Mitchell BNC Camera Construction -Personal Observations

Feel free to discuss any topic related to the Mitchell Camera. Both 35 mm and 16 mm models are welcomed here. Also consider posting topics of other major motion picture cameras that you feel are important to the development of the Mitchell Camera. Feel free to upload a photo from the option on each new post.
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Mitchell BNC Camera Construction -Personal Observations

Post by brucermorgan » Sat Aug 30, 2014 3:24 am

In 1990 the Japanese animation industry found that the Mitchell BNC film movement was an important part of their work. I was working with LLoyd Berman at this Camera exchange on Cahuenga Blvd when several Mitchell Cameras arrived .

They were all old studio models such as BNC numbers in the 11-9 range then some in the 20's to 60's.
My task was to pull each Mitchell BNC apart and salvage the "L Plate" and the BNC film movement for sale to Japan. List prices at the time were around 5,000.00 dollars

Observed Studio Modifications to Mitchell BNC Cameras -
All had various slate devices (installed by various Studio Machine Shops ).
It seemed a terrible waste till I later learned of a film raw stock expense plan undertaken by UNIVERSAL PICTURES.

In the later 1990's at a small Film Lab called "Film Service" a former Universal Pictures worker told us that he had been tasked to run through EXPOSED PRODUCTION FILM NEGATIVE in the dark and REMOVE THE OUTTAKES !! This was considered a cost saving method .

As a filmmaker and editor , I knew that outtakes still had good moments during editing .
But to continuing with the WHY exploration of the studio installed automatic slates , it became obvious .
The time it takes for a slate clapper /loader to be in front of the camera and exit had been analyzed as a waste of time and film.

If there are any doubts about this I have all the crew work time report notes made by Fred W Applegate from the script supervisors copy of "Cult of the Cobra ". The time reports on each set up were made and sent to the FRONT OFFICE for analysis .

Therefore the Studio installed slates inside the Mitchell Camera were an early cost saving effort which proved, along with other economy efforts to be actually wasteful . By the 1960 we saw more standard slating on sets and no one was discarding outtakes before development .
In my next article on Mitchell construction, I will discuss

1) The L Plate and the camera Box
2) Sound Blimping methods in construction
3) Ground wires used to eliminate static charge on Black and White Film

Article Copyright Bruce R Morgan 2014
bnc CAM01229.jpg
Quilted Sound Dampening inside Classic BNC Motor Cover
bnc box  CACAM01288.jpg
Another View of Mitchell BNC blimped L Plate and camera Box .
bnc f  vv CAM01299.jpg
BNC L Plate and Camera Box Construction


Re: Mitchell BNC Camera Construction -Personal Observations

Post by Max128fps » Sat Aug 30, 2014 9:47 am

Hello Bruce. I very much enjoyed your excellent article/observations regarding the BNC construction. I find after market automatic slating/blooper devices particularly interesting. This web site had some photos of one such device which I have included here. Am I to understand that your BNC 356 had no such device whatsoever? If so, what a special unmodified BNC!

With greatest respect,
slate 2.jpg
slate 3.jpg
slate 4.jpg
slate 1.jpg

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Re: Mitchell BNC Camera Construction -Personal Observations

Post by brucermorgan » Sat Aug 30, 2014 12:44 pm

Hello Max
Mitchell BNC 356 had no slate mechanism at all.
BNC 356 rolled off the assembly line at the Mitchell factory in Dec 1967, according to Mitchell foreman
Chuck Mallory.
And in 1990 every BNC I tore down from an old Panavision auction had some kind of slate mechanism.
Cheers Bruce

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Joined: Tue Aug 26, 2014 9:31 pm

Re: Mitchell BNC Camera Construction -Personal Observations

Post by brucermorgan » Sat Aug 30, 2014 6:05 pm

Just a Note to all who read my posts --
All my notes are based on my experience with my Mitchell Camera
and are not intended to be the definitive story on the Mitchell Camera .
For instance ,to my memory ,no one ever interviewed Thomas Garvin camera assistant to Greg Toland ......I hope I am wrong about that .

