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Derek Bruce

16mm film camera sync and pilotone

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Will be helping a friend shoot a short on a 16mm camera this summer. Don't know too much about the camera at this stage but have been told it has a pilotone output for sound sync. Vaguely recall that some Nagra's had an option to record pilotone for tape recording sync purposes but assume it's irrelevant in the digital age?

So will be generating timecode and recording everything on my Zaxcom Fusion and obviously will be clapping / boarding all takes with a digi-slate along with voice ident's and supply Fusion generated sound reports. Does anyone have any other suggestions regarding keeping sound sync with a 16mm camera?

Unlike my Fusion's internal clock the issue of course is that the camera frame speed isn't consistent (hence the original pilotone option), but I can't see how recording the pilotone on a separate track is going to help the Avid editor syncing up my BWAV hard-disc files? I guess some manual post syncing is inevitable!

Thank you in advance for your thoughts and suggestions. Regards,

Derek.

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Derek,

If the camera isn't utilizing an internal crystal sync motor then it is subject to speed fluctuations that may affect sound sync. Time code slating via smart slate is useful to quickly identify your sound takes and sync marks.

Pilotone, unfortunately, is no longer useful to us in the digital age as there is no longer any practical way of interpreting a recorded 50/60Hz sine wave (unless you are Lectrosonics! ;D)

You seem to have covered yourself with respect to good reporting and the use of a smart slate. My only other advice would be to confirm all workflow choices with the editor as to the preferred sound TC frame rate.

Do you know what 16mm camera you will be using? The weak link in the chain to achieving good sync will likely point to the camera, its age and how well it has been maintained.

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" If the camera isn't utilizing an internal crystal sync motor then it is subject to speed fluctuations that may affect sound "

actually they will not affect the sound recording, but they may cause issues with the pictures staying in sync with the sound recording.

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You should ascertain exactly which camera you will be using and what motor is mounted. (Some 16mm cameras could be fitted with different motors.) If, as others have suggested, the motor is crystal (xtal) sync, then you will be fine with the use of a time code slate.

It's not entirely true that it is no longer possible to resolve Pilotone sync but you would have to be working in full retro mode and also using a Nagra and 1/4-inch tape. Many Nagras were fitted with an internal resolver circuit (the QSLI, if memory serves) that would read the Pilotone signal and adjust playback speed.

To achieve sync while using your Fusion, you will need to use a camera with a xtal motor. There are many and there are also cameras that may be adapted to xtal sync by use of an external regulating device. Cinematography Electronics made several.

A greater challenge, probably, will be securing film stock and finding a lab to reliably process the negative and strike prints.

David

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Clap some stix and all will be well. Also, short takes will be your friend sync-wise.

A camera barney is a good idea for any interior or close shots.

It sounds like you're on top of things. Have fun. I like shooting film -- there's just something so organic about it.

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Also keep in mind that even though the camera might not keep its speed too precisely, it won't be miles off either. So if the takes aren't longer than a few minutes, nobody will notice it going out of sync. That's the way it worked for decades.

Basically, this workflow equals re-jamming at every single take.

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" the camera might not keep its speed too precisely,...That's the way it worked for decades."

I would disagree...

that is why sync sound was shot using crystal sync cameras for decades.--after using pilotone connections for many years!

 

" this workflow equals re-jamming at every single take. "

I wouldn't say it that way...

we did that for many years, too...

I'd call it manually syncing each take!

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SInce I bet they will have trouble affording a camera sync test, I strongly suggest they see about using a camera with crystal sync capability already built in.

 

I strongly suspect you are working with an Eclair, and that even with a sync motor fitted, it may be too worn to maintain sync speed. (actually common problem with any long mothballed film camera)

 

Arri SR/all Aaton cameras, CP16R all have integral crystal sync motors, should all be VERY cheap to rent these days.. probably cheaper than the process of shooting a test.

 

I concur on having the snap slate read aloud at the head of each take..

 

Don't forget to do this AFTER the camera is running at speed, and to make the operator confirm that it is in frame.

