Re: [Frameworks] 16mm sound projector

From: David Tetzlaff (email suppressed)
Date: Mon Feb 07 2011 - 22:28:32 PST

Shelly Silver asked:

> if an institution was going to purchase a 16mm sound projector, which
> ones would you recommend - especially keeping an eye on ease of use,
> longevity and the ability to replace bulbs when they burn out

Well, that depends. Will it be in one place, or moved from room to room? What are the sizes of the projection spaces? The sizes of the screens relative to the distance from screen to projector? Can the room be fully darkened? etc. etc.

The condensed version of what appears below is:

I've been meaning to create a guide to 16mm projectors for awhile now, and Shelly's inquiry prompted me to actually write soemthing down. I'll add some illustrative photos and put it on my little film-tech website at I welcome any and all comments, suggestions etc. I'd especially like to hear whether my impressions of 'real' B+H slot loads, Elmo CL16 / Kodak CT1000, or any Singer models are on track with the experiences of folks who have spent a lot of time with them. 
DJT's Guide to 16mm Projection (FWIW, IMHO, yada, yada, yada...)
If you need a really bright image (say, if you have a really big screen to fill...) you might consider a Xenon lamp model, if you can afford one (they're expensive). This pretty much limits you to a couple models from Elmo in terms of what's readily available, especially if you want one you can pick up and carry around. CAVEAT: Xenon lamps have a higher color temperature than std. lamps, most 16mm prints are balanced for std. tungsten, and some filmmakers care a lot about color fidelity. So, if you're going to have one all-purpose projector, or you have a limited budget, a Xenon is probably out.
You should probably only consider projectors with modern quartz lamps. Any of these are common, affordable (if you look around) and easy to replace in a mechanical sense as well. You'll likely want to avoid the older models that use older, large tube-type conventional filament lamps. (You can tell which these are if you know the electrical specs: the old lamps are not very efficient, and draw between 750-1000 Watts. Quartz lamps, in contrast, draw between 200-300 Watts). There are 2 categories of quartz lamps: 20-24VDC (which means the projector power supply has to provide the DC voltage) and 120VAC (since the lamp is powered right from the mains, the projector has fewer parts and is therefore less expensive). The DC lamps are more efficient -- a 250 Watt 24VDC ELC lamp is clearly brighter than a 300 Watt 120VAC EYK lamp. Since used projectors are cheap enough, you'll want to get one that uses DC lamps.
AFAIK the projectors that list an EJL 200 Watt 24VDC lamp as standard can all take an ELC 250 Watt 24VDC lamp, or an even brighter ELC-HL. So  quartz projectors with 24VDC lamps can be considered to have approximately equal light sources (potentially anyway). This makes the prime determinant of brightness the speed of the lens. 16mm projection lenses usually run between f1.2 and f2. That's a whole stop, which makes a lot of difference end to end. In general, you'll find faster lenses on newer projectors with wider lens barrels. 
A major factor to consider is the availability of lenses. The standard lens of a 16mm projector is 50mm, which casts a pretty small image in a small room (Hey, it's still bigger than a TV). Since the light output is constant, the smaller the image, the brighter, which was one reason for that focal length, I suspect. Anyway, in most situations, you'll probably want something wider than a 50mm. The next widest prime you'll usually find is a 38mm (not that you're likely to find a projector already fitted with one, but sold separately). Probably good enough, though still a little long for my taste in most conditions... if I'm going to project film, I want it to look as cinematic as possible and fill the available screen space. On the other hand, a 25mm prime is too wide for most screening situations where the projector is at the back of the room. In my (limited) experience the most useful focal lengths seem to be between 28-32mm, and of course they didn't/don't make prime lenses 
 in that range, and zooms that go there are rare. The most readily available zooms have a wide end of 35mm. 
The wider the lens barrel, the wider the potential selection of lenses, since you can get collar bushing adapters to use smaller-barrel lenses in wider-barrel projectors. You can sometimes find these on eBay, or at projector vendors like MTE. Larry Urbanski might also be a source (he sells 16mm lenses for sure). These are basically just aluminum donuts, nothing complicated, and if you can't find what you need for sale, you should be able to get a machinist to make something up for you for a reasonable fee.
