F. and S. Marriott 140 Newbegin, Hornsea, England, HU18 1PB

May 2010. Stephanie died peacefully on 19th April after a short stay in hospital. She had been suffering from acute cervical cancer. Fred will continue to run the business to the best of his ability. The web site is slowly getting under control again as he tries to take over some of Stephanie's responsibilities, and learns some of the mysteries of Dreamweaver.

Paillard Bolex H16 Cine Cameras

by Fred and Stephanie Marriott


The First Models

Prewar H16 Cameras

Post-war Non-reflex H16 Cameras

Reflex H16 Cameras

The Single Lens Models

Bayonet Mount H16 Cameras



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 conditions.

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 rendered unserviceable.

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 later H.16s

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 one.

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 U.K.

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 cameras.

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 about £203.

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 f/1.8 lens.

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, cameras.

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 £10.

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 £2,160

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 models.

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 cheap).

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 Berthiot.

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 viewfinder systems.

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 set.

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:-

100401 onwards

Introduction of trailing claw

116001 onwards

Changes to turret for reflex viewfinder

121401 onwards

Shortening of turret locating rails

152100 onwards

Introduction of combined meter/feet scale on footage indicator

158001 onwards

Increased speed from 8 f.p.s. to 12 f.p.s. Introduction of speed setting for 18 f.p.s.

162301 onwards

Automatic opening of loop formers and spool ejection on H16RXVS models. Introduction of variable shutter. New sprocket type on H16 RXVS.

166031 onwards

Modification of release for use with RX-fader and cable release

167251 onwards

Viewfinder modification to avoid light reflections

172501 onwards

Introduction of a new lateral release

181641 onwards

Shoe for lightmeter or rangefinder fitted to camera body

186925 onwards

Introduction of stronger rewind shaft of frame counter

There is no such thing as a "standard" H16.

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Paillard Bolex Battery instructions

Paillard Bolex MCE-17B Motor instructions

Paillard Bolex Eye Level Focus instructions

Paillard Bolex Declic Grip Instructions

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