At one time or another in the course
of a moviemaker’s career he or she will no doubt stumble on, sit
on or hold an ARRI I6S (or 16M) camera. Arriflex’ venerable I6S/M
models still saturate the used market at down-to-earth prices.
With a barney or a blimp housing, the Arriflex I6S is a poor man’s
version of an ARRI SR II. The big difference is the lack of accurate
crystal sync speed control.

New life for a trusty old camera? The ArriflexI6S
with TOBIN’s crystal sync motor

Anyone who has ventured into projects which require
crystal sync cameras is acutely aware of the high cost associated
with renting these expensive cameras. My advice is rent the best
camera and lens package you can afford. You’ll probably get a camera
that’s been well maintained. Still, make sure a backup camera is
only a phone call away. You don’t want to find yourself paying
for cast and crew to sit around and watch your camera operator
disassemble your only camera.

Budget constraints are usually the determining factors
as to whether or not a project gets made. The ingenuity of the
designers at Arriflex has made those constraints slightly less
constraining by providing good cameras at affordable prices.

I own a couple of ARRI I6S cameras and have been
using them to film commercials, low budget music videos and high
end corporate projects for some time. Unfortunately, the constant
and variable speed motors that l own are way too variable for really
serious work. I have resorted to crystal sync camera rental on
a number of projects because of the necessity for sync sound in
post-production. Wild sync of voice-to-image in post isn’t all
that difficult if the scenes aren’t too long. But it doesn’t take
much to have your edit look like a really bad version of a wannabe
Bruce Lee film.

I recently had the opportunity to evaluate the TOBIN
Crystal Drive, and to my surprise it works as well or better than
advertised. With a sound barney strapped over the top of my I6S
and TOBIN’s crystal sync unit and new motor attached, the average
sound levels produced with the package were about 26.0 dB—measured
around the camera on. all axes at about 24 inches—almost
the same noise level as a Arri 16 SR II.

Here’s a refresher to non-camera operator types on
what crystal sync motors can provide for the moviemaker. When a
crystal sync camera and audio recorder are used to film and record
a scene there is no need for a physical sync cable connection between
camera and recorder.

The accuracy of crystal sync operated motors is a
few parts per million, so keeping dialogue in sync is relatively
easy. As a moviemaker this means quicker set-up time if multiple
crystal sync cameras are used in conjunction with a crystal sync
audio recorder. Bottom line: you’re going to save time and money.

Since the camera magazines were designed to run
on 8.4 VDC power, TOBIN will modify your magazine motors at no
charge for 12 VDC operation when you buy their crystal sync unit.
I used an unmodified 8.4 VDC magazine motor and ran a test load
through the camera. I found that if you didn’t take up the film
slack in the magazine at frame speeds above 30 FPS, the perforations
stretched a small amount. With 12 VDC camera and magazine motors
installed, however, operation was smooth.

I ran 400 feet of FUJI negative film through the
camera utilizing all the 60 Hz HMI speeds for about 50 feet of
exposure at each speed. I slated each speed, stopped, and restarted
the camera, letting it run for the remainder of the 50 feet. The
footage was flawless, and the lab reported no elongation or excessive
perforation wear.

TOBIN builds a milliframe controller which connects
to the crystal sync unit for the ARRI I6S/M and allows precise
speed control up to 159.999 FPS (do not exceed your camera’s maximum
speed rating.) Adding the TMC-55Aa Milliframe Controller to the
TOBIN Crystal Drive gives you access to 55,000 crystal sync speeds.

So, if you already own an ARRI I6S/M, for about
$1,700 you can have what I call an “ARRI 16 SR TOO.” The demo units
that Clive Tobin sent me for evaluation have given my trusty I6S
cameras new life. I just hope he doesn’t want them back right away.