From the time television was introduced in Australia in 1956 to about the early 1970s, 16 mm film was the life-blood of the industry. Programs were distributed in the format, and news stories were filmed on it, too.
The film gauge was introduced in 1923 by Kodak. It was one of the first formats to use an acetate safety film as its base, instead of the highly flammable nitrate one that theatrical 35 mm format was using at the time. Though intended as an amateur film gauge, it was not long before 16 mm was used in industrial and educational film-making,. The gauge was used extensively during World War II for training films and in gun cameras, though 35 mm still reigned for newsreels.
By the 1950s though, 16 mm had become consolidated as a professional gauge in its own right. Original programming was often shot on 16 mm - and certainly, until the advent of readily available video recorders, programs made in Australia and overseas were all distributed as 16 mm release prints, even if they'd been shot on 35 mm.
Those who served in DDQ's TV trainee/dispatch role in the early days will have memories of each morning packing up several cans of 16 mm program reels and sending them off to the next TV station. The first working day after Easter was the worst.
By about the early1970s, especially in the larger TV stations, 2-inch Ampex video tapes were increasingly more common as the program distribution medium.
Meanwhile, 8 mm film - both standard and, later, Super 8 – had been introduced and become the most popular amateur gauges, though the Leyland brothers, working out of Newcastle, shot some of their programs on Super 8. and distributed on tape.
In the early television era some amateur movie-makers still used 16 mm, but its cost for equipment, film and processing put it out of the reach of most.
To some extent it was these keen amateurs who morphed into the first news camera reporters in provincial stations in Australia. In some places the local cine society often proved to be a good recruiting ground.
In the more rural areas, it was the amateurs who happened to have a 16 mm camera who became the backbone for stringers for TV stations, including DDQ. In DDQ's case, there were three or four stringers scattered through the viewing area in the mid 1960s.
Most stringers sooner or later covered the cost of their camera from their stringer fees - $3 a story in 1966. The 1965 Australian Photography annual equipment directory shows that a Bolex H16RX camera with three turret lenses and reflex viewing cost $742 - about 22 weeks' after-tax salary for the average wage earner at the time, based on figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics – a not inconsiderable investment.
A Bell and Howell 70DR with three lenses cost $848 – and with no reflex viewing. A less expensive option used by one of DDQ's stringers was the Meopta Admira 16A1. It had a two-lens turret, but came with only one lens at cost of $238. A second lens would have added somewhere between $80 and $150.
In the early days, when black and white TV was the norm, the main film stocks for news were Kodak Plus-X reversal film 7276 and Kodak Tri-X reversal film 7278.
In Kodak nomenclature, the leading '7' indicated 16 mm.
Both these stocks were were introduced by Kodak in 1955, and formed the basis of most black and white filming - either as a reversal stock or a negative stock - for many years. Processing was fairly straight forward (see separate story on 16 mm reversal processing).
Kodak's product sheets describes the films thus:
PLUS-X reversal film 7276 is a medium-speed, panchromatic black-and-white film, suitable for general exterior photography. It has a high degree of sharpness and good contrast. 7276 film is characterized by excellent tonal gradation, and high resolving power. It can be used in interior photography also, with ample artificial illumination. (The film) has a grey acetate safety base with an additional anti-halation undercoat. The back side of the base contains an anti-static layer with a carnauba wax lubricant.
Plus-X had an exposure index (ASA or ISO speed rating) of 50 for daylight and 40 under tungsten lights.
TRI-X reversal film 7278 is a high-speed, panchromatic black-and-white film with an antihalation undercoat that makes it suitable for general interior photography with artificial light. It can be used in daylight also and is particularly useful for sports pictures taken at regular speed or slow motion in weak light (overcast sky, or late in the day). (The film) has a grey acetate safety base with an additional anti-halation undercoat. The back side of the base contains an anti-static layer with a carnauba wax lubricant.
Tri-X's exposure index under daylight was 200, and 160 under tungsten.
At the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Oscars in 1956, Kodak was awarded a Class II. Scientific or Technical Award for Tri-X.
In fact, Tri-X in an improved emulsion type 7266 (introduced about 2003) is still available today.
Plus-X and Tri-X both responded well to a Wratten yellow 8 filter in the light path to darken the sky and make clouds appear more prominent. This helped avoid a 'washed-out' sky. At least one 1960s cameraman left the 8 in all the time, except when filming indoors.
In 1967 Kodak introduced 4-X reversal film 7277. This was faster than Tri-X, with a daylight exposure index of 400 for daylight and 320 under tungsten lighting.
Most cinematographers appreciated the extra speed for filming in low light, but while the stock was available for more than 20 years, it did not prove as popular as Kodak hoped and it was discontinued in 1990.
Plus-X soldiered on until 2010, when it also was discontinued.
Some stations, including DDQ also used two Du Pont films, 931 and 932, but the Kodak products seemed to the more preferred.
Du Pont Type 931A is described as a high speed panchromatic reversal film that combines high picture speed and rapid processing characteristics. It provides optimum pictorial and single system sound results for television and motion picture production. The emulsion is lubricated to ensure smooth, quiet camera performance even at high humidity or low temperature. Ideal for original reversal for immediate use.
