CinemaTechnic Camera Profiles – ARRI 16SR Series
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Last update 6/22/2020
ARRI 16SR Family: 16SR, 16SR HS, 16SR II, 16SR II HS, 16SR 3, 16SR 3 HS, 16SR 3 Advanced, 16SR 3 Advanced HS
If you are looking for technical service (maintenance and repair) of your Arriflex 16SR series camera, click here.
- Predecessor: Arriflex 16BL
- Successor: Arriflex 416
- Format: Standard or Super 16mm
- Movement: Claw and registration pin
- Viewfinder: Mirror reflex, pivoting orientable viewfinder
- Lens Mount: ARRI Bayonet or PL
- Drive: 12V DC (SR 1,2) 24 V DC (SR3, SR3A)
- Speeds: 24 or 25 fps fixed, 5 – 75 fps with external control, Highspeed cameras 10 – 150 fps
- Film capacity: 400 ft (120m) magazines, 800 ft mags for SR3
- Silent operation: Yes
- Crystal sync: Internal on all models
Introduced in 1975, the 16 SR clearly shows the influence of the revolutionary Éclair NPR in the ARRI designer’s thinking. The appearance of the 16 SR clearly showed that the age of coaxial instant-load magazines had arrived in 16mm cinematography.
The Arriflex16SR is that it is the closest thing to a do-everything camera that ARRI ever produced. It is also the industry standard, and most widely used 16mm camera in the world, even now 40 years after its introduction.
The 16SR is almost legendary for its ruggedness and durability. It represents a huge leap coming from the clunky 16BL.
The 16SR series cameras were produced for nearly 30 years, and a total of 5100 cameras (from SRI to SR3 Advanced) were built. It is the most popular and successful modern (post 1970) ARRI film camera.
The 16SR marked a huge improvement in ARRI 16mm viewfinders. The new finder was fully orientable (the image is always right side up, regardless of what position you put the finder in). But the finder didn’t just pivot, it also could swing to the top of the camera, or to the right side of the camera. The eyepiece could also pivot out (away from the camera body) slightly.
The new finder was much brighter and sharper than any ARRI 16mm before it. The 16SR viewfinder has a resoultion of 125 lines per milimeter. This extremely high resoultion (equivalent to approximately 1500 horizontal pixels in S16 format) allows very accurate judgement of focus through the eyepiece.
The SR uses a fiber-optic viewing screen instead of a conventional ground glass. This also contributes greatly to the SR’s bright viewfinder, which allows you to see clearly even at small apertures such as T8 and T11.
APEC: ARRI Precision Exposure Control
The SR came standard with a through-the-lens light meter, referred to as APEC (ARRI Precision Exposure Control). Some models, referred to as “Automatic” SR’s interfaced with lenses that had special pins that allowed the aperture to be set automatically by the SR’s light meter.
Only three APEC lenses were offered: The Angenieux 10-150 T2.3-3.2, and the Zeiss 10-100 T2.0 and 10-100 T3.1. These lenses can easily be identified by the two small chrome pins that protrude from the back of the lens mount, near the rear element. Please read my warning on the use of these lenses.
High Speed for Slow Motion Cinematography
The 16SR increased the speed capability of ARRI 16mm to 75 fps. There is also a Highspeed version of the 16SR with a special motor that has a top speed of 150 fps. These cameras are painted a light grey and have special mags labeled Highspeed which are required for these cameras. High speed mags have fixed pressure plates without the floating aperture pressure pad used on the regular 16SR.
HS mags can also be used on regular SR’s, but the flange focal distance must be adjusted to compensate for the lack of a floating pressure pad. Highspeed 16SR cameras have a minimum speed of 10 fps and are louder in operation than a standard 16SR. It is possible to convert a regular 16SR to Highspeed configuration (by switching out the motor and circuit board). It is also possible to increase the top speed of a Highspeed SR to 200 fps with third party upgrades.
A very useful feature is the camera’s 11-pin Fischer accessory socket. It employs the ARRI standard interface for external speed controls. This allows the use of a variety of external speed controls, which also work with the ARRI 35-III and 35BL models. A digital precision speed control, such as the Cinematography Electronics Precision Speed Control, is a common and very useful accessory that is not compatible with any of the older ARRI 16mm models.
