Whether you’re an avid 16mm shooter already or are just starting to consider shooting this iconic film format, there is one aspect of 16mm movie film you may not be aware of: single perforated (‘single perf’) and double perforated (‘double perf’) film stocks.
Editor's Note: The Film Photography Project On-Line Store offers Black and White Reversal (50 iso) and Color Negative (500 iso) Double Perf 16mm Film.
What does it mean and why does it matter?
Well, first we need to know a bit more about this long-standing film format before we answer those two important questions! If you just want a quick summary, check the bottom of this post.
16mm movie film was created by Eastman Kodak (of course!) in 1923 as a cheaper alternative to 35mm film, which had become the cinematic standard for movies since about the turn of the century. While 35mm cameras were certainly very good, they were heavy, hard to use--and most importantly to consumers--expensive. The film was expensive, the cameras were expensive, and as a result, home movies really weren’t a ‘thing’ with most average Joes and Janes. Even wealthy ones.
Kodak changed all that with their new film format which was smaller (16mm wide) and allowed for smaller cameras (which were comparatively easier to use), cheaper processing, and projectors that were small enough to use in the home. Along with the introduction of this new film format, Kodak designed a camera to go with it--the Cine-Kodak which was a fairly simplistic hand-cranked camera that today, by the way, will fetch quite a pretty penny on the collector market.
Another little-known fact about the revolutionary design of 16mm movie film, was the film base that it was manufactured on. Before 16mm, 35mm film was made with a nitrate base and, as a result, was extremely flammable. If you don’t believe me--search “nitrate film fire” on YouTube to see for yourself. This new 16mm film was called ‘Kodak Safety Film’ and used a non-combustible acetate base that was safer for the average consumer to use and store.
16mm continued to be the standard for home movies until Kodak introduced an even smaller and more affordable movie film format called Regular 8 (or Standard 8, and also called double 8 or single 8) film in 1932. Nevertheless, 16mm became extremely popular with filmmakers both big and small, especially television stations and war correspondents from WWII all the way up until the Gulf War.
(above: The Founder - George Eastman with a Cine K Kodak movie camera)
Okay, okay Owen--that’s all fine and dandy, but what about the perforation thing?
So now you have your history of the film format, there’s one more detail you need to know: the perforations on the film. When 16mm movie film was first released, it featured perforations along both sides of the film--called ‘double perf.’ Just like 35mm film, having both sets of perforations helped to keep the film steady as it passed through both the camera, the projector, and the printer (a machine used to make a positive film from the negative so it can be projected.)
As camera, projection, and printing technology improved, two great innovations came to the 16mm format which allowed for one set of perforations to be taken away: sound film and something called Super-16mm.
The introduction of optical and magnetic sound on 16mm film meant that one side of the perforations the film needed to be eliminated to accommodate the soundtrack. This soundtrack is then played back via the projector. Hence the introduction of the single perforated (perforations only on one side of the 16mm film) format.
Another innovation was something called Super-16mm; since one set of perforations was eliminated, there was now more space on the film for a larger frame size. This was achieved by modifying the film gate and lens mounts on the cameras to allow a larger frame to be shot--think of it as a sort of ‘widescreen’ shot on 16mm film.
Thanks Owen, that’s great. Buy why do I care of my 16mm film is single perf or double perf?!
Well, it’s important because your camera may only shoot single or double perforated film. Most older 16mm cameras (made before the introduction of single perf film) have two sets of ‘claws’ that help guide the film through the camera while you’re shooting. If you try to put single perf film though a camera that is meant for double perf, it won’t work--because the ‘claws’ won’t go through the film properly!
Of course, if your camera is designed to take single perf film, there’s nothing to worry about--double perf film will work just fine. Your camera won’t know the difference.
(above: Film test using FPP's All-New Cine 50 Double Perf 16mm Film!)
So, is double perforated film still available?
Yes! And where can you buy it? Right here at the FPP!
How do I know if my camera takes double perforated film or single perforated film?
You’ll know right away by looking inside your camera where you load the film. Take a look at the spool (or spools) inside the camera that move the film into and through the film gate. If you see two sets of prongs (or ‘claws’ or ‘sprocket guides’) then you need double perforated film.
Most of these cameras are older models. Here’s a list of just some that either only take double perforated 16mm film, or both:
Kodak Cine Model B
Kodak Cine Model E
Kodak Cine Model K
Paillard Bolex H-16* (Models made before 1952 only take double perf)
Bell & Howell Filmo 70* (models up to 70DA require double perf)
Bell & Howell Filmo 75
Bell & Howell 240 (A, T, and TA)
Revere Model 101
- Victor Model 3
Victor Model 4
Ansco Risdon Model A
- All Kodak & Bell & Howell Consumer Magazine Cameras
- Beaulieu R16 cameras
Where do I get my 16mm double perforated film processed?
Any lab that will process 16mm single perforated film, can handle double perforated film, too.
What if I want to get my double perforated 16mm scanned digitally?
What about projecting double perforated 16mm film?
Most 16mm projectors you’ll encounter can handle both--however, those that are much older, and those that are silent (i.e. they can’t project sound film) likely can’t handle single perforated film. Just like your camera, check to see the sprockets--are there two sets of teeth? Then you can only use double perforated film when projecting!
Sum it up for me, please!
16mm film has been around since 1923 and was invented by Eastman Kodak
Originally, the film was released with double perforations--two sets of sprocket holes on both sides of the film
When 16mm sound film was invented, one set of perforations was eliminated, creating single perforated film
Older 16mm cameras (and projectors) that were designed for double perforated 16mm film, can ONLY handle double perforated 16mm film
Cameras and projectors that can handle single-perforated film can handle BOTH double and single perf film
You can get double perforated film right here at the FPP!