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Unlike my Fusion's internal clock the issue of course is that the camera frame speed isn't consistent (hence the original pilotone option), but I can't see how recording the pilotone on a separate track is going to help the Avid editor syncing up my BWAV hard-disc files? I guess some manual post syncing is inevitable!

 

TImecode does not apply to film systems per se (except for Aaton timecode film cameras, which are rare nowadays). Use a smartslate and have the editor or dailies person sync them up in post using the slate numbers and the clap stix. 

 

I would strongly suggest shooting a test prior to the shoot and making sure everything works. Clap at head, roll about 100' of film (3 minutes), and clap at tail. Transfer film to -- I assume -- HD files, export HD files for Avid or Final Cut, load picture files into editor, load sound files into editor, and see if they line up. We did this for many decades in traditional film post. 

 

You'll also want to make sure the film camera runs at 24.00fps, and you transfer at 23.98fps in telecine (which is standard). The sound files get pulled down from 48kHz to 47.952kHz. This should happen automatically on import, but the editor will have to be aware of the correct settings so that the sound file is read correctly. 

 

BTW, my un-asked-for advice: I don't think 16mm looks better than great HD, not anymore. I think it did 10 years ago, but not now. Speaking as a longtime Technicolor film guy, I think a well-exposed Red camera or Arri Alexa is better than 16mm film negative in 99% of most ways. 35mm is still the look most digital cameras have aimed for, and I think they're extremely close to that now.

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Thank you all very much for your suggestions and advice - very helpful. I have since received more details about the camera and must admit I misunderstood what the intention was with the pilotone. The camera is going to be a Beaulieu R16 Automatic (no crystal sync!) which is intentional and the look / feel the director is after (appreciate your arguments for shooting HD Marc).

My misunderstanding with the pilotone is that the plan is for me to record a separate track of the pilotone (in sync with the audio tracks on my Fusion) and apparently there is a some software that can use the pilotone in post to correct any speed differences between the film and audio recordings. Have no reason to doubt this (good friend of mine), has anyone had any experience is getting a pilotone audio track out of a 16mm camera / or experience with using pilotone in post for correcting speed differences?

Thank you again for your thoughts.

Derek.

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Here's a page with the camera manual

http://www.zachpoff.com/diy-resources/beaulieu-r16-instruction-manual/

 

I think pilotone is a complete blind alley for you at this point. 

Even if you had a nagra with resolver, you are likely to find that the camera has the receiver for the pilotone plug, but no plug, and no cable..

 

I used to own a pair of these cameras, and never trie to shoot sync with them..

If you are using HMI lights, the DP is going to have another issue, which is flicker in lights, scan refresh issues on monitors (less with LCD, but still probably will have some).. Also.,,., these cameras do not run quietly.  you are almost certain to hear the actual camera.

 

I stand by my suggestion of looking to borrow or rent an SR or an Aaton from a private owner.. or rent from local rental house.. they will be shocked at how cheaply this can be done.

(probably more cheaply than servicing the Beualieu or getting the accessories to make the package run.. like batteries for this camera.. which are also hard to find)

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An accessory sync generator was available for the Beaulieu. It was literally an AC generator that screwed onto the side of the camera and coupled with the drive shaft. (That's true of all sync generators, of course, but the external mount on the Beaulieu makes the relationship conspicuous.) An output cable from the generator was permanently attached. It was only a few inches long and terminated in whatever connection the operator favored. (I think it came from the factory with stripped and tinned leads.) The whole contraption was about the size and shape of a canister of 35mm still film.

That device would provide a 60 Hz signal when the camera was running at 24 fps. Achieving a true 24 frames run speed was not so simple. The camera had a variable speed motor that could be adjusted with a small speed dial - something about the size of an input pot on a Cooper mixer. There were no click stop settings; the full range of speeds from about 4 fps to about 70 fps was available from a single rotation of the dial. There was a tachometer to assist in accurate settings but it covered the whole range in less than an inch of meter swing. In practice, dialing in an accurate 24 fps was a bit tricky although the results were largely good enough if one used only one camera and there was no need to match to anything else. It was also possible to get a very close setting by using an external speed meter. Nagras were sometimes fitted with a QFM speed meter that facilitated more precise settings.

