Friday, April 8, 2011
Camera Reports: The Right Way
Color Temperature: A Crash Course
Depth of Field Explained
Shooting for Black and White: Part I
Shooting for Black and White: Part II
Why We Need Light: Unabridged (Parts 1-5)
Shooting for Black & White
Part II: Camera Format
written by Ryan Patrick O'Hara
Part one discussed the aesthetic (or lack of) use of black & white in film. Part II will explore the different camera formats available to the modern cinematographer making a black & white picture. This article and the next (part III) are the original intentions of the 'Black & White' article series. Among many subjects, this article will focus on shooting black & white film stock, color film stock for black & white, and HD/digital for black & white.
At this time, it may be noted this article is not going to explore black & white lighting technique such as noir films. The article will focus on technical advice for achieving a strong black & white image albeit general mood or genre. Examples given will attempt to focus on modern black & white films.
Shooting On Black & White Film Stock
Black & white film stocks were the first developed and remained popular decades later even after the initial advent of color film stocks. Only when color film stocks grew increasingly popular and most importantly, more affordable, did color become the standard cinema experience. Since that time, the use of black & white has been used sparingly.
As of this writing, the current trend appears to be shooting color negative stock and removing the color information in printing or digital intermediate. There are several pro's and con's to this method, which will be covered at a later time. In my opinion, the main reason modern film makers have all but abandoned true black & white film stocks is due to the lack of technological development otherwise found in the new color film stocks.
This isn't your grandfathers film stock! ... oh wait, yes, actually it is.
This is somewhat true. Take a look at Eastman Kodak and Fuji Film; the largest (and arguably only) producers of professional 35mm film stocks. As of this writing, Eastman Kodak offers only two black & white negative film stocks, while Fuji offers none! The two Kodak stocks available are Eastman Double-X 5222 and Eastman Plus-X 5231.
Eastman Kodak Plus-X 5231 was introduced in 1956, although initially under the name Plus-X Panchromatic Negative film, 4231. Double-X 5222 would soon follow in 1959.
There has not been one black & white film stock available to the modern cinematographer introduced since 1960. Before I continue, 5222 and 5231 have been a very renowned and successful film stock. As for the main reasons I have observed for their desertion has been because of the lack of technological improvements found in their color negative counterparts. These features include faster ISO/ASA ratings, improved grain, and higher latitude.
It appears the modern use of 5222 & 5231 has fallen mainly to those who wish to better attain the vintage look, which these film stocks can provide. Relatively recent black & white films shot with either 5222 and/or 5231 include: I'm Not There (2007), the beginning of Casino Royale (2006), Memento (2000), Schindler's List (1993), and Kafka (1991). If you have read, Shooting For Black & White: Part One you should already know all of those films with the exception of Memento, used black & white film stocks to attain the look of older films. For example, an excerpt from the article “Deconstructing Bob Dylan”, written by Jon Silberg for American Cinematographer November 2007, states:
Lachman filmed Jude's story on Kodak Plus-X 5231 and Double-X 5222 black-and-white negative stocks. "I know the recent trend with black-and-white scenes in movies has been to shoot color and transform it into black-and-white through printing or DI techniques, but the thing I wanted to reference was the way films looked in the Sixties in terms of exposure, texture, grain and latitude," says Lachman. Working in black-and-white, he continues, is about more than just getting a monochromatic image. "Kodak hasn't improved those stocks. If I shoot Double-X in 2006, it's like shooting it back in the Sixties; it only has about 1.5 stops of over or underexposure. Also, they haven't T-grained it the way they have their color stocks.”
Another article, "Schindler's List Finds Heroism Amidst Holocaust" written by Karen Erbach (American Cinematographer, January 1994) discusses the use of black & white film stock:
Once Spielberg and Kaminski were in actual preproduction, the time had come to finalize decisions, such as which film stock to use. Against studio hopes, the final print of Schindler's List would be black & white. The filmmakers had to decide between shooting on black & white negative or draining the hues from color negative. Spielberg wanted to colorize specific elements in certain shots, ultimately forcing the duo to utilize some color negative. Kaminski's big concern was whether the manipulated color would match with the black & white.
"After doing some tests we used Kodak color 5247 and 5296 to match with black-and-white 5231 and 5222, which are the only available emulsions," explains Kaminski. "We had to really fight with relatively inferior and dated film stock, basically because technology has changed but the film stock hasn't.
A letter was sent to Eastman Kodak asking for an official statement on why there has not been a new black & white film stock released since around 1960. A quick reply was received from the good people at Kodak. As it turns out, it is not just coincidence that the vast majority of cinematographers use the stocks for a ‘vintage’ look. As demonstrated by a small excerpt from Kodak's response states:
During past technology upgrades for these two B&W camera films, it has always been our intent to maintain the look of “classic” B&W film that our customers have expressed a desire for.
To greater surprise, the previous statements, regarding black & white stocks lacking technological improvements, is in need of clarification. The extremely informative and well-written letter from Kodak explains that although the fundamentals of 5222 and 5231 have remained the same in terms of look, Kodak has improved the stock with multiple minor, yet important, upgrades. These upgrades made the film stock more ecologically friendly, safe to manufacture, and reliable in performance. The letter, in entirety is available to be viewed HERE.
Despite Kodak's belief, I think a modern black & white film stock could benefit the film community, as it would offer a true black and white film stock but with further technological advancements currently held by color stocks such as faster speeds, smaller grain, and wider latitude. As of now, we do not have black & white film stocks being manufactured to their full potential.
Pro's and Con's:
At this point one may wonder what could possibly be the advantages to using available black & white film stocks? Assured, there are advantages. The first, and most obvious advantage is if the desired look of the black & white picture is to achieve a vintage look. In this case, 5222 & 5231 are very good base emulsions to start building the overall look upon. An excerpt from the article, "Schindler's List Finds Heroism Amidst Holocaust" written by Karen Erbach (AC Jan. '94), Kaminski discusses the comparison between black & white stock vs. drained color negative:
The first test Kaminski performed was to find out if a manipulated color negative could pose as black & white. "We had two cameras side by side with the lenses at the same focal length, shooting simultaneously. One camera was loaded with 5296 color negative. The other camera had 5222 black-and-white negative. Don printed the 5296 on color print stock but pulled out all the color. The black-and-white was printed on standard black-and-white stock. We set up the projectors side by side for viewing. The black-and-white had a completely different quality than the drained color negative. The black-and-white looked much more realistic, with more grain, while the color had a faint blue tint."
As described, the realistic 'classic' qualities of the 5222 worked for Kaminski's look of a realistic documentary holocaust world. Many like Kaminski have used black & white film qualities to their advantage.
During production, black & white film stocks have a very useful advantage; they can utilize colored filtration. The use of color filters give the cinematographer a wonderful tool for manipulating and adjusting tonal separations by restricting selective wavelengths of color from reaching the negative. Within the American Cinematographer article, "Deconstructing Bob Dylan", written by Jon Silberg, director of photography Edward Lachman, ASC reflects on the use of color filters for tonal separation:
"By shooting real black-and-white, I was able to use the same methods cinematographers used then to selectively alter tones, like say, using a Yellow 8, Orange 21, or Red 23A to introduce tonal separations. You can change some values if you use a DI to change color to black-and-white, but it doesn't feel or look the same in the values of tonal separation...”
