correctly re-positioned. It IS possible to reposition one the pressure plate’s two “legs” outside of the corresponding 2 flat spring clamps. With the pressure plate removed, you can see both clamps.

The pressure plate must be touching both sides of the film to exert equal pressure on the film. Otherwise the camera may mis-register and stop while filming. Correctly installed, the pressure plate will open and close with both sides touching the gate area at the same time.

5) Make sure you are using the correct film. Yes, it is possible to load and run the wrong film. Standard 16mm film will, for a 16mm camera, in fact load onto the reels, thread and run. For about 1 frame. Then the registration holes will not align and the camera will stop.

8mm double run film is exactly the same width as 16 mm standard film except 8mm film has an extra set of holes punched between the 2 existing standard 16mm film sprocket holes. This is not a common problem but more than one person has tried to run 16mm film because:

“Hey! It fits!”.

Yes, it does...

“And they sold it to me! Cheap!”

But it still won’t run :(

6) Another common problem occurs when the user films a few shots and then puts the camera away for later. The camera and the reels get bumped around and the next time the camera is used, the claw misregisters the film and the camera stops. See LEADER SLIPS/MISREGISTRATION.

7) Excessively cold temperatures (below 40 degrees F or 4 C) can cause the grease in the lower clutch take-up reel’s overriding clutch to drag excessively resulting in the misregistration of the claw onto the film’s sprocket holes.

If the claw misses the hole, the camera will stop running. The camera is designed to stop if misregistration occurs. Leaving the camera in the car’s boot/trunk overnight on a cold night can cause this problem. The "fix" is to keep the camera inside where it’s warmer.

8) The camera’s take-up reel overriding clutch is lubricated with grease. The grease is between two friction plates. One plate is highly polished steel, the other is bakelite (plastic). If the camera has not been properly service, this grease may be dried out or become “too sticky”.

This can result is too much friction and the film will mis-register when running. The fix is to overhaul the clutch. For the ‘do-it-yourself’ person, a hint: DO NOT lubricate with oil. This will lower the friction and the camera will still mis-register as the clutch now has TOO little friction.

9) Use old film (out of date, exposed - not good) to practice loading film. Mark this "practice reel" so you don’t mix it with fresh film.

10)  Older film tends to dry out, become brittle and  especially after many years past the  expiration date, it may not be suitable for accurate film color. Some people prefer the ‘look’ of old, out-of-date film. Some don’t. You can find old film on

Super 8 film will NOT work. Wrong sprockets hole locations and size. Wrong aspect ratio. See link below. Regular 8mm or Standard 8mm film has many different names. More information in your camera's manual or check here:

Not sure? Tell the seller what kind of camera you have. I.E, Bolex D8L, B8L, P1, etc. If they do not know if the film fits; shop elsewhere. Link to film sellers:

11) Film can be loaded in the dark to avoid exposing the film to excessive light. Or use a “Changing Bag” or other alternatives can be used:

You can place a jacket over the camera to shade the film, or you can load the film in a closet or other dark area. Film can be loaded indoors or outdoors – just avoid harsh, bright or direct sunlight.

8mm double run film is sold with the emulsion side of the film (the side that collects the image) oriented toward the inside of the reel. This means if you pull out 8” and expose it to light, it will capture that light. This is not a problem. Consider the first 8 to 12” of the new reel "expendable".

After loading, run the camera for few seconds to expose new footage. You are now ready to film. This is normal camera practice for ALL film cameras. The reels used with ALL Bolex cameras have solid sides. This prevents light from exposing the film’s edges. Always use solid sided take-up reels.

If you need additional take-up reels, plastic or metal are okay. Make sure when you send your film in to the developer, that you DO NOT send in your original Bolex reel. If you do, make sure you tell the developer to return your original Bolex reel to you.

The proper way to avoid sending in the wrong reel is as follows:

      1)    Load with new film onto the top spindle.

      2)    Place the original Bolex or the other take-up reel that you want back, onto the bottom spindle. This will be an interim (temporary) take-up reel.

      3)    You will run the full new film twice through the camera. The 1st time pass films on ½ of one side of the film. At the end of 25’, the camera ‘clicks’ signaling you that 25' of film is exposed. Open the film door (same precautions as loading new film), exchange bottom and top reels and re-thread film leader to the empty bottom take-up reel. The Bolex reel will now be on the top spindle.

4) This is how the double run system works. Two 25’ passes are made with one 25’ reel of 16mm wide film, exposing ½ a side at a time. When finished filming, your original Bolex reel will be empty and still on the top spindle. The bottom reel with the exposed film on it is the one you send in to the film developers. When it's gone, replace the original reel onto the bottom spindle.

     5)    Any questions? See your camera’s manual. It's all in there :)

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