16mm Film Format Explained



16 mm film refers to a popular, economical gauge of film used in motion pictures. Other common film gauges include 8 mm and 35 mm. 16 mm refers to the width of the negatives.

16 mm film was introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1923 as an inexpensive amateur alternative to the conventional 35 mm film format. Snobishly, during the 1920s the format was often referred to as sub-standard film by the professional industry.

As it was intended for amateur use, for safety reasons 16 mm film was one of the first formats to use acetate safety film as a film base. Kodak never manufactured nitrate film for the format due to the high flammability of the nitrate base. 35 mm did not abandon nitrate until 1952.

The silent 16 mm format was initially aimed at the home enthusiast. The addition of optical sound tracks and, most notably, Kodachrome in 1935, gave an enormous boost to 16 mm sales.

The format was used extensively in World War II and there was a huge expansion of 16 mm professional filmmaking companies in the post-war years.

Initially as a news-gathering format, the 16 mm format was also used to create programming shot outside the confines of the more rigid television production sets. Thanks to the compact size and lower cost, 16 mm was adopted for use in news reporting, corporate and educational films, and other uses. By contrast, the home movie market gradually switched to even less expensive 8 mm film and Super 8 mm format.

Single-perforation film only has perforations on one side of the film. The picture area of regular 16 mm has an aspect ratio close to 1.33, and 16 mm film prints use single-perf film so that there is space for a mono soundtrack where the other perf side would be on the negative.

In Britain much television footage was shot on 16 mm from the 1960s until the 1980s. Some dramas and documentaries were made entirely on 16 mm, notably Brideshead Revisited, The Jewel in the Crown, The Ascent of Man and Life on Earth.

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