camera: Motion Picture Cameras

Standardized motion picture film cameras have utilized a variety of film sizes, from 8 mm to 35 mm and 75 mm, but the smaller and nonprofessional film cameras have been superseded by digital video cameras, and most commercial motion pictures are now also photographed using digital cameras.

Motion picture film comes in spools or cartridges. The spool type, employed mostly by 16- and 35-mm camera systems, must be threaded through the camera and attached to the take-up spool by hand, whereas a film cartridge—such as was used by super-8-mm systems—avoids this procedure. In all modern movie cameras the film is driven by a tiny electric motor that is powered by batteries.

Motion picture film cameras all operate on the same basic principles. Exposures are usually made at a rate of 18 or 24 frames per second (fps), which means that as the film goes through the camera it stops for a very brief moment to expose each frame. This is accomplished in nearly all movie cameras by a device called a rotary shutter—basically a half-circle of metal that spins, alternately opening and closing an aperture, behind which is located the film. To make the film travel along its path and hold still for the exposure of each frame, a device called a claw is required. This is another small piece of metal that alternately pops into the sprocket holes or perforations in the film, pulls the film down, retracts to release the film while the frame is being exposed, and finally returns to the top of the channel in which it moves to grasp the next frame. The movement of the shutter and claw are synchronized, so that the shutter is closed while the claw is pulling the frame downward and open for the instant that the frame is motionless in its own channel or gate.

Digital video cameras for commercial motion picture production are similar to in operation to both digital photography cameras and television cameras, but they use larger formats, either 2K or 4K, which are defined by the number of horizontal pixels, 2048 or 4096 respectively; the number of vertical pixels determines the aspect ratio. Digital movie cameras typically record images at the rate of 24 or, less commonly, 48 frames a second; higher frame rates have also been used. The resulting images are most commonly recorded as files on optical discs or hard or solid-state drives; videotape also has been used for recording.

Lenses for movie cameras also come in normal, wide-angle, and long (or telephoto) focal lengths. Some older cameras had a turret on which were mounted all three lens types. The desired lens could be fixed into position by simply rotating the turret. Some cameras have—as super-8 cameras did—a single zoom lens, incorporating a number of focal lengths that are controlled by moving a certain group of lens elements toward or away from the film. Most of these cameras have an automatic exposure device that regulates the size of the aperture according to the reading made by a built-in electric eye. Movie camera lenses are focused in the same way as are still camera lenses. Most film movie cameras have a mirror-shutter system similar to that in a reflex camera, transmitting all the light, at intervals, alternately to film and viewfinder. Digital movie cameras may have an optical or electronic viewfinder; optical viewfinders, however, are found only in professionial motion picture cameras. Super-8 cameras used a beam splitter—a partially silvered reflector that diverts a small percentage of the light to a ground-glass viewfinder while allowing most of the light to reach the film. Many super-8 cameras also contained some kind of rangefinder, built into the focusing screen, for precise focusing.

See also motion picture photography.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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