History of 16mm Film


When Kodak 16mm film was introduced in 1923 along with the Cine-Kodak amateur 16mm camera, it was considered groundbreaking. The film was less expensive, smaller, more portable, and created only a positive, thereby eliminating the time-consuming process of creating a positive from the negative. And 16mm film was made of noncombustible acetate versus the highly flammable cellulose nitrate used in 35mm film. But even after the introduction of 16mm “safety” film, movies continued to be made on highly flammable 35mm – until 1951, when Kodak discontinued its use. As such, movie theaters projecting 35mm films were expected to maintain safety standards and employ highly trained projectionists to help prevent fires.

The Downside of 16mm Film

While the use of 16mm prevented fire risk, this film was more delicate than nitrate. Film projector parts were made to prevent friction, however, both the projector and film had to be properly maintained to prevent scratches and other damage.

  • Careless threading could cause the film to advance improperly and get damaged.
  • The film ran through the gate at a rate of 36 feet per minute, causing dust and particles of gelatin to form a residue. The gate, sprockets, and guides had to be cleaned regularly to prevent scratches.
  • Tightening the film (cinching) on a reel caused scratches called cinch marks.
  • A bad splice could cause the perforations to jump out of alignment with the sprocket teeth and open new holes along the edges.

When Was Color Film Invented?

Images are formed on black and white 16mm film reels with silver and on color film with dyes. Prior to the introduction of full-color movie film, pigment was applied through methods such as hand-coloring each frame, stenciling, tinting, or toning. In 1915, M.I.T. graduate Herbert Kalmus developed an interest in creating a natural color motion picture process and founded the Technicolor Corporation. Many experiments were done, however, the process of making color film was still extremely costly and temperamental. Even so, by 1929, more than 20 companies held color film patents.:

  • Although most people think The Wizard of Oz (1939) was the first commercially released full-color movie, it wasn’t. That distinction belongs to the obscure 1935 movie Becky Sharp.
  • Technicolor was cumbersome, expensive, and moreover, the Technicolor Corporation insisted that one of their experts be present in the filmmaking process to determine color schemes (this was often the founder’s wife).
  • By the 1950s, Eastman Color released “monopack” color film – this Kodak camera film included the color on one strip of celluloid, a far improved and more natural-looking technology than the three-strip process used in Technicolor.

What is Super 16mm Film?

Introduced in 1969 by Swedish cinematographer Rune Ericson, Super 16 increases the image quality 20–65% by using the area of the film reserved for the optical soundtrack in standard 16mm format. Prior to 1977, the only way to shoot this film was to adapt to regular 16mm movie cameras. 

Now in its 10th season, the AMC television show The Walking Dead has been shot on Super 16mm film from the beginning of the series. Although they considered digital in the second season, they continue to use 16mm because the motion blur and grain add a bit of a classic horror vibe to the show.

Oscar-Winning or Nominated Films Shot on 16mm


While the majority of today’s filmmakers use digital, a few still prefer film. Here are 10 recent Oscar-nominated or winning films shot on 16mm: 

  1. City of God (2002)
  2. The Last King of Scotland (2006): Won one Oscar
  3. Babel (2006): Won one Oscar
  4. The Wrestler (2008)
  5. The Hurt Locker (2008): Won six Oscars
  6. Black Swan (2010): Won one Oscar
  7. Argo (2012): Won three Oscars
  8. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
  9. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
  10. Carol (2015)

Digitize Celluloid Memories 

As mentioned, acetate cellulose is delicate, so if you discover a stockpile of old 16mm film reels, it’s advised to get them scanned before they completely deteriorate. ScanCafe has a long and proven track record digitizing old 16mm films. We’ve enabled countless happy customers to relive golden-era memories whenever they wish!