16mm Film: All About Famous 16mm Film in Modern Filmmaking

16mm Film

16mm film is the film with 15.95 ± 0.025mm wide with one or two rows of perforation. It is widely used in modern filmmaking with small budgets. In this article we’ll discuss about the history, features and the usages of 16mm film.

Until recently, it was used by cinema projectors and in educational institutions for film screening with small audiences. In addition, 16mm motion picture film was used in research applications such as high-speed cinematography. A type of 16-mm film is considered to be a double film with a width of 32 mm, intended for replicating films in this format with subsequent cutting.

16mm Film – B/W. Source: WikiMedia

Features of 16mm Film

Narrow film strip width of 16mm on a non-combustible diacetate substrate was released by Eastman Kodak in 1923 as an alternative to 9.5mm amateur film “Pathe-Baby” for French studio “Pathe“. Attempts by the two companies to agree on a common format were unsuccessful, and for some time the standards existed in parallel. As a result of the successful introduction of sound on 16mm film and the popularity of the first color reversible film, Kodachrome, this format has supplanted its French competitor.

The fundamental difference from films originally intended for professional cinema, in addition to the substrate material, was the design film projectors designed for the same charge of a narrow-film film as in a film camera: with an emulsion to the lens. This is due to the fact that the contact printing process was not originally envisaged for amateur cinema, which involves the use of reversible film. Therefore, when replicating 16mm film prints, optical printing through a negative substrate is used to obtain a direct image on the screen.

With a perforation pitch of 7.62mm (for positive film), the size of a standard 16mm frame is 10.05×7.45mm. The dimensions of the frame window of the cinema projector are somewhat smaller: 9.45×7.05mm. The aspect ratio of such a film is close to the academic one and is 1.34:1. Perforation is located opposite the interframe gaps, and its pitch coincides with the frame pitch. The first 16mm film was produced only with double-sided perforation. In 1932, due to the spread of sound films, one row of perforations was abandoned, and all equipment began to support one-sided perforation….

Films are supplied with double-sided perforation, which are not intended for printing film prints with phonogram and are suitable for high-speed filming. Some negative and reversible grades with one-sided perforation were supplied with two magnetic tracks: a wide one located in place of the missing row of perforations, and a narrow “balancing” one at the opposite edge. In the Russia, 16mm film was widely used, and the location of the frame and soundtrack on film prints was regulated by GOST 25704-83.

Normal Film 35mm and Narrow 16mm with 
Optical Tracks

Negative and reversible 16mm film is provided with footage numbers at 20 frame intervals for later editing. On Soviet films, the interval between the footage numbers of the same varieties was 40 frames. For the replication of 16mm film prints, 32mm film with two rows of perforations was used. At the same time, two images of the same frame were obtained from one 35mm countertype by optical reproduction on different halves of the film. After printing and laboratory processing, the film was cut lengthwise, giving two identical 16mm film prints with one-sided perforation and optical or magnetic combined phonogram… This technology made it possible to reduce the cost of printing, and special film copiers were produced for it. Wide-screen films were reprinted on the same film using the 23YUTO-1 apparatus with pan-scanning. Outside the USA, printing on 16mm film of wide-screen film prints with anamorphic frame has gained some popularity.

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Advantage of 16mm to Cinema & Film Industry

Despite its small footprint, over the course of a decade, the new format has become widespread in professional cinema in industries where compactness and portability are more important than image quality. Compared to “normal” 35mm film, the narrow film allows at least half the weight and dimensions of the cinema equipment, and also reduces costs: the cost of one part of a narrow-film film is three times lower than that of a conventional film. The weight of a 16mm film is 5.5 times lower than usual, making it much easier to transport. 16mm cinema projectors, as a rule, do not require stationary installation and qualified maintenance, allowing you to quickly deploy a cinema installation in poorly adapted places.

Before the general ban of nitrate 35mm film in 1948, the most important advantage of narrow-film films was their fire safety and the possibility of organizing a film show in unequipped halls. Therefore, copies of most of the films were additionally printed in a cheap 16mm version for cinemas and educational institutions. In the United States, these films could be rented for home viewing. 16mm film was also used in professional film distribution: at the beginning of 1983, the share of paid cinema installations equipped with equipment of this format reached 18.7% of the total. Before the advent of camcorders and video recorders, 16mm film cameras were widely used in documentary and applied cinematography, as well as for filming television reports, since the quality of the resulting image was sufficient for standard definition television.

In addition to convenience and mobility, narrow-film cameras turned out to be less noisy and better suited for simultaneous shooting: some of them allowed creating a combined phonogram directly on the filmed film. Narrow-film mixed cameras were mass-produced by the American companies Auricon, Cinema Products, and Mitchell. For the operational preparation of news stories, reversible film could be used, produced only in narrow formats and suitable for telecine projection immediately after laboratory processing. Filmmaking technology enjoyed some popularity, providing shooting on 16mm reversible film with subsequent optical printing of 35mm duplicate negatives, bypassing inter-positive.

