CinemaTechnic Camera Profiles | Arriflex 16BL

NOTE: The entire text below is copyright ©2000 - 2005 Jorge Diaz-Amador, all rights reserved. You MAY NOT copy this text, or part of it, for your own websites or eBay listings.

CinemaTechnic DOES NOT offer service for the 16BL. We do not reccomend that you purchase used 16BL cameras due to the difficulty servicing them and unavailabilty of spare parts. The very limited number of technicians that know how to service them is also a factor. We reccomend you consider the ARRI 16SR-I instead.

Introduced in 1965, the 16 BL is ARRI's first silent 16mm camera. This model was originally designated the 16Q (Q for Quiet), and was renamed before it became available for purchase in early 1965.

Film Transport and Sound Reduction:

The 16 BL uses the same film transport movement as the 16 S and 16 M. It is essentially a self-blimped 16M. Because this movement was originally designed for a MOS camera, the entire 16 BL is blimped, hence the "BL" designation. The major difference in the movement is the relocation of the mirror closer to the lens mount, in order to accommodate the location of the ground glass in the forward focal plane (right next to the gate).

The first models of the 16BL were rated by ARRI as having a noise level of 31dB at 3ft. This is slightly louder than the ARRI 16SR-I's rated noise level of 28dB.

The BL operates only with 400ft displacement magazines (very rare 1200ft mags and 400ft shoulder mags exist). The mags were originally designed to be exchangeable between the 16BL and the 16M, although the 16M mags are not sound-insulated. Because of a later design change in production cameras this should be avoided, it can cause damage to the magazine drive gears. Do not attempt to use 16M mags on a 16BL.

Optical System:

Since the 16BL was designed to be used primarily with its blimped zoom lens, and these lenses have rear elements that do not protrude as much as the older prime lenses, ARRI moved the shutter further forward toward the rear element of the lens. This allowed ARRI engineers to move the ground glass near the gate, rather than back into the viewfinder tube as in the ARRI 16S and 16M.

This is the arrangement used on all modern mirror reflex cameras (16mm and 35mm). The 16BL allows you to see beyond the framelines of the 16mm aperture. This is very useful for keeping microphone booms and other objects out of the frame. It is the first ARRI 16mm camera with a pivoting viewfinder. The finder is not "orientable", which means that as you pivot the viewfinder, the image rotates. There are two viewfinders, a small standard viewfinder and the "Swan" viewfinder which makes hand holding the 16BL much eaiser. The finders can be removed from the camera and exchanged easily. This feature is not available on 16BL's before serial No. 50701.

ARRI introduced the "Autoclosure" eyepiece on the 16BL. This eyepiece can be set to automatically close a shutter when the operator removes his eye from the eyepiece. It prevents the film from being fogged by light traveling backwards through the viewfinder and backlighting the ground glass.

Lens Mount:

The 16BL introduced the ARRI Bayonet lens mount. This lens mount differs from the ARRI Standard lens mount in that it is made of Stainless Steel, and has two "Bayonet Lugs" that lock into specially milled channels in the inside bore of the Bayonet mount. The Bayonet mount is much stronger than the original aluminum ARRI Standard lens mounts and holds much better tolerances for the lens/ camera interface. The Bayonet mount is backwards compatible, for mounting ARRI Standard mount lenses.

Zoom Lenses for the 16BL:

The 16BL came factory equipped with a zoom lens. The following lenses were offered:

Manufacturer | Lens Model/ Design Focal Length | T-Stop (some are variable)
Angenieux-Zoom 9.5-95mm T2.8
Angenieux-Zoom 12-120mm T2.5
Angenieux-Zoom 10-150mm T2.3-3.2
Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 12.5-75mm T2.4
Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 10-100mm T3.3

Each lens is mounted inside a lens bilmp which couples with the 16BL. All of these lenses were the original non-muticoated versions.

