Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Bolex - Conversion to S16


26th April 2005

I'm thinking about buying a Bolex N16 non-reflex and having it converted into a S16, with a PL mount and a mattebox attachment.

I believe the camera is from 1956 but is in full working order.

Besides making sure that the following is ok, is there anything else I should take into consideration?

- Steady registration
- No scratching

Flemming Jetmar

Flemming Jetmar writes :

>I'm thinking about buying a Bolex N16 non-reflex and having it >converted into a S16, with a PL mount and a mattebox attachment.

There is a serial number that below which the camera cannot be converted. I forget what it is. Although Bolex’s are great cameras, and last and last, and last. Perhaps it would be better to buy a newer converted Super 16 Bolex. The Conversion must cost a lot by itself.

There also may be limits to using some lenses with a PL mount, owing to the Bolex's prism, but I'm not sure.

What would be the point of having it be NON reflex?

Steven Gladstone
Gladstone Films
Brooklyn, N.Y. U.S.A.
East Coast List administrator - Cinematography Mailing list

Steven Gladstone writes :

>...limits to using some lenses with a PL mount, owing to the Bolex's >prism...

Very valid point I'll check up on that!

As to costs I can have a conversion done from N16 to S16 with a PL mount and mattebox attachment for around 1200 pound sterling.

Flemming Jetmar

Perhaps the best conversions available are from Les Bosher in the UK, so I would ask his opinion directly.

Mitch Gross

Mitch Gross writes :

> conversions available are from Les Bosher in the UK

Did that already but it was only a quick chat about prices which I had with him last week but now I have a bunch of new questions to ask him (o:

Flemming Jetmar
DP London

I did the "cheap eBay Bolex, cheap Super 16 conversion" and in retrospect wish I'd done it properly.. Had to spend big $$$ getting it all 100% kosher.. (Beware Vegas-based converters, beware eBay Bolexes in general !)

I too would question the lack of reflex... Why spend all that money when for a couple extra hundred you could have 13X finder too? I think the history is important.. If it's been a student workhorse but maintained occasionally I'd prefer that to a camera that's been drying out and gathering mould and dust for 50 years...Probably taken out every 10 years and run dry at 64 fps.

Good luck

Rory Moles
1st AC London

See Clive Tobin's comments re claw and registration on old models :

I assume whoever doing the conversion will add a reflex finder, I think this can be done but that's gotta cost. I had the "13X/14X" finder added to my Rex4, paid for the luxury : I'm too old now for small finders.

A Bolex *can* be a professional grade camera IMO *If* one is willing to pay attention to proper care and feeding as it were.

I'd give it critical DX reg test, (find some double perf B&W reversal if you can!) also pay close attention to take up, and that the mechanical governor is not worn.

Sam Wells

Rory Moles writes :

>I too would question the lack of reflex...?

Yes, you are absolutely right. My thoughts were to have the reflex finder put on in the conversion but actually what's been pointed out for me here have made me think twice about what to do.

Thanks a lot.

Flemming Jetmar

There is something else. A camera tech once told me that the claws for the Bolex are not all the same length. This is to account for the position in which the pulldown ends. Some are longer than others. Ideally this length differential is used to insure that the frame line is always in the same place on every camera. However if a camera has been repaired and the wring length claw used in the repair, then the frame line will be displaced. Not an issue in Video transfer, but a Big one for Print (contact printing, I'm not sure if it is an issue in optical printing).

Hope this helps.

Steven Gladstone
Gladstone Films
Brooklyn, N.Y. U.S.A.
East Coast List administrator - Cinematography Mailing list

Here you go, Flemming :

Here's another link.

I was not familiar w/ this site before and there aren't many details. I like the idea of an adapter PL to C mount instead of a conversion, so you can use your 10mm Switar or rent a PL mount lens.

This is a reputable place(from what I'm told)called ProCan but their website is very limited :

Here's the official site in Switzerland

Details of S-16/different models, etc.

I was in Switzerland in 2000, and walked every street in a lot of cities I visited looking for photography places/Bolexes (laughs) I found very few and should have gone to Yverdon-les-Bains, I suppose!

Now, Chambless Cine equipment seems to have disappeared!

What happened? Perhaps they still exist but got a new website(?) Can't find it...

There's also :  

I would rely on people's recommendations (I'm merely posting these but customers could post their experiences for everyone on the list)

I would love to have a decent Bolex S-16 myself-they are amazing - I'm also looking into Eyemo reflex conversions(I don't think I can afford a Mike Ferra conversion) If someone has any links, please post on a separate list.

