The Kubrick Files Ep. 3 – Kubrick’s Cameras


In photos of Kubrick on set and in his daily life, you’ll quite often find him holding a camera. He got is start as a photographer, but after he transitioned into filmmaking, he would still shoot photos. Kubrick was a bit of a gear-head and had strong feelings about what he thought was the best equipment.

Matthew Modine, who played private Joker in Full Metal Jacket, was nervous about meeting Kubrick for the first time. A friend of his gave him an old Rolleiflex camera to help break the ice with Kubrick, seeing as Kubrick had a background in photography.

Kubrick’s recommendation was a Minolta and, whereas Modine ended up sticking with the Rolleiflex, it got me thinking—what were the cameras that Kubrick liked?

When Stanley Kubrick was thirteen years old, his father Jack Kubrick gave him a special gift. Jack Kubrick, a professional physician, was also an amateur photographer and the gift he gave his son was a Graflex camera. Stanley took to it immediately becoming a photographer for his school’s newspaper (Kubrick Archive). A neighbor of his named Marvin Traub had a dark room in his bedroom and the two would often go around New York City taking pictures. At the Kubrick exhibit in San Francisco, they had a Graflex PacemakerSpeed Graphic Camera there—I’m not sure if it was Kubrick’s personal camera, but this would be the camera that he would use quite a lot at Look Magazine.

When Stanley was sixteen years old, he received another camera as a present—a Kodak Monitor 620. This camera shoots on 620 film—a medium format film—that is much larger than the 35mm film that most are used to. The pictures give an extremely great amount of detail.

620 film was discontinued in 1995, but they still make 120 film which is pretty much the same film, it just comes on a different spool, which you can re-spool for use in a 620 camera.

User sbsk uploaded a gallery identifying many of the cameras Kubrick is seen holding in several photos throughout his life. I’ve put a link to the gallery in the description if you’d like to take a look. Others were identified by the Stanley Kubrick Archives book and other resources.

Kubrick is around eighteen years old here and he is holding a Rolleiflex Automat Model RF 111A. This camera was produced between 1937 and 1939. It is a medium format camera and shoots on 120 film. You can also see that it is a twin-reflex camera, which means that there are two lenses—one you can look through and one that takes the picture.

And here he is with a Rolleiflex K2. It is likely that this photo was taken by his father in 1946. He is holding a flashbulb attachment although, he very rarely used a flash in his photos. This was the main camera he used before he joined Look Magazine (Quiz Kid).

He continued to use Rolleiflex cameras—here he is with a Model K4 and here’s another photo, this time, with a 35mm Rollei.

When Kubrick worked as a photographer for Look Magazine, he used a Graflex PacemakerSpeed Graphic Camera. This was the main kind of camera used by the American press before the mid-1960s.

Kubrick was known to use a Polaroid Pathfinder 110A on his film sets for continuity, but also to test the lighting setups. The Polaroid would be set up to give an image that looked very close to what the motion picture camera would produce. This way he could see what the setups would look like on film before he shot the scene.

This famous self-portrait of Kubrick was taken with a Leica IIIc. The IIIc also makes an appearance in his other self-portraits—this one, and this one.

If you’ve followed my channel, you’ve probably seen this photo of Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke working on writing 2001: A Space Odyssey. This camera on the desk is a Pentax K.

Here he is holding a Hasselblad—another medium format camera.

I’m not sure about this one, but it looks like it could be a Nikon F.

I’m also not sure about this one. It could be a Leica. Let me know in the comments if you have an idea.

This picture was taken in 1961 on the set of Lolita. I believe that this is a Leica around his neck, but I’m not sure what the model is.

Here, he is holding a Nikon F.

And here, this tiny camera is a Subminiature Minox. This was a spy camera and shot on 8mm film.

I wasn’t able to find any pictures of him holding it, but he also shot some stills on a 35mm Widelux. Check out the final episode of How Kubrick Made 2001: A Space Odyssey to hear me talk about it.

Considering Kubrick’s love for still cameras, it isn’t surprising that a lot of these cameras managed to find their way into his films.

In Full Metal Jacket, Joker teams up with a combat photographer named Rafterman while he works as a war correspondent for Stars and Stripes. Rafterman was played by Kevyn Major Howard who is an actual photographer. Howard mainly shoots headshots for film and television actors.