Wide-barrel lenses are also usually faster than narrow-barrels (e.g. a standard 50mm for a Pageant or Bell and Howell narrow-barrel is f1.6, for Bell and Howell wide-barrel f1.2).
There are 5 common lens barrel sizes:
Pageant size 
~29.4mm (my measurement) The smallest. Nothing else fits in. I've seen B+H/Singer narrow-barrel lenses machined down to fit into a Pageant, (and even tried to do it myself) but it's a rather dicey proposition as there might not be much width of the barrel left, depending on the specific lens. AFAIK there are no zoom lenses that fit into a Pageant.
B+H and Singer (Graflex) narrow-barrel
~30.4mm (my measurement) Singers are generally the same diameter and threaded all down the barrel, while Bell and Howells are narrower and unthreaded toward the rear of the barrel. Thus, a B+H narrow-barrel will fit in a Singer though it might need a collar at the rear to move through the full focus range without flopping loose, but a Singer might not go all the way into a Bell and Howell... which is fine because only very old Bell and Howells use the narrow-barrel lenses and you don't want one of those anyway.
Elmo size 
40mm Smallest 'modern' barrel, can use old-style B+H/Singer or Pagant lenses w. adapter.
Eiki size 
42.5mm. Just a little bit wider than the Elmo, can use old-style B+H/Singer or Pagant lenses w. adapter, can use some Elmo lenses with improvised shim.
Singer(Graflex/Telex)/B+H wide-barrel
The same width (52.5mm), though with slightly different grooves for focusing. More or less interchangeable, and almost any of the smaller barrel lenses can be used with adapters. (The reason it's 'almost' is that some lenses won't go back far enough to get focus under some conditions when used in projectors other than the ones they were made for.) 
Projection lenses can be fitted with screw-on optical focal length adapters, similar to those you might use on a camcorder. The Bell and Howell Filmovara attachment turns wide-barrel primes into limited-range zooms, providing both wider and longer focal lengths though not dramatically so. Similar attachments are also available for Eiki lenses. Kodak made a 'bifocal adapter' that makes the standard 50mm a bit wider or longer by fixed amounts, depending on which way you attach it. You may also find that focal length adapters made for camcorders will work on your projection lenses, if you can get them to fit. The fronts of projection lenses tend not to have standard filter threads, so the best bet may be to find an attachment with rear threads just a bit narrower than the end of the lens barrel, shim it up with thin strips of Nashua aluminum tape (should be available at your local hardware store) and then tape the two barrels together with more aluminum tape.
A zoom in the right range has the benefit of allowing you to adjust the image to fit the screen precisely, and to work equally well in rooms or with screens of somewhat different sizes.
"Ease of use" is a canard. Since, at this point, any print you are likely to screen will cost more to replace than a non-Xenon projector would, no one who can't be bothered to learn how to operate a manual-thread projector ought to be even touching a print. It's not rocket-science. Far more important than 'ease of use' is the threat or wear or damage a projector poses to the film that passes through it.
Some mechanisms are easier on film than others, though, of course, the age and condition of of the individual machine matter a much or more than the design. In general though: auto-threads are the worst, manual-threads the best, with slot-loads in the middle. The condition of the slot-load mechanism (the mechanics that engage the film at the start, not the actual projecting part) is especially important, as this linkage can wear-out or gum up to the point where engaging the lever doesn't necessarily seat the film in the path properly -- yielding instant shredded print. 
Newer projectors (Eiki and Elmo) are much lighter and easier to lug around than older ones (Pageant, Graflex, B+H). It's also easier to find people who can repair them. Which is not to say it's easy. In fact, finding competent service technicians for any 16mm projector is downright hard. So reliability may be more valuable than newness.
So if we limit the field to quartz lamp units, and eliminate the auto-threaders, there are not that many models you're likely to encounter.  Herewith, my thoughts on the basic pluses and misuses of each.
