The Paillard Bolex H.16 cine camera is one of the most
popular cameras for the collector and enthusiast. The
collector likes it because there is a wide range of
cameras and accessories to collect, some harder to find
than others. The enthusiast likes it even more as it is
an eminently usable camera. It is satisfying to hold,
beautifully made, and versatile. The range of
accessories, although confusing, gives the camera user
the means to cope with a wide range of subjects and
The camera has been used in some of the most difficult
conditions imaginable&emdash;Sid Perou, the well-known
film-maker, has taken his into pot-holes and dangled it
(with himself!) from a rope attached to the basket of a
hot-air balloon. It has produced professional films for
television and been used as a reliable, battery-free
back-up when batteries for the main camera have been
It has also been used by enthusiastic amateur
film-makers and it is now popular with students attending
a variety of arts courses.
The First Cameras
The camera had its beginnings in an earlier camera,
designed by Jaques Bogopolski (later known as Bolsey). In
the early 1930s a 16 mm. cine camera was made for the
Bolex company of Geneva, a subsidiary of the Paillard
gramophone motor company. By modern standards, this
camera is very basic. It has spring drive running at a
single speed, but there is also a hand crank which can be
used in two apertures&emdash;one gives eight pictures per
turn, and the other two pictures per turn.
It has a brilliant finder and a direct-vision finder;
this latter incorporates an extinction meter. It takes 50
ft. or 100 ft. spools of film and features an audible
footage indicator. Advertised in July 1932, this camera,
fitted with a Hermagis f/3.5 lens, cost £14.
One month later, it is advertised as a Paillard Bolex,
and it was also available with a Kern f/2.5 fixed focus
lens at 16 guineas.
Although this camera is of interest to collectors, it
cannot be recommended as a practical camera for the
enthusiastic cinematographer because the facilities it
offers are so limited.
In the mid-1930s the first H.16 was launched and the
basic design of this camera remains recognisable through
The lenses screw into a semi-circular turret which can
accommodate up to three lenses at one time. The turret
can be rotated to bring any lens into use.
The camera has two film feed sprockets and a claw to
transport the film, which can be on 50 ft. or 100 ft.
spools, and which is threaded semi-automatically. The
spring motor offers a range of filming speeds (8, 16, 24,
32, and 64 f.p.s.) and single-frame.
The distinctively-styled camera body is made of
cold-pressed aluminium, covered in black leather.
The Prewar H.16 Cameras
The first H.16, usually designated the Series I (these
designations were originated not by Paillard, who do not
recognise them, but - we think - by G. R. Sharp for his
Focal Guide on Bolex Cameras) has all the essential H.16
design features. In other respects the camera is very
basic. There is a trifocal viewfinder, covering 15 mm.,
25 mm., and 75 mm. focal lengths. This viewfinder can be
positioned on the top or on the side door of the camera.
A contemporary test report suggests that the viewfinder
should be placed on the top of the camera when it is
being carried about but on the side when in use.
The pressure pad has two raised runners and a raised
frame square on the inner surface&emdash;this was later
improved and many early cameras will be fitted with the
later, non-ferrous pressure pad.
There is no critical focusing screen&emdash;this is
found on later models.
The metal plate carrying the maker's name is also
absent&emdash;the name is printed directly onto the side
of the camera.
The winding handle is rigid, which causes problems
with the lens turret because if the turret is in the
swing-out position the winding handle is obstructed. To
overcome this problem, a small handle was supplied with
the camera, which screws into a special socket.
These cameras, in original condition, had no frame
counter (they did have a footage indicator, but this is
not very accurate for special effects involving backwind)
but a workshop modification was available to install
The camera has a 190 degree shutter, which offers good
light transmission, although contemporary lenses would
usually not be very fast. In 1935, fitted with a
Dallmeyer f/2.9 1-in. lens, the camera cost £49.
The Series I was superseded around 1936 by what is now designated
the Series II. This camera is fitted with a critical focusing screen
- a prism with a finely ground surface. The audible footage indicator
can be switched off, and Meyer lenses featured a fully-closing diaphragm
so that fades could be taken to complete black-out. The camera, fitted
with a Dallmeyer f/2.9 lens, cost £51; while with a Dallmeyer
f/1.5 the cost rose to £55.
The Series III was launched in the early 1940s. As
there was a war in Europe then, information is scarce.
The camera had a metal name-plate, replacing the printed
name, and this could be removed to allow a frame counter
to be fitted. As the camera was not available in this
country there is no price information available for the
These cameras have passed their sixtieth birthday. An
old camera, however well made, may well start to give
trouble and servicing costs are inevitably high. Having
said that, there are other disadvantages to these models.