HOT TIP: One way to get the best optical performance with a 16BL is to replace the original lens with the newer multi-coated version, that gives you the performance of a new lens and still fits into the lens blimp.

Zeiss made a multi-coated version of the 10-100mm. Zeiss refers to their muticoating as T* (which most industry pro's refer to as "T-Star"). The newer version of the lens is referred to as 10-100 T*3.1. It was one of two lenses that was offered with the 16SR-I. Angenieux made a multi-coated version of the 12-120. They are tricky to find since they are much scarcer and Angenieux strangely chose not to make any mention of the multi-coating on the lens barrel. The lens is known as 12-120 T2.1.

Prime Lenses for the 16BL:

IMPORTANT: It is important to keep in mind that because the 16BL's shutter sits further forward toward the rear element of the lens, care must be taken to mount lenses that will contact the shutter because their back elements protrude to far toward the film plane. The result of such a mistake would be a shattered mirror shutter, and you may not be able to find a replacement since these parts are very scarce today. This could turn a perfectly usable 16BL into a parts camera.

As a rule of thumb, only mount lenses in ARRI Standard mount if they are 50mm focal length or longer. The exceptions are the Zeiss 8mm in ARRI Standard, and the Schneider 10mm serial No. 9861936 or higher. All Bayonet mount Zeiss lenses can be used without restriction.

ARRI also made a prime lens blimp for the 16BL. Interfacing it with lenses can be tricky. I believe it was designed to work with the Zeiss standard primes (small lens barrel with focus "ears", ARRI standard mount). An extension was made for the lens blimp that allows it to be used with Zeiss Mk.I Super-Speed primes. It is a highly recommended accessory for 16BL owners, even if you don't own any primes. You can always buy the prime lenses later, borrow them, or rent them.

The following lenses will fit in the Universal Lens Blimp:

Manufacturer | Lens Model / Design Focal Legth | f-Stop/ T-Stop

Schneider Cinegon

10mm f1.8 (No. 9861936 or above)

Schneider Cine-Xenon

28mm f2.0

Schneider Cine-Xenon

35mm f2.0

Schneider Cine-Xenon

40mm f2.0

Schneider Cine-Xenon

50mm f2.0

Schneider Cine-Xenon

75mm f2.0

Zeiss Distagon

8mm f2.0, T2.4 (T2.2 on T* version)

Zeiss Distagon

16mm f2.0 T2.2

Zeiss Planar

24mm f2.0 T2.2

Zeiss Planar

32mm f2.0 T2.2

Zeiss Planar

50mm f2.0 T2.2

Zeiss Sonnar

85mm f2.0 T2.2

Cooke Speed Panchro

25mm T2.2

Cooke Speed Panchro

32mm T2.2

Cooke Speed Panchro

40mm T2.2

Cooke Speed Panchro

50mm T2.2

Cooke Speed Panchro

75mm T2.2

The following lenses can be used with the 16BL, but will not fit into the Universal Lens Blimp:

Manufacturer | Lens Model/ Optical Design Focal Length | f-Stop/ T-Stop

Schneider Cinegon

18mm f1.8


100mm f2.0

Zeiss Sonnar

135mm f4.0

Cooke Speed Panchro

18mm T2.2

Cooke Speed Panchro

100mm T2.8

Kilfitt Makro Kilar

40mm T2.8

Makro - Kilar

90mm T2.8

Motors and Power:

The 16 BL runs on 12 volts. The motor is mounted inside the blimp, but in a position where it can be removed without extensive disassembly of the camera (as would be required with a 16SR). It is not considered user removable like the ARRI 16mm cameras that preceded it. Removal is not really necessary unless service is needed, or to replace the motor with a newer crystal-sync version.

