16mm workflow

Has anyone had the pleasure of working with 16mm? Any tips or downfalls I should watch out for?


I depends on what you are doing with it and if it’s new or “historic.” In both cases, the grain is very large and not blow-up friendly. In the case of older film, dust and dirt are a big (no pun intended) problem. Greenscreen? forget about it. And there is no pin-registration process, so there can be a lot of weave. Other than that, it’s fine.



Oh and more grain.


…and you can pin 16 but only on one side, so a pressure plate needs to hold it steady after it comes into the gate. Obviously not the kind of registration you would get on 4 perf but better than nothing and stability obviously depends on the scanner.


It hadn’t ocurred to me that it would be scanned. I’m used to realtime telecine.

Oh, and don’t forget about the grain.


Worked on a whole bunch of 16mm shots for a tv show. We had to dust bust every shot and the grain can be difficult to match if someone is extremely picky about that kind of thing. I also removed film warping, where the footage appeared to expand and contract in a jello like fashion on y in certain parts of the frame, on over 200 shots last year. One of the more miserable experiences in my life, 0/10, would not recommend.

Been there. Warpage was generally a telecine thing. Probably wouldn’t happen with scans, but I never had to work with scans with the execption of the “drum scanner.” back when it was the only way to convert film to anything higher than SD. People don’t realize that a lot of TV shows in general, and pilots specifically were shot on 16. Proctor and Gamble evens specified in the early 80’s that all production work was to be in 16. It was a short lived edict. If you are using it for the look, it’s great. Even recently I’ve used some Bolex material. If you’re using it as a reasonable, cost saving technique and want the same pretty pictures as 35, you are likely to be disappointed.

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To that point with everyone after the widescreen film look, shooting 3perf (or 2 if you can find a modified camera is good condition) is a considerably better alternative to Super16.

Assuming Super16 but given all this insta-Tok bullshit, someone might be considering 16 just for the near square aspect :joy:

yeah for sure… GRAINSOFT (even with the best lenses)… and the big thing that I remember is that the sprocket holes are way easier to tear in the camera and/or telecine than 35mm, so often times there is tracking needed on footage that shouldn’t need tracking.
I know its super fun to try to “shoot film” for young filmmakers especially… but I don’t know anyone who worked through the digital revolution that misses film. Alexa forever… film never!!


Thanks, guys! This is just something ‘for fun’ and experimentation. Oh, and do you think I should be concerned about the grain? haha okay I’ll keep that in mind :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:


It depends. What are you going to be doing with the footage?

Hey Randy! someone has some ideas for a shortfilm and as a start figured I’d read more about this format and see whether it’s even possible/affordable what they are asking

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Hahha. That still depends. Due to 16mm being thin, with sprockets on one side, it suffers a lot from what we call gate weave. As the film travels through the film gate, and even sometimes a telecine film gate if its not being scanned super slowly, the entire image can be “wiggly.” think of a flag blowing in the breeze. Kinda like that, but obvs more subtle. Now try to track a screen comp into that. Can be challenging. As @BrittCiampa mentioned, unfun.

Also, just working on the image itself, it can be hard to cover your tracks. Noise will be a problem. So sometimes it may be hard to even do something simple and make evidence of you being there disappear.

So, without specific notes of what kind of work you are going to be doing, the definition of “possible” and “affordable” is…well…it depends.

Sorry for the lack of clarity, but, this is one of those unclear things until more details are uncovered.

Keep us posted with vague details and we can try to help! Good luck!!!

No that’s fair, thank you. Sorry, I know this is vague! It feels like I’m holding an egg and I don’t know whether it’s a chicken or an omelette… will find out more soon.

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Hahaha. Totally! This is a tough situation to handle…you have to be supportive, enable the creative, but responsibly dig a bit to find where the bodies are buried. It’s a great muscle to use and develop so good on ya for leaning in!

Fake it.
Get the 16mm camera and shoot 20 seconds of a flat gray card, a flat white card, a flat black card and finally run about 1 minute on a card with clear tracking markers of different sizes. You can get that all on one mag. Shoot color film.

Scan all that and use the first three as grain options and the tracking card pass as a “gate weave” option. Use an Auto-Stabilize to remove the gate weave, then apply the inverse to your actual footage.

Shoot your actual footage on a proper digital camera. Even an Arri Alexa is going to be cost-effective relative to the costs of film purchasing and processing.

Build up a small batch FX that adds halation, gate weave, and applies your filmed grain, and you can go from looking like the Avengers to looking like the Night of the Living Dead very quickly.

Steve Yedlin (DP for the hands-down best looking Star Wars film) made this resolution demo that details some of the artifacts you may want to reintroduce to get a more “filmic” look.


The only issue with this approach is the resolution of the film back. If you were to do it correctly you would overframe by 200% center extract that quarter-res image and that’s your start position before adding anything. Then you’re approximating the small film size of 16.

But if the whole point is to have the film experience isn’t this all very 2000-Cinealta-can-we-make-it-look-like-film-because-we-can’t-afford-to-shoot-film? I will be the first to say that you can approximate it, but film is film.


Thank you everyone for confirming my fears and also providing encouragement! We are sticking with film, but the white/grey cards seem like a pretty good idea for the grain. Regarding the ‘jello’ warping - would a lens grid help? So far the only trick defo needed is a whip pan effect, but there probably will be something I didn’t think of. I’d just like to be prepared and avoid shooting myself in the foot (so to speak)…

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No, that lens grid won’t be helpful. Think of a floppy piece of fabric traveling through a gate at several feet per second. It’s fabric. Film is fabric. Every time you move it,it technically moves in a different way. 16 mm only has perforations on one side And is therefore very susceptible to what we call gate weave. Every time the film moves, which is either when it’s being exposed for the first time, or hanging on a telecine being graded, the film has the opportunity to move and fold and bend very slightly in new and unique ways. Every time.


and you are focusing on such a small area of film that it amplifies all of those things.

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