The Bell & Howell 1620 is a dual 8 MM motion picture projector made by Bowe Bell & Howell, a technical achievement Oscar-winning motion picture equipment company founded in 1907. In the 1960's and 1970's, Bell & Howell was a leading manufacturer of small format film production and exhibition equipment. The 1620 was a mid-priced projector for the amateur home movie market.
Dual 8 MM
The Bell & Howell 1620 is a dual 8 MM projector, meaning it can project both regular 8 MM and Super 8 MM film formats. Introduced by Kodak in 1932 as "Cine Kodak Eight," 8 MM was an affordable alternative to 16 MM film aimed at the amateur home movie market. A single frame of regular 8 MM film, also known simply as "8 MM" or "split 8 MM," is one-quarter the size of a 16 MM frame. Super 8 MM, introduced by Kodak in 1965, featured smaller sprocket holes and an image area roughly 50 percent larger than a regular 8 MM film frame. Similar in concept to DVD-VCR combination units sold in the 1990's, Dual 8 MM projectors could project super 8 MM film while remaining backwards-compatible with regular 8 MM. The 1620 can be switched between the two format modes by way of the "R-8/S-8" knob.
The Bell & Howell 1620 is part of the Autoload series. Unlike earlier home movie projectors, which had to be hand-threaded, autoload projectors could automatically thread reel-to-reel film. The user places the end of the film leader through a guide roller and into the autoload slot. Upon starting the projector, the transport sprockets engage and pull the leader past the lamp aperture, through the lower film guide assembly, and out of a slot just below the take-up reel. Using the same mechanism, the 1620 could also rewind through the system. Many older projector models could only rewind outside of the system by attaching the tail directly to the feed reel.
The 1620 projects at a constant rate of 18 frames-per-second, also known as "normal" speed for regular and super 8 MM film. Higher-end 1600 series models like the Bell & Howell 1623 featured Multi-Motion, which provided three operating speeds: 18 frame-per-second, six frame-per-second slow motion and two frame-per-second "step motion."
The 1620's drive mechanism uses one of three types of helical gears. Early and interim production units used two types of molded plastic gears with narrower teeth, but these were replaced by wider, more durable metal gears. Though similar in size, the three gear types are not interchangeable. In the case of a broken plastic gear, Bell & Howell recommended removing both gears and replacing them with the updated metal variety.
A sliding lever allows the user to adjust aperture framing in real time -- whether the projector is running or not.
The Bell & Howell 1620 is fitted with a model #015223 Lamp Socket for Atlas Type A1/230 12V 7SW projector bulbs.
Adjusting a lever-locked gravity foot underneath the front of the projector increases or decreases the vertical angle of the projection beam.
The Bell & Howell 1620 can hold up to a 400-foot-capacity film reel.
- International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 29. St. James Press, 1999.
- Cine Information: Bell & Howell: Projector: Autoload 1620 XS, 1623 X, 1620 XST & 1623 XT: Service Manual
- Kodak: Super 8 MM Film History
Tim Hesse has been writing professionally since 2000. He has written and edited for a variety of print and online publications, including Salon.com Tech Tips, FOXSports and Automated Homefinder. Hesse enjoys covering music, film, the open-source movement, education and the arts. He studied cinema and television production at the University of Southern California.