1955- The « Silent World » cameras

<< Back to Menu Page

<< Previous

After a prolific cruise in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean conducted in 1954, which resulted in highly successful conferences all over France, Cousteau decided to launch next year in making a major color film 35 mm.

He then puts construction of new underwater cameras, lighter, with increased autonomy, offering double-length film. Sophisticated cameras now do exist on the market : the Aquaflex, manufactured by the company Eclair, that operator Michel Rocca uses for several years for shooting underwater images of Willy Rosier films. But these sophisticated cameras have big defaults: their size and heaviness. Cousteau does not want to sacrifice the principle of the camera that can be handled as easily as a speargun. It loads André Laban, engineer of his new OFRS (French Office for Underwater Research), to develop new cameras, for which optical quality, autonomy and maneuverability shall be primary assets. Changing the lens underwater and reflex sight are considered secondary for the kind of shooting they do.

The originality of the box is the PVC plastic material resistant to pressure and corrosion. The principle of pressurizing the box, with a "breathable" device is abandoned. The cameras are developed based on the model Eyemo, portable professional camera 35 mm brand Bell & Owell. They just keep the shutter mechanism, the lens mount, the feed dog mechanism and hallway, as the small electric motor powered by a six volt battery that drives the mechanism. The box is a PVC cylinder, made of a tube welded whose hot-stamped ass is hemispherical. The front of the camera is made of a collar which receives the O-ring seal and the door front. The window, designed by Marcel Dratz, specialist at the optical department of the French Scientific Research Center, is of two types, either spherical targets for large angles, either plan for long focal length lenses. Laban, assisted by Claude Strada, draws a series of parts to adapt the camera to the box of reduced diameter. From a neutral weight in water, the camera weighs only 9 kg in the air, against 30 kg of ancient camera.

SM2 camera on the rear deck of the Calypso

Sixty meters film charger (1min 45sec) is generally sufficient to half an hour of diving. Two cameras are manufactured with enough spare parts to build a third. One, called SM1, with a round butt, looks like a gun. The other, SM2, provided with two handles, has a different grip. When the Calypso set sail for the cruise film, cameras were not tested. Tests were done during the journey, particularly fixed stop tests at Port Said. SM1 is victim of a fall that causes damages. It is used in the film as "actress" in the hands of divers, or placed on the rear deck of the Calypso. The SM2, seconded by the Leblay in pressurized chamber are the only cameras used for shooting the undersea images of the “Silent World”. The film used is Eastmancolor, more sensitive than Kodachrome, though a paltry 10 ASA sensitivity. Film sensitivity requires opening the diaphragm almost always at maximum. But the rule is to work with a wide-angle lens, large focus depth, to avoid having to worry about focus. The cameras have a lens prototype Cooke 18 mm focal length, with an aperture of F 1.7 (a level of performance never achieved at the time) or a lens Angénieux 18.5 mm. The grand opening permitted by these exceptional gears allows images up to 40 meters deep without any artificial light.

<< Back to Menu Page