I Missed My Anniversary

I did it again. I missed the first year anniversary of Serial Number 2708, just as I did the six month anniversary.

While reviewing the posts I’ve written over the last year I started writing down some numbers. Here are some statistics to sum up Serial Number 2708′s first year:

- I have published 23 posts, or about two a month. That’s not a lot. I have done more with SN 2708 than I have had time to write up, and I need to make the time.

- I shot a total of 725 feet of film. That’s also not a lot. Filming over the last year was limited by the fact that I didn’t start testing SN 2708 until fall, and fall was followed by a nasty and protracted winter. DeVry cameras were used by mountain climbers and arctic exploers, but I was too chicken to take SN 2708 outside in the freezing cold. There’s a little over four months of decent weather left in this year and I’m gearing up to shoot as much as I can in that time. I’m also working on getting a small studio space set up so I can shoot indoors during the winter.

- I have accomplished none of my goals. This is very disappointing, but studio space and better scheduling will take care of that.

In reviewing my thoughts on using the camera over the last year not much has changed. SN 2708 is still heavy and awkward to carry around. Not much is going to change that. Maybe the camera will seem less awkward the more I carry it.

Over the next year I’ll be writing more frequently about a variety of subjects, including equipment upgrades and projects I’m starting There’ll be a site redesign late in the fall and I’ve already started making progress towards accomplishing the goals I’ve set out for myself. There’s only two years left for me to complete seven films. Time to get to work.

The Natural History of the DeVry Standard A

I’m continuing to examine and test SN 2708 to work out the issue of the unsteady image. I’ve done more shooting, repairing and testing than I have had time to write up, so while I’m waiting for more film stock to arrive and footage to return from the lab I’m writing informational posts about the history of DeVry cameras, the story of some other equipment I have recently collected and projects I am about to begin.

The information in this post is from various sources, including personal correspondence with other DeVry collectors and research I’ve done over the last year. It’s not complete but it does provide a basic manufacturing and use history of the DeVry Standard Automatic. By the way, the camera’s name is derived from the type of film it uses and how it is operated: “standard” means it uses 35mm film, the standard gauge for professional use when the camera was made; “automatic” means the camera has a motor, or can be operated automatically by the press of a button. DeVry Standard A’s can actually be operated in two ways, by winding and releasing the internal spring motor or by cranking the camera by hand.

The DeVry Standard A was manufactured from the mid-1920′s until the early 1930′s. At its introduction the Standard A was priced at $150.00, or just over $2000.00 in 2014 dollars. It was aimed at what is today known as the prosumer market, serious amateurs or professionals in need of a less expensive camera. DeVry produced two models of the Standard A during its production run: one operating at 18fps and one at 24fps. The 24fps model was introduced after the perfection of synchronous sound recording. The easiest way to tell the difference between the two models is to look at the logo badge over the drive sprocket. The 24fps model has a red badge over the drive sprocket and the earlier 18fps model has a black badge over the drive sprocket. My camera is a bit of a mystery. SN 2708 has a black badge over the sprocket but operates at 24fps.

DeVry cameras saw some use in feature film production, but were more widely used to produce newsreels and educational and industrial films. The Standard A was also a favorite of early documentary and avant guard filmmakers because of its ease of use and low price. Documentarian Joris Ivens used a Standard A to shoot parts of his classic films Rain and The Bridge. Robert Florey used a Standard A to film two of the best examples of American avant guard filmmaking, The Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra and Skyscraper Symphony. A full post on each of Florey’s films is in the works.

The Standard A was also a favorite of scientists and explorers through the 1930′s. The marine biologist William Beebe loaded one into a bathysphere and descended to the bottom of the ocean near Bermuda. Some of the footage Beebe gathered was used to produce a film called Titans of the Deep. A Standard A was also used by the Ornithology Lab at Cornell University to capture some of the last images of the now (possibly) extinct ivory-billed woodpecker.

DeVry Standards were used as combat camera by the British Army Film and Photographic Unit throughout World War Two. DeVry cameras captured the North Africa campaign, the Normandy invasion and the liberation of the Bergen-Belson concentration camp. The Imperial War Museums have several DeVrys in their permanent collection as well as audio recordings with veterans of the Film and Photographic unit. After the war a Standard A was shot into space on top of a captured V2 rocket.

Use of the DeVry camera faded after World War Two. The use of the 18fps model was limited by it’s inability to run at sound speed, but the 24fps model continued to see use by amateur, experimental and documentary filmmakers. As war surplus Eyemo cameras, which were newer, lighter and operated and variable speeds, flooded the market the market the use of DeVry cameras declined. The DeVry was eventually replaced when the production of educational and documentary films almost entirely switched to much lighter and more advanced 16mm cameras.

Today the DeVry Standard A is a collectors item. The arrival of digital post production means any model of the Standard A can still be useful, but the camera’s use is limited by the fact that the original production run was so short. Most DeVrys were poorly maintained or improperly stored over the years, meaning they need a thorough cleaning, lubrication and adjustment before use. The limited production run means spare parts are in short supply and getting a DeVry Standard A back into operating condition can be difficult.

Less is More

Here are the results of the short 65-foot test I shot. The image is still jittering, but doesn’t the spring weather in Michigan look great?

I did make some adjustments to the camera after shooing this test, and another 300 feet of footage are on their way to the lab. There’s another 500 feet for me to shoot after that, and I’m going to keep testing SN 2708 until the jittering problem is solved.

Expect the Unexpected

Thanks to better than expected weather and an unexpected family trip I was able to shoot another two-hundred foot test today. I adjusted and oiled SN 2708 after my second test and the camera operated even more smoothly than before.

I have not been trying to tell a story with the shots I’ve been taking for the two most recent camera tests. I’ve focused on getting SN 2708 properly tuned and the shots I’ve taken have all been short snippets of events. From this point on I am concentrating on shooting footage in coverage that can be assembled into short actualities to be presented on this site.

I’m still waiting on the second test to return from the lab. The footage should arrive this week.