A Brief History of Amateur Film Gauges and Related Equipment, 1899-2001

Alan Kattelle (1919-2010)
Author, Home Movies: A History of the American Industry, 1897-1979




Birtac 17.5mm Nitrate, 1898

Perforations on one edge. This is appears to be the first gauge made specifically for amateur use, pioneered in 1898 by the British photographer/inventor, Birt Acres, for use in his
amateur camera, the Birtac. The film was simply professional 35mm film split in half, so it is on flammable nitrate base. The camera also doubled as a projector.

 



Biokam 17.5mm Nitrate, 1899
One center perforations on the frame line. Again, the camera could be converted to a projector.

Vitak Projector, 11mm Film, 1902
One perforation per frame, on the frame line. in the center. Marketed by William Wardell, the rather primitive projector wholesaled for $2.00. There is no known camera for this gauge; and the source of films for this gauge is unknown.

Ikonograph, 17.5mm, ca 1905
One center perforation per frame. Designed by E. J. Rector, two models are known. No camera is known but a film in author's collection appears to be a reduction print from a commercial film. These projectors were well made, and appear to have been more serviceable than the more typical small projectors that appeared at that time.

Duoscope, 17.5 Nitrate, 1912
Two perforations per frame on the frame line. It does not appear to have been a commercial success.

Pathé 28mm Safety Film System, 1912
Both Pathé Freres and George Eastman experimented with non-flammable cellulose acetate film. As early as 1905 Eastman had produced some for professional use, but neither exhibitors nor distributors liked it, complaining that it was not as strong as nitrate, and it was
soon withdrawn. Pathé however introduced this system in Europe for the amateur, the film having one perforation per frame on one side and three on the other. At first the amateur was expected to buy reduction prints of Pathé's commercial films, but soon a handsome camera was also offered.

Edison Home Kinetoscope, 22mm Safety, 1912
Thomas Edison produced this unusual projector for home use to show films made by the Edison Studios, reduction printed to this gauge. The film, on safety stock furnished by Eastman Kodak, carries three rows of images in a head-to-tail arrangement. The first row of images is cranked through the projector, then the film shifted to the next row and cranked in the opposite direction, then shifted again to the last row, and cranked in the other direction. It should be noted that many of the Home Kinetoscope films are the only surviving prints of the original Edison "Black Maria" films.

Movette System, 1917
The Movette Corporation of Rochester N.Y. in 1917 introduced this camera, projector and film system using nitrate film in a cartridge provided by Eastman Kodak for use in the camera. After exposure, the film was developed and printed on safety stock for the projector. The film is readily recognized by having two round perforations on each edge.

Vitalux System, 1918/1922
In 1918 one Herman Schlicker received a patent for a curious camera and projector using an endless belt of safety film 6 inches by 17 1/2 inches, carrying 1,625 images in a slow spiral. John R. Freuler, founder and president of the Mutual Film Company in Milwaukee, bought Schlicker's patent and formed the Vitalux Company to manufacture the system. The system came on the market in 1922, and considering what happened in 1923, it is not surprising that very few of these machines were made.

Safety Standard 28mm Film, 1918
The next non-theatrical or small gauge film to appear was a derivative of Pathé's 1912 28mm film. Alexander Victor, the Swedish/American inventor had long felt the need for standardization of non-theatrical films, used by schools, churches and fraternal organizations, as well as amateurs. Largely through his efforts, in 1918 the Society of Motion Picture Engineers adopted this format, called 28mm Safety Standard. It was simply Pathé 's 1912 film except that it has three perforations on each edge. About 1930 Pathescope of America introduced a camera for this format.

9.5mm Safety Film, 1922
Pathé found that their 28mm system was not selling as well as hoped, chiefly because the film was nearly as expensive as 35mm, so in 1922 they introduced this greatly reduced gauge and a projector to go with it. The intent was still to have the amateur show reduction prints of commercial films, in perfect safety. The film was 9.5mm wide with one rectangular perforation in the center on the frame line. The following year they introduced a camera for this gauge, and the new gauge and equipment quickly became very popular in Europe, and has remained so to this day.

Eastman Kodak 16mm Safety film System, 1923
On January 28, 1923, Dr. D. E. K. Mees, Eastman Kodak's Director of Research,
announced the arrival of what is arguably the most important single advance
in the history of amateur motion pictures. The new gauge gave an image size
adequate for home projection and yet the film width was small enough to permit
relatively small light-weight cameras; the cellulose acetate base eliminated the fire hazard of cellulose nitrate, and the direct reversal emulsion ended the need for two pieces of film, the original and the print. The public's acceptance is apparent in the fact that within months of its introduction, film processing stations had been opened across the country, even appeared on several transatlantic liners. Just to be sure that the buyer got good results, Mr. Eastman insisted (at first) on selling the system as a package, including tripod, projector, screen and splicer, which sold for $325.

