More than one hundred years

Film Sizes

Film sizes, marvelous scope for collecting


Struggle for standardization

One hundred years of cinema is also due to acceptance of one standard gauge. Whereas film equipment has undergone drastic changes in the course of a century it is a little miracle that 35mm has remained the universally accepted film size. If film had followed the same course as video, with its continuing change of systems, the development might have been delayed considerably.


We owe the format to a great extent to Edison (see photo) - in fact 35mm was called the Edison size before.

Monkeyshines 1890Click on icon for Monkeyshines Edison film strip of 1890

1891 Kinetograph film stripEdison Kinetograph film strip of June 18th,1891 (click)

In May 1889 Thomas Edison had ordered a Kodak camera from the Eastman Company and was apparently fascinated by the 70mm roll of film used. Thereupon W.K.L.Dickson of his laboratory ordered a roll of film of 1 3/8"(ca. 35 mm) width from Eastman. This was half the film size used in Eastman Kodak cameras. It was to be used in a new type of Kinetoscope for moving images on a strip of celluloid film, which could be viewed by one person at the time.

Lumière film
Lumiere filmframe

The Lumière brothers introduced in March 1895 their Cinématographe for 35mm film, which was also used at their first public show of 28 December of that year. Their strip of film had only one round hole per image, whereas Edison used four rectangular perforations per frame.

Even at that time there was already a variety of widths:

Skladanowski film
  • 60mm(Prestwich, Demeney, 1893-96)
    Demeny Phonoscope 1893
    Gaumont-Demeny Chronophotographe, 1896
  • 38mm (Casimir Sivan/E.Dalphin, Geneva, 1896)
  • Parnaland 34 (35?) film perforation (showing Sarah Bernard in Hamlet)
  • 63mm (Veriscope, 1897).
  • 65mm (Hughes Moto-Photoscope, 1897)Also for 3" wide film
  • 68mm (Biograph 1897 camera)
  • 70mm unperforated experimental film, Birt Acres 1894
  • Lee & Turner colour film, 1901
  • Le Prince and his film

    The abovementioned William Dickson, after leaving Edison, used 2 3/4" (70 mm) for his Mutoscope & Biograph Company' productions to avert Edison's patent rights. Cameramen of this company travelled all over Europe to produce documentaries of a remarkable image quality.
    Widescreen also proved excellently suitable for other subjects.

    70mm film Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight
    Fight Corbett-Fitzsimmons

    In 1897 more than 10.000 feet of 63mm film was shot of the then famous box match between Corbett and Fitzsimmons.

    One of the problems to be dealt with was the strength of the film base. Because film is pulled through the filmgate in short strokes it comes under high tension. Therefore perforations were torn time and again. Eastman overcame this weakness by doubling the thickness of the nitrate base, which was normally used for film packs from 1896 onward.

    By the turn of the century film appeared to become big business. the struggle for the monopoly of the patents intensified. To avoid lengthy court cases the nine major producers of the time decided to pool their rights in the Motion Pictures Patents Company in 1909. This consortium threatened to outlaw outsiders from further film production. Despite the general outcry one favourable effect was that 35mm became standardized to Bell & Howell specifications. It was adopted a.o. by the Congrès International des Editeurs de Films in Paris in the same year. It was named standard-size stock, in Germany Normalfilm and in France pélicule format standard. Eastman Kodak became the chief film supplier (see 1912 ad).

    This does not imply that no further attempts were being made to introduce other gauges. The standard size was besieged continuously for reasons of economy, projection quality or aesthetic design.

    Great variety of amateur film sizes

    A fierce competition raged in the amateur market. Economy and dimensions were the chief ingredients. The public had to be won over by relative inexpensiveness. Amateur film was usually cut from 35 mm professional raw stock , that was produced in large quantities and therefore economical to buy. The film was cut in two or three lengths - the substandard size, or "Schmalfilm" in Germany.

    The first attempt was demonstrated in England by Birt Acres in 1898. His camera, projector at the same time, the Birtac, used 17½ mm size with perforations on one side.
    The Biokam
    The Biokam
    A few months later in 1899 followed by the Biokam (see photo and filmframe) (for £ 6.6/-), also in 17½mm (see frame, but perforations in the center between the images. It was not a success, a.o. because of the proficiency needed to produce acceptable results.

    In the same year J.A.Prestwich introduced 13mm equipment, but little was heard of it since.

