Geared and Belt Heads – Part 1

Professional Motion Picture Camera Support

Written by Ryan Patrick O’Hara

At the dawn of cinema, (roughly 1895), the motion picture camera found itself appropriately established upon the still photographer’s tripod system. It would not be long until motion picture cameramen discovered and desired the ability to move the camera during the shot. The earliest tripod heads, which incorporated the ability to pan (shortly thereafter pan and tilt), show an uncanny resemblance to future geared head technology and design.

The text, A History of Early Film Volume II by Stephen Herbert, is a series of collected film article reprints from material dating from the mid 1890’s to around 1914. These articles serve as a glimpse into the technical side of early film history. Within the collection, a reprint of The Handbook of Kinematography by Colin N Bennett (1911), outlines the main difference between the photography tripod and the motion picture tripod within Chapter III:

“…And that last remark about the tripod leads on insensibly to consideration of this absolutely indispensable part of the motion picture man’s equipment. Tripods for motion picture work differ from those used in still view photography chiefly on two points, one being their weight… and the other the presence of mechanical turning movements in the tripod head.”

The following diagrams and text are edited excerpts from The Handbook of Kinematography (1911).  One can see the familiar resemblance to what can only be described as the foundation and evolutionary ancestor of the modern day geared head.

Fig. 1 Wrench Revolving Tripod Head with Tilting Table

“Tripods for motion picture work differ from those used in still view photography chiefly on two points, one being their weight fourteen to sixteen pounds is very moderate for a kinematograph tripod and the other the presence of mechanical turning movements in the tripod head. Figs. 1 and 3 illustrate two forms of mechanical tripod heads, the first from those excellent makers of apparatus, Wrench and Son, and the other from Pathe Freres. The simpler one, possessing only one handle, is what is known as a ‘panoram’ head. In this case, the table top surface upon which the camera is bolted, can be made to revolve slowly round and round in either direction, by virtue of turning the actuating handle to or from the operator.

Fig. 2 Urban Cine Cameras Model DX and BX mounted on Geared Heads

The more complicated tripod head possesses beyond this panoram action, a second camera tilting device, also worked by a handle-turning attachment, and sometimes referred to as a ‘ maxim ‘ movement, from the similarity between it and the elevating mechanism of the Maxim gun. The Maxim attachment is very convenient at all times, and especially where it is desired to obtain a wide panorama of objects above or beneath the camera level.

Fig. 3 A “Complicated” Tripod Head

In fact, without it, such slanting panoramic attempts are sure to show a tipping of the horizon at some point or other in the resulting picture. Illustration 16 gives another close view of  the combined revolving and tilting head as fitted to one of Messrs. Butcher’s motion picture tripods.”

Fig. 4 Another  Type of Tripod Head

The simpler version of the motion picture tripod, the ‘panoram’ head, could only turn side to side, while the more complicated motion picture tripod possessed a second ‘tilting’ mechanism sometimes known as the ‘maxim’ movement. Both movements were mechanically controlled by the cameraman via handles or cranks connected to a series of gears. Noticing the placement, operation, and likeness of the handles and gears (especially in fig. 4), it should be obvious that even the earliest geared heads would serve inspiration to the future design of larger geared heads and the modern geared heads.

The larger cradle design geared head was developed around the time sound was being introduced into moving
pictures. The cameras had grown in considerable size, now being contained within a blimp housing. Although the cradle design matchs what we consider the standard form of a modern day geared heads; these geared heads lacked technological advancements and performance standards which is associated with the modern geared head.

As time progressed, so would other tripod head designs, such as friction heads. In 1949 Chadwell O’Connor, an amateur locomotive filmmaker, invented the world’s first counterbalanced fluid drag camera head, which enabled his pictures to be smooth.

Chadwell O’Connor and George Worrall

Three years later, in 1952, a man by the name of George Worrall invented the Worrall Geared Head. This milestone in professional camera support is considered to be the birth of the modern geared head. So much so, that in 1996 the Society of Operating Cameramen (SOC) awarded Worrall with the Technical Achievement award for the… “Invention, introduction, and the development of the Worrall Geared Head in 1952, the first stable, smooth and balanced triple- mode geared head.”