The 16BL came equipped with a choice of motors, a DC powered, transistorized governor controlled motor, running at a constant 3000rpm, and an AC powered synchronous motor. Various sets of gears (known by their gear ratios such as 24:60) were used to get the correct gear ratio to drive the 16BL at the desired speed. AC synchronous motors control their speed by following the frequency of the AC line current they are fed (50Hz in Europe, 60Hz in the US). Both motors had Pilotone output, a signal that was fed to the analog tape recorders of the day, such as Nagra, so they could track small variations in the motor's speed. This is the system you read about in the old technical books about cinematography. It is a completely obsolete system today, having been replaced by the much simpler and more reliable system of Crystal Sync.

The 16 BL did not come with crystal speed control from the factory. Various aftermarket modifications have been developed to deal with this problem. Of these, only the Tobin Cinema Systems products are still being manufactured. If the motor is a BLE or EMP, it can be controlled with a crystal speed control panel that replaces the original rear panel. This is a great upgrade for the camera because it offers the possibility of several crystal sync speeds and allows the use of industry standard 4-pin XLR power cables.

The original Tobin TXM-9 was the first of these units and offered 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97 and 30fps crystal speeds, as well as 18-50fps variable speed. The TXM-19 offered 20, 24, 25, 30 and 40fps speeds, and a socket for connecting the Tobin Milliframe Controller, a precision speed control of the type that was normally only available for newer ARRI cameras such as the 16SR. The latest TXM-27 has 18, 21, 23.98, 24, 29.97, 30, 36, 42, 47.95 and 48fps crystal speeds. With the 25:50 and 24:48 European gear sets you can get 25 and 50fps crystal speeds. The TXM-27 has a phase button for synching with television monitors, and a socket for connecting the Tobin Milliframe Controller.

If the motor is the original BL type motor, it cannot be externally crystal-controlled and must be replaced with a new crystal controlled motor Tobin TXM-25. This motor can be identified easily because it is the only one that has a reversing switch, visible under the clear plastic cover on the motor housing. The TXM-25 completely replaces the original motor. It offers crystal speeds of 9, 12, 12.5, 18.75, 24, 25, 30, 37.5fps. With a 24:48, 24:50 or 25:50 gear set, 50fps can be reached. This motor can also replace a BLE or EMP motor with a non-functional speed generator circuit, an can be used in a 16BL with damaged or modified wiring.

CinemaTechnic are Tobin Cinema Systems dealers. Prices for TCS products can be seen here.

16 BL Advantages:

The 16BL is one of the least expensive silent 16mm cameras available. It is built with the same quality that ARRI instills in all their cameras, which generally makes it superior to the competition (other silent camera's in its price range). It is compatible with ARRI standard and bayonet mount lenses. The 16BL was priced at about $4000 at its introduction in 1965. Prices are dropping rapidly today due to the lack of spare parts and service availability. However, with ARRI 16SR I cameras selling for $5000 USD we don't see the point of buying a 16BL.

16 BL Disadvantages:

Two words: Lens Blimp. Since the movement was not designed to run silently, a soundproof "blimp" must entirely surround the lens. Otherwise camera noise is transmitted through the lens mount and emits from the front of the lens. Of course the lens happens to always point right at what you're shooting. The camera is not silent when you are not using a lens blimp. It's not that loud, just loud enough to make your sound unusable at the most common shooting distances. The lens blimp complicates your choice of lenses to only those that will work with the blimp. It is difficult to make follow focus units or larger matte boxes work with the blimp

This means that for most practical purposes, the 16BL is a camera with a "Built in zoom" like most Super-8 cameras (and the Canon Scoopic). I say that because the vast majority of 16BLs in use live with their zoom lenses always attatched.

The 16BL is also much larger and heavier than other silent 16mm cameras.

Super 16 conversion : Arandafilm in Australia has developed a Super 16 conversion for the 16BL. Also, the factory is rumored to have produced less than 20 "Super 16BL" cameras. We at CinemaTechnic do not believe that the possilibity of converting the 16BL's to Super 16 make up for the obvious drawbacks of this camera design, mentioned above. We have no intention of developing such a conversion ourselves.

Last Update:8/1/05

©2000 - 2005 Jorge Diaz-Amador

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