The blurb for 932A is similar, except that the film is called an ultra speed film for shooting under very low light levels or where a small lens aperture is desirable.
The exposure index for 931A is 160 in daylight and 125 under tungsten lamps, while 932A is rated at 320 for daylight and 125 tungsten.
Unlike some stations, DDQ required its camera people to break down bulk film into camera loads. A regular job - in complete darkness - was to wind film off from 400-feet rolls onto 100-feet camera spools. One had to be careful of static electricity which would leave a 'flash' mark on the film, but fortunately the relatively humid atmosphere in the darkroom minimised the problem. And because it was single perf film (sprocket holes down one side only of the film) don't get the sprocket holes on the wrong side or the film won't go in the camera. I seem to recall one had to wind the film first onto a film reel, and then back onto the camera spools to keep the orientation right.
Camera users had be alert when switching from the Bell and Howell 70DR to the Bolex H16. They had little differences that had to be taken into account. To begin with, they had slightly different shutter angles so that the effective shutter speed was different, even though they filmed at the same frame rate. At 24/25 frames per second, the Bell's shutter speed was 1/50 second, while for the Bolex it was 1/45 second, not much, and in practice, negligible. But what was not negligible was the light loss from the Bolex reflex viewing system. This swallowed up about a quarter of a stop, just enough to be noticeable when the image was projected on a screen, but easily compensated for on the film chain when the film went to air. Nevertheless, cinematographers did their utmost always to achieve correct exposure. Most people who used Bolexes set their exposure meters to read the shutter speed as 1/60 second, thus allowing for both required corrections.
Another problem, though mostly academic at DDQ as lenses were never changed, was that the Bolex, to allow for its reflex viewing, had specially designed lenses that had their focal point 3 mm or so further back than those on the Bell and Howell.
If there was filter in the light path, it had to be allowed for, too. None of DDQ's cameras, like most professional film cameras, had built-in light metering.
Both the Auricon Cine-Voice and Pro600 sound cameras had a shutter speed of 1/50 sec.
Black and white TV did not like contrasty subjects. Shadows tended to block up and highlights were easy to burn out. It was always a battle to try to not film in harsh frontal sunlight, if possible, but often the news story dictated the lighting conditions. This writer loved overcast days for the absence of shadows, but the sky always looked 'hot' on film..
It was galling to see a wide dynamic range nicely recorded on the film, as shown on the accompanying sample, but know that on air it would not look as good.
The photo with this item is a frame enlargement from a story 'The Mayor, Jack McCafferty, flies to work in a helicopter'. The background was that Jack had passed some comment about how the traffic in Ruthven Street was so bad (!) he'd soon need a mayoral helicopter to get to work. The RAAF, as a PR exercise, flew him in an Iroquois from what was then No 7 Stores Depot at Harristown to land behind the civic building. Jack's the guy in the foreground with his signature homburg hat.
Note that the film carries a single row of perforations. Sound, if it were recorded with the Cine-Voice or Pro600 cameras, would go on the right hand side.
Filming technique varied from person to person, but one tried to 'edit in the camera' – shoot the story in sequence as much as possible. This allowed faster film editing later. It also ensured that a vital shot or a cutaway was not overlooked. DDQ's news policy was two silent film stories should be shot per roll – fifty feet each, about one minute and twenty seconds, of which 80 % had to go to air. Not much room for retakes.
Sound was a little more problematic as both Auricons needed a bit of a run up to come up to speed, thus using more film. Generally one story per roll was the norm for sound, though sometimes there'd be a short end that could be used somewhere else later. On at least one occasion one person is known to have used about a half a dozen short ends – remembering you had to allow for lead-in and tail-out – to shoot a story. There were effectively only two or three shots per short end. It wouldn't want to have been breaking action.
Editing sound film took a little getting used to. You had to edit the sound and let the picture take care of itself. The sound 'spot' was 26 frames ahead of the picture 'spot', so if you cut for picture, you destroyed your sound continuity. High end film-makers used separate picture and sound tracks and could edit them independently.
The era of film for television is virtually over, and has been for many years. This writer, in another job, once met up with a news crew for an interview. In the course of conversation, I let slip that I had been a cinematographer, first in news then later in high-quality documentary work.
“But I've never used tape,” I said, pointing to the electronic camera. “I've only ever shot film.”
The news guy said to me, “Well, I have to hand it to you old (!) fellows. Didn't you ever worry about what you'd shot? If I want to see what I've filmed or check on exposure I can rewind and play back a bit and see what's there. But you had no such luxury- You only saw the results after the film was processed.”
I was a bit nonplussed at this. “But I had my exposure meter and my eyes to evaluate a scene,” I said. “And you could tell from the viewfinder as you filmed what was there. I knew how the film would react under most conditions - this was all just part and parcel of one's professionalism and one's craft.”
The guy shook his head. “Well, I'd hate to have to work like that,” he said. “I really take my hat off to those who shot film.”
Makes those of us who did sound like dinosaurs.