The Beaulieu was never designed as a sync camera and doesn't run quietly at all. It runs noisy at a level equivalent to a Bolex or Arri S. Outdoors and with a barney it may be satisfactory but it would be difficult to record decent tracks in small or medium interiors.

It's also not a sophisticated intermittent movement. The gate is fairly short and there is no pilot or register pin movement. Registration is a bit sloppy. (Perhaps that's just the look the director seeks.)

It was designed before good negative stocks, like 7247, were developed. They tend to "light pipe" a little bit, making loading the camera without fogging half the roll a challenge. If you do end up using this tricky camera, have the AC contact me and I'll talk him through the loading technique. (It's not in the owner!s manual.)

If I recall correctly, the proprietary batteries were 9.6 volts. One didn't have to use the cylindrical battery that mounted to the handgrip; one could connect external power to a DIN socket. Still, the odd voltage makes it more difficult to source a suitable power pack.

The more I recall the particulars of this camera, the less suitable it appears. I would strongly encourage anyone determined to make a 16 mm film to get an Arri, an Aaton or an Eclair. The Beaulieu was more of a hobby camera than a professional instrument.

Finally, if you decide to cut on film, I believe that Chinhda still has KEM editing machines available. We could work out a deal.

David

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Thank you all very much for your suggestions and advice - very helpful. I have since received more details about the camera and must admit I misunderstood what the intention was with the pilotone. The camera is going to be a Beaulieu R16 Automatic (no crystal sync!) which is intentional and the look / feel the director is after (appreciate your arguments for shooting HD Marc).

My misunderstanding with the pilotone is that the plan is for me to record a separate track of the pilotone (in sync with the audio tracks on my Fusion) and apparently there is a some software that can use the pilotone in post to correct any speed differences between the film and audio recordings.

 

You are mistaken -- Pilottone was a 60Hz signal between camera and analog audio. It has no bearing in the digital world of 2013. If you were shooting 16mm and running a Nagra III or IV, then it would make sense. In that case, you'd have to track down somebody who had a Nagra T 1/4" machine and could play back the pilottone tape with the .1% pulldown to match the speed of the film.

 

More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilottone

 

Again, stop worrying about recording the pilottone -- it's just a sinewave, not a numbered signal like timecode. Again, I think you're on very thin technical ice here if you have not done this before, because the technology is borderline-obsolete. Note also that the Beaulieu cameras are not pin-registered, so the picture is going to be even softer than normal 16mm. An Arri SR3 can make beautiful pictures, and I've worked on documentaries and shows that were nominated for Emmies, using that camera. Its pictures are considerably sharper than the Beaulieu, though still not as sharp and steady as HD.

 

strongly advise you to do camera tests beforehand so you'll know the limitations of what you plan to do. And get the advice of a good post house who has experts on telecine. If you're doing this in LA, talk to me in email and I'll put you in touch with the chief engineers of a couple of different companies who can steer you in the right direction, if you're determined to shoot on film.

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It's a little scary, but you can also hand-resolve your digital tracks. You'll need a digital playback device that can varispeed under continuous knob control, which includes some CD and DAT decks and at least one DAW that I recall.

 

Dub the mono production track to one channel of a stereo pair, in a format the playback deck can read. Dub the camera's original pilottone, recorded simultaneous with dialog, to the other.

 

Hook the pilottone channel output of the playback device to the H input of a scope. Hook the V input of the scope to line voltage, which you have safely stepped down to a volt or so through a transformer. (Oh yeah, you'll also need a scope and a transformer.)

 

Hit play, and keep one hand on the varispeed control, doing your darnedest to keep the lissajous looking like a round or squashed circle. Dub to another digital device. You'll have to reclock during the dub, but that's pretty standard these days.

 

--

 

(Want to know how old I am? I have all the gear necessary in my studio...)