The following is an excerpt from the SOC magazine:

“The truth is, George Worrall refused to call it an invention,” related Dean Cundey. “He insisted it was simply a mechanical device based on common sense.” Cundey joked about his first job as an operator which ironically fell into his lap when his DP was not able to operate anything but a fluid head. Cundey said wryly, “Thanks George for all the laughs your device provided over the years as we watched producers and directors try to follow the action with those ‘oh so confusing’ wheels.” Accepting the award on his father’s behalf was George Worrall Jr. He thanked the SOC and then provided a short video of his dad working at their machine shop and saying to the attendees, “I’m gratified and very thankful to be honored by the users of my geared head. Thank you.”

Worrall Geared Head

Upon the almost concurrent birth of the fluid head and what is considered the modern geared head, future professional motion picture camera support would be primarily divided between these two systems.

The following pages are a compiled listing of geared head makes and models which are common and uncommon in the industry. For the sake of brevity, it should be mentioned the phrase ‘geared head’ has and will continue to refer to both gear and belt driven heads. Many of the following makes or models are not currently produced and lack readily available technical information.

• Arrihead I
• Arrihead II
• Arri/Mitchell Geared Head
• Ceco Blimp Type 2-Speed Geared Head (TH-7)
• Ceco Pro-Jr. Geared Head
• GearNex Gearhead
• Houston Fearless Cradle Head (Not a Geared Head)
• MGM Geared Head
• Mitchell Geared Head
• Mitchell Mini (Lightweight) Geared Head
• Mitchell Vitesse Geared Head
• Mitchell Vista-Vision Geared Head
• Mole Richardson Geared Heads (Not a Modern Geared Head)
• Moy 16” Classic
• Moy 16” Standard
• Moy, Samcine Geared Head
• Moy, Samcine MkIII Geared Head
• Moy 16” Neptune Underwater Head
• Moy 22” Legend
• Moy 12” Mini
• NCE Geared Head
• NCE Cradle Geared Head & Model CGH
• NCE Jr. Geared Head
• NCE/Ultrascope MkI
• NCE/Ultrascope MkII
• NCE/Ultrascope MkIII
• Panahead
• Panahead, Super
• Panahead, Compact
• Raby Geared Head
• QuickSet 4-72512-3 Geared Head (slide tilt)
• QuickSet 4-72612-S3 Geared Head
• QuickSet 4-52217-3 Geared Head w/ Large Platform
• QuickSet 4-52926-9 Geared Head w/ Calibrations
• QuickSet 4-62926-7 Geared Head w/ Calibrations
• Sea Head (currently unknown)
• Technovision Technohead MkI
• Technovision Technohead MkII (H)
• Technovision Technohead MkIII
• Worrall
• Worrall Mini

Arriheads Arnold & Richter Cine Technik, Germany

Arrihead

Arri has two models on the market the Arrihead, and the Arrihead 2. However, the Arrihead has been discontinued and can only be found in the rental market. The Arrihead 2 is the current production model and can be purchased from Arnold & Richter Cine Technik GmbH & Co. Betriebs KG (worldwide from The Arri Group Inc.)

Arrihead (Belt Driven)
Tilt Angle: +- 30 degrees, +- 90 degrees with tilt plate.
Tilt plate increments: 13, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60 degrees

Gear Positions: (Five position gearbox)
1 (65 turns for 360° pan)
Neutral
2 (35.5 turns for 360° pan)
Neutral
3 (19 turns for 360° pan)

1 (17.5 turns for full 60° tilt)
Neutral
2 (9.25 turns for full 60° tilt)
Neutral
3 (4.75 turns for full 60° tilt)

Camera mounting: Quick release. 180mm forward and back Arri bridge plate (dovetail)
Pan/tilt drive: Tilt handle laterally adjusts up to 38 degrees to right 3-speed gear drive, plus neutrals. Gearboxes with 5:1 reduction ratio available. Locks & Levers: Tilt has two positive lock off brakes, while pan has one. Both have friction levers at the hand-wheels. Dimensions: height 30,5 cm (12”), length 50,8 cm (20”), width 28 cm (11”) without wheels. Weight: 18-20 kg. (39-43 lbs.)
Maintanence: Arrihead I does not need to be lubricated. Clean for dirt and dust.

Arrihead 2 (Belt Driven)

Arrihead 2

“Smaller, lighter in weight and equally efficient is the formula of the future. The ARRIHEAD 2 is it is successful product. With an equal equipment range and operating convenience, it is 8 cm shorter and approximately 4 kg’s (9 lbs.) lighter than the large ARRIHEAD.” Arri Group Inc.