    Ernemann Kino II of 1904
    Ernemann Kino II
    17,5mm Ernemann film

    More succesful was Heinrich Ernemann, who introduced in 1903 the Kino I. It used the same film as the Biokam. This apparatus could also be used for both taking and projecting pictures - a combination which has been experimented with for years without much success, lately by the American Wittnauer Cine-Twin 8mm set.

    In 1900 Gaumont-Demeny ventured with an unusual size: 15mm, with center perforation. The Chrono de Poche did not make it either. Nowadays it is a rarity. In the same year another French firm introduced the Mirograph which used an equally odd size: 20 mm. It had on one side notches instead of perforations. I have yet to see one single specimen.

    In the United States the first projector using non-standard film appeared around 1902. This home cinema used a carbide lamp. It was called the Vitak and used 17,5mm film. A few years later another projector appeared with a similar appearance. It was the Ikonograph, using 17,5mm film with a large center perforation.
    In 1923 11,5mm was re-introduced in the USA with the Duplex projector.

    Safety film

    In 1897 a fierce fire destroyed the cinema pavillion of a charity bazar in Paris, which took the lives of 124 people. It is no surprise that an immediate search was opened for a replacement of the highly inflammable cellulose nitrate stock. In 1908 the first non-flam acetate film was marketed. It took decennia of perfection before it could supplant the old stock. Only in 1950 the tri-acetate film could be considered equal to nitrate film. However, for amateur films it was employed right after its invention.

    22 mm Home Kinetoscope
    Edison 22mm projector

    In 1912 Edison introduced the Home Kinetoscope for safety film. It employed yet another size: 22mm. It had three rows of images sized 4 x 6mm, separated by two rows of perforations. One column of images was cranked foreward, the middle row backward, and the third row forward again. A camera was never produced. Films from 10 to 15 meter lengths in special containers were for rent from Edison depots or by mail.

    Home Kinetoscope show (click)

    22mm Ozaphane film
    22mm Ozaphane film
    Ten years later in 1922 Sté Gallus introduced a projector, the Cinebloc, using the same size of film in a different manner. It used double-sided perforated 22mm Ozaphan cellophane film. Of the Cinebloc little was heard of either since.

    24mm unperforated Ozaphane film for Cinelux
    24mm Ozaphane film

    In 1931 Cinelux film projectors were introduced, a silent and sound model. A highly unusual 24mm unperforated Ozaphan film size was being used, the mechanism being a beater movement.

    Cinelux silent projector
    24mm Ozaphane film

    28 mm

    Pathé Kok
    The Pathé Kok

    In 1912 Pathé introduced with far more success a 28mm size for safety film. The width deviated in order to prevent flammable normal sized film be used for the projector, the Pathé Kok (see image).
    28 mm film
    In France the film had on the left side three perforations per frame and on the right side one (see image). The single right side perforation was to make framing unnecessary. (Click for image of Pathé Kok camera here)

    New Premier Pathescope
    The new Premier Pathescope

    When during WW1 imports from France into the U.S.A. came to a halt Victor introduced their Safety and Home Cinema projectors for 28mm films perforated with three perforations per frame on both sides.

    Victor 28mm projector
    Victor 28mm projector

    Pathé's distributor W.B.Cook designed a completely new motorized projector, the New Premier Pathescope (see photo). Not many were sold, however. Keystone and other manufacturers also introduced a 28mm projector, but reverted soon again to the 35mm size.

    The Pathé Kok projector (The name was taken from from the newly patented logo of a cock) was equipped usually with a dynamo. So it could be used on the not yet electrified countryside. At the same time 28mm cameras were marketed. The emphasis was on showing theatrical films copied from the large film library of Pathé, however.
    Initially the new size seemed to do well and was accepted as a standard size for the home cinema. By 1918 10.000 projectors were sold.

    The projector enjoyed quite some popularity. In the United States 28mm was accepted as a standard size for portable film projectors by the Society of Motion Picture Engineers. 935 Titles were for rent.

    Later developments made the format decline in popularity. Yet the Kok projectors are a showpiece in a collection nowadays, especially so because of its splendid design resembling a robust old-time sewing machine.

    Glass and semi-gramophone records

    Besides emulsion on film base experiments were carried out with celluloid and glass plates. There was still a fierce competition between the magic lantern with its non-inflammable glass slides and the vulnerable film stock.