The 16SR also included a Tuchel socket, next to the Fischer 11. The Tuchel socket was designed to provide Pilotone sync signal to a Nagra tape recorder. With the introduction of crystal sync on the Nagra, and now widespread use of DAT (Digital Audio Tape) for sound recording, the Tuchel socket is obsolete. It is possible to add another Fischer 11 socket in place of the Tuchel socket. CinemaTechnic still performs this upgrade.
Accessories: Bridgeplate, Rods, Follow Focus
Many ARRI accessories interface with the 16SR. A set of lightweight accessory rods mount directly to the SR’s accessory shoe (just below the lens) and allow the use of a lightweight follow focus and a lightweight matte box.
A Bridgeplate is also available that mounts to the bottom of the camera and couples with a dovetail sliding base plate. The combination allows the use of standard 15mm accessory rods. All ARRI matte boxes and Studio Follow Focus and lens supports are compatible with the Bridgeplate.
The sliding balance plate allows the camera to be balanced on nearly any fluid or geared head, even when using long or heavy lenses. These are considered standard accessories and are nearly mandatory for any type of professional work.
The 16SR is the first 16mm camera from ARRI that is compatible with all standard accessories, without the use of rare adapters or modifications to the camera.
Despite being more complex than any of it’s predecessors, the 16SR has a great reputation for reliability. This is notable because the SR has by far more electronics in it than any previous ARRI 16mm. The SR is even somewhat tolerant of abuse and operator error.
ARRI 16SR-I: 1975 French Motor
The earliest 16SR’s had a constant current 3 phase motor manufactured in France that are commonly known as “French Electronics” or “French Motor”.
The main board on these cameras has two circuit boards sandwiched together. Jumpers are used to switch the crystal speed between 24 and 25 fps and the pilotone output between 50 and 60 Hz. There are also eight transistors on the bottom of the second board that are heatsinked to the SR base casting with four screws. The circuit board was actually made in Germany like the rest of the camera. I think of these cameras as Early SR-1’s.
ARRI 16SR-I German Motor
The biggest change in the 16SR 1 evolution came with the introduction of a new electronic package and motor manufactured in Germany. This is commonly referred to as “German Electnonics” or “German Motor”. This substantially the same electronics and motor that is used in the 16SR-II.
Early 16SR cameras have three screws on the inching assembly instead of the four used on later cameras. The phenolic gear that drives the magazine drive gear is of a larger pitch. The earliest cameras have a plastic disc instead of the metal inching knob. It is reccomended to upgrade the older inching assembly to the late SRI/ SRII style.
The 16SR-I introduced the new ARRI Precision Exposure Control (APEC). A through the lens exposure meter was incorporated into the camera. The SR-I’s also had two couplings in the Bayonet lens mount that were designed to actuate special pins on auto-iris lenses. On all 16SR’s except the SRIIE, switching the camrera into “standby” mode would actuate these pins so that the shooting lens colud be set to the shooting T-stop, and focus could be set with the iris wide open, then the iris would close down when the camera was placed in “standby” mode.
Cameras with the “Automatik” label on the switch cover had tiny motors inside the front casting to actuate the iris automatically based on the light meter reading. These are the auto exposure 16SR’s and they require an “auto exposure” lens for this feature to work.
Only three such Auto Exposure lenses were produced: The Angenieux 10-150mm T2.3, and the Zeiss 10-100 T3.1, and 10-100 T2.0 introduced with the SR-II. Some 16SR-I cameras were labeled “Automatic” and fitted with an automatic exposure system that used the couplings to automatically actuate the iris, directed by the APEC exposure meter. On “non-automatic” 16SR’s (both I and II), when fitted with an auto-iris lens, the lens will open to maximum aperture when the camera is in the “off” position, and the lens will stop down to the T-stop set on the iris ring when the camera is switched to the “standby” position. The auto-iris couplings are removed when the camera is converted to PL mount.
16SR I Cameras with the SRII style German motor usually sell at higher prices than the older cameras. This makes sense because the likelihood of electrical problems is higher with the older electronics. ARRI long ago (at least by mid-1990’s) discontinued spare parts availability for the French motor or the dual layer circuit board that goes with it.