Kodacolor, 1928
Not to be confused with a later print film also called Kodacolor, this 16mm film achieved color motion pictures with the use of a process first devised in 1908 by Albert Keller-Dorian, improved by Berthon, thence know as the KDB process. The system used film with minute cylindrical ridges, 22 per millimeter, molded on the back of the film base; a tri-color filter for the camera, and a similar filter for the projector. In practice, the film is placed in the camera with the base facing the camera lens. The light rays from the scene being photographed pass through the filter and are focused on the emulsion by the cylindrical lenses, which register the predominant color transmitted by each ray from each spot in the scene. When the developed film is placed in the projector, which is equipped with an identical 3-color filter, the colors of the original scene are reproduced.

Kemco Homovie, 1931
While 16mm substantially reduced the cost of home movies, inventors continued to look for ways to reduce the cost even more. One very ingenious solution was patented by Clarence Ogden, a pioneer in early radio equipment. Ogden’s idea was to squeeze four images into the 16mm frame, which he did in what is elegantly called a "boustrophedonic pattern", or "as the ox plows." Ogden’s idea was clever, and his factory turned out a mechanical marvel, but the system was doomed by the next development from Eastman Kodak. Both the Kemco camera and projector are quite rare.

Eastman Kodak's 8mm System, 1932
Kodak engineers and scientists had also been working to reduce film cost, and in1932 double page ads proclaimed "Kodak cuts the cost of film nearly 2/3". The system used 8mm film, provided to the consumer as spools of 16mm film, to be exposed on one half of the film at a time, the spool then turned over and the other half exposed. Thus a 25 foot spool of 16mm yielded 50 ft of finished film. The first Kodak 8mm camera was priced at $29.50; the least expensive 16mm camera offered by Kodak at that time cost $75.

Eastman Kodak Kodachrome, 1935
In 1935 came perhaps the greatest advance in photography since Eastman’s flexible film; the advent of a method of photography which permitted the rawest amateur to take brilliant, natural color pictures, a goal that photographic scientists had been working toward almost from the first days of photography itself. Kodachrome was the ultimate product of dozens of research scientists at Kodak Research Laboratories, brought to fruition largely by the work of two most unusual men, Leopold Godowsky and Leopold Mannes, scientists, and also both professional musicians of the first rank.

While the Kodachrome process was simplicity itself for the user, the manufacture and subsequent development of the exposed film required dozens of intricate manipulations, physical and chemical. At first only available as 16mm movie film, it was soon available in 8mm movie film and then as transparency film for still cameras, and in that form was a huge success in the graphic arts field. Kodachrome has been vastly improved over the years, but the original Kodachrome has retained its colors very well over the last sixty plus years.

Eastman Kodak Super 8, 1965
Regular 8, or double 8, introduced in 1932, lasted nearly thirty years before serious consideration was given to improving it. The principal impetus for change came from those people who wanted to see the gauge become a bigger factor in the commercial, industrial and educational markets. For these markets, sound-on-film was a must, and the regular 8 format did not have enough room for an adequate sound stripe. Furthermore, many felt that the nuisance of having to stop after 25 feet, open the camera, and re-thread the film discouraged a lot of people from active use of the format.

So after several years of work and experimentation, in June 1965, Eastman
Kodak unveiled a brand new film format, faster film, a nifty new cartridge, and new cameras and projectors. First, the film perforations were much smaller, giving a nearly 50% bigger image area, and leaving room for a sound stripe and balance stripe, if desired. On top of that, the film cartridge slipped nicely into the camera, and told the camera exposure system what kind of film was inside!

Fuji Photo Film Co., Single 8, 1965
This Japanese manufacture introduced a film with identical measurements to Kodak's Super 8, but on a base of polyester terephthalate, much thinner and stronger than Kodak's cellulose acetate. A line of cameras and projectors for the film was also offered.

Eastman Kodak Single System Ektasound, 1973
After many years of "double system" sound systems offered by many manufacturers, of varying usability, in August 1973 Kodak announced two new cameras: the Ektasound 130 and Ektasound 140, with built-in recorders as well as existing light capability. Also announced were two new films: Kodak Ektachrome 160 and Kodachrome II, both with sound striping, in 50-foot sound cartridges which required no threading.

Industry and consumer reaction to this latest advance was positive; a January
1976 survey reported no less than 18 sound-on-film cameras were available. At the same time, amateur video systems were burgeoning, in January 1979 Eastman Kodak announced the discontinuance of all Ektasound cameras; Bell & Howell closed its Consumer Division in 1979, and by December 1982 not a single advertisement for amateur movie cameras appeared in Popular Photography.