1. 'Real' Bell and Howell 
Slot Load  1575, 1580, 2680 
Manual Thread 1540, 1541, 1579 
(Bell and Howell 35XX are re-branded Eikis)
I've tended to avoid Bell and Howell's as they don't have a particularly good reputation for handling film. That said, in my limited experience with them, the slot load mechanics seem to work OK, and I've never actually known one to eat a print. The 1575 uses a line-level lamp (BHB) instead of a 24V lamp (found in the XX80 models), but it's still pretty bright.
PLUS: Bell and Howells have the widest selection of lenses available. Wide lenses for B+H are cheaper and easier to find than those for other makes. The Filmovara zoom attachment is also pretty easy to find. It fits to the front of B+H wide-barrel primes, providing both wider and longer focal lengths within a limited range. Lenses made for other projectors can be used with adapters.
MINUS: It's kinda scary running film through one.
2. Eiki SSL-O (B+H 3580)
The most common late-model 16mm make. The SSL-OL (BH 3575) uses a 120AC lamp that is a noticeable step down in brightness from the 24V ELC in the standard SSL-O.
PLUS: Lightest weight. Decent selection of lenses available. Wide lenses for Eiki are moderately easy to find and usually moderately priced. There are also zoom attachments that can be fit to the front of Eiki primes, (similar to the B+H Filmovara) providing both wider and longer focal lengths within a limited range.
MINUS: Unreliable. I've had more problems with Eikis than any other make -- in part perhaps because I've used them more as they were the 'best' units available. The slot load engage mechanism is fairly complicated, subject to getting worn out or gunked up, and not working quite right. Since it's built in to the same lever that turns the projector on, it's easy for the movement to start with the film not properly seated - which is a very, very bad thing. The focus knob engages the lens barrel with a kind of faux-rubber tip. This material is subject to deteriorating, turning to little bits of brown goop that can migrate into the film path. Also very, very bad. So, when the transmission to the reels starts slipping, you hardly even care...
3. Elmo CL16 (the Kodak CT1000 is a rebranded CL16)
Similar in design and vintage to the Eiki SSL. Like the Eiki, the slot-load mechanism is engaged by the main knob that starts the movement. I haven't had any problems with Elmo's, though my experience with them is not that extensive. Nevertheless, at this point I would trust Elmo mechanisms much more than Eikis. Elmo lenses are harder to find than those for B+H or Eiki, and Elmo branded lenses tend to be pretty expensive. MTE in Florida usually has new ISCO 35-65 f1.3 zooms that will fit Elmo for around $250. You could also use the military surplus 35-60mm f.1.5 Singer narrow barrel they sell for under $100, if you obtain the proper adapter. If you can find an Elmo 38mm fixed lens, you can attach an Eiki zoom adapter by jury rigging with aluminum tape, and you might even be able to find or jury rig an adapter to attach a Filmovara to the front.
4. Graflex / Telex (Singer)
There are numerous iterations of Singer projectors, which appeared first under the Graphlex rubric, then Telex. As far as I can tell they're all fairly similar. Old ones have narrow barrel lenses (and large tube lamps I suppose), but I've seen slot loads with quartz lamps and wide barrel lenses under both the Graflex and Telex labeling. The manual thread variations have a reputation for being gentle with film. These don't show up for sale that often, the slot-loaders being more common. (I'm not sure the manual-thread models ever had the wide-barrel lens mount.) The Singer narrow-barrel mount is the same diameter as Bell and Howell narrow-barrel. There are many more lenses available in this size than in the narrower Pageant barrel. So while the lens situation isn't as flexible as the wider-barrel projectors, it's not that bad. MTE in Florida usually has military surplus 35-60mm f1.5 zooms that fit Singer narrow-barrel for $60 or so.
The more recent Singers use the EJL/ELC 24VDC lamps, which are readily available and cheap. Older models (e.g. the manual thread versions) use a DKM 21.5VDC lamp, which also seems readily available and only a bit more expensive. Alas I do not know how the DKM compares in brightness to the ELC (both are rated at 250 Watts, so I'd guess they're similar... ???).
