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Two views of the Debrie Sept, not just one of the earliest 35mm cameras but also one of earliest with a built-in motor drive.


1922: Debrie Sept

Launched three years before the first Leica, which popularised 35mm film, the Sept also took 35mm, though not in the kind of cassettes that would later become the norm. It is one of the first cameras with a built-in clockwork motor drive. (The very first was a French camera called Le Pascal.)


The Sept takes the form of a square-cornered box with the motor, whose high-tension spring is wound by a large key, mounted in a housing on the side. The result is a camera that is extremely heavy for its size of 13.5x7x11cm, including the motor box, weighing in at 1.8 kilograms.


The camera was originally known as the Photo Cine Sept because it was a still camera and short-run movie camera combined. Popular with newsreel photographers of the 1920s, who were more used to working with much larger cameras on heavy tripods, it could be operated hand-held to give a 15-second burst of movie action to each loading.


With the camera in its still mode, the Sept shoots around 250 pictures, each one 18x24mm half frame size, in a continuous sequence or one at a time, the clockwork motor winding the film automatically after each exposure. The shutter provides instantaneous or time exposures.


The Sept is so called because the word is French for seven, the number of

ways it could be used:


  1. As a still camera,

  2. As a sequential camera for taking a rapid sequence of still pictures,

  3. As a cine camera,

  4. With the attachment of a suitable light source, as a still projector,

  5. Likewise, as a cine projector,

  6. Likewise, as an enlarger,

  7. With an unexposed film fed through the camera alongside a developed film, to print a strip of negatives as a positive film strip or short cine sequence.

Right: Inside the camera, showing the cassettes that hold the film.

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