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What's today's digital version of the Éclair NRP 16mm Film Camera?


John Matthews

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Found this gem of a YouTube channel called "ADAPT Television History" talk about how things used to be. In this one, they talk about the Éclair NRP 16mm Film Camera. It was one of the first usable portable cameras back in the day for documentary work.

My question is what you think is the modern-day digital equivalent of the 16mm Éclair NRP? I'm just curious what you think.

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I shot with the NPR, and I would say that the EOSM with an ML crop mode and/or the Digital Bolex would be the obvious cameras to compare.

 

I think Aaton (begot from Eclair) had a S16 digital camera worth comparing, and there is also that shoulder mount digital camera with the ergonomic thumb hold of which I can never remember the name.

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3 minutes ago, tupp said:

I shot with the NPR, and I would say that the EOSM with an ML crop mode and/or the Digital Bolex would be the obvious cameras to compare.

 

I think Aaton (begot from Eclair) had a S16 digital camera worth comparing, and there is also that shoulder mount digital camera with the ergonomic thumb hold of which I can never remember the name.

Would I be wrong in saying there was a carefree nature of this camera, meaning you didn't have to think so much about setup, just find a moment and start shooting. Question: would you consider the modern-day version a camera with raw (big files) or 8 bit?

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I think it depends what you mean by digital equivalent.

Ease of use? 

Price?

Ergonomics?

Image quality?

--

As far as a point and shoot doc camera, I'd say the Ursa Mini Pro g2 is pretty close. With Braw you really can fix everything in post - apart from focus. File sizes are reasonable and you have good audio inputs and with dual ISO, even lighting isn't an issue, other than for artistic effect.

Next I'd say FS5/7 and Canon's Cx00 range depending on specific needs. Or if you have the budget, go for Red.

Eosm is nice, but not grab and go, plenty of room for error, although the footage will probably have a closer feel.

 

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1 hour ago, Anaconda_ said:

I think it depends what you mean by digital equivalent.

Ease of use? 

Price?

Ergonomics?

Image quality?

--

As far as a point and shoot doc camera, I'd say the Ursa Mini Pro g2 is pretty close. With Braw you really can fix everything in post - apart from focus. File sizes are reasonable and you have good audio inputs and with dual ISO, even lighting isn't an issue, other than for artistic effect.

Next I'd say FS5/7 and Canon's Cx00 range depending on specific needs. Or if you have the budget, go for Red.

Eosm is nice, but not grab and go, plenty of room for error, although the footage will probably have a closer feel.

 

Well, being 16mm, I've understood that it would be a digital equivalent 3k image (when everything goes right). I found some info on price and it was about 100,000 French Francs in 1984 for a proper setup. Based on the what they say in the video, ergonomics were excellent with good balance, but I think it's important to say it had a "stable" image in the right hands and you could walk with it. In its day, it was the smallest (9.2kg), hand-held camera that could produce an image good enough for the cinema from what I understand, though the standard has always been 35mm for that. It could produce 10 minutes of continuous video at a time. For documentary work, an assistant would line up 3 preloaded magazines to get 30 minutes, but it would be difficult for them to keep up after that.

I find it interesting that the EOSM with ML is consistently mentioned. Would that produce a 3k image?

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12 minutes ago, John Matthews said:

I find it interesting that the EOSM with ML is consistently mentioned. Would that produce a 3k image?

I only mentioned it because @tupp did. I'm not up to date with it really, but from what I gather you can shoot up to 5k, and 2.8k is the sweet spot.

It's ergonomics are terrible though, and handheld is a nightmare because it's so small and the crop at 2.8k is quite sever - a 5x crop on an aps-c sensor. So the balance and stable image is out the window for documentary style stuff, unless you rig it up and give it some weight. The live view also isn't that reliable just yet. Parts of the frame is missing etc. For the price, it's amazing what it can do, but I would never use mine in any setting other than hobby videos and family clips.

Ursa Mini Pro has an anamorphic 3k setting, but I'm not sure if there's a crop on it's 35mm sensor. BMPCC4k has a 2.8k super16 mode, so maybe that's a good option too? Again though, you'd want to add some weight for handheld use.

 

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There is no Ursa with a dual gain sensor by the way. Also all the people here touting the ML M50 as anything other than an interesting technical achievement (comparing it to an incredible workhorse camera) I just cannot comprehend. If anything I'd say the FS7 is the modem equivalent: super well priced for the time and an all around workhorse camera that is EVERYWHERE (and to be clear, I don't really like the image it produces, I'm just commenting on its position in the field right now).

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A Canon DSLR with ML is probably an excellent comparison image wise.