Due to the high quality of color rendition and the fine grain of the reversible films, this method gave a benefit due to the lightness of low-noise narrow-film film cameras and auxiliary camera equipment. With the advent of the Super 16 frame, filming of striped films on the negative of this format became widespread. In 2008, 24% of feature films worldwide were shot on 16mm film. The famous film “The Blair Witch” was shot with the use of a narrow-film mixed camera “Cinema Products CP-16A”. 16mm film is especially widely used for shooting television series. For example, all 9 seasons of the “Clinic” series were filmed with Super-16 narrow-film cameras.

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The small frame pitch and the mass of photographic material being moved have made narrow film the preferred choice in some applications. In video recorders, 16mm film provided the most complete recording of a television frame due to a special grab with an accelerator, unsuitable for a 35mm analogue. Another area where the 16mm format has proved to be more beneficial than wider formats is high-speed filming. High speeds are available not only with continuous motion of the film with optical compensation, but even with intermittent ones, making the resulting material suitable for conventional cinematography. The benefits of the small size of 16mm cameras have been actively used in professional sports photography, allowing you to shoot from points inaccessible to 35mm equipment. During the 1976 Winter Olympics, the 35mm film under review was filmed with two miniature 16mm Cinema Products GSAP cameras attached to some athletes’ skis during ski jumping.

16mm film has become popular in amateur cinema, becoming especially popular after the release in 1935 of the first color multilayer Kodachrome film of this format. Seven years earlier, Kodak had mastered the production of the world’s first 16mm color film with lenticular screen. However, despite these advances, the more economical 8mm film gradually replaced 16mm from amateur cinema after its introduction.

16mm Film Equipment

The first 16mm motion picture cameras were released by Eastman Kodak at the same time as film. Having assessed the prospects of the new format, Bell & Howell, Siemens, Zeiss Ikon and other enterprises specializing in precision mechanics quickly set up the production of the corresponding equipment. The most famous of the early models are Filmo and Cine Kodak. The Swiss company Bolex was one of the first professional class 16mm devices.

Now the production of amateur equipment has been discontinued. Photo Sonics manufactures a camera for accelerated filming at up to 1000 frames per second. In the 2000s, a class of digital cinema cameras with sensor size emerged, which coincides with the Super-16 frame, and is suitable for 16mm shooting optics. The most famous of them are the Swedish Bolex D16 and Ikonoskop.

Minute-16 1949
Minute-16 1949
Bolex H16
Bolex H16
Krasnogorsk 2
Kinor 16SX-2M
Kinor 16SX-2M
Arriflex 16SR
Arriflex 16SR
Arri 16 ST
Arri 16 ST

The first 16mm sonic cinema projector was marketed by Eastman Kodak in 1936. Since then, the vast majority of cinema projection equipment of this format was produced with an optical sound-reading system, and some models were supplemented with a magnetic sound unit.

Unlike amateur 8mm film projectors, these devices were supplied only as part of a cinema installation, which also included an autotransformer, sound amplifier, loudspeaker, screen and gluing press. Portable 16mm cinema projectors were designed to connect an external amplifier or were equipped with a portable sound reproducing device in a removable case. The most advanced design was provided by the Era-101 and Era-103 automatic film projectors, equipped with automatic film charging and remote control. Stationary projectors 16PS-1 “Chernomorets” and KPS-16-2 s were produced for small cinemas. Xenon lamp, designed for installation in a special control room and continuous display by two posts. In addition, a 16-mm UP-1 attachment was produced, intended for demonstration of narrow-film films with stationary 35mm and large-format film projectors.

Super-16 and 16mm Standards

In 1969, Swedish cinematographer Rune Erikson proposed a production format – “Super 16” on 16mm film with one-sided perforation. It was designed for subsequent enlargement during optical printing of bonded film prints on 35 mm film. The new format is unsuitable for printing on 16mm film, since the width of its frame has been increased due to the refusal to reserve space for the sound track from one edge of the film. The first Super-16 cameras were obtained by reworking standard cameras in film studios, but after a while, many manufacturers launched industrial production of equipment: film equipment, film copiers, editing tables, etc. Currently, the Super 16 frame is accepted as an international SMPTE standard along with the usual 16mm frame.

The format is now widely used in USA, Russia and abroad for filming television series using the Digital Intermediate technology, since the information capacity of such a frame on modern types of film is sufficient for high-definition television.


First used by cinematographer Frank DeMarco on screen tests for Pi. The “Ultra-16” format is also a production format and differs from the “Super-16” by the symmetrical arrangement of the frame relative to the film. Frame “Ultra-16” is obtained by standard magnification of 0.77mm on each side in width. In this case, the corners of the exposed area partially overlap the perforation. The effective area of ​​the frame with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 occupies the entire height between the perforations and is 11.8 x 6.25mm. From it, it is possible to optically print cashetized film copies, as well as obtain high-definition video in 16:9 format.

The advantage of the format lies in the simpler alteration of standard cinematographic equipment than for the “Super-16” with the same frame area. For framing, the standard viewfinder can be used, since the framing window is bored symmetrically. All 16 mm optics remain usable without lateral displacement of the mount relative to the film axis. Moreover, viewing the resulting film is possible with a standard film projector with a slight cut of the image on the right and left, and after the film channel is finalized, the entire frame is visible… Unlike Super-16, the new frame size is not accepted as an international standard and is used unofficially by filmmakers. Filming equipment of this format is not produced commercially, but is being converted from the usual one.