Here's how a simple idea - and a passion for cameras - turned into a huge research project, weeks of recording at night, and ended up as an excellent collection of 3900+ mechanical sounds from 24 hand-picked cameras from the last century:
Written by Chris Skyes. Images courtesy of Chris Skyes.
A few months ago, like most people on this website, I was running around thrift stores, looking for strange and unusual props that I could record.
As I was being stared at, undoubtedly due to me rattling what looked like a vintage purse next to my ear, out of the corner of my eye I spot a really old film camera, sitting on a shelf, untouched.
With the shop owner’s eyes pinned on the strange young man in the corner of his establishment, shaking all of his merchandise, I reach out for the camera, gently pick it up and lift it up to my face.
It had obscure branding, Aiglon Atos-1 being etched into the leather case and onto the outside edge of the lens. It looked really old, and cool, and it smelled like my grandad’s suit, that he’s had since the 1950s.
I would later find out that I wasn’t that far off, as after some research, it turns out that it was most likely made somewhere in France in the 1940s or 50s.
Camera recording examples from Chris Skyes’ 20th Century Cameras SFX library
To the shop owner’s relief, I purchased it and left the store without actually breaking anything.
When I got home, I truly fell down the rabbit hole. I started researching old cameras, where they were made, how they worked, and more importantly, what kinds of sounds they could make.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I ended up purchasing around 50 cameras, all manufactured between the 1930s and 1970s.
At first, I went through all of them, and set aside all the cameras that did not function to a satisfactory degree. Eventually, I ended up with 24 cameras which worked well, and sounded distinct enough from one another.
Fueled by an already existing passion for photography, I found myself researching into each of these cameras, and began writing a kind of informal eBook to go along with the library.
Once the research was complete, and I felt confident that I knew quite a bit about each device, I grabbed my gear, and thus began a two week process of recording the cameras at night. I’d wake up at 2 PM, start recording around midnight and then finish around 6 AM, and go to bed.
The night shift recording was necessary due to the nature of some of the mechanical sounds. Naturally, as these cameras were not specifically designed to make loud noises, I had to ensure the best recording environment, free of birds, people, and the creepy sound of Ice Cream trucks going past my house.
AGFA Isolette (1950s) • AGFA Silette (1960s) • AGFA Unknown Model (1930s) • Aiglon Atos-1 (1950s) • Atlas No 2 (1930s) • Beier Beirette (1970s) • GB Kershaw 110 (1950s) • Halina Viceroy (1960s) • Houghton Synchro (1930s) • Ilford Envoy (1950s) • Kodak 620 JNR (1930s) • Kodak Colorsnap (1950s) • Kodak Brownie (1940s) • Kodak Instamatic 25 (1960s) • Kodak Instamatic 155x (1970s) • Kodak Junior 1 (1950s) • Kodak Six-20 (1940s) • Minolta AL (1960s) • Pentax Asahi (1970s) • Photo Plait Splendor (1940s) • Polaroid Colorpack 2 (1970s) • Praktica Nova (1960s) • Voigtlander (1930s) • Zenit EM (1970s)
Additionally, after recording all the mechanical sounds, I also recorded old rolls of film being handled, and installed into cameras, but this will come as a separate update to the library.
After the recording sessions were over, I checked the length of the audio files, and choked a little when I realised that I had 9 hours of audio files to comb through, edit, and tag with juicy metadata.
A few more weeks later, by the grace of the audio gods, the editing was complete. I finally found myself standing in front of my DAW, staring at 159 tracks, comprised of about 3900 sounds.
Now this was the crucial moment. I felt this immense desire to just get the library out there, and finally get it over with. But no, after all this time I put into editing and recording, perfecting the metadata was essential.
Even though I do my metadata as I go along, there is always a crucial step at the end where I perfect it and make sure it’s consistent not only throughout the library, but across my portfolio of libraries.
I spent a few days figuring out how to best describe the mechanical sounds, making sure I was as precise as possible, and checking spelling and numbers over and over.
Additionally, in the spirit of the library, I shot buttery smooth slow-motion B-roll of the cameras featured in the collection, and used it for the library preview.
And then, finally, it was over. The library was packaged, ready, and looking pretty. After consulting with Asbjoern about details here and there, with a mighty push of a button, the library went live.
If you want to grab a discounted copy, the library’s introductory discount will run until the 1st of June.
A big thanks to Chris Skyes for giving us a look at the making of ’20th Century Cameras’! Check out the full library below:
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