Another example, once again, comes from the article, “Schindler's List Finds Heroism Amidst Holocaust” by Karen Erbach (AC Jan. 94). Kaminski discusses his use and testing of camera filtration and tonal separation:
The next phase of testing involved filters. Kaminski explains how he was trying to brighten faces so that they'd appear white rather than grey: "Sometimes I'd succeed, sometimes I'd fail. I used yellow #15 and orange #21 to brighten skin tones. The principals in black-and-white are as such: if you have a red object and you apply a red filter, the red object will become lighter. Because most people's faces have a lot of orange, when you apply an orange filter, it neutralizes the orange, making the face appear lighter. With red filters you have to be careful. We used red #23 on occasion, but the faces became too bright and the lips became to dark. Lips have a lot of blue in them and red accentuates this while increasing the contrast. Another technique was to 'over-light' the faces according to my meter; when we saw the dailies, they were the perfect tone of white."
Shoot Film, Print Film, Release Film:
Another advantage of shooting black & white film stock for a black and white picture is the ability to photograph, process, time, print, and release the picture in a photochemical process; skipping the process of a digital intermediate. Although it is possible to shoot color film and print to black & white stock for print/release all photo-chemically, most instances often require the use of a DI. As of the time of this writing, digital intermediates are commonly 2k or 4k scans, a lower resolution product versus a film print. These films are also often projected on digital projection systems, also currently at 2k resolution in the majority of digital projection screens. A photochemical 35mm print can offer a greater resolution picture.
Lack of Modern Qualities:
Disadvantages of using black & white stock are mainly due to aforementioned lack of advancement otherwise seen in color stocks. Kodak 5222 & 5231 are both slower speed stocks, yet still retain grain usually reserved for faster stocks. The black & white film stocks also have less latitude and therefore tend to carry more contrast. These qualities aren't necessarily bad, as they are sometimes desired. But not possessing higher latitude is restrictive to the modern cinematographer, and may simply drive him/her to the color stock alternative. All of the 'old film look’ qualities can be attained in modern stocks by using lighting, filtration, developing, and printing techniques. Therefore, why are these stocks settling for the least common denominator? Perhaps, instead of preserving the "classic" qualities of a film stock for a niche look, make a faster, cleaner grained- high latitude stock everyone can use and those who desire, may degrade/alter the image to achieve a more 'classic' look at their discretion.
Post Production Headaches:
Sadly, disadvantages to black & white film stocks do not end at the production stage. As the world embraced color, the use and demand for black & white has decreased allowing many facilities and technologies to become less attentive with the differing needs of black & white stocks. Many film labs and lab personnel are increasingly becoming distanced from the experience and knowledge of handling black & white stocks. Some labs will not even process it.
When printing a black & white film for release, the best method to do so, would be on black & white print stock. Black & white print stock, used very seldom, is considerably more expensive. When a production company is sending out 3,000 prints, the price difference is a large factor. Many films will have select theaters play black & white release prints, while the vast majority across the country will have black & white on a color print stock, which saves money but inherits another set of problems.
Because of the silver nature of black & white stocks, when the release stock is run through a projector, the film can become very hot and start to warp/melt causing the film to appear out of focus and with varying densities in the blacks. From an International Cinematographers Guild Magazine article, "Razor Burn" written by Kevin H. Martin, Roger Deakins recalls an instance that happened to fellow Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski during Schindler's List:
Deakins notes that releasing on black-and-white stock in this day and age is an undertaking not without drawbacks. "On Schindler's List [photographed by Janusz Kaminski, ASC], there was a problem with the amount of silver contained in a black-and-white print," he reports. "This caused too much heat buildup in some projectors, which as a result were more liable to experience damage while running hotter. To get around this, they wound up having to wax the prints. At this point, there's still a financial issue for us about how many prints will go out on the print stock.
In the article "Cinematography in Black and White" written by Bob Fisher for MovieMaker Magazine (Feb. '07), Frederick Elmes discusses projection overheating, during a screening of Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes:
MM: Why did he want to shoot it in black and white?
FE: Jim always saw these stories in black and white and I enjoy shooting it because it makes me think differently about the light. Technically, I learned a great deal, because these films were shot in different gauges in different years with different budgets using different laboratories around the world. We had 16mm, Super16 and 35mm negatives.
We scanned them all at DuArt in New York, corrected the contrast and black levels digitally and made black and white digital intermediates. Then we made very beautiful pristine black and white prints, which looked great in the lab in New York. Jim took a print on the road to the Berlin Film Festival for a premiere screening with thousands of people, but unfortunately, parts of the film played out of focus because the arc lights in modern projectors are very hot and black and white film absorbs most of the heat because of the silver in it. The film kept popping in the gate and changing focus, even though the same print looked great in smaller theaters where the lamp wasn’t as hot. This forced us to go back to the digital master, change the contrast to accommodate color intermediates and make color release prints.
The contrast is not as good as black and white release stock and there will always be a little color in the image. I think it’s time for a new black and white technology that combines the magical look of silver-based stocks with the projectability of modern color stocks.
Release to Color:
As Elmes mentioned, one way to circumvent the price/heat issues are to release a film shot on a black & white film stock on a color print stock. The drawback to this procedure is the color stock will always have a little color. The image will have a slight tint, depriving the audience of a true black & white experience. Robert Elswit discusses his experience testing a black & white film release on color stock, in the AC article, "Public and Private Battles" (Nov '05) written by Jon D. Witmer:
Another consideration for the film makers was that Clooney wanted to end the film with a color sequence, which mandated releasing the picture on color stock. "The problem with printing [black-and-white] on color stock is that there's always a little color," notes Elswit. "As monochromatic as it might be, it's definitely still not as true as a true black-and-white print. There's always a shift somewhere."
Clooney would later throw out the color ending to "Goodnight and Goodluck" and Elswit happily aborted releasing on color print stock. He convinced Warner Brothers to approve printing the film on black & white print stock "even though it was significantly more expensive to do so."
Although not common, there are occasional occurrences of static discharge in black & white film stocks under specific conditions, usually in very dry environments. Perhaps best documented from the experience of Janusz Kaminski on the set of Schindler's List. A passage from “Schindler's List Finds Heroism Amidst Holocaust”, recounts his experience:
Kaminski thought he'd solved all his problems with black & white- that is, until shooting commenced. "We began to have problems with the negative discharge of electricity that happens only with black and white because of the silver content in the emulsion. We would have spots on the negative that looked like little dots with arms of lightning. Sometimes we would have lines running across the top of the frame like lightning in the sky. It's very hard to avoid, and we failed. I still don't know how to avoid it. I read some comments in American Cinematographer by Walt Lloyd, who shot Kafka, [and he said] that he had the same problems. Basically, the room has to be static-free. We'd spray the room and be careful when loading or unloading to avoid any friction between the winds of emulsion. Soon we realized that a lot of the static occurred at the beginning of the roll. So we'd shoot off sixty to eighty feet at the head of every roll, providing [some room] to protect ourselves. However there's still some footage that has static and people will see it. I don't think it's terrible- the image is not ruined- but it's unavoidable. We were shooting under harsh weather and production conditions. All those elements contribute to static discharge.
Some recommended methods of dealing with static discharge include:
1) Using a humidifier in the environment where the film is being loaded, down loaded, rewound, etc. Even having a humidifier on set, could benefit the film, albeit it does not interfere with other elements of the film. (set, hair, etc.)
2) Spritzing water into the surrounding air, to increase humidity. A plant mister or likewise instrument is sufficient. John Sprung a member over at Cinematography.com, goes even further and suggests adding, "a little Downy fabric softener to the water you spray around, it helps to drain static better than just plain water. Try 4:1 to 10:1 mixtures."
3) Placing a damp sponge inside the camera body.
It should also be known that you can have to much moisture. If this happens, the moisture will dry after the film is spooled. This can allow the film to slightly stick to itself. Later at the lab when the film is unspooled, the stuck film will be ripped apart causing a spark of static, in essence creating an effect worse from what was originally trying to be avoided.
If you disregard the negative aspects of black & white film stock which are existent from lack of technological advancement, the prospect of shooting on black & white looks much more attractive, and perhaps more features would choose it over shooting color stocks. Until that day arrives, cinematographers must deal with grain, slower speeds, less latitude, and processing/print difficulties if considering black & white stock.