AFAIK, the slot load models are OK with prints. The slot load mechanism engages the film based on moving a large lever at the back of the projector up and down. I think this has advantages over the Eiki/Elmo one-knob system: the linkage seems simpler, sturdier, and easier to adjust if it goes out of whack (not that I've tried to do that). Also, since engaging the film and starting the projection require two different controls, you can easily check to see of the film is seated right in the path before throwing the machine into forward motion. The back of the projector comes off easily, exposing the innards in a state where the projector will still function, which should enable both DIY maintenance and professional service. 
One problem I had with a Telex slot-load is that the spring belts that drive the reels both snapped. I don't know if that's typical though. (I got replacements off a parts projector, and they held up... It's probably a good idea to have spare belts on hand for any projector that has belts which can be changed without major surgery... though minor surgery will likely be necessary.)
Singer wide-barrel lenses are the same diameter as Bell and Howell, so you can interchange them. The Singer focuses via a thread that runs down the body of the barrel, engaged by a spring detent, so the lens moves forward and back in the housing as you twist is counter-clockwise or clockwise. Bell and Howell projectors use a focus knob that engages a slight ribbing on the lens barrel. This means that when you put a Bell and Howell lens in a Singer you can only focus by pulling the lens straight in or out, and fine adjustment is difficult. I consider this a minor inconvenience, not a major problem. 
PLUS: Gentle with film, or at least not that dangerous. Seem simple and rugged. Wide-barrel lens mount opens the most possibilities and availablity of lenses in other-than-50mm focal length. Filmovara's will fit directly onto Singer brand wide-barrels. You may be able to find or fabricate an adapter to attach an Eiki zoom adapter or a Filmovara to the front of Singer narrow-barrel lenses (there's room in front of the lens).
MINUS: Ugly. Heavy.
5. Kodak Pageant 250S
(the Kodak CT1000 is a rebranded Elmo CL16)
The last of the Pageant line, the 250S uses 24VDC lamps. Most of the older Pageants use the large tube-style conventional filament lamps, which pose potential replacement problems. I'm pretty sure there was a model using 120VAC quartz lamps, but I don't know the number.
PLUS: The most gentle with film. Highly reliable. (The kinds of problems they get when do get problems don't usually threaten prints.) Iconic (unmatched 'cool' factor).
MINUS: It's really hard to find wide lenses that will fit in one of these, and they're on the slow side at that. Aside from the bifocal adapter made for the standard 50mm, you can't fit wide-angle or zoom attachments, even by jury rigging, as the projector body will get in the way. Pageants are also harder to work on than other makes, so repair may be harder to find or more expensive, should you need it. Significantly heavier than Eiki or Elmo.
The only projectors I've had _extensive_ personal experience with are Eikis and Pageants. Due to the nature of the problems I've had with Eikis, and the number and percentage of them that have acted-up on me, I must recommend against them. On the other hand, I love Pageants... but the difficulty of obtaining lenses probably rules them out in most instances. (By all means, if the standard 50mm f1.6 does by some odd chance suit you and your screening space, Dave sez look for a 250S.)
If you need/want more flexibility in lenses, (and you probably do), I'd suggest looking for the right lens first, and then buying a projector into which it will fit (or can be made to fit, if you have the hacker resources). The right lens may be considerably more expensive than the projector itself, and much harder to find a replacement for. In fact, you might consider the projector itself to be disposable, since you'll probably be able to get a working one of any of the above models on eBay for less (maybe much less) than the price of repair. 
The 'Holy Grail' IMHO is a fast lens in the vicinity of 30mm. Quite hard to find, though. Bell and Howell made a 30-70 f1.5 wide barrel. As I write on 2/7/11, MTE has one available for $130. If I was in the market for a projector, I would grab that first thing. Then I'd look for a Graflex or Telex slot-load to put it in. Assuming a 30mm-ish lens was not available,and I had the budget, and I didn't have the time to do lots of hunting about, and I wanted something a bit easier to lug around, I'd probably get the Elmo CL16 in best condition I could find on eBay and fit it with one of those ISCO 35-65mm zooms from MTE. 
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