The viewfinder only offers three focal lengths. The
Series I has no critical focusing screen. The problem
offered by the rigid winding handle and lens turret,
while not unsurmountable, is certainly an irritant. The
small handle is likely to be missing.
Naturally, because of these disadvantages, the cameras
are likely to be cheap, especially the scruffier ones
which are of little interest to collectors, but you must
think very carefully about the sort of work you want to
do before committing yourself to a prewar camera.
Post-war Non-Reflex H16 Cameras
In about 1946 a new H.16 was released, now designated
the Series IV. This camera featured the collapsible
winding handle which did not foul the turret and
provision for a separate winding handle ceased. The gate
and pressure pad were redesigned to allow more tolerance
for different types of film. The rear of the gate could
be removed to allow the use of a "gate focusing
attachment" for precise focusing, although since the
camera has to be opened, this device cannot be used when
the camera is loaded with film. Lenses available included
Kern coated 25 mm. Switar f/1.4, 15 mm. Yvar f/2.8, and
75 mm. Yvar f/3.5.
The camera was available to users with an industrial
or educational permit but strict import controls
prevented its purchase by enthusiastic amateurs. For this
reason no U.K. price information is available.
The Series V, introduced in 1951, offered the
multi-focus octameter viewfinder, suitable for lenses
from 16 mm. to 150 mm. focal length. An eye-level
focusing attachment was available as an accessory and, to
further aid focusing, most lenses were supplied in an
improved mount with depth of focus shown clearly. Prices
in 1952 were around £115 for camera and 25 mm.
Genevar f/1.9, £130 for camera and 25 mm. Switar
f/1.5, and £144 for camera and 25 mm. Switar f/1.4.
Additional lenses introduced were the 16 mm. Yvar f/2.8
(around £21), 75 mm. Yvar f/2.8 (around £36),
100 mm. Yvar f/3.3 (around £39), and 150 mm. Yvar
f/4 (around £54). All of these prices exclude
purchase tax, which would have added, for example,
£62 8s. 0d. to the price of the camera and 25 mm.
Switar f/1.4 lens. In 1953 the camera was advertised with
semi-automatic loading, but in 1954 it is claimed to
feature automatic threading.
In 1954 a modified camera was launched, now designated
the Series VI. This offers several advantages over
earlier cameras. The turret was improved so that it
operates more positively and a turret handle was fitted.
A rubber eyepiece was provided, but most important of
all, the filterslot was introduced. The filterslot was
set behind the lens and allows gelatin filters in special
mounts to be inserted behind the lens. Although all Kern
lenses introduced for the Series V take the same filter
size (except the 150 mm. lens) this was still perceived
as a problem, which the filterslot solves. The filterslot
set is supplied in a neat plastic box which is easy to
carry and changing a filter is very easy.
Another modification prevents the Surefire Grip from
unscrewing - a small groove was cut diagonally across the
edge of the tripod bush which engaged with a lug on the
grip. This modification could be carried out on earlier
In 1956 the camera, fitted with a Kern Pizar 26 mm.
f/1.9 lens, cost about £180; with Switar 25 mm.
f/1.5 it cost about £201; and with Switar 25 mm.
f/1.4 it cost about £221. Lenses available included
Switar 10 mm. f/1.6 (£87); Yvar 16 mm. f/2.8
(£29); Yvar 16 mm. f/1.8 (£45); Switar 50 mm.
f/1.4 (£72); Yvar 75 mm. f/2.8 (£50); Yvar 100
mm. f/3.3 (£54); and Yvar 150 mm. f/4 (£75).
There was also the SOM Berthiot Pan Cinor 70 zoom at
The final non-reflex camera came out in the late 1950s. It has no
filter slot and was supplied with a viewfinder which included only
four focal length settings - 16, 25, 50, and 75 mm. A focusing screen
allows an eye-level focuser to be fitted. The camera, with Switar
25 mm. f/1.4 cost about £173, with Switar f/1.5 about £156,
and with Pizar f/1.9 it cost about £138. An advertisement in
1963 advises that this model is to be discontinued in the very near
future&emdash;the prices are reduced to about £162 for the camera
and Switar f/1.4 lens, and about £130 for the camera and Yvar
There is no doubt that the improvements made to the
post-war cameras enhance their appeal to a modern-day
user. Unless reflex focusing is essential, any of these
cameras will be eminently usable. The cameras supplied
with a zoom viewfinder (the octameter) are more
attractive as the viewfinder enables a wider range of
lenses to be used.
The best of the three (also likely to be the most
expensive) is the Series VI camera with a filterslot. If
your chosen camera does not have filters and holder
supplied, be careful when you buy the filters, as there
are different sizes of filterslot.
A later lens which can be used with these cameras,
features a reflex viewfinder but this lens may not be
appropriate for your needs.