Shooting Color Film Stock
As you are now aware, limitations of modern black & white film stock has driven many cinematographers into the welcoming arms of more advanced color film stocks. Indirectly supporting this process, is the increasing use of a digital intermediate.
Pro's and Con's:
As with any medium, there are pro's and con's regarding the use of color film stock for the end product of a black & white picture.
Advancements in Film Qualities:
After my previous writing, the obvious first advantage of using color film stock would be for the technological advantages in visual quality it possesses not otherwise found in black & white stocks. As stated earlier, there have been leaps and bounds in color stock improvement, which continue today. Increased film latitude, grain reduction, and faster exposure speeds among the obvious differences compared to the 'classic' look desired by 5222 and 5231 users. Thus, cinematographers who wish to shoot black & white, but not necessarily utilize the inherent qualities of older black and white stocks, choose modern color stocks. Robert Elswit talks about his decision to shoot Good Night and Good Luck in color stock in the article "Public and Private Battles" (Nov. '05), written by Jon D. Witmer for American Cinematographer:
Although Elswit loved the idea of shooting Good Night on monochromatic stock, practical considerations led him to adopt the approach taken by Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC on The Man Who Wasn't There: shooting on color stock and de-saturating the images in post. Elswit therefore chose to shoot the picture on Kodak Vision2 500T 5218, which he rated at ISO 400. "I needed a film stock that would allow me to use zoom lenses in low-light situations," he explains. "5218 is twice as fast as the fastest black and white stock, [Eastman Kodak Double-X] 5222 and has a grain structure and tonal range equal to the slowest black-and-white stock, [Eastman Kodak Plus-X] 5231. After doing photochemical tests in black-and-white George and I decided 5231 gave us the look we liked best. By choosing 5218, I hoped I would be able to make its contrast and tonal range resemble those of 5231 in post."
In this case, Elswit did like the contrast of 5231 but, however, desired the speed and low grain structure of a more technologically 'modern' film stock. Had there have been a black & white film stock which had the speed, latitude, and grain structure of more sophisticated color negative stock, then Elswit could have shot with it, and achieved the contrast with either traditional camera tricks, in processing, printing, or DI, if necessary. In another article, "The Root(s) of All Evil" written for American Cinematographer by Jay Holben (Oct. '01), Roger Deakins discusses his work on The Man Who Wasn't There: (The studio had made an agreement with distributors that foreign distribution would be in color, against the wishes of the Cohen brothers.)
That agreement forced Deakins to generate a negative that could work in both versions. As a result, he wound up shooting on color stock. "That wasn't such a bad thing, though, because I had been testing Kodak's Plus-X [5231, 64 ISO tungsten] and Double-X [5222, 200 ISO tungsten] stocks, and I wasn't very happy with the results," Deakins remarks. "I began testing color stock printed on black-and-white, and it was kind of a tossup. The monochrome stocks haven't really changed much for many years. They don't have the same [refined] anti-halation backing the color negative does, so you tend to get fringing and flares. They're also fairly grainy compared to the color stocks."
As you see, Roger Deakins shares a similar point of view and even offers an additional advantage of color film stock; the 'refined' anti-halation backing on the film negative, helping reduce fringing and flares.
Digital Intermediate Advantages:
If taking a color stock film to digital intermediate, the opportunity to control specific tones becomes possible, much to the similar effect of the colored filters used on black & white stock but with more precision and control, although many think it does not feel as ‘right’. In addition, John Lindley, ASC, director of photography for Pleasantville, has had interesting comments regarding black & white film stock versus color film stock. Found in the article, "Black-and-White in Color" written by Bob Fisher for American Cinematographer (Nov. '98) he makes the observation:
"When we tested black-and-white film, it was evident that by the time it was run through a recorder, it wouldn't be sharp enough to create the feeling of reality we wanted. Modern color films have multiple T-grain layers and therefore record much sharper and cleaner images."
The 'recorder' he is referring to is a scanning machine which will record every frame of film at 2k resolution, part of the process known as a digital intermediate. Yet again, we discover another advantage of color film stock, but as usual, only as a result of a lacking modern black and white film stock.
Although since the comments of Lindley, and as of the time of this article (2008), this specific disadvantage of black & white film stock seems to have been improved upon since the release of Pleasantville (1998). Another excerpt from the letter I received from Eastman Kodak reveals:
In the early 2000’s both the B&W negative emulsions were re-engineered and moved into Kodak’s state-of-the-art coating facility to provide a more environmentally friendly film which also resulted in noteworthy improvements to the product's overall uniformity and batch-to-batch consistency. Also around the same time period, an extensive research effort was undertaken jointly with Ryerson University looking at incorporating Kodak T-Grain technology into the B&W motion picture camera films, only to find the current emulsion sets actually provide finer granularity.
The letter never states that the film stocks granularity were actually improved upon, but rather found through a study to be on par with the color stocks. Whether this was a result from other improvements around that time, or simply findings which disagrees with Lindley's experience, is unknown to myself.
Special Effects: Mixing Color and Black & White imagery:
An obvious advantage of shooting color film stock for a black & white picture, yet deserving of a quick mention, is when the black & white image is to be accompanied by color elements. Instances include moments from Schindler's List (intro, girl in red dress, etc) and the majority of the premise of Pleasantville. It is an easy conclusion that the removal of color is much more time and cost effective then colorizing elements in a black & white film. Therefore any special effects needing simultaneous color and black & white photography would be shot utilizing color stock.
Digital Intermediate Disadvantages:
Although the digital intermediate allows the cinematographer specific and extra tonal control by manipulating colors before the final removal of color, the digital intermediate is not ideal to many cinematographers. The first, and most troublesome disadvantage is the loss of resolution. Despite certain improvement with future technology, as of this writing a complete photochemical workflow will result in the highest resolution film print.
Second, when printing to color print stock, the use of a digital intermediate causes slight tinting and color shifting in the picture, resulting in the inability to have a complete black & white image.
To quote the article "Losing Control", written by Bob Davis for American Cinematographer (Nov. 07), Director of Photography Martin Ruhe reports,
"One problem is that black-and-white stocks are very grainy. The tests we shot already looked dated." So for Control, Ruhe ran two Kodak Vision2 color stocks through his Panaflex Millennium XL camera- 500t 5218 for every thing else- with an eye toward digital intermediate (DI) post-processing. "The tricky thing about the DI pathway is getting real black-and-white onto the screen," he says. "Most distributors aren't able to show expensive black-and-white prints, but when you write your DI back out to film, a shift of half a step in the print lights may result in a tinted image." Indeed, though the print that screened at Cannes convinced nearly everyone that the film had been shot on black-and-white stock, a couple of the reels projected at a press screening in Los Angeles had a slightly red or green cast.
In the article “Deconstructing Bob Dylan” (American Cinematographer Nov. 07). Edward Lachman, ASC noted this realization he had with Black and white stock (he shot both 5222& 5231):
"By originating on black-and-white emulsion, you're able to maintain a truer black-and-white look than if you shoot on color stock and convert the images to black and white... This was confirmed to me by the colorist doing the final prints at Technicolor, Lee Wimer, who had encountered this problem while converting color to black-and-white on other projects. Apparently, when you do a DI, there can be additional color shifting from your original DI negative, especially when you're at the dupe-negative stage."
The use of colored filters cannot be used in color photography. Instead, a digital intermediate can isolate and manipulate specific hues/tones. Despite the previously mentioned advantage of precision and control, digital intermediate requires the film to be digitized, losing its film resolution down to a 2k resolution, unlike the colored filters, which will not necessarily allow a film to leave the photochemical process.