A suggested contact on the Mitchell Camera story follows
Joe Dunton owns Mitchell now.
They are affiliated with ‪JDC Wilmington Camera Services
garvin ff  copy.jpg
Thomas Garvin camera assistant to Greg Toland


Re: Mitchell BNC Camera Construction -Personal Observations

Post by Guest » Sat Aug 30, 2014 6:45 pm

Thanks Bruce, we are just happy to have you here and your on set experience with the Mitchell camers is far and away better than anything documented on paper. So from my perspective, it is your definitive story on the Mitchell and for those of us that haven't operated a Mitchell, it is therefore the most real.

And by the way, any information regarding Greg Toland is priceless.

Has anyone ever referred to him as "Mr. Mitchell Camera" himself? I've never heard that, but if someone should be labeled with that moniker, it should be Greg Toland.

Be well,

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Re: Mitchell BNC Camera Construction -Personal Observations

Post by brucermorgan » Sat Aug 30, 2014 8:40 pm

Hello Justin .
Thanks for the compliments .
I guess by default ,I may be one of the few 30 year veterans of operating a Mitchell that is still around .

The camera became a real friend to my cinema efforts .
"Mr Mitchell" is a position reserved for George Mitchell owner and founder of the company .
But Greg Toland is "Mr MITCHELL BNC" .

My recollection is that Sam Goldwyn bought Mitchell BNC number 1 and two and promptly requested
Greg Toland to spend all his free time testing with the "new " Mitchell BNC .

There are frame grabs in ann old ASC Cinematographer issue (late 1930's)
which concerns Toland's tests One page shows a shot glass sliding across a slick bar
counter in some test of DEEP FOCUS .

You may want to try search for those frame grabs they are rare to find ,but it proves that Toland used that
BNC Camera to experiment -not just shot on production .

Here is a link to some historical research --- ... Toland.png


Re: Mitchell BNC Camera Construction -Personal Observations

Post by say2313 » Sun Aug 31, 2014 7:45 am

Thank you Mr. Morgan, all gems of information, those. An excellent point about who should receive that moniker that Justin spoke of. And how appropriate for Toland to be given the "Mr MITCHELL BNC" honor. And just a small point of order here, Justin: It is Gregg not Greg when referring to the legend. More on Deep Focus and Mr. Toland please.

- Larry


Re: Mitchell BNC Camera Construction -Personal Observations

Post by stevenO » Mon Sep 01, 2014 9:13 am

Dear Bruce. Welcome and looking forward to more of our insights and stories!


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Re: Mitchell BNC Camera Construction -Personal Observations

Post by marop » Wed Sep 03, 2014 10:02 am

Hello Bruce and thanks for the great info on Mitchell BNCs. I am not in the industry but have interest and am a collector. I own a BNC which was owned by Paramount and converted to reflex by way of Pelical (for those that don't know what it is: a mirror reflex system that passes some of the light to the viewfinder and the rest to the film).

Regarding the film slate issue; did you ever work for Paramount? Apparently they installed a film punch in the camera to Mark scenes by physically punching the film. After exposure they would, in the darkroom, feel for those punches and develop only the takes they wanted. I guess it was a bit nerve racking if they missed the punch mark, or forgot to make the punch mark!

Regarding Baltar lenses, I took a chance once, several years ago, and called Jerry Finnerman (has since passed away). He was a camera operator and Director of Photography. I was hoping he may have some recollection of using my camera when working on Paramount productions. He did not but he spoke briefly about Baltar lenses. He did not like them as they were not as sharp compared to other lenses. He did mention that when he wanted a great depth of field he would use a Baltar as they appeared sharper all thru the field.

Do you happen to have any of the camera reports from Cult of the Cobra? I enjoy trying to research specific camera history. I find history through scattered camera reports, photos, and other such info. I have shared info with other collectors and a couple museums.

Please keep the info coming,



Re: Mitchell BNC Camera Construction -Personal Observations

Post by Max128fps » Wed Sep 03, 2014 11:09 am

Hi Mark. I read with great interest regarding your Paramount BNC. Tell me sir, I assume it has the Film Punch mechanism installed? If so, does it look like the picture attached? I'm sure Bruce will be commenting on this as well.

With greatest respect,
mitchell film punch.jpg

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