Note when purchasing lenses, that special versions were made by Kern
for the Bolex reflex cameras, and these are clearly designated "RX".
The performance of these lenses when used on non-reflex cameras may
not be satisfactory.
Reflex H16 Cameras
In October 1956 a new version of the H16 was shown at
the Cologne Photo Fair. The H16RX or H16 Reflex offered
reflex viewing and a redesigned filter slot. The reflex
viewing attracted most of the attention. A prism system
diverted about 10% of the light through the eyepiece. As
the shutter opening was reduced to 143 degrees, some
authorities felt that this meant the camera lost about
half a stop when compared with the previous, non-reflex,
The extra glass in the light path also meant that
special lenses had to be used at focal lengths of 50 mm.
or less. These RX-designated lenses must not be used on
other C-mount cameras.
In 1958, fitted with a Pizar 25 mm. f/2.5 lens, the
camera cost about £209, while fitted with the Switar
25 mm. f/1.4 it cost about £225.
In 1959 the RXVS was introduced. The VS designation
indicates a variable shutter, a feature which is only of
use to film-makers who wish to use fades or
lap-dissolves. The variable shutter is operated using a
lever at the side of the lens turret, and an automatic
fader was made which sold, at the time, for about
Other modifications made to the camera include changes
to the way in which the camera is loaded and unloaded. A
lever was added which, when pressed, makes the spool pop
up for easy removal, even when wearing gloves. The
auto-threading mechanism was given wider feed guides and
these open automatically when the cover is replaced.
In 1960, the camera and 25 mm. f/1.4 RX-Switar cast
about £235, while the camera and 25 mm. f/1.4
RX-Pizar cost about £219.
A new Octameter incorporated a field adaptor for the
10mm lens. This had been available as an accessory for
previous octameters. The new Octameter had provision for
it to slide neatly away underneath the viewfinder when
not in use.
In the mid-sixties the RX-5 came out. This was a
modified RX which offered features more suited to the
professional film-maker. The top of the camera was
adapted to take interchangeable 400ft magazines, and a
constant-speed motor was available which could be fitted
to the camera., transforming it to electric drive. This
is important if sound is to be used as synchronisation
will suffer if there is any variation in speed, however
small. There was also an RX-Matic which was an RX-5 with
a fader fitted. In 1967 the RX-5 camera body alone cost
about £220; by 1985 this had risen to about
Reflex viewing, as anyone who has used a single-lens
reflex still camera will know, makes framing and focusing
much easier, and this has to be the major advantage of
these cameras. However, the H16 viewfinder is very dark
and not very practical for following action while
filming. These cameras are highly sought-after and
command high prices compared with the non-reflex
The RXVS offers some improvements over the RX, but you
should consider your needs before paying the extra money.
One critic, writing over 15 years later, claimed that the
loss of light caused by introducing the variable shutter
(the RXVS shutter angle was reduced to 130 degrees) was
not justified by the inclusion of the gimmick. He
recommended his readers to buy the RX if they must have
reflex viewing, as fades and lap-dissolves were out of
fashion. I care nothing for fashion, and can only leave
it to you to decide for yourself.
You will find an even bigger jump in price between the
RXVS and the RX-5. I have never seen an RX-5Matic, but
accessory faders are fairly easy to find.
Note that there are two versions of these cameras, one
with the footage counter in feet and one with it in
meters. If this matters to you, ensure you check that you
have the version you require before you buy (although a
conversion is, we believe, possible, it will not be
If you do require the facilities offered by the RX-5, allow plenty
of time to to track down the camera and accessories and plenty of
money. These cameras were sold, mainly, to professionals and had a
correspondingly hard life. Of the cameras which have survived, many
look scruffy and worn. Accessories have survived even less well, and
this must be allowed for in your search.
The Single Lens Models
To accompany the range of three-lens turret models,
Paillard introduced some single-lens models, primarily
intended to take one of the reflex lenses produced by Som
In 1958 the H16M was introduced. This camera has no lens turret,
no filterslot and a simple, four focal-length viewfinder (16, 25,
50 and 75mm), with parallax correction from 1.5 feet to infinity.
It has a two-claw motion, one for forward and another for reverse
cranking. It was claimed that this arrangement gave an unaltered frame
line. The camera accepts any non-reflex C-mount lens, but it was primarily
designed for use with a zoom lens (see Paillard
Bolex H16 Accessories for more information on the zoom lenses).
It was sold fitted with a prime lens as an option as well. In 1959,
with a 25 mm. f/1.8 Berthiot Lytar, the camera cost about £100,
with a 26 mm. f/1.9 Kern Pizar it was about £112 and with the
Berthiot Pan-Cinor 70 zoom lens this rose to about £222.
