The first all-metal, commercially available 35mm motion-picture camera, the hand-cranked Bell & Howell 2709 was produced between 1912 and 1958.
It soon dominated the market long held by the Pathé Studio (quickly relegated to second camera work), and by 1919, nearly 100 percent of the camera equipment used to make movies in Hollywood was manufactured by Bell & Howell, which was formed in Chicago but later moved to Los Angeles.
B&H 2709 cameras were used to shoot countless shorts, newsreels and feature films, including the silent classics Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925; photographed by Rene Guissart, ASC) and Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925; Rollie Totheroh, ASC). While more than 1,200 2709s were built, it’s now rare to find one in its original configuration, as many were modified for visual effects and animation work.
Here is the ASC’s example, serial number 1050, photographed at the ASC Clubhouse by Richard Edlund, ASC and Dave Inglish:
Notes Edlund, “Cinematographers hated the B&H viewfinder, because it showed the image upside down. All of them were replaced by Mitchell viewfinders which had a prism system that righted the image. Nearly all replaced the B&H matte box with Mitchell ones as well. It’s very difficult to find those original B&H accessories, as well as their tripods and pan heads which were also dumped in favor of the much better designed Mitchell ones.”