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Paul's Basic Guide to 16mm Projectors

From time to time people ask me "What projector should I get."  Of course, the answer is "It depends."  In this page, I will try to give an overview of the different kinds of projectors that were made over the years.  I will not attempt to give a detailed comparison of different models.  Of course, all the opinions expressed in this page are probably wrong anyway.

Light sources
Picture of Bell and Howell 202 projector
Conventional tubular lamps were standard until the early 1970s.  At one time these were called "Mazda" lamps, which was a trademark for tungsten filament lamps.  There are about 4.5 to 6 inches tall, and typically range from 300 to 1200 watts.  750 watts was the most common in 16mm projection.

Tungsten-halogen lamps with dichroic reflectors permanently attached to the lamp became standard in the early 1970s. These were a big improvement in efficiency.  The mirror collects most of the light that would be wasted in the lamphouse and focuses it on the film.  These usually operate on low voltages, permitting a smaller and more efficient filament.  The halogen cycle extends lamp life without darkening of the bulb.  A 250 W lamp of this type will provide brighter screen illumination than a 1000 W conventional lamp.  The dichroic reflector reflects visible light but passes infrared, reducing the heat on the film.
Picture of Bell and Howell 567 projector
MARC and Gemini are metal arc lamps, which are much brighter than incandescent lamps.  I don't know what gas they used.  Projectors for these usually required a separate power supply, though some had them built in.  They have the disadvantage of short lamp life, lasting about 25 hours, and darkening with age.  This wouldn't be so bad if they weren't expensive and hard to find.

Xenon arc lamps are significantly brighter than other types.  A metal anode and cathode are inside a quartz bulb filled with xenon gas.  Usually a separate power supply is required.  The lamps are under high pressure, and require special handling. Protective gear must be worn when replacing these lamps.  They are use with a large ellipsoidal reflector.  They require plenty of air-cooling.  The lamps are quite expensive, but last up to 2000 hours, so they don't cost much more than tungsten halogen lamps per hour of operation.  Sometimes external xenon lamphouses were attached to conventional 16mm projector heads.

Carbon arc lamps were used on a few high intensity 16mm projectors.  These predated the xenon models.  An arc is formed between 2 carbon rods.  A motor drives the rods as they are consumed.  Rods must be replaced after every reel or two.  Forced ventilation to the outside is necessary.  These are relatively rare.

Classes of Projectors
Picture of Bell & Howell 273 projector
Toy projectors were made mostly in the 1930s and 1940s, and were sold for use with silent shorts and cartoons.  These were made by companies such as Excel, Keystone and Kodak.  They would use household or automobile lamps, and weren't very bright. They are quite rough on film and should be used as shelf ornaments.

Silent projectors were sold to amateurs who didn't need to project sound movies.  Some of the better models, such as those from Bell & Howell, Eastman Kodak and Ampro were based on the same mechanisms used in their sound models. Silent projectors usually have capacity for 400-foot reels.
picture of Bell and Howell 185 projector
Classic sound projectors would include those using conventional tubular lamps, and vacuum tube (valve) amplifiers, and manual threading.  In this group I would include the Bell and Howell 100-399 series, the Eastman Kodak without halogen lamps, the Ampros, the RCA 400, the various JAN models, along with some of the odder projectors such as the Movie-Mite, Revere and Natco.  The B&H 500 series would have to fit here, but it is a transitional model. Projectors in this category usually have capacity for 2000-foot reels.  These projectors usually aren't as bright as newer models.  By now, most of these need most of their capacitors to be replaced.

Modern portable sound projectors would include those with solid-state amplifiers and tungsten-halogen lamps, and automatic threading or slot loading.  Some of these are manual threading.  In this group I would include the Bell & Howell 1500 and 2500 series, Eiki, Elmo, Hokushin, Eastman Kodak with halogen lamp, and the B&H and Eastman projectors made by Eiki and Elmo.  The vast majority of projectors in regular use would fall into this category. Projectors in this category usually have capacity for 2000 foot reels.