Canon / ML setups are similar to film in that they both likely have:

  • poor DR
  • aesthetically pleasing but high levels of ISO noise 
  • nice colours
  • low resolution
  • no compression artefacts

I shot quite a bit of ML RAW with my Canon 700D and the image was nice and very organic.

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13 hours ago, tupp said:

there is also that shoulder mount digital camera with the ergonomic thumb hold of which I can never remember the name.

The name of this S16 digital camera is the Ikonoskop A-cam dII.

 

Of course the BMPCC and the BMMCC would also be comparable to the NPR.

 

 

13 hours ago, John Matthews said:

Would I be wrong in saying there was a carefree nature of this camera, meaning you didn't have to think so much about setup, just find a moment and start shooting.

Well, since the NPR is a film camera, of course one had to be way more deliberate and prepared compared to today's digital cameras.  If you had already loaded a film stock with the appropriate ISO and color temperature and if you had already taken your light meter readings and set your aperture, then you could  start manually focusing and shooting.  Like many 16mm and S16 cameras of it's size , the NPR could not shoot more than 10 minutes before you had to change magazines.  One usually had to check the gate for hairs/debris before removing a magazine after a take.

 

Processing and color timing and printing (or transferring) was a whole other ordeal much more involved and complex (and more expensive) than color grading digital images.

 

On the other hand, the NPR did enable more "freedom" relative to its predecessors.  The camera was "self-blimped" and could use a crystal-sync motor, so it was much more compact than other cameras that could be used when recording sound.

 

Also, it used coaxial magazines instead of displacement magazines, so it's center of gravity never changed, and with the magazines mounted in the rear of the camera body, it made for better balance on one's shoulder than previous cameras.  The magazines could also be changed instantly, with no threading through the camera body.

 

In the video that you linked, that quick NPR turret switching trick was impressive, and it never occurred to me, as I was shooting narrative films with the NPR, mostly using a zoom on the turret's Cameflex mount.

 

The NPRs film shutter/advancing movement was fairly solid for such a small camera, as well.

 

 

14 hours ago, John Matthews said:

Question: would you consider the modern-day version a camera with raw (big files) or 8 bit?

In regards to the image coming out of a film camera, a lot depends on the film stock used, but look from a medium fast color negative 16mm stock is probably comparable to 2K raw on current cameras that can shoot a S16 crop (with S16 lenses).

 

By the way, film doesn't really have a rolling shutter problem.

 

 

14 hours ago, Anaconda_ said:

As far as a point and shoot doc camera, I'd say the Ursa Mini Pro g2 is pretty close  [snip]  Next I'd say FS5/7 and Canon's Cx00 range depending on specific needs. Or if you have the budget, go for Red.

It is important to use a digital camera that has a S16 (or standard 16) crop to approximate the image of the NPR, because the S16 optics are important to the look.

 

 

14 hours ago, Anaconda_ said:

Eosm is nice, but not grab and go,

The EOSM is a bit more "grab and go" than an Eclair NPR.

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1 hour ago, tupp said:

It is important to use a digital camera that has a S16 (or standard 16) crop to approximate the image of the NPR, because the S16 optics are important to the look.

Like I said, it depends on how you class a digital equivalent. If you want the same final look, then yes, a s16 sensor or a good one. If you want a shoulder mounted doc camera that's ready to go, then that's another set of cameras. If you want a camera that's unlike any other before it, then you're in a different category again.

I'm still unclear at to what the actual question is.

 

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I shot documentaries on one in film school. It was a heavy, unwieldy beast. I preferred the Arri SR and especially the Aaton. Aaton was actually formed by ex-Eclair engineers, and you can see a rational progression from the NPR to the ACL and finally to the XTR.

As far as a modern equivalent, it's obviously 2/3" shoulder-mounted broadcast ENG cameras, both in terms of sensor size, form factor, lens range, and intended purpose. There's really nothing in the modern landscape of Super 35 and full frame cameras that comes close in terms of shoulder-mounted operability. The Amira and original Alexa come close. Camera design has moved overwhelmingly towards compact, box-shaped cameras that are configurable. I think it's a shame and I hope that someday camera manufacturers return to the splendor and comfort of an ergonomic shoulder-mounted camera.

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5 hours ago, Anaconda_ said:

I'm still unclear at to what the actual question is.

I'm only chatting. I don't have any intention on changing systems or anything like that. @tupp and @BrooklynDan actually used it. I was only thinking about what would be the modern equivalent of the NPR, which seemed to be a revolutionary camera back in the day. It (and the Arri) was the camera that made production mobile. I guess even a phone could accomplish many of the things that the NPR could, but I don't really want to talk about phones. The actually image produced really depended on the film stock used.