Shooting Digital Video
Shooting film stock may not always be possible due to creative, financial, or logistical means. In this case, many turn to HD video to shoot a film, which will have a final black & white image. Digital Video is simply a one-flavor medium: color. The process is much like that of color film stock.
Pro's and Con's:
Although shooting digital video and color film stock (most likely) will both go through a digital post workflow, digital video will not need to be scanned digitally because it will always be available in its native format and resolution. This spares the digital video from the costly and potentially negative process of scanning. As time progresses, film will be scanned at higher resolutions, as will digital video be shot at higher native resolutions.
Digital video cannot use color filters for tonal separation. They can appear to apply the same effect as in film, but run negative risks of doing strange things to the video picture such as artifacting, noise, and other unwanted effects. Instead, different hues and tones can be controlled via digital color correction before being transformed into a black & white picture. This is an artificial, yet more precise method of tonal control, versus the color filters used in black & white film stock.
Digital video still lacks the resolution of film stock. This statement is quickly becoming false with the development of Dalsa Origin and Red-One cameras, capable of a close 4k picture. Despite 4k not being of film resolution, they are signs of the times. It is a matter of time before a digital camera can match not only the 35mm film frame size dimensions, but in actual resolution. The resolution gap is quickly narrowing. As of now, film is still possesses more resolution.
As mentioned, colored filters should not be used on digital video. This is not a terrible negative because unlike color film stock, digital video does not need to be scanned for DI and can have hues and tones manipulated at full native resolution, even if that may be equal to scanned film resolution.
Sadly, most digital video cameras, at this time, decide to use compression in the video signal to keep the data stream reasonable. A large part of this compression is the color space. Color space can be described by a system of three numbers. The optimal color space is 4:4:4, meaning each pixel has its own individual brightness and color level. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, very few digital video cameras offer a 4:4:4 color space. Many cameras are 4:2:2, 4:2:0, or even 4:1:1. This means each pixel is its own individual brightness, but to save information, is assigned a ‘color’, which is the result of a median of surrounding pixels. To find out more about what this all means please read my article on color space. Even uncompressed RAW cameras, such as the Red One are not true color space! Bayer pattern sensor chips use an even greater but perhaps more accurate averaging system.
Digital video cameras are all made for color acquisition. At times, there may not be an easy way to capture black & white, or preview it in camera. Cameras may have the option to desaturate an image in a menu option, but it will not be an optimal way to preview the black & white image.
As of the time of this article, Black & White film stocks are suffering from lack of technological improvements given to its color counterparts. Color film stocks are capable of a very nice black & white image, but often will require a DI limiting its potential resolution, extending time and cost factors as well. Digital Video cameras do not need to be scanned as color film stock does, but its resolution is currently inferior to that of film stock. Each of these three methods have been ideal for many large Hollywood productions, as to prove there is not necessarily a wrong way to go about it. Hopefully by now you know the advantages and disadvantages of each format and you may decide with an educated mind, which medium serves your needs best.
-Ryan P. O’Hara
Los Angeles, CA
Thursday, April 7, 2011
At this time, I cannot display the images and text on the same blog-page. Until I sort it out, please find the article with images available here <- download.
Geared and Belt Heads
Professional motion picture camera support
Written by Ryan Patrick O’Hara
At the dawn of cinema, (roughly 1895), the motion picture camera found itself appropriately established upon the still photographer’s tripod system. It would not be long until motion picture cameramen discovered and desired the ability to move the camera during the shot. The earliest tripod heads, which incorporated the ability to pan (shortly thereafter pan and tilt), show an uncanny resemblance to future geared head technology and design.
The text, A History of Early Film Volume II by Stephen Herbert, is a series of collected film article reprints from material dating from the mid 1890’s to around 1914. These articles serve as a glimpse into the technical side of early film history. Within the collection, a reprint of The Handbook of Kinematography by Colin N Bennett (1911), outlines the main difference between the photography tripod and the motion picture tripod within Chapter III:
“…And that last remark about the tripod leads on insensibly to consideration of this absolutely indispensable part of the motion picture man’s equipment. Tripods for motion picture work differ from those used in still view photography chiefly on two points, one being their weight… and the other the presence of mechanical turning movements in the tripod head.”
The following diagrams and text are edited excerpts from The Handbook of Kinematography (1911). One can see the familiar resemblance to what can only be described as the foundation and evolutionary ancestor of the modern day geared head.*Images Missing*
The simpler version of the motion picture tripod, the ‘panoram’ head, could only turn side to side, while the more complicated motion picture tripod possessed a second ‘tilting’ mechanism sometimes known as the ‘maxim’ movement. Both movements were mechanically controlled by the cameraman via handles or cranks connected to a series of gears. Noticing the placement, operation, and likeness of the handles and gears (especially in fig. 16), it should be obvious that even the earliest geared heads would serve inspiration to the future design of larger geared heads and the modern geared heads.
The larger cradle design geared head was developed around the time sound was being introduced into moving pictures. The cameras had grown in considerable size, now being contained within a blimp housing. Although the cradle design matchs what we consider the standard form of a modern day geared heads; these geared heads lacked technological advancements and performance standards which is associated with the modern geared head.
As time progressed, so would other tripod head designs, such as friction heads. In 1949 Chadwell O’Connor, an amateur locomotive filmmaker, invented the world’s first counterbalanced fluid drag camera head, which enabled his pictures to be smooth.
Three years later, in 1952, a man by the name of George Worrall invented the Worrall Geared Head. This milestone in professional camera support is considered to be the birth of the modern geared head. So much so, that in 1996 the Society of Operating Cameramen (SOC) awarded Worrall with the Technical Achievement award for the… “Invention, introduction, and the development of the Worrall Geared Head in 1952, the first stable, smooth and balanced triple- mode geared head.”
The following is an excerpt from the SOC magazine:
"The truth is, George Worrall refused to call it an invention," related Dean Cundey. "He insisted it was simply a mechanical device based on common sense." Cundey joked about his first job as an operator which ironically fell into his lap when his DP was not able to operate anything but a fluid head. Cundey said wryly, "Thanks George for all the laughs your device provided over the years as we watched producers and directors try to follow the action with those 'oh so confusing' wheels." Accepting the award on his father's behalf was George Worrall Jr. He thanked the SOC and then provided a short video of his dad working at their machine shop and saying to the attendees, "I'm gratified and very thankful to be honored by the users of my geared head. Thank you."
Worrall & The Worrall Geared Head
Upon the almost concurrent birth of the fluid head and what is considered the modern geared head, future professional motion picture camera support would be primarily divided between these two systems.
The following pages are a compiled listing of geared head makes and models which are common and uncommon in the industry. For the sake of brevity, it should be mentioned the phrase ‘geared head’ has and will continue to refer to both gear and belt driven heads. Many of the following makes or models are not currently produced and lack readily available technical information.
· Arrihead I
· Arrihead II
· Arri/Mitchell Geared Head
· Ceco Blimp Type 2-Speed Geared Head (TH-7)
· Ceco Pro-Jr. Geared Head
· D.B. Milliken M-49 Geared Head (non professional)
· GearNex Gearhead
· Houston Fearless Cradle Head (not geared)
· MGM Geared Head
· Mitchell Geared Head
· Mitchell Mini (Lightweight) Geared Head
· Mitchell Vitesse Geared Head
· Mitchell Vista-Vision Geared Head
· Mole Richardson Geared Heads (Not a Modern Geared Head)
· Moy 16” Classic
· Moy 16” Standard
· Moy, Samcine Geared Head
· Moy, Samcine MkIII Geared Head
· Moy 16” Neptune Underwater Head
· Moy 22” Legend
· Moy 12” Mini
· NCE Geared Head
· NCE Cradle Geared Head & Model CGH
· NCE Jr. Geared Head
· NCE/Ultrascope MkI
· NCE/Ultrascope MkII
· NCE/Ultrascope MkIII
· Panahead, Super
· Panahead, Compact
· Raby Geared Head
· QuickSet Various Models (non professional)
· Sea Head (currently unknown)
· Technovision Technohead MkI
· Technovision Technohead MkII (H)
· Technovision Technohead MkIII
· Worrall Mini
Arrihead: Arri has two models on the market the Arrihead I, and the Arrihead II. However, the Arrihead I has been discontinued and can only be found in the rental market. The Arrihead II is the current production model and can be purchased from Arri Group Inc.