Best regards,

John Babl

Flemming Jetmar wrote:

>I'm thinking about buying a Bolex N16 non-reflex and having it converted >into a S16, with a PL mount and a mattebox attachment.

Greetings Flemming,

Just had one of my Bolexes converted by Les Bosher a couple of months ago.

RX5 three turret converted to S16, Bayonet mount with C-mount adapter and a PL mount adapter. So in the end I can use my old C-mount lenses, PL mount lenses and additionally Bolex Bayonet lenses. I can also later on add some Nikon adapter if needed.

The job is well done. Had some tests going last week and was pleasantly surprised. Shot it next to Arri SR3. Also had some time lapse footage and steady as a rock. I would before converting test the camera and be sure that you are happy with it. Everything should be fine, the registration as well as the prism located behind the lens, and any other vital part of the camera.

Get a 1:1 axe or ratio camera. I would recommend a reflex camera also above a non reflex. Reasons.

What you see is what you get.

The value of your Bolex is going to remain if not increase if a more recent type.

Feel free to ask any other questions.

Emmanuel from Munich

Or, if you really get ambitious:

Michael Missett
Infinitive Pictures
North Branford, CT

Flemming Jetmar wrote :

>I'm thinking about buying a Bolex N16 non-reflex and having it >converted into a S16, with a PL mount and a mattebox attachment.

>I believe the camera is from 1956 but is in full working order.

When buying a Bolex my understanding is you should aim to buy one past the 1,000,000 serial number as apparently these are more reliable in general and more often than not are motor driven not hand-cranked. Also I would concur with Rory’s post that you want to know the history of the camera (this goes for all second/third/fourth hand cameras)

Conversion to s16 seems like a waste of time on an old camera, and I’m surprised you wouldn’t go for a reflex Bolex if one was available. The reasons for reflex are numerous and well documented so I won’t repeat them here. Additional – there is the chance that something may be overlooked here, and you can end up with a wrecked camera.

Try to get one with a fader arm as this dramatically increases the amount of in camera effects you can get out of it. Also I would check VERY CAREFULLY the lenses available for this camera. You said you would make it a PL mount, so I guess you could use better lenses than are generally available for the Bolex these days.

Have a 16mm Bolex and have considered conversion but thought it might ruin its classic beauty!

There is a gent in Hamilton Island, Queensland AUS that does conversions on Bolex to super 16mm and in the Australian scene he’s apparently well regarded. My understanding is the cost when I looked into it was about 1000AUD which is about half the price you quoted in pounds. (+ shipping / insurance / nail-biting??)

Ultimately, test it and test it, and really ask yourself if you need to go super16mm. A lot of well shot, low ASA 16mm can still be blown up to 35mm to be intercut with 35mm originated material. Super16mm of course is better, but not if you ruin the camera’s inherent design in the process, by adding all sorts of extra issues (backfocus, mis-alignment etc.)

I too have shared the dream of turning my Bolex into a great pickups camera as I love Bolex and love its versatility. If you can find a good Bolex to start with, you will be doing well already. So choose carefully! a great camera loses none of its value.

Karl Siemon
DP, Camera Assist

Dear Flemming,

You have had some very good advise from the list. A Bolex is a great little camera, super compact, and very rugged. I dare say every cameraman on this list has used one at some point. I'd like to second what Manny mentioned; the camera is useful with a Bolex Bayo mount, this way you can use PL, Nikon, or C-mount lenses via adaptors - this makes the camera very flexible indeed. The more recent multicoated Switar lenses are lovely optics. They are very fast and crisp; the 26mm T1.3 macro and 10mm T1.6 in particular.

The 10mm also can accept a 5mm Switar Asphron (which can be stretched or pushed in post to fit 16x9). By getting a camera with a 1:1 drive ratio after market time lapse kits will fit easily -check as not all of them are 1:1. Try and find one with a 10 or 13x viewfinder as they can be a bit dark to operate with. Jakko Kurhi produces a useful Super 16 ground glass mask which is, IMHO much better than the factory markings.

I'd stick with a recommended S16 conversion engineer as homemade conversions often leak light and when the front is re-shimmed those not familiar with the camera sometimes aren't aware the flange to focal distance needs to take the prism into account.

Matt Utter at the Bolex factory is worth a call +41-244-256021 they offer competitive conversion prices and your sure the job is done right. As others have mentioned Andrew Aldens Bolex Bible is a very useful reference, found via his site

A Bolex is a great tool - in the end you make the pictures not the camera. Best of luck with it.

Phil Savoie
BBC Natural History Unit
BBCi at

Copyright © CML. All rights reserved.