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The complex story of the development of motion picture cameras by Birt Acres and Robert William Paul now needs to be re-told, following the investigative work that has led to the building of a working replica of arguably the most important of these cameras, the one used to film the Derby horse race in 1895.The project initially examined the British patent drawings and workshop drawing of what were believed to be the first designs by Acres and Paul for their version of a motion picture camera using 35mm perforated film. Their respective contributions to the design are still a matter of considerable debate.It soon became clear that the design as shown in the British patent would not be easy to interpret and reproduce as an actual machine. The nature of the gearing was only sketched in, and raised a number of difficult questions.  The design shown in a workshop drawing (possibly the machine known as the ‘Kinetic Camera’ ) would not have produced the profile that can be seen in the photograph of Acres filming the Derby horse race in the Spring of 1895.

It was soon realized by the team’s chief engineer that the layout as shown in the later German patent (filed under the name of ‘agent’ Paul Müller) exactly fitted the unusual camera shape of the ‘Derby’ camera.

As with all of the other replicas the camera has now been tested and works well. A full test programme establishing the viable camera running speeds might also help to confirm that the surviving film believed to show the 1895 Derby was shot on the original with this mechanical design.

The relative contributions of Birt Acres and Robert Paul to this camera design will never be fully established, but most likely the clamping mechanism principle that’s central to the workings of any of these 1895 cameras was originally conceived by Acres – but any statements about whose input was most important are subjective.




 Replica Camera Mechanism