Tilt Angle: +- 30 degrees, +- 90 degrees with tilt plate.
Tilt plate increments: 13, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60 degrees
Gear Positions: (Belt Driven / Five position gearbox)
1 (65 turns for 360* pan)
2 (35.5 turns for 360* pan)
3 (19 turns for 360* pan)
1 (17.5 turns for full 60* tilt)
2 (9.25 turns for full 60* tilt)
3 (4.75 turns for full 60* tilt)
Camera mounting: Quick release. 180mm forward and back Arri bridge plate (dovetail)
Pan/tilt drive: Tilt handle laterally adjusts up to 38 degrees to right 3-speed gear drive, plus neutrals.
Gearboxes with 5:1 reduction ratio available.
Locks & Levers: Tilt has two positive lock off brakes, while pan has one. Both have friction levers at the hand-wheels.
Dimensions (w/out wheels): height 12”, length 20”, width 11”
Weight: 39-43 lbs.
Maintanence: Arrihead I does not need to be lubricated. Clean for dirt and dust.
Arrihead II: “Smaller, lighter in weight and equally efficient is the formula of the future… With an equal equipment range and operating convenience, it is 8 cm shorter and approximately 4 kg's lighter than the large ARRIHEAD.”- Arri Group Inc.
Tilt Angle: +- 30 degrees, +- 90 degrees with tilt plate.
Tilt plate increments: 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60 degrees
Gear Positions: (Belt Driven / Four position gearbox)
1 (65 turns for 360* pan)
2 (35.5 turns for 360* pan)
3 (19 turns for 360* pan)
1 (17.5 turns for full 60* tilt)
2 (9.25 turns for full 60* tilt)
3 (4.75 turns for full 60* tilt)
Camera mounting: Touch-n-go Quick Release
140mm forward and back Arri bridge plate (dovetail)
Pan/tilt drive: Tilt handle laterally adjusts up to 38 degrees to right. Gearboxes with 5:1 reduction ratio available.
Tilt has two positive lock off brakes, while pan has one. Both have friction levers at hand-wheels.
Dimensions w/ Handwheels: Length 22”/ Width 13” inch.
Dimensions w/o Handwheels: Length 18”/ Width 11” inch.
Weight: 33 lbs. / 39 lbs. (with wheels)
Maximum Load: 110 lbs.
Temperature Range: -4 to 122 F degrees/-20 to +50 C degrees
Maintanence: Arrihead II does not need to be lubricated. Clean for dirt and dust.
Arri/Mitchell Geared Head: No information is available at this time. The Arri/Mitchell head is mentioned within a Clairmont Camera advertisement around the 1970’s. This photo is from another ad, but the words “MFG BY MITCHELL (illegible word) FOR ARRIFLEX” can be read, engraved on the cradle. Most likely an custom modified Mitchell or collaboration with Mitchell before making the ArriHead I head.
Houston Fearless Cradle Head: In 1950, the Houston Corporation of Los Angeles and Fearless Camera Company of Culver City merged to form the Houston Fearless Corporation. Among the camera equipment manufactured would eventually include the Houston Fearless Cradle. By 1964, Houston Fearless would be through with Hollywood, and begin contracted work for the US Government supplying high speed photo processing equipment to the Blackbird and U-2 Spy plane programs. A cradle head is like a geared head but lacks the geared wheel control. It’s controlled instead, by a pan-handle.
GearNex GearHead: New to the market is the GearNex Gearhead; quite possibly the first geared head to hit the scene since the Arrihead II… over a decade prior! This head is mainly designed for medium -light weight HD and digital cine packages. It’s most distinct feature may be the affordable price!
Tilt Angle: +- 32 degrees
Tilt plate increments: Coming soon.
Gear Positions: (Gear Driven / Three position Pan gearbox, Two Position Tilt gearbox)
1 (56 turns for 360* pan)
2 (28 turns for 360* pan)
1 (12 turns for full 64* tilt)
2 (6 turns for full 64* tilt)
Camera mounting: 3/8 spring loaded screw
Base: Mitchell, 150mm or 100mm ball
Dimensions: Length 7.25”/ Width 6”/ Height 8” inch. (12” with ball riser)(Handwheels 5”)
Weight: 20 lbs. (w/o wheels)
Maximum Load: 75 lbs.
D.B. Milliken: Pictured is the Model M-49 Geared Head. D.B. Milliken was based in Arcadia, California. Not much else is known about the company except they manufactured small film cameras in what appears to be solid metal housings, perhaps for scientific or hazardous purposes. This model does not appear to have the ability to change gears and it is very clear to the observant individual, the left wheel is located on the right. This type of geared head would not be used on professional motion pictures.
F&B/Ceco Blimp Type 2-Speed Geared Head (TH-7): At first glance it looks like a friction head, but look closely and you’ll see it’s a rather tall, strong, and heavy geared head!
Tilt Angle: 45 degrees Forward / 42 degrees Backward
Gear Positions: (Gear Driven / Two Speed Gearbox)
A 1967 Ad states the two speeds are ‘fast and slow’…
Weight: 80.5 lbs.
Maximum Load: 200 lbs.
F&B/Ceco Professional Junior Geared Head: Nothing is currently known about this geared head except it has either a ¼ or 3/8” camera tie down screw and a ‘standard Pro-Jr’ flat base. It appeared in several brief advertisements in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. From the build, price and name, one can assume the Pro-Jr is designed to be much more compact and light, compared to its big brother, the TH-7. The hand wheels have been replaced with cranks… something very reminiscent of ‘pre-modern’ gear based tripod heads.
MGM Geared Head:
The only information found on the ‘MGM Geared head’ was simply this photograph from a Birns & Sawyer advertisement October, 1972. Described as a ‘MGM GEARED HEAD’.
This Mitchell geared head was on display at the 1979 SMPTE conference. The photograph’s original caption simply stated it was a ‘new’ Mitchell geared head with built-in adjustable wedge plate. Most likely a Mitchell Lightweight.
Mitchell Geared Heads: The Mitchell Camera Corporation, located in Los Angeles, CA, was one of the earlier companies to manufacture geared tripod heads. Ironically, in the early 1940’s, George Worrall was Chief Engineer at the Mitchell Camera Corporation. He left the company because he ‘felt he could accomplish more on his own.’ Less then a decade later, after founding the Worrall Camera Corporation, the Worrall geared head would revolutionize the industry, and dawn a new era of the geared tripod head; one in which the Mitchell Camera Corporation would continue to contribute.
To the best of this author’s knowledge, the Mitchell brand would produce four ‘modern’ geared head models: the Mitchell, Mitchell Mini (Lightweight), Mitchell ‘VistaVision’, and the Mitchell Vitesse geared head. Mitchell geared heads were discontinued long ago, but they are still found in many rental houses, visual effect houses, and film facilities all over the world.
Mitchell Geared Head: Surprisingly enough, it is very difficult to track down what is considered the ‘original’ or ‘standard’ Mitchell Geared Head. Thus far, from extensive research, it is thought that the ‘normal’ Mitchell geared head model is a four position, three speed gearbox.
Mitchell Mini/Lightweight Geared Head:
Tilt Angle: +-33 degrees, +- 50.5 degrees w/ Tilt plate, as told to me by a Mitchell Mini owner.