 

9 hours ago, BrooklynDan said:

As far as a modern equivalent, it's obviously 2/3" shoulder-mounted broadcast ENG cameras, both in terms of sensor size, form factor, lens range, and intended purpose. There's really nothing in the modern landscape of Super 35 and full frame cameras that comes close in terms of shoulder-mounted operability. The Amira and original Alexa come close. Camera design has moved overwhelmingly towards compact, box-shaped cameras that are configurable. I think it's a shame and I hope that someday camera manufacturers return to the splendor and comfort of an ergonomic shoulder-mounted camera.

I think there's definitely something to this logic. However, how many people have back problems due to these heavy beasts? Also, in your opinion, do you think IBIS could give a similar results to the shoulder-mounted rig?

 

22 hours ago, tupp said:

In regards to the image coming out of a film camera, a lot depends on the film stock used, but look from a medium fast color negative 16mm stock is probably comparable to 2K raw on current cameras that can shoot a S16 crop (with S16 lenses).

 

By the way, film doesn't really have a rolling shutter problem.

I imagine this is definitely the case. Rolling shutter on CMOS has been better controlled in recent years, but still a minor issue. It's too bad that CCD tech didn't get better and cheaper like CMOS. Hopefully, there will be something on the horizon to replace CMOS... perhaps the stacked sensors? In terms of resolution, I'm fine with a good-looking 2k or 1080p image, as long as the framing is right in-camera.

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On 10/8/2020 at 4:02 PM, kye said:

Canon / ML setups are similar to film in that they both likely have:

  • poor DR

Not sure where you read this, but you're misinformed.

I would echo what others say and mention the C300 or FS7 as their modern say replacement. The NPR is very much a single operator camera, just like the C300 or FS7.

The comparison in image quality is probably not worth mentioning... It was the film stock flying through the gate that and the glass that determined the look, not the mechanics of the camera. It didn't matter if you had a Bolex or a SR3, both can look great with the right glass. 

I'm still curious how someone could think a EOSM is comparable in any way...Have you guys actually watched something shot on 16mm? Bizarre comparison.

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17 hours ago, John Matthews said:

I'm only chatting. I don't have any intention on changing systems or anything like that. @tupp and @BrooklynDan actually used it. I was only thinking about what would be the modern equivalent of the NPR, which seemed to be a revolutionary camera back in the day. It (and the Arri) was the camera that made production mobile. I guess even a phone could accomplish many of the things that the NPR could, but I don't really want to talk about phones. The actually image produced really depended on the film stock used.

 

I think there's definitely something to this logic. However, how many people have back problems due to these heavy beasts? Also, in your opinion, do you think IBIS could give a similar results to the shoulder-mounted rig?

IBIS is not a substitute for a properly shoulder-mounted camera. It tunes out micro-jitters, but it doesn't help you when you're trying to shoot handheld with longer lenses because the lack of inertia causes the frame to swing around when you're trying to move. Also, digital stabilization is a machine interpreting human input. It always looks artificial to me somehow, ever on high-end gimbals and stabilizers.

When you have a properly shoulder-mounted camera, you can press it into your shoulder and into the side of your head, which creates far more stability. I've been shooting with a Canon C100 on a rig with an external monitor and heavy counterweight, and while it's doing my back no favors, I can shoot long takes at 35mm and up with no problem, and even 50mm and up with minor shake. Try that with your mirrorless camera hovering in front of you.

 

20201010_192836.jpg

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I agree with @BrooklynDan although IBIS on the S1 performs way better than I'd expected. And for the intended purpose of having a small camera that delivers a useable image it's pretty stunning and complements the form factor remarkably well. It's way way more usable than I expected and a pretty good option given a lack of viable alternatives for small form factors.

But I prefer the Aaton/Arri 416 form factor or the Amira over the Red/EVA1/Alexa Mini form factor, too, and it's an issue with prosumer cameras that the form factor really makes no sense ergonomically. Too big for IBIS to make sense, too small to be shoulder-mounted comfortably.

I keep going back to the $30 cowboy studio stabilizer, which somehow distributes weight evenly even with a front-heavy camera by clamping around your back. For 2-4 pound prosumer cameras and cameras without IBIS, I've found it preferable to a shoulder rig.

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5 hours ago, HockeyFan12 said:

I keep going back to the $30 cowboy studio stabilizer, which somehow distributes weight evenly even with a front-heavy camera by clamping around your back. For 2-4 pound prosumer cameras and cameras without IBIS, I've found it preferable to a shoulder rig.

That rig works way better than it should. I haven’t used it in years but had great results with the OG black magic packet.

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11 hours ago, BenEricson said:

I'm still curious how someone could think a EOSM is comparable in any way...Have you guys actually watched something shot on 16mm? Bizarre comparison.

I have watched some things captured on 16mm film, and I have shot one or two projects with the Eclair NPR.  Additionally, I own an EOSM.