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" The camera is going to be a Beaulieu R16 Automatic (no crystal sync!) which is intentional and the look / feel the director is after "

FIDDLE-FADDLE

this whole thing seems to be an exersize in style over substance

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If the director is dead set on shooting sound takes (complete with camera noise) with this "wild" (non-sync) camera, the easiest solution is probably to clap at both the start and end of each take and then figure it out in post by manually manipulating sync for the pieces you need. 

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If the director is dead set on shooting sound takes (complete with camera noise) with this "wild" (non-sync) camera, the easiest solution is probably to clap at both the start and end of each take and then figure it out in post by manually manipulating sync for the pieces you need. 

 

John, we did exactly that for quite a few Super 8mm projects in the 1980s. At the start of the session, I'd have them shoot 1 minute with a clap at the head and tail, and then we'd figure out the varispeed rate to get the sync "close." (In this case, we were sliding picture rather than varying sound.) Nowadays, I think Pro Tools TCE would allow you to pinpoint an extremely precise sound rate... but the problem is, a lot of cameras like this are inconsistent in terms of speed, so it might start off at 24.10fps at the beginning of the roll, and then wind up at 24.40fps at the end of the roll. This makes syncing up very frustrating and time-consuming.

 

I just mentioned to a friend of mine on the phone about this project, and he brought up another potential issue: when was the last time this camera was serviced? All 16mm cameras -- especially old ones, like this -- need very careful servicing. I had a Beaulieu R16 jam on me when I was shooting the Apollo 17 night launch when I was a film student in late 1972. The threading and transport is very tricky and (as I discovered) prone to failure. That particular unit had just been serviced for that same problem. Unfortunately, we could not do a take 2 on this shot. ["Houston control, can we bring out another rocket, please?"] 

 

I think 16mm film is viable for certain kinds of projects, but bear in mind that these non-sync cameras are noisy, they don't run on speed, there's a lot of jitter in the transport due to lack of pin-registration (which can theoretically be minimized in post if you want to spend enough money), and I think the pictures are soft. There are some great 16mm cameras you can pick up or rent dirt cheap if you look around, and I think those would be better suited for scripted material. 

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Pilot tone was 50 Hz in Europe and 60 Hz in the USA

 

The sync cable also allowed a blip sync facility with Arri cameras that caused a tone blip on your Nagra track

and fogged the coincident frame on the camera hence no slate needed - pretty smart !!!!!

 

mike

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Pilot tone was 50 Hz in Europe and 60 Hz in the USA

 

The sync cable also allowed a blip sync facility with Arri cameras that caused a tone blip on your Nagra track

and fogged the coincident frame on the camera hence no slate needed - pretty smart !!!!!

 

mike

This was cool, but when we kept getting beeps in the middle of interviews we took to running 2 mono Nagras to make sure we didn't lose an important word to the sync beep.  Later we went to using stereo Nagras so whatever sync tone there was (a bloop light mostly) would only beep on one of the two channels.

 

philp

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Confession time..

I wore my DoP/camera op hat on an unusual 35mm film project a couple weeks ago that will most definitely never acheive sound sync.

 

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/createyourdream/miss-dockery

 

Handcranked a 35mm Mitchell GC camera, watching a tachometer on the back.. used a snap slate and had an assistant record dialog (and the camera noise, of course) on my Zax fusion.

 

Then shot a music playback segment recording playback and the camera.

 

We are immediately printing the film from negative to print film.. then hand tinting and toning the film.  then we'll do telecine to file stroage for post.   and we'll lay the audio to the files.. lining up the start of the snap at the close of sticks... 

 

I could have easily put a crystal motor on the camera, which would have then given me a noisy camera that had sync to the audio..

 

we are considering playing with the playback speed of the audio track to make our audio tracks end at the same time as the film (if needed)..

 

I will keep folks updated as we finish the project.. which is sort of off track from faking a vitaphone perfomrance short and early dawn of sound newsreel..

 

It has been fun to do so far, though.

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