Built in Lift Plate: Advertised at +- 60 degrees in an old ad. This does not add up with the 17.5 degree tilt plate information given by the gearhead owner, perhaps the advertisement was a previous version of the model.
Gear Positions: (Gear Driven / Four position gearbox)
1 (63 turns for 360* pan)
2 (31.5 turns for 360* pan)
3 (21 turns for 360* pan)
1 (16.75 turns for 66* tilt)
2 (10.5 turns for 66* tilt)
3 (5.2 turns for 66* tilt)
Three Speeds Gear Ratios: 1:1 / 1½:1 / 3:1
Length: 17.25” / 20.75” inches (with wheels & handles)
Width: 10.5” / 14.75” inches (with wheels & handles)
Height: 9” inches
Weight: 44 lbs.
Mitchell Vitesse GearHead:
With regards to design, the Vitesse is quite possibly the most unique geared head of any. It is designed in a way, to allow 360* movement on two axis; pan and tilt. The inventor of the Vitesse is Joe Dunton who interestingly, later in his career, would head ‘Moy’; another manufacturer of geared heads.
Mitchell ‘VistaVision’ Geared Head: The large Mitchell ‘Vista-Vision’ geared head, is aptly named for its association and pairing with the Vista-Vision cameras. To operate around the bulging ‘elephant ear’ cameras, the hand wheels were extended along a shaft, away from the cradle.
Mole Richardson Geared Heads:
Although not considered a ‘modern’ era geared head has, this model was described in the 1930 Cinematographic Annual as, “…another new device. It is a tilt head mechanism on a Rohing Tripod.” This is a great example of the geared heads that existed and were in use prior to the Worrall head. This geared head most likely lacks most features on modern heads such as additional gear speeds and etc.s
Moy Geared Heads: Known as one of the more popular geared head brands, Moy was based in London, England and eventually, during its later years, fell under Joe Dunton & Company Limited. Panavision later acquired Joe Dunton’s company holdings in 1997, and presumably Moy with it, considering they inherited a very large quantity of Moy geared heads. (The pictured Moy ‘Classic or Standard’ has an auxiliary third wheel for pan movement.)
Today, Moy geared heads are primarily (& appropriately) found in rental facilities around the UK, including many Panavision Europe facilities. As of 2008, Panavision UK rented all four of the Moy Geared Head models which include the Moy 16” Classic, Moy 16” Standard, Moy 12” Mini, and Moy 22” Legend. Other European Panavision rental houses also carry what is called the Moy ‘Neptune’ Underwater Head.
One will quickly notice a strange and unique attribute of some Moy Models: a third wheel. In the photograph above, the third wheel is almost certainly an auxiliary pan wheel. In the photograph on the following page, the odd placement of the third wheel (within the cradle) may be an auxiliary pan wheel, or perhaps something else, such as for a crank up tilt wheel or auxiliary tilt wheel. Unknown at this time.
Moy 16” Standard/Classic:
The most common Moy, the Moy 16” Standard, is a two speed geared head. The Moy 16” Classic is found as a listed geared head in many rental houses, but perhaps is the same as the ‘standard’. No information known at this time suggests either possibility.
Samcine Moy Geared Head: A Moy Standard, re-engineered to rental house Samuelson’s specifications by Moy. Improves upon the previous Moy geared head, although the cradle movement and gears remain virtually the same. A new built in wedge allows for extra tilt function, camera quick release ability, and balance adjustment for long lenses or off center configurations. The third wheel (right wheel) on cradle controls the tilt plate.
Tilt Angle: +-35 degrees, +-70 degrees w/ built in wedge
Gear Positions: Two speed gearbox
1 (34 turns for full 360*)
2 (12 turns for full 360*)
1 (23 turns for full tilt)
2 (9 turns for full tilt)
Offset arms available and incorporates 2:1 pan and tilt speed increase.
Samcine- Moy geared head MkIII:
The MkIII head has a built in slide balancing adjustment, an either-way-round adjustable wedge, a dovetail camera attachment, optional off-set control positions, two speed pan and tilt action (four speeds with the offset arms) a large ‘T’ level, and adjustable pan friction. It is also advertised as a 13” head.
Moy 22” Legend:
As the photo demonstrates, the 22” Moy geared heads are meant for some serious weight and abuse. Pictured here, Jack Cardiff, BSC and Geoffrey Unsworth, BSC pose with a Technicolor 3-strip camera on a 22” Moy geared head. In today’s world it is very rare for any camera package to require a special ‘heavy duty’ grade geared head. Only fully loaded 70mm or Imax packages demand such extra support.
Moy 12” Mini:
The baby of the Moy family, the 12” Mini was designed and built in another attempt to reduce the size and weight of the geared head while attracting the smaller camera market, such as 16mm production. The 12” Mini is tough to find information on. It is advertised as a gear head, not cable driven (referring to the competitive Worrall Mini). The lowest gear ratio is 94 turns for 360*. The mini weights 38 lbs and extension boxes are available.
Moy 16” Neptune Underwater Head: European rental houses list it as MY-UH head. Any cameraman, who dares enter the ocean’s water with a geared head, might as well strap the camera to an anchor! Nonetheless, this is one of the most unique, mysterious, and interesting geared heads to date. Further information is top priority. Please harass Panavison UK, and/or Panavison’s associate rental house Sparks in Hungary… they won’t respond to email inquiries.
NCE Geared Heads: National Cine Products made the NCE, Cradle Geared Head (updated to ‘Model CGH’), NCE Jr, and finally the Ultrascope series MkI-MkIII. NCE no longer exists and NCE heads are rare in most capacities.
NCE ‘Cradle Geared Head’ and ‘Model CGH’:
Tilts +-35 degrees, wedge available. Pan has tension adjustment and lock. Tilt has only tension adjustment. Top plate is 5½” x 7”. Weighs 22 lbs and will carry cameras up to 30 lbs. Equipped with a ball level and Mitchell adapter available. NCE Advertisement, Nov. 1969.
The NCE ‘Model CGH’ is the updated and improved NCE Cradle Geared Head. The ‘Model CGH’ will carry 30lbs, same as the previous, except this ad from 1970, mentions a three-position pan gearbox: two speeds and a neutral. The tilt is a two-position two-speed gearbox. The top plate is larger at 6.5” x 8”. Also advertised: ‘Change in speed can be made by cameraman in seconds’… which suggests the previous model only had one non-adjustable gear speed. Pan and tilt locks and tension adjustment standard.
The NCE ‘Model CGH’:
NCE advertisement; two years later, in 1972. A ‘new and updated’ NCE Model CGH. This advertisement does not mention what is necessarily new about this make, but does mention fingertip controlled 2-speed pan and tilt. From the wording and mention in the ad, perhaps an improvement upon how easily the operator changes between gears. The riser plate seen in photo was available for the 1970 CGH.
NCE Jr.(Compact): The NCE Jr. Compact, might possibly be another name for the ‘NCE model CGH’, or a model with new features. The Model CGH is designed for small payloads and weight, so I am awaiting a confirmation on this. An owner of the described NCE Jr. describes the odd design of the pan wheel located at the front left side of the geared head, something one can clearly see in the above Model CGH. The following are findings from their experience with the geared NCE Jr. head:
Tilt Angle: +-30 (estimate)
Gear Positions: (Gear Driven / Three position gearbox for Pan / Two position gearbox for tilt)
1 (__turns for 360* pan)
2 (__turns for 360* pan)
1 (__turns for full 60* tilt)
2 (__turns for full 60* tilt)
To change gears; “lift a thin piece of metal out of it’s channel on the wheel axle and pull the whole wheel out (or push it in) about an inch or so, to engage the other gear.”
