The rate of technological change is so swift as to render today’s best professional and consumer equipment obsolete almost instantly. In high-tech fields such as audio, video, film, and electronics, five years is tantamount to a geological age for the Earth. Film makers who’ve grown up in the “digital era,” so to speak, have watched as the expanding technology of filmmaking has taken a route from “then” to “now” that illuminates 15 or 20 years of tremendous advances.
Experienced directors and cinematographers have shot film with everything from an Arriflex 535B to Super8, and have recorded video in nearly every gauge and format, from big HD cameras like the VariCam and Sony CineAlta to old VHS-C camcorders. For many veteran directors, it was the results they got with a good film camera that taught them what to look for in a video camera when newer technologies began to surface. The Arriflex 535B, then, is a perfect object for study, standing as it does at the nexus of film and video technology.
A 35mm and Super 35mm camera, the Arriflex 535B was developed by ARRI, the largest manufacturer of motion picture equipment in the world, founded in Munich, Germany in 1917. Debuting in 1990, the camera was designed to be fully compatible with the 535 product line, and its basic version provides every essential function of a modern production camera. Although lighter and smaller than the 535, the 535B is able to use the complete range of 535 accessories.
The redesigned, modular viewfinder system of the Arriflex 535B, like its predecessor’s, can be pivoted on two axes to allow viewing from each side. A beam splitter is employed to attach a 1/2″ video camera CCD, and the whole viewfinder system can be removed and replaced without tools.
The film transport of the 535B, ARRI’s seven-link movement with dual registration pin and pull-down claw, ensures operational quietness and image steadiness. Crystal-controlled frame rates range from 3 to 60 fps and fixed adjustments of 24, 25, 29.97, and 30 fps are selectable.
Essential information, such as film stock, battery voltage, frame rate and time code are clearly displayed on the left side of the camera. The ergonomic grip system’s central crossbar can be used as a carrying handle, and also connects to such accessories as mini-monitors and booster lights. Although the camera is too large for POV use, if a low camera profile is needed the entire grip system can be removed.
Film magazine operation was revised to enable manual take-up of film slack using the 535’s two coaxial magazines (400 and 1000 ft.). The 535B accommodates such modular accessories as programmable format markings, a viewfinder extension with integrated magnifier (available in two lengths) and a plug-on display that rotates for all-side viewing.
The Arriflex 535B is a well-built, programmable 35mm mirror reflex universal camera boasting the utmost in analog film technology – but, being on the cusp of the digital era, ARRI did make data input possible via an optional Camera Control Unit (CCU-1). At just under 31 lbs. with filmless magazine, the 535B is not made for POV or handheld shooting, but its dependability and beautiful film output ensure that we will be watching movies made on it, and its siblings, for a long time to come.