This post describes a new addition to my worryingly growing 8mm projector collection – the Bolex 18-5 Super 8 movie projector.
My Bolex 18-5 Super Projector
As with most of my vintage photo gear collection I bought this projector from eBay. It was advertised as being in good condition, but untested because it didn’t have a power lead and since the photos which accompanied the sale seemed to confirm that the unit looked in good condition, I bought it with a ‘Buy it now’ purchase for £15.
Although at the time of purchase I didn’t have a power lead for a Bolex 18-5 series projector, as it happened I purchased another unit in the series (a standard 8 machine) a few days later and that came with a power lead. The reason this is important is because most manufacturers of early projectors seemed to adopt their own design for a power connector and it becomes difficult these days to connect them to the mains without the proper lead.
When the 18-5 super turned up a few days later, I discovered that it was not as advertised a Bolex 18-5L, which was the last model in the series, but the earlier 18-5 Super. This actually pleased me because the 18-5L model used two different styles of lamp and one of them is obsolete and very expensive to buy. Prior to receiving the unit I was concerned that I might get the model with the obsolete lamp, so the fact that it was an 18-5 Super was a relief. I should point out that the 8V 50W lamp in the unit I received is also difficult and expensive to get, but I happen to have a couple of those so it’s not quite so important to me.
When I unpacked the unit I found that the seller had been accurate in the other aspects of the sale. The unit does seem to be in very good mechanical condition, although the cosmetic appearance is not so good. The outer case has several areas of flaking paint and rust, and both the ‘Bolex’ labels have fallen off, although fortunately the one on the lamp housing is still with the projector. I will certainly be able to stick the label I have on with epoxy but I’ll need to try to locate one of the labels which were applied to the outer case. As a temporary measure I’ve attached the label on the lamp housing with double sided tape.
As to the flaking paint and rust, I’ll probably rub the case down and re-spray it with a car spray paint.
After I applied some power and turned the unit on I discovered the lamp works and the motor turns, but the drive remained completely stationary. After removing the back cover I found that this was because the drive belt (or belts in this case, as there are three) had gone hard and broken and were laying in the bottom of the unit. Since belts are pretty cheap, I sent for a set (about £3 from a supplier from eBay), and once they were fitted the unit seems to be running well.
The 18-5 series were produced by Bolex in the early 1960s and covered the period when home movies moved from Standard 8 film to Super 8 film. There were a total of 4 models made: the 18-5, the 18-5 auto, the 18-5 super and the 18-5L super. The first two were standard 8 units, the second two were super 8 – Bolex didn’t produce a dual standard version of this model. The unit discussed in this article, the 18-5 Super, as the name suggests is a Super 8 model.
Bolex had a reputation for producing very good quality, solidly engineered projectors and the unit I received seems to confirm that reputation. Apart from the obvious cosmetic problems caused by age, the actual unit performs well and is extremely well built.
The first thing I noticed when I put a film through the projector is how well the auto feed works. I’d plugged the unit it to the power and loaded an empty Super 8 reel on the take up side. With a full Super 8 film on the feed reel, I offered up the end of the film to the auto feed and pressed the button at the top. The power turns on and pulls the film into the projector and after a few seconds it has been threaded around the film path and through a channel at the bottom of the projector to appear at the take up spool, in the first case very nearly catching on the spool.
The other obvious noticeable feature of the 18-5 Super is the quiet operation. The projector purrs in operation rather than making a loud clattering noise, although I did notice a temporary increase in noise when a film join passed through the projector.
After I’d watched a couple of short film on the 18-5 I had noticed that there was a lot of dust and debris showing on the edges of the film, and if I completely defocussed the image the projected frame had a very distinct ‘bubbly’ image showing. After a bit of investigation I found that the glass filter between the shutter and the film had a lot of dirt on it and what looked like some distortion in the actual glass. The dirt could be removed with a cotton bud, but the distortion, which was leading to the ‘bubbly’ effect, could not. On closer inspection it looks as if the glass has some fungus growing on the top of one of the surfaces. It doesn’t actually affect the picture because it is completely defocussed when the picture is focused, but I’m going to try removing it with some vinegar.
Many projectors have a variable speed adjustment so that the frame rate can be adjusted during playback. The 18-5 doesn’t have a speed control adjustment as such, but does allow the speed to be selected between two fixed options, 18 fps and 5 fps – hence the name. Bolex were very clever in the design of this projector; in order to stop the image flickering when 5 fps is chosen, the projector has a novel shutter which switches to have more blades when the slow speed is selected. This results in the image not being as bright but because the number of projected images remains high and therefore not flickering, the picture is more realistic.
As well as the auto load controls which I’ve described above the Projector has a few other controls although in practice, as I’ve used it over the last few weeks I’ve found it to be a very reliable unit which doesn’t need much ‘tweaking’.
The main operating control is on the back of the projector under the mains voltage selection. It takes the form of a large rotating knob with the off position straight up and then, in clockwise order, Run, Run at 18 fps with the lamp, run at 5 fps with the lamp, Off, reverse with the lamp and reverse without the lamp.
With this control you can carry out the majority of the projector’s operation but there is also a framing knob on the front of the projector if this is needed. I’ve found that I’ve not needed to adjust this once I set it on the first film I put through the projector. There is also a set of knobs in the lamp housing to correctly position the light source. I suspect these need to be set when the lamp is changed, but I’ve not needed to move them at all.
The Bolex has a ‘table lamp’ feature in the same way the Eumig P8 has; A socket above the mains input will be live when the projector is not running and then off when the film is in motion. This was provided to enable a table lamp to be plugged in and give the projectionist a useful light to see to change the films.
Another useful feature is the film cutter which is included in the case lid. This can be pulled out and used to trim the end of the film so it correctly feeds through the projector’s autofeed mechanism.
The following is a short video clip of the projector in operation. It was taken in quite a bright room so the projected image is difficult to see but in a normal darkened room the image is quite bright enough.
Bolex 18-5 Specifications
- Bolex 18-5 Super 8 projector
- Two speed (18fps and 5fps) projector for Super 8 film
- 8V 50W lamp type CXR 8V/50W
- Solidly built and well engineered
- Reliable automatic threading
- 14-25mm f/1.3 HiFi zoom lens
- 3 belt drive system
- Project forward at 18 fps or 5 fps without flicker
- Reverse projection at 18 fps
- Power rewind
- 400ft reel capacity
- Adjustable feet for position and stability of image
- Quiet operation
- Film trimmer in front case
- Ser No 3117352