Tilt and pan have one set of friction levers and brakes.
The Pan wheel is oddly located at the front left, versus the standard location of the rear left.
Weight: 33 lbs.
Maximum Payload: Under 25-20 lbs
Maintenance: Takes lubricant grease for the gears.
NCE/ Ultrascope MkI Geared Head: +-40 degrees of tilt range and an unlimited pan range. Flat top with a 3/8- 16 inch tie down/ and full 3” balance movement. 6,9,12 degree pan gears.
NCE/Ultrascope MkII Geared Head: The same as MkI but has Arri Slide rails and an exclusive 1½” bridge plate. Advertised to have ‘6,9,12’ degree pan gears. Not sure what that really indicates. Does not have a geared wedge.
NCE/Ultrascope MkIII Geared Head: Same as the MkII but has the added geared wedge, for greater tilt ability. An additional 55 degrees of tilt is gained, for a total of +-95 degrees. A longer balance plate gives greater distribution of weight. Has the ‘6,9,12’ degree pan gears.
The Panahead: Panavison won the 1977 Scientific or Technical Award (Academy Citation) for the engineering of the Panahead geared head for motion picture cameras. A little known fact: Geared heads should generally not be under-slung, but certain Panaheads can be. Red engraved nameplates can identify them as units able to be under-slung.
Tilt Angle: +- 30 degrees, +- 90 degrees with tilt plate.
Gear Positions: (Belt Driven / Four position gearbox)
1 (75 turns for 360* pan)
2 (41 turns for 360* pan)
3 (21 turns for 360* pan)
1 (15 turns for full 60* tilt)
2 (8 turns for full 60* tilt)
3 (4 turns for full 60* tilt)
Camera mounting: Dovetailed top of a tilt or double tilt plate. Will accept a sliding plate from a Panaflex undercarriage.
Tilt and pan have one set of each tension levers and brakes.
Weight: 38.5 lbs.
Maintenance: Loosen screws on side of Panahead and remove cover: Try to brush dust away instead of blowing it with compressed air. Lubricate rails and dovetails with silicone only. Use low temperature grease on pan and tilt selector knob guides.
Super Panahead: The Super Panahead, is a wider, stronger, and more robust Panahead. It accommodates larger payloads, which make it ideal for large 35mm/zoom packages or 70mm photography. Super Panaheads have a more robust ‘crank-up’ geared tilt plate design.
Compact Panahead: The Compact Panahead is indeed a very rare model. There are currently only two available in Los Angeles and perhaps the world. They are thought to have been introduced around the same time as Panavision’s 16mm ‘Elaine’ camera, and have not been produced since.
The Compact Panaheads are simply smaller, more lightweight versions of the Panahead; only able to take lighter weight loads… appropriate to be unveiled with the Elaines. Sadly, they are not used often. Last I checked, there was only one at PV Hollywood and one at PV Woodland Hills. The PV Woodland Hills model has never gone out (on record) since the computer database was installed. Rightly so, when I went to use it, it was missing the sliding plate dovetail! Normally a substitute dovetail would be an easy fix, but since the PH-compact is so small, it was designed to have a smaller tilt plate, with a smaller dovetail track, requiring a proprietary custom machined size sliding plate dovetail; smaller then any other Panavision standard. Without the rare and specific sliding plate dovetail, the camera cannot dock to the tilt plate. I have personally inquired with several employees at Panavision to machine a replacement, but I was told there wasn’t enough demand for the small guy. I think I’ll try to get a photograph of it before they eventually melt it down or use it as a pricey paperweight.
Raby Geared Head: Found in a 1956 Advertisment, from the American Cinematographer Hand Book and Reference Guide, Raby MFG. Company produced its own line of blimps, geared heads, and dollies. The picture is unfortunately to small to make even the simplest deductions. Nothing else is known about this geared head brand.
Quickset Geared Heads:
QuickSet International is a maker of precision positioning systems. For commercial / government / military use, they offer many heavy-duty tripods and heads, which are made for accurate positioning, remote controls, and heavy payload security cameras or likewise industrial video or high grade photography equipment. These heads are not for professional motion picture use. Not all will be featured in the main article.
The Quickset 4-52217-3 is part of the heavy weight ‘Hercules’ class head. The unit can tilt +-45. It can pan a full 360 degrees with a single pan gear ratio of 1:96. The tilt function is geared with a single gear ratio of 1:129. The camera mounts to a 3/8th inch screw. The head is 12 lbs and can hold a payload of 50 lbs. Its dimensions are 8” x 10.5” x 11.5”. Both tilt and pan are single geared. The top plate is larger at 9” x 6”.
The Quickset 4-52926-9 is another heavy weight ‘Hercules’ class head. The unit can tilt 45 degrees up and 90 degrees down at a single gear ratio of 1:129. It can pan a full 360 degrees at a single gear ratio of 1:96. The camera mounts to a 1/4 inch screw. The head is 9 lbs and can hold a 30 lbs payload. Its dimensions are 8” x 9.5” x 10.75”. Both pan and tilt are geared, although wheels are cut off in photo. This head has carefully marked calibrated markings along the tilt cradle and pan cylinder.
The Quickset 4-62926-7 is a Extra Heavy weight ‘Gibraltar’ class head. It can tilt 53 degrees up and 67 degrees down at a single gear ratio of 1:128. It can pan 360 degrees at a single gear ratio of 1:96. The camera mounts by a 3/8 inch screw. The head is 21 lbs and can hold a payload of 200lbs. Its dimensions are 10”x10”x12”. The top plate is the largest at 8” x 10”. It also has the calibrated etchings along both axis of movement.
The SEA Geared head: Likely this is the most difficult geared head to track down and find information. I have thus far only found the name listed on European rental catalogues. I have never heard of one being used, seen a photograph, or even a technical spec. It may likely be an underwater head. Another theory is pendulum ‘sea’ head. A pendulum hangs underneath the tripod head, which is on a ball type mount. Thus the head constantly levels itself to the horizon… good for when on a rocking boat or on the ‘sea’.
Technovision Technoheads: Technovision Camera LTD, was a camera rental company with facilities across Europe. In 1986, Technovision built their first ‘Technocrane’ marking the beginning of their departure from the camera rental business. Since that time, Panavision has bought some of Technovision’s inventory, such as Technovision France. Technovision London and Italia still exist today, specializing exclusively in crane and remote system rentals.
Technovision MkI: Unknown Information. The Technovision line is very hard to locate or find information on. Thus far no information on the original Technovision MkI can be found. It’s existence is only proven because a MkII and MkIII do.
Technovision MKII: A rare model even in the rental market, little can be found about the Technovision MkII. It is a brass geared head, three speed gearbox. Optional gear reducers available, providing more control with gear ratios. The Technovision head in this photograph is advertised as a Technovision MkII.
Technovision MKIII: The most advanced and modern geared head within the Technovision line. The MkIII comes with a double wedge tilt plate, for +-90 both ways. Weighs around 44 lbs.
Worrall Geared Heads: Finally, and appropriately the Worrall Geared Head. Invented by George Worrall of the Worrall Camera Company, this head is considered to be the birth of the modern geared head. The Worrall Geared Head was the industry workhorse. George Worrall would make more than 600 units before eventually retiring. The manufacturing rights would be sold to Cinema Products Corporation. This advertisement from February 1976, announces Cinema Products Corp, ability to now manufacture Worrall Gear Heads.
“It’s putting mechanical parts that are available to new use. I did what I though the cameraman needed for ease of operation… I made a couple for Warner Brothers. And then I never had to advertise from then on.” – George Worrall
Tilt Angle: +-42 degrees, +-90* w/ optional tilt plate.
