DescriptionMechanical device for viewing 16mm film
ManufacturerSpecto, England
Time Period1950s
Details800W, 112V
LocationUCL Cabinet of Obsolete Media
Inventory nºUCL201712

This Specto 16mm film projector is 800W and 112V, and was likely made after the 1950s. Formed in 1935, British cinema manufacturer Specto was a household name in film projectors for almost five decades and used by amateurs, the military and in educational settings. The strong construction and popularity of the Specto projector delayed significant changes in design until the 1960s.

The technology of film cameras became commercially available in 1923. In the early days of the technology, film sizes were not standardized, and inventors would develop film reels in conjunction with their own projectors. Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope, for example, utilized 18mm film while early British home projecting systems used 35mm. Affordability and portability made 16mm film, cameras, and projectors marketable to the public. In the 1930s, 16mm film and cameras, as well as portable projectors and screens contributed to a new democratic film culture. Early in its creation, the 16mm film system could be operated and owned by the masses and shown anywhere.
Cinema technology functions in much the same way as still image projection, with two critical components: a lamp and a lens. The lamp sends light through the film negative, which the lens refracts and enlarges, focusing the image onto a projected surface. Fifty years after the development of photography in the 1830s, moving cinema was established.

The film reel consists of a succession of film stills, that when passed through a film projector, appear as a moving picture. Auxiliary components of the projector aid in the illusion of a moving image: the shuttle, responsible for moving the film at an consistent pace, and the shutter, strategically blocking light from the lens to eliminate the blank space between each negative. The film progresses from the supply reel through the gate, which holds the film between the lamp and the lens. As the stills pass through the gate, the shuttle oscillates, engaging its three teeth into the sprocket holes on the edges of the film, pulling the reel into place. A loop of excess film builds after leaving the supply reel and before proceeding into the gate, accommodating the quick and constant pace of the shuttle. Moving through the projector at 24 frames per second, each film still is obstructed from light three times per second by the rotating shutter blade. The eye neutralizes the quick flicker of dark-to-light, and the consecutive images appear as if continuous. While the first silent motion picture was developed at the end of the 19th century, it was in 1919 that an American inventor developed the technology for optical sound-on film. A photo sensor reads the film reel’s soundtrack, which is printed on the outer edge of the film, translating the optical image into sound waves. To sync the image and its sound, the soundtrack of the film is printed 26 slides before its corresponding image. The film reel, once read for image and sound, then winds onto the take-up reel for storage.


Selected Bibliography

Hammack, Bill. How a Film Projector Works. online video recording, YouTube, 7 July 2015. < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=En__V0oEJsU>

Newnham, Grahame L. “The Early Days.” Specto Ltd. Uk Cine Equipment Manufacturer. http://www.pathefilm.uk/95gear/95gearspecto.htm

Singer, Ben. “Early Home Cinema and the Edison Home Projecting Kinetoscope.” Film History 2, no. 1 (1988): 37-69. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3814949.

Sklar, Robert and David A. Cook. ‘History of the Motion Picture’ in Encyclopaedia Britannica < https://www.britannica.com/art/history-of-the-motion-picture>

Waller, Gregory A. “Projecting the Promise of 16mm, 1935-45.” In Useful Cinema, 125-48. Durham, NC: Duke UP.