The Berthiot Pan Cinor offers a 17.5 mm. to 70 mm.
zoom range, with a maximum aperture of f/2.4. There were
also two 25 mm. to 100 mm. zoom lenses, one f/3.4 and one
f/2.4. All three of these lenses have built-in reflex
In the late 1960s a version of the H16M was launched,
designated the H16M-5, which accepts 400ft magazines. In
1968 this camera cost about £151 for the body only,
and about £393 with the Pan Cinor 85 f/2 zoom lens.
This does not appear to be significantly more expensive
than the H16M, which was about £123 for the camera
body and about £364 for body and Pan Cinor lens.
However, the difference in price seems to have made a
difference to the sales as while H16M cameras are fairly
easy to find, the H16M-5 is very rare and could command a
high price now.
For most general purposes a zoom lens is probably more
convenient than a three-lens turret and, using any of the
Pan Cinor lenses, the results can be expected to be
excellent. There are those who believe that prime lenses
give better results than zoom lenses, and this is
supported by the technically-knowledgeable. In practice,
there may be little noticeable difference. The zoom
lenses are bulky and heavy, and use of a tripod is
recommended at longer focal lengths; this could be seen
as offsetting the advantages offered by the zoom.
The only area where the zoom does not necessarily give
any benefits is that of animation. A reflex finder is
essential, but the close-focusing limitations of the
zooms must be considered.
It is also worth remembering that there is no
filterslot. Filters for the Pan Cinor zooms are available
but they are expensive compared with the filterslot
Bayonet Mount H16 Cameras
In 1970 a new H16 provided a radical departure - a
single-lens reflex camera with a bayonet lens mount. A
modified MST motor, multifocal finder and filter-set were
available - the new camera used all other existing H16
accessories, except the macro-bellows. The new
filter-holder uses 25 mm. square gelatin filters. The
H16-SB was also supplied with an automatic fader and
designated the H16-SBMatic, with the necessary changes
for the use of a 400ft magazine, it was designated the
H16-SBM and with both of these features it was designated
the H16-SBM-Matic. None of these cameras appear in the
second-hand amateur market very often - a dealer
specialising in professional equipment may be the best
option (not us). Expect to pay a professional price.
Later cameras have built-in electric motors giving 24
f.p.s. and 25 f.p.s., stabilised for sound. The EBM
Electric and the EL (which has built-in TTL metering) are
definitely in the professional market, offering
crystal-controlled or pulse-synchronisation for sound.
Prices, when new, reflect this. In 1983 the EL was
£2,823 excluding VAT and lens. The Vario Switar 100
f1.9 16-100mm zoom was £1,145 excluding VAT and the
Vario-Switar f2 12.5 - 100mm zoom, with 6.5mm wide-angle
adaptor, was £1,667 excluding VAT.
The spring-drive bayonet cameras have all of the
advantages of the earlier cameras, but unless you need
the features of the later models you will find you are
paying a high price for no benefit, and this will be for
each lens you require as well as for the camera body.
The electric-drive models are heavy cameras, requiring
heavy powerpacks, an additional disadvantage unless you
are making sound films requiring precise synchronisation.
Remember that the same facilities can be made available
on an RX spring-drive camera by adding accessories when
(and if) required. Having said that, if an electric motor
is essential, ensure you can buy the accessories required
before you commit to a spring-drive camera as some
accessories can be hard to find.
We have tried to give an outline of the primary Paillard Bolex H16
models. However, Paillard had a policy of replacing existing parts
with the latest part wherever possible. Upgrades were also available
and this means that a camera which appears to be, for example, an
H16 Model IV may have some of the features of a Model V. In many cases,
the differences are internal to the camera mechanism and, beyond giving
better service, will make no difference to the camera user. In some
cases the modifications may be decisive in a decision to purchase
or not; examine each specimen carefully to ensure that you are fully
conversant with the camera you are planning to purchase.
In addition, there were modifications introduced across the range
of models which did not generate new model designations. These modifications
can be detected using the camera serial number (sometimes they are
obvious to the eye too!). Known (to us) modifications of this type
are as follows:-
Introduction of trailing claw
Changes to turret for reflex viewfinder
Shortening of turret locating rails
Introduction of combined meter/feet scale on
Increased speed from 8 f.p.s. to 12 f.p.s.
Introduction of speed setting for 18 f.p.s.
Automatic opening of loop formers and spool
ejection on H16RXVS models. Introduction of
variable shutter. New sprocket type on H16
Modification of release for use with RX-fader
and cable release
Viewfinder modification to avoid light
Introduction of a new lateral release
Shoe for lightmeter or rangefinder fitted to
Introduction of stronger rewind shaft of
There is no such thing as a "standard" H16.