PATHE PROFESSIONAL 35MM

Pathe Freres, Paris, France        1914-1915 (estimated)

 

 

THE CAMERA

Equipped with its original crank, an E. Krauss Paris Tessar-Zeiss F3.5 50mm Bte lens No. 87724 and a C.P. Goerz American Optical Company, New York mask box, this Pathe Professional Model 35mm motion picture camera, Serial No. 1166, was probably manufactured no later than 1914-1915.

Introduced by at least 1908/1909, Pathe Professional cameras have been somewhat difficult to date as early factory records were apparently lost.  Provenance may help, and in some cases, the known manufacturing date of lenses they were equipped with.  In this instance, the style of Pathe tripod seen here may also help to narrow the timeline.

Dating could possibly be aided by the address shown on the metal maker's tag affixed to camera's rear.  At least two addresses have been seen:  "14 Rue Favart" and "30 Bd. Des Italiens, Paris" (as on the camera shown here).  At first, it appeared that 14 Rue Favart was an earlier address, and this held true for most of the examples previously encountered.  Pathe moved to 30 Bd. Des Italiens, Paris by 1913, and this address is reflected on their 1913 catalogue.  Subsequently, however, I also verified serial numbers higher than the example shown here with a 14 Rue Favart tag, and Serial No. 58 which is the earliest (or lowest) number I came across has a 30 Bd. Des Italiens, Paris tag.  These two addresses are believed to be Pathe's offices, versus their factory locations of which there were several.

 

Attempting to date by serial number, the following information suggests that the majority of Pathe Professionals having 3-digit numbers are believed to have been manufactured prior to 1914:

No. 127 has been attributed to 1908

No. 882 (Billy Bitzer's personal camera) has been attributed to 1910

No. 961  is said to be as recent as 1917

No. 970 is estimated at 1908-1909

No. 975 is said to date before 1914

 

I have seen reference to movements not matching up with their housings, but this doesn't appear to be the case in any of the examples I've come across so far. More research is needed to clarify the address contradiction, and I would be interested in anyone's opinion, or other information to better explain this. 

It's not known when production of the Pathe ceased, but based on the popularity of the Bell & Howell 2709 and the Mitchell Standard, it's doubtful the Pathe Professional was still being made beyond the mid-1920's.  

Many Pathes were modified and updated over the years, incorporating new features that either extended the camera's technical capabilities or made them easier to use.  Other than the mask box attachment incorporated into the front panel, this Pathe Professional example is probably just as it came from the factory.  Appearing to have no major modifications, it retains its original leather covering and crank handle, but is missing its viewfinder and its factory hinged lens cap.  The magazine strap appears original and period correct, but it's unknown as to whether it was factory issue.

 

The Pathe Brothers were some of the earliest cinema pioneers to be involved in the production and distribution of films that would eventually include the manufacture of cameras and projectors under their own name.  They purchased the rights to the Lumiere Brothers' patents, upon which the Pathe Studio's and a few years later, the Pathe Professional's movements are based.  The Lumiere Brothers are acknowledged as the manufacturers of the first commercially successful motion picture camera.  By 1907, what has been referred to as the Pathe Studio camera makes its appearance in their apparatus catalogue:

 

             Pathe Studio model from their October,1907 catalogue

 

                            Pathe Professional Model from their 1913 catalogue                          

 

The Pathe Professional does not appear in Pathe's October,1907 catalogue, probably being introduced in 1908. 

At the peak of the Pathe's popularity about 1915, it was said to have been used on more than half of all films being made worldwide. Legendary cinematographer Gottfried Wilhelm "Billy" Bitzer, D.W. Griffith's cameraman, used the Pathe almost exclusively, making some thirty-seven films with Griffith.  This incredible run literally defined Bitzer's career, forever making him the most famous Hollywood cameraman to be associated with the Pathe.     

The Pathe would dominate the film industry, until the Bell & Howell 2709 came to prominence in 1919-1920, followed by the Mitchell Standard in the mid-to-late 1920's. 

 

The C.P Goerz American Optical Company mask box can be found in Burke & James' Cameras, Photographic Apparatus and Supplies General Catalog No. 15 (catalog estimated to date to 1915-1917).  A few surviving Pathe's have been seen with mask boxes, dissolving or other trick exposure devices, but most are not.  Attachments such as these are quite rare.

 

                                     C.P. Goerz American Optical Company Mask Box

 

Like most early motion picture cameras, Pathe's were heavily used and this example is no exception showing a considerable amount of wear.  That said, the Pathe is a rare camera, with only about 1,700 estimated to have been built.  Relatively few survive, and like other early 35mm motion picture cameras, they are not seen very often.   

 

THE TRIPOD

When acquired, this Pathe panoramic tripod accompanied the Pathe Professional shown here. It's fitted with a Pathe "Plate-Forme Verticale" (tilting head), the tripod base being marked "Pathe Freres, Paris".  Both the tilting head and base are missing their cranks. This style of tripod base was offered by Pathe from at least 1911-1913.  Being equipped with the tilting head may also help in dating the manufacture of the Pathe Professional camera featured here.

The tripod's legs attach by unscrewing a retaining nut at one end of each cylindrical leg mount, removing a shaft and washer arrangement, then placing on the upper leg ends and reassembling it.

 

 

The earliest reference I've found for this tripod style is in Pathe's 1911 catalogue, shown below and as mounted with the Pathe Professional:

 

                             Pathe's Professional Model from their 1911 catalogue

 

  Pathe's Panoramic tripod from their 1911 catalogue

 

 

From at least 1907-1913, Pathe offered their "Plate-Forme Panoramique", another panoramic tripod with a different leg mount design, the mounts having an open space with opposing pins on each end:

 

         Pathe's Panoramic tripod base from their October, 1907 catalogue

 

When the upper leg ends were compressed, they could then be placed between the pins and released, secured therein by tension.  One could assume this 1907 arrangement to be an evolution towards a simpler and quicker system, suggesting that the tripod shown here is an earlier version.  But, in reality, it's just the opposite.  Since the Pathe Studio is Pathe's only motion picture camera featured in the 1907 catalogue and a tilt head was not yet offered, this setup was sufficient for most studio work of the time.  When the Pathe Professional came out, a more robust and versatile tripod with a tilting head was required for field work.  By 1911, this newer and heavier style panoramic tripod is shown in Pathe's catalogues mated to a Pathe Professional, and a tilt head is now being offered as well:

 

Pathe Professional and panoramic tripod base from their 1911 catalogue

 

 Pathe's panoramique tripod base and tilt head from their 1911 catalogue

Pathe's panoramique tripod base and tilt head from their 1911 catalogue

 

If in fact the tripod and the tilting head that accompanied this Pathe were all purchased about the same time as the camera, this might lend credence to the camera being manufactured closer to 1911 or 1912. However, the Pathe Professional's serial number suggests its manufacture may be a few years later.

Original Pathe tripods are very rare, and this combination is indicative of earlier motion picture tripods having a geared tilt head, but no geared pan feature on the head itself. In this instance, the geared pan movement is built into the tripod base, rather than the head.  What is either an assembly or a serial number of "10" is found stamped in two places on the tilting head, and no serial number is found on the tripod base.

As professional motion picture tripods evolved, the head would either incorporate both tilt and pan crank movements or be integral with a base having a pan movement.  More modern heads such as the Worrall and Mitchell would continue to feature tilt and pan crank movements, but beginning about 1930, tripods such as the Akeley Universal Gyro utilized a single stick handle to facilitate both movements.  This style was better adapted to facilitate high-speed action photography, as well as motion picture photography in general.