Today there is no availability of any 16SR spare parts from ARRI. CinemaTechnic maintains a limited inventory of 16SR spare parts.
Arriflex 16 SR-I HS: 1979
The highspeed version of the 16SR was introduced in 1979 offering a speed range of 10-150fps for slow motion cinematography. The HS variant uses a different motor and circuit board to achieve the higher speed, essentially running at double the speed of a standard 16SR.
16SR-HS versions are painted gray and have magazines with fixed highspeed pressure plates that do not have the floating pressure pad. Regular 16SR mags cannot be used on a 16SR HS. Regular mags will fit, but images will be soft and if used above 75 fps, the image will flutter. Standard and HS cameras also have different flange focal depth settings.
Less than 250 Arriflex 16SR-I HS cameras were made since the SRII upgrades were introduced shortly after its introduction. Most Highspeed cameras are 16SRII-HS. The only significant difference between 16SRI-HS and 16SRII-HS is the upgraded SRII light meter.
16 SR Advantages
If your goal is to do professional quality projects shooting 16mm, 16 SR-I is the entry-level. I would strongly advise buying an already Super 16 converted SR, or factoring in the cost of conversion into your camera budget.
The 16SR is extremely durable and reliable, and is easily serviced. There are more camera technicians familiar with the 16SR’s service procedures than any other 16mm camera.
I once had a client whose SRI was damaged in return shipping form me to his temporary location in the U.S.. He had to get on a plane to New Zealand that very same day. I was able to arrange for a technician at Panavision New Zealand to take a look at the camera once he arrived. The tech at Pany NZ was familiar with the 16SR and was able to resolve the problem for my client (thanks Wes!) I don’t think my client would have been so fortunate had he owned another type of 16mm camera.
16 SR Availability and Cost:
Cost is really the only disadvantage of the 16SR, and this is only in comparison to older ARRI cameras. These days, with the huge price drop in all film cameras and the extreme difficulty in finding service and parts for cameras older than the 16SR, it just does not make sense not to spend the money to buy a 16SR as opposed to any previous 16mm Arriflex model. You can now buy an ARRI 16SR at bargain liquidation prices.
Entry level is a nearly 40 year old and very worn SR-I for approximately $1,-2,000 USD for a camera body with two mags, an older zoom lens, and a few accessories. This is a huge price drop from the $4-6k USD these cameras fetched in 2005.
That cost can rise to about $3-$4,500 for a Super 16 convertedSR-II Super-16 with video assist. Similar cameras used to sell for $20-25k in 2004. Highspeed and 16SRII P+S Technik Evolution cameras carry a premium due to their rarity.
16SR3’s are also available, many rental houses having sold off their inventory. Sale price tends to be $3,500-6,000 for a very basic package. These cameras sold for $40-60k in 2005.
It is VERY important to keep in mind: The current prices mentioned above are liquidation prices. You are not going to get a pristine camera that is up to date on all maintenance for that price. Unless you are buying a 16SR with written assurance that all needed service has been done from a REPUTABLE seller (which really narrows the field), assume that your camera will need to be checked out by a qualified ARRI technician, and that you will need to budget some funds for that inspection and any needed service.
The Future of the 16SR
At the moment, the 16SR cameras are recovering from their nadir in 2013. Prices have dropped about as far as they will go. Now that the death of film has been averted with the emergence of Kodak from bankruptcy and film labs in major cities continuing in operation, the future is for the first time looking a bit brighter.
Most rental houses have sold off their inventory of 16SR cameras, and are maintaining only the Arriflex 416 as an S16 rental camera. Extremely attractive prices have motivated a new generation of 16SR owner-operators. These new owners comprise fine visual artists, and cinematographers seeking a unique look for a project. They face unique challenges in finding service and parts for their cameras, since ARRI can no longer be counted on as a resource.
Beyond this time, I expect to see a market in film cameras as collectibles. Since the primary source of spare parts today is cannibalizing entire cameras, complete motion picture film cameras will be come scarce, and due to their rarity and cultural significance, will be come highly sought after collectibles.
©2001-2020 Jorge Diaz-Amador. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Last Update: 2020-06-22
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