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LaborBerlin: State-of-the-Art 16mm Projector


While artists all over the world continue to work with celluloid film, they are often confronted with precarious screening conditions due to increasingly old and hard to repair equipment. In particular, film projectors and their aging mechanical parts have become less dependable, contributing in many cases to the destruction of the film material instead of ensuring its optimal presentation. The last 16mm commercially available film projector was built in the 90’s but most artists, archivists and projectionists have to deal with much older equipment, sometimes going back to the 60’s and 50’s. At the same time, the traditional industrial manufacturers have disappeared or shifted to other fields, service personnel have retired and spare parts are rare and unreasonably priced. Designed mainly for standard film projections, vintage projectors also fail to cater to contemporary demands: While not offering enough flexibility for artists who work in expanded cinema, they also don’t usually meet the needs of archival projection. Along with the digital revolution, which has, in the last decade, already greatly reduced the opportunities for experiencing analogue film projection, the aging technology of vintage projection equipment has become an important factor in the disappearance of analogue film projection and the uniqueness of its experience.


Our idea is to develop a state-of-the-art and modular 16mm film projector using only open-source technologies and non-proprietary/commonly available spare parts. We believe that especially the central mechanical elements of the old projectors – claw mechanism, shutter wheel and film transport - are in most cases so well engineered that a new development here would be a waste of time and energy. Instead, we want to build the projector on the basis of an existing - and easily available - projector mechanism. The same applies to the optics: lenses that are compatible with projectors made by Eiki, Bauer, Bell & Howell and Hokushin are available worldwide in good condition. This projector should cater to the needs of contemporary film artists, archivists and projectionists alike.

Technical Features (Wish List)

• Modular design
• Open source technologies
• Non-proprietary & commonly available spare parts (3D-printable)
• Adjustable height & tilt
• Lightweight for travelling & portability during projection
• Option to project in vertical format (90° tilted or Prism system)

• 110V & 220V
• Optional: Battery for outdoor & portability during projection

Light source:
• Super bright, dimmable LED
• Color temperature adjustment for differently timed prints
Tungsten or Xenon or redshifted film prints
• Digital shutter (flicker)

Film formats:
• 16mm – Super-16 – Ultra-16 – open gate
(with switchable format masks)
• Steady focus between print & reversal stocks
• Optional: interchangeable sprocket wheels for shrunk film

• Wide zoom range lens 25mm – 150mm
• Compatible with Bauer, Eiki & B&H lenses (adapter tubes)
• Focus with Worm Gear
• Anamorphic lens holder
• Holder for Elmo Viewer Type 100 (viewing without screen)

• Crystal sync speeds: 12 – 15 – 16,66 – 18 – 23,976 – 24 – 25 – 29,97 – 30 FPS
• Manual vario-speed from < 1 to 30 FPS
• Vario shutter wheel independent from FPS
• Digital frame counter
• Memory counter for in- and out-point
• Fast rewind in both directions

• Optical & magnetic audio (no built-in amplifier – just outputs)
• Microphone input for live voice
• Headphone jack
• Integrated digital audio sync system

• Sync with digital audio, video & midi
• Sync between several projectors
• Switchable from master to slave
• Sync with Elmo ESS system
• Optional: ready for telecine
• Remote control: IR / Cable / Bluetooth

• Development of a compatible looper device
• Spool arm extensions

Current state of the Project

Our project takes place over a period of two and a half years, and should be completed by September 2025 with the presentation of a prototype at the Back To The Future Festival in Rotterdam.

As a first step, in a team of two, we disassembled four film projector models, which we found offered a suitable mechanical system that could serve as the basis for further development. We have defined three fields of development, for which we will have to collaborate with different experts. These fields are light source, film transport mechanism and electronics.

But before we can take the next step, we also realised that we are at a junction where we first have to decide which path to take:

A. Develop a flexible upgrading system which suits various existing projector models. This would ensure that artists would be able to upgrade their own projector model, no matter where they live and what projector they own. Our concern is that it may be difficult to develop parts that can adapt with various existing mechanical parts.

B. Develop an upgrading system for only one widely available projector model. This would enable us to develop much more specific parts and create an integrated concept for that one type. The downside is that many projector models are not equally available in all parts of the world.

C. Develop a DIY-Kit, replicating mechanics from various existing models, using techniques like 3D-printing , CNC- and laser cutting. This would enable artists all over the world to build up their own, modular and state-of-the-art projector from scratch. Eventually we could provide and ship readymade parts that would be too difficult to produce individually.

Once this crucial decision has been made, we want to bring an expert in electromechanics on board to accompany the project through to the prototype. At the same time, we want to build an online community with whom we can share our ideas and who can also test and improve individual parts. We are already in contact with several people who are independently working on similar developments and who are waiting to finally share their knowledge and experiences with each other. In the end, we will hire an industrial designer to work with us in order to build a prototype.



Projector disassemblies

In the following we show detail shots of various 16mm projector models that we have disassembled for better examination. For each model we list the advantages and disadvantages that we noticed during disassembly.

1. Siemens 2000


+ easy availability in Europe– poor availability in USA and Asia
+ robust mechanics– unusual claw mechanism
+ claw with 3 teeth– no magnetic sound
+ very accurate focus mechanism– bakelite gears
+ compatible with Eiki & Bauer lenses– 2 belts, 1 chain
+ 2 and 3 blade shuttter wheel– unusual optical sound head
+ manual film threading– gate difficult to access

2. Kodak Pageant


+ easy availability in USA– poor availability in Europe
+ very simple mechanics– gate difficult to access
+ only few plastic parts– lower guide roller not well designed
+ only 1 belt, 1 chain– 18/24 FPS via belt change
+ manual film threading– primitive claw mechanism, 2 teeth
– lens holder too small for Eiki & Bauer lenses
– no focusing mechanism
– only limited & fixed focal lengths available
– no magnetic sound

3. Hokushin SC-10


+ easy availability in NL & Japan– poor availability in rest of the world
+ compatible with Eiki & Bauer lenses– many plastic parts
+ gate easily accessible– many belts
+ shutter, gate & claw in one unit– little space in the housing
+ manual film threading– threading arm useless

4. nac Analysis Projector


+ vario FPS, still & reverse projection– poor availability worldwide
+ remote control– no sound
+ frame counter– spool size limitation
+ compatible with B&H lenses– reduced brightness (mirror)
+ open gate– very noisy fan
+ gate easily accessible– heavy weight
+ simple mechanical design
+ shutter, gate & claw in one unit
+ manual film threading

5. Eiki RT2

+ good availability almost worldwide– expensive


Bernd Lützeler

Juan David González Monroy

SPECTRAL is co-funded by the Creative Europe program of the European Commission.

SPECTRAL is co-funded by the Kofinanzierungsfonds of Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Europa, Berlin

en/meetings_projects/spectral/laborberlin16mmprojector/start.txt · Last modified: 2023/03/29 11:16 by bernd