Camera Profile – Arriflex 16S Series

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CinemaTechnic Camera Profile – Arriflex 16S Series

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Arriflex 16S/ 16ST

These vintage cameras, the oldest of which are now nearly 70 YEARS OLD, are unsupported and should be viewed as collectibles. CinemaTechnic is no longer supporting Arriflex 16S cameras. Questions regarding these cameras will not be answered.

  • Model:                Arriflex 16St, Arriflex 16M
  • Predecessor:  No previous ARRI camera
  • Successor:      Arriflex 16BL
  • Format:            Standard 16mm only
  • Movement:      Claw and registration pin
  • Viewfinder:      Mirror reflex,  butterfly shutter, fixed viewfinder
  • Lens Mount:      ARRI Standard, ARRI Bayonet (lens turret)
  • Power:                8.4V DC
  • Speeds:              24 or 25 fps fixed, 5 – 50 fps with variable speed motor
  • Film capacity:      100′ internal daylight spools, 400 ft (120m) magazines (16M 400′ magazines only)
  • Silent operation:     NO
  • Crystal sync:       Only with aftermarket accessory, no longer avaialble

Introduced in the early 1950’s, the Arriflex 16S his was the first ARRI 16mm camera. The “St” designation meant “Standard”, and the camera is also referred to as the Arriflex 16S. This is one of ARRI’s most successful camera designs.

In many ways the 16 S follows the design paradigm of the Arriflex 35 II. Both are designed as MOS cameras, too noisy for sync-sound shooting. Both use a spinning mirror reflex design and a 3-lens turret accepting ARRI mount lenses (later re-designated ARRI Standard mount when ARRI Bayonet mount was introduced). Both use a straight viewfinder tube in the film door.

The 16 S is different than the 35IIC in that it has internal capacity for 100ft of film on daylight spools, the lens turret is divergent, the motor is mounted behind the camera allowing for a flat bottom, and the ground glass is mounted near the eyepiece. The 16 S divergent turret is designed to help prevent wide angle prime lenses from seeing the ends of longer primes mounted on the turret. The camera was meant to be used with 3 prime lenses mounted and lens switching was done by turning the lens turret.

ARRI standard mount
Vintage Carl Zeiss prime lens with ARRI Standard lens mount in stainless steel. Most other manufacturers used aluminum mounts.
Lens Choice

Arriflex 16S cameras accept only ARRI Standard mount lenses (see photo above) unless the camera is the 16SB model (see below). All ARRI Standard mount lenses can be used on the 16S, wether they were designed to cover 16mm or 35mm. The reverse is not true, 16mm format lenses cannot be used on 35mm ARRI film cameras. PL mount lenses cannot be fitted on the Arriflex 16S

Arriflex 16SB
ARRI 16SB Turret
Arriflex 16SB turret with one ARRI Bayonet mount (note stainless steel insert) and two ARRI Standard mounts.

The 16 SB is the most common variant of the 16 S. The SB has one stainless steel ARRI Bayonet mount and two ARRI Standard mounts. This allows you to mount Bayonet mount lenses, expanding lens choice, and making the higher quality 16mm lenses, such as the Zeiss Super Speed (High Speed) T1.3 primes,  available to the 16 S. PL mount lenses CANNOT be fitted to the ARRI 16S, 16SR or 16M.

Film Magazines

The 16S can accept special 400 ft magazines, allowing compatibility with larger film loads and film on standard cores (rather than metal spools). The magazines use a separate electric torque motor that had to be removed from one magazine and placed on another. The 16S 400’ magazine system is problematic and 100’ spools are much more commonly used.

Advantages:

The 16 S is significant in that it was the first mirror reflex16mm camera to utilize a registration pin. The cameras are well made, built to be very durable and reliable. The viewfinder quality was better than any other 16mm camera of the time. They became standard news cameras and were widely used.

Drawbacks:

The lens turret does not allow for precise setting of the Flange Focal Distance. This is a problem with large aperture (faster than f2) and very sharp lenses.

The viewfinder, although much better than other cameras of its time, is far inferior to modern 16mm cameras such as the 16SR.

The 400′ magazine system for the ARRI 16S are slow to load and tend to be problematic due to the separate electronic torque motor and unreliable electrical connection to it. The torque motors are also not compatible with 12V power required for aftermarket motors. We advise that the camera should be used with 100′ spools only.

Another problem is the lack of spare parts and knowledge obsolescence. Parts have not  available from ARRI USA since at least the 1990’s. These cameras are very labor intensive to service. Most technicians that knew how to service this camera have long since retired. CinemaTechnic does not support the ARRI 16S.

Historical Significance

The Arriflex 16S was a popular news camera, particularly in the 1960’s. Prior to the widespread availability of silent 16mm cameras with internal sound, much news and documentary footage was shot on the 16S as MOS footage.

The 16S can frequently be seen in documentary footage of press events. Nearly any doc of the 1960’s NASA manned space programs will show 16S cameras used by the press.

The Arriflex 16S, however, was to the best of my knowledge not used by NASA, at least not by astronauts during manned space missions. Other 16mm cameras such as the Maurer Data Acquisition Camera were used. The first ARRI 16mm camera used by NASA in space was the Arriflex 16SR2

Super-16 Conversion:

Super 16 conversion for the 16S is NO LONGER POSSIBLE and was HIGHLY PROBLEMATIC when it was. Questions regarding Super 16 on the 16S will not be answered.

Arriflex 16S with 3 lenses on turret, compendium matte box. Courtesy ARRI

This illustration shows the Arriflex 16s with 400ft extrernal film magazine, mattebox, and 3 lenses monuted on the turret. Courtesy ARRI

Above: Arriflex 16 M shown with 200ft and 400ft magazines. A rare 1200ft coaxial magazine was also made for the 16 M. Courtesy ARRI

Arriflex 16 M

This camera is essentially a 16 S without internal film capacity. It uses special gear driven 400ft film magazines used only with the 16M. If you prefer to shoot with 400ft film loads it can be a better choice as opposed to a 16S. The Arriflex 16M was a mainstay of NFL Films in their early years before they switched to the 16SR series cameras, which offered better ergonomics and must faster magazine switching.

All 16 S accessories, except magazines and torque motors are compatible with the 16 M. The special magazines, although similar to the 16 BL magazines are not compatible with the 16 BL.

CinemaTechnic 16S Service

We are no longer supporting the Arriflex 16S cameras. These cameras are VERY labor intensive to service and at a labor rate of $150.- per hour, the cost of anything beyond a very basic service can exceed the purchase cost of a used camera. Parts have been unavailable from ARRI for decades. We have sold off spare parts and tooling for these cameras. For these reasons, we are no longer servicing these cameras.

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Last Update 2020-07-14

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Optics and Optical Testing for Digital Cinema

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