In the film, we can see two Nikon F cameras around Rafterman’s neck. This was not unusual for combat photographers. Quite often, the photographers would have a camera with one kind of lens and another camera with a different lens, so that they could quickly use whatever camera works best for each situation. Often times, one camera would have a low ISO film and another camera would have a high ISO film for different lighting conditions. did a profile on this camera where they mentioned that the Nikon F was famous for its use by actual combat photographers in the Vietnam War. In fact, a British photojournalist named Don McCullin was saved by a Nikon F when it stopped a bullet aimed at his head (Lomography).

A Nikon F also makes an appearance in Lolita being held by Peter Seller’s backstage at Lolita’s play. This camera looks very similar to the Nikon F that Kubrick was seen with on the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Could it be the same one?

When it came to motion picture cameras, Kubrick was quite fond of his Arriflex 35 2C Handheld Camera. This camera had Cooke Speed Panchro Prime Lenses. It was pretty lightweight – you can see that there are three lenses that are mounted on the camera at the same time in order to change easily. This camera could hold 200 feet of film, which equates to about two minutes of shooting. The lens sitting next to the camera is a Kinoptik Tegea 9.8mm wide angle lens that Kubrick would use for shots with “extended depth of field” (Kubrick Exhibit).

Here is Kubrick using his Arriflex 2C on A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick was known to shoot all of the handheld shots in his films himself (nakedfilmmaking). Here is the same camera on Barry Lyndon. notes that, around this time, Kubrick opted for smaller crews than the ones used on traditional studio pictures. This way, he could save money and shoot longer (nakedfilmmaking). You can also see the 2C here with a 9mm Kinoptic lens for that super wide shot of the reporters (nakedfilmmaking).

And of course, what’s a camera without a lens?

At the Stanley Kubrick exhibit when it was in San Francisco, they had an entire room devoted to Kubrick’s lenses. There were a bunch of lenses that Kubrick filmed with, which were adapted from still camera lenses.

This Novoflex telephoto lens—a 400mm f5.6 lens— was made for still photography and Kubrick had it adapted for use on Barry Lyndon and other films (Kubrick Exhibit).

Here are some lenses that Kubrick got for a Mitchel BFC 65mm camera. After using front projection for the Dawn of Man sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick wanted to use this technique again for subsequent films. He bought the Mitchel BFC 65mm camera to shoot what would be the backdrops for other films, but ultimately decided against it (Kubrick Exhibit). Many of these lenses had to be converted to fit the Mitchel camera.

This large Cooke Varotal 20-100mm T3 zoom lens was used on several of Kubrick’s films since the early 1970s. The placard at the museum said that this lens was last used “to shoot Nicole Kidman and Sky DuMont dancing in Eyes Wide Shut” (Kubrick Exhibit). To the right is a lens that was adapted for 35mm use from 16mm and this lens was used for the long zoom shots in Barry Lyndon and A Clockwork Orange.

Perhaps the most famous of Kubrick’s lenses is the Zeiss Planar 50mm F0.7 lens by Carl Zeiss. This lens was used on the interior scenes for Barry Lyndon. Kubrick wanted to shoot exclusively in natural light and, in some scenes, the interiors were lit only with candle light. This would have been impossible to capture on motion picture film as there didn’t exist a motion picture lens to capture a proper exposure in such low lighting conditions. Kubrick, delightfully stubborn as he was, decided to adapt a lens that had only been used by NASA at that point. The lens has an F-Stop of 0.7 which indicates “the relation between [the] focal length and [the] diameter of [the] maximum aperture” (Kubrick Exhibit). This refers to how large the opening is that the lens is seeing through. The larger the opening is, the more light is able to reach the film. The number after “F” has to do with how big the opening can get and the smaller the number, the bigger the opening, which is known as how “fast” the lens is. During that time, an F0.7 lens was able to get two stops faster than any other high-speed lens available (Kubrick Exhibit). Kubrick had the lens “redesigned by Cinema Products” so that it would work with his “Mitchell BNC 35mm camera” (Kubrick Exhibit).

Now, there isn’t a lens in the world that can save a bad story, but Kubrick’s quest for perfection applied to every phase of making his films and the equipment was no exception.

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The Stanley Kubrick Archives Book

Camera Cameos: Nikon F on Full Metal Jacket:

The Kubrick Exhibit Book

“Camera Quiz Kid” by Mildred Stagg



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