Gear Positions: Three position / two speed gearbox
1 (60 turns for 360* pan)
2 (22 turns for 360* pan)
1 (30 turns for full 82* tilt)
2 (4.5 turns for full 82* tilt)
Original Worrall head is bronze gear driven… unlimited pan rotation possible. No belts, cables, etc.
Camera Mounting: 3/8ths screw.
Pan wheel brake, Tilt wheel brake.
Made from cast aluminum.
Weight: 67 lbs w/ handles.
Worrall Mini: Once Cinema Products owned the rights to the Worrall brand, they designed and developed the Mini Worrall, a cable/gear head. The Mini is the only cable/gear drive head in the world with aerospace-style high-tensile strength cables. The cables support pan and tilt loads… ‘maintaining constant tension throughout the entire range of cable travel without play.
Tilt Angle: +-30 degrees, +- 92 degrees with tilt plate.
Gear Positions: Five position / three speed gearbox
Cable drive only permits 370 degrees of rotation… 185 degrees in either direction of a ‘neutral’ point.
Camera Mounting: Dovetailed tilt plate can take CP, Arri & moviecam quick release plates.
Pan wheel lock and brake, Tilt wheel brake.
Mini Worralls with serial numbers under 155, cannot remove their wheels. Those with serials 155 and over, can.
Made from anodized aluminum.
Weight: 39½ lbs.
Geared Head Facts & Reminders:
- Geared Heads should always be transported with gears either in neutral or disengaged. All pan and tilt locks should be left loose, including hand wheel brakes or tension levers. Remember to disengage travel wedge, gears, and etc… If geared head allows.
- Always keep geared heads clean and know proper maintenance. Some geared heads take oil, some a special high-pressure grease, and some require neither. Know maintenance; it varies.
- Almost all geared heads have pan-handle rosettes, for which a pan handle may be attached to the cradle. The pan-handle is to be used for quick whip-pans or other moves which are unattainable by using the wheels. To use the pan-handle, place the pan and tilt gears to neutral and for heads able, it is best to disengage the gears such as the internal worm gear from the central pan gear within a Panahead.
- Some geared heads have multiple ‘bushings’ (holes through the cradle) for the purpose inserting carry rods, should the geared head need to be moved with the camera mounted.
- All geared heads are either made to be used on a Mitchell mount or have adapters to do so. Geared Heads sit on Mitchell mounts 95% of the time.
- Although gear ratios are different on all heads. The wheels will turn the head in the same direction with the same action, just not in the same ratio of pan and tilt rotations.
- Belt driven geared heads need to be tightened periodically.
This concludes my second exploration into geared heads. If there is any misinformation or new information you would like to mention, please feel free to contact me via email at Ryan@RyanPatrickOHara.com.
-Ryan Patrick O'Hara
The following are select images I found interesting. There are literally thousands of photos with famous camera operators and cinematographers using geared heads. These photos have some unique qualities and points.
The Empire Strikes Back; Motion control rigged geared head from ILM.
‘FPC 101’ Front projection unit, circa 1970. The Geared Head pictured is a 35mm ‘VistaVision’ Mitchell Geared head. The body and gears have been custom modified and redesigned for nodal point panning and tilting.
This geared head is electronically driven via motion control. Miniature cityscape from Blade Runner, 1981.
Sweden 1926: Ray Fernstrom, ASC standing with Swedish Crown Price and future King Gustaf VI Adolf. Notice the geared cradle with tiny crank arms. This is a great example of early-geared tripod heads, which would eventually evolve to the modern day geared head.
Harry Waxman, BSC sits at the wheels of a geared head identifiable as a Moy by the classic ‘Moy London’ badge.
Stanley Kubrick behind the wheels of a Moy Geared Head… all three of them! The ‘third’ wheel is an auxiliary pan wheel. The only reason I have found was written in an old American Cinematographer magazine. Apparently operators would occasionally have an electronic zoom lens control or likewise control mounted to the other side of the camera. When you think about it, that still doesn’t make to much sense. Operators don’t have three arms!
Robert Surtees, ASC helms what is assumed to be a Samcine-Moy geared head with the even more unusual third wheel attached to the cradle! What does this actually work? Auxiliary pan? Tilt? Geared tilt plate?
Another photograph of a Mole Richardson geared head, which was manufactured over 20 years prior to the Worrall geared head. This photograph was from the Universal film, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, 1945.
A Few Unusual Circumstances
This photograph highlights the importance and possibilities of a tilt plate. This geared head is most likely only able to tilt +-30 degrees, but with a sturdy tilt plate, can get to a full +-90 degree angle.
Unidentified geared head taking a 70mm camera on its side for vertical recording and future vertical display.
Geared head mounted to planks of wood, riding up in a bucket for some high-up shots of trapeze performers (aka cherry picker, condor, etc.)
Large Worrall geared head taking maximum punishment, in an Eastman Kodak advertisement 1966.
Just when one thinks it couldn’t get any worse! Ernest Haller, ASC and Ray Rennahan, ASC with a Technicolor 3-strip camera and blimp. Large geared heads of yesteryear were accustomed to such mammoths.
Timothy Galfas floats through the Okefenokee swamp with his Imax camera atop a classic Worrall geared head.
This setup, atop a Worrall head, is a unique system called LightFlex and FlexLight. It emits colored light toward a subject for fill, and/or it can emit the light toward the lens causing shadow areas to be tinted, while leaving skin tones and highlights unaffected.
A Worrall head is creatively placed upon a ‘monorail dolly’. This dolly is simply an ‘I beam’ like track for a smooth dolly action over rough terrain.
Camera operator sitting in the back of a camera car with unidentified make of geared head. Nuremberg Germany, 1967.
Unidentified Mitchell ‘geared’ tripod head. Notice the crank… quite possibly before the ‘modern’ geared head era. Photo stolen from Ron Dexter. Sorry!
Shooting Ryan’s Daughter in Ireland: Director David Lean looks through the viewfinder of a Panavision 70 film camera atop a Mitchell ‘VistaVision’ geared head. Notice the extended hand wheel shaft, that otherwise would be avoiding the elephant ear magazine drums on Vistavision cameras.
An example of an ‘Elephant Ear’ Vistavision camera. Notice how the hand wheel shaft gets the wheels a comfortable distance away from the film drum.
The Super Panahead is hard to identify at a glance or in a photograph. Looking for a geared tilt plate and the small word ‘Super’ written above the Panahead badge, are two of the few tell signs afforded to the observant.
Extremely hard to read from this reduced size photograph… this geared head simply says ‘Arriflex’. It looks like a Mitchell, so it is either an Arri/Mitchell geared head, or simply a Mitchell owned by Arri, and engraved for labeling sake.
Houston Fearless, is not a full functioning geared head, although it may look one. It is technically a cradle head. It pans and tilts on the same type of bearings and cradle design, but it lacks the wheels and internal gears to make it move. Instead a pan-handle attaches to the cradle and is used to manipulate the heads movement.
This is a ‘pendulum’ head of which was described under the ‘Sea Head’ description. It is possible the Sea Head, is a Geared Head which has been manufactured or affixed to this type of base, allowing the horizon to keep level aboard an oceanic vessel or otherwise wobbly surface.
Beware! Not Motion Picture Geared heads:
As one may have noticed, included in the list above, were some questionable ‘geared heads’ which did not seem to fit the requirements of a large motion picture camera. Those selections were included because they were important to the industry is some way. Some were purely historical, somewhere early designs, some industrial knockoffs, and others just odd. There are scores of questionable, self advertised, ‘geared heads’ on the market. These ‘geared heads’ can share or mimic designs of those made for motion pictures. For the most part they will not perform, or support the professional motion picture camera. They are however used elsewhere in the industry for industrial work, research, photography or as low budget imitations. Those include, but are not limited to, the Quickset, Cambo, Majestic, Arkay, and Bogen Manfrotto brands.