Portable high-intensity projectors would include those using the MARC/Gemini lamps, xenon lamps, or even carbon arc.  Carbon arc projectors were made in the 1950s by Bell & Howell, RCA, Ampro and others.  Projectors using MARC/Gemini lamps were made by B&H, Eastman Kodak and others, mostly in the 1970s.  Projectors using xenon lamps were made by Eiki, Elmo, Hokushin and others, mostly from the 1970s onward.  There were also third party conversions of various other projectors.  Projectors in this category usually have capacity for 2000 foot reels.
Picture of Eastman 25 Projector
Professional projectors would include those that are intended to be mounted on pedestals for permanent installations. These would generally have xenon illumination, either from a built-in lamphouse or an external lamphouse.  The older projectors in this category could have carbon arc lamphouses.  The better models in this category would use pull-downs of the geneva intermittent or similar type instead of the standard claw shuttle.  Projectors in this category usually have capacity for 6000 foot reels.

Telecine projectors, also called film chain projectors are used for broadcasting from film or recording film onto videotape.  For the NTSC television standard, portable versions use a 5 blade shutter and a synchronous motor.  Pedestal mount models have a true 3-2 pulldown to accomplish the conversion from 24 FPS to 30 FPS interlaced.  In countries that use the PAL television standard, telecine projectors are run at 25 FPS. 

Special puropse projectors were made for various needs.   These include Time-and-motion study projectors with variable speeds for slow motion analysis.  Models were made by companies such as Kodak and Bell & Howell.  Companies such as L-W made versions based on the Kodak, and Apollo made versions based on the Hokushin.  Dual-band projectors were made by companies such as Siemens to show films that were in production with the sound track on a separate magnetic film.  There were also portable rear-projection units for sales demonstration purposes.
Picture of RCA Telecine projector
Threading Systems

Projectors typically use one of three threading systems: Manual Threading, Self-Threading and Slot-Loading.  Older projectors are virtually all manual threading.  Self threading became available in the 1960s, and became dominant in the 1970s.  Slot loading became available in the late 1970s, and became popular in the 1980s.  Manual threading projectors, when operated carefully can be the safest on film.  Unfortunately many of them do not have automatic shut-off or automatic loop restorers, so a lost loop can result in additional torn perforations and/or scratched film.  Inching knobs on some of these allow you to verify that the threading is correct before turning on the motor.  Self threaders are very fussy about the condition of the leader.  It is important not to use leader that is shrunken, warped, splicy or has adhesive residue on it.  If the leader is not perfect, it will bunch up in the projector and get pleated like an accordion bellows.  Self threaders usually have automatic loop restorers, and can be tolerant of damaged film, once you get past the leader.  The biggest drawback is that it is difficult to unload a film in the middle.  They are easier to clean than slot loaders.   Self threaders are often maligned, but I have been using them for many years, running thousands of films, and have never damaged a film as a result of the projector.  I have crumpled quite a few leaders that should have been replaced before starting the film.  They have the advantage of being plentiful, and therefore, cheap.  Slot loaders have become very popular.  They are quick and easy to thread, and are tolerant of imperfect leaders.  They are much easier than self threaders, if you want to remove a film partway through.  I will usually grab a slot loader if I am previewing a film that I may not want to watch all the way through.  Film can be damaged by a slot loader if the film is inserted incorrectly, but operator carelessness is the cause of most film damage.  Because they are more popular and newer, they usually sell for more than self threaders do.
Picture of RCA 400 projector

Personally I use Bell and Howell 1500 and 2500 series projectors because they are more plentiful and therefore cheaper.  Accessories and special lenses are easier to find.  The older Bell and Howells (100 to 500 series) use conventional lamps and are not as efficient.  The 100 to 500 series also have vacuum tube amplifiers.  The 202 and 302 were the most common models with magnetic sound.  Nearly all Bell and Howell models are capable of running at either sound speed (24 fps) or silent speed (16 to 18 fps).  If you use a self-threading model, be sure to replace twisted shrunken plastic leaders with good new leader for reliable threading.  Click here for a chart comparing all known Bell and Howell 16 mm projector models.
Picture of Kodak Pageant projector
Many people prefer Eiki and Elmo projectors, as they are newer and run slightly quieter.  They typically cost a little more, special lenses are hard to find, and most don't run at silent speed.  The Eikis have a reputation for being easy to work on, and Elmos are smooth running.  Many like the Kodak, which is considered very gentle on film, but difficult to repair.   The older Kodaks use the less-efficient tubular lamps, and the last models used halogen lamps.  Special lenses are particularly hard to find for Elmo and Kodak.

Copyright 2005, Paul Ivester.  May be reproduced for personal use only .

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