 

 

The reasons why the EOSM is comparable to the NPR is because:

  •   some of the ML crop modes for the EOSM allow the use of 16mm and S16 optics;
  •   the ML crop modes enable raw recording at a higher resolution and higher bit-depth.

 

 

By the way, there have been a few relevant threads on the EOSM.  Here is thread based on an EOSHD article about shooting 5k raw on the EOSM using one of the 16mm crop modes.

 

Here is a thread that suggests the EOSM can make a good Super-8 camera.

 

Certainly, there are other digital cameras with 16 and S16 crops, and most of them have been mentioned in this thread.  The Digital Bolex and the Ikonoskop A-cam dII are probably the closest digital camera to a 16mm film camera, because not only do they shoot s16, raw/uncompressed with a higher bit depth, but they both utilize a CCD sensor.

 

 

8 hours ago, BrooklynDan said:

When you have a properly shoulder-mounted camera, you can press it into your shoulder and into the side of your head, which creates far more stability.  [snip]  Try that with your mirrorless camera hovering in front of you.

Of course, one can rig any mirrorless camera set back and balanced on a weighted shoulder rig, in the same way as you show in the photo of your C100.  You could even add a padded "head-pressing plate!"

 

 

7 hours ago, HockeyFan12 said:

But I prefer the Aaton/Arri 416 form factor or the Amira over the Red/EVA1/Alexa Mini form factor, too, and it's an issue with prosumer cameras that the form factor really makes no sense ergonomically. Too big for IBIS to make sense, too small to be shoulder-mounted comfortably.

Just build a balanced shoulder rig and keep it built during the entire shoot.

 

 

7 hours ago, HockeyFan12 said:

I keep going back to the $30 cowboy studio stabilizer, which somehow distributes weight evenly even with a front-heavy camera by clamping around your back. For 2-4 pound prosumer cameras and cameras without IBIS, I've found it preferable to a shoulder rig.

I've always wanted to try one of those!:

41OOv0oN1PL._SL500_AC_SS350_.jpg&f=1&nof

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16 hours ago, BenEricson said:

Not sure where you read this, but you're misinformed.

Which do you agree with - that film has poor DR or that Canon DSLRs have?

I suspect you're talking about film, and this is something I learned about quite recently.  In Colour and Mastering for Digital Cinema by Glenn Kennel he shows density graphs for both negative and print films.  

The negative film graphs show the 2% black, 18% grey and 90% white points all along the linear segment of the graph, with huge amounts of leeway above the 90% white.  He says "The latitude of a typical motion picture negative film is 3.0 log exposure, or a scene contrast of 1000 to 1.  This corresponds to approximately 10 camera stops".  The highlights extend into a very graceful highlight compression curve.

The print-through curve is a different story, with the 2% black, 18% grey and 90% white points stretching across almost the entire DR of the film.  In contrast to the negative film where the range from 2-90% takes up perhaps half of the mostly-linear section of the graph, in the print-through curve the 2% sits very close to clipping, the region between 18% and 90% encompasses the whole shoulder, and the 90% is very close to the other flat point on the curve.

My understanding is that the huge range of leeway in the negative is what people refer to as "latitude" and this is where the reputation film has of having a large DR comes from, because that is true.  However, if you're talking about mimicking film then it was a very short period in history where you might shoot on film but process digitally, so you should also take into account the print film positive that would have been used to turn the negative into something you could actually watch.

Glenn goes on to discuss techniques for expanding the DR of the print-through by over-exposing the negative and then printing it differently, which does extend the range in the shadows below the 2% quite significantly.

I tried to find some curves online to replicate what is in the book but couldn't find any.  I'd really recommend the book if you're curious to learn more.  I learned more in reading the first few chapters than I have in reading free articles on and off for years now.

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7 hours ago, kye said:

However, if you're talking about mimicking film then it was a very short period in history where you might shoot on film but process digitally, so you should also take into account the print film positive that would have been used to turn the negative into something you could actually watch.

Fair enough. I didn't realize you were talking about reversal film or film prints. Reversal was extremely popular at that time. The Dark Knight was shot negative but done with a traditional film print work flow and saying it has poor dynamic range and is comparable to ML is a tough sell. The roll off on highlights is just so damn pretty!

From my experience with color negative film, the amount of range and especially highlight detail far exceeds what you would ever need to pull out in post. An exposure needs to be set in the grade, but like you said, you have a ton of leeway. It is quite remarkable what you can pull from even a 16mm negative film.

I am definitely interested in that book. It was written in 2006 and the scanning technology we have now didn't even exist back then, but I am interested in that more classical style of shooting and finishing contrast than the DI style grading. Thanks for the recommendation. 

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