Tilt Angle: +- 30 degrees, +- 90 degrees with tilt plate.
Tilt plate increments: 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60 degrees

Gear Positions: (Four position gearbox)
1 (65 turns for 360° pan)
Neutral
2 (35.5 turns for 360° pan)
3 (19 turns for 360° pan)

1 (17.5 turns for full 60° tilt)
Neutral
2 (9.25 turns for full 60° tilt)
3 (4.75 turns for full 60° tilt)

Camera mounting: Touch-n-go Quick Release 140mm forward and back Arri bridge plate (dovetail) Pan/tilt drive: Tilt handle laterally adjusts up to 38 degrees to right. Gearboxes with 5:1 reduction ratio available. Tilt has two positive lock off brakes, while pan has one. Both have friction levers at hand-wheels. Dimensions: Length 55,9 cm (22”), Width 33 cm (13”) without wheels.

Arri/Mitchell Geared Head

No information is available at this time. The Arri/Mitchell head is mentioned within a Clairmont Camera advertisement around the 1970’s. This photo is from another ad, but the words “MFG BY MITCHELL (illegible word) FOR ARRIFLEX” can be read, engraved on the cradle. Most likely an custom modified Mitchell or collaboration with Mitchell before making the ArriHead I head.

Houston Fearless Cradle Head

In 1950, the Houston Corporation of Los Angeles and Fearless Camera Company of Culver City merged to form the Houston Fearless Corporation. Among the camera equipment manufactured would eventually include the Houston Fearless Cradle. By 1964, Houston Fearless would be through with Hollywood, and begin contracted work for the US Government supplying high speed photo processing equipment to the Blackbird and U-2 Spy plane programs. A cradle head is like a geared head but lacks the geared wheel control. It’s controlled instead, by a pan-handle.

GearNexGeared Head

GearNex™ geared head Created in 2008 by CineToys. It was designed to provide anyone access to expensive Hollywood geared heads at an affordable price. The GearNeax geared head ships standard with a Mitchell mount. As an option, a 100mm or 150mm ball can be added. The GearNex™ ships with 6” hand wheels, however a 5” and 4” are also available.
Accessories: Risers, Eyepiece leveler, Sliding base plate with dovetail. The GearNex™ ships with 6” hand wheels, however a 5” and 4” are also available.

Geared Head (TH-7)

At first glance it looks like a friction head, but look closely and you’ll see it’s a rather tall, strong, and heavy geared head!                                
Tilt Angle: 45 degrees
Forward / Backward 42 degrees
Gear Positions: (Gear Driven / Two Speed Gearbox)
A 1967 Ad states the two speeds are ‘fast and slow’…
Height: 26,7 cm (10.5”)
Weight: 36,5 kg (80.5 lbs.)
Maximum Load: 91 kg (200 lbs.)

F&B/Ceco Professional Junior Geared Head

Nothing is currently known about this geared head except it has either a ¼ or 3/8” camera tie down screw and a ‘standard Pro-Jr’ flat base. It appeared in veral brief advertisements in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. From the build, price and name, one can assume the Pro-Jr is designed to be much more compact and light, compared to its big brother, the TH-7. he hand wheels have been replaced with cranks… something very reminiscent of ‘pre-modern’ gear based tripod heads.

Continued Part 2

You can visit the Web site of Ryan Patrick O’Hara Here

  1. I just added your blog site to my blogroll, I pray you would give some thought to doing the same.

  2. George Worrall is alway credited for creating the first geared head in 1952, i had a geared head dated 1937 ive found a picture of one and it is clearly dated Jan 1941, ive also found another picture of a 1950 production at Pinewood studios which also shows a MOY geared head. The Raby Camera Co also produce one under license to MOY in 1934.

    http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/american-actress-una-merkel-using-the-camera-dolly-to-rest-news-photo/3403706

    http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/two-women-chatting-in-a-film-studio-whilst-leaning-on-a-news-photo/3093630

    I think you will find that good old Mr Worrall may have stole the limelight a bit.

    The true credit should go to Leonard Moy of London who was there at least 20 years earlier.

  3. Hi There-
    I ended up with a Pro Jr. geared head (from a friend who found it at a Goodwill!) It’s a great head, and can hold my Mitchell GC no problem (although it looks a little silly)
    This one was made by Camera Equipment Co. out of NY
    The gearing is such that you would have to crank like a maniac for even a slow follow pan or tilt, so I suspect it was made for animation or large format work.

    • Dear Patrick,
      thank you for your comment and for the nice photo. The head seems very well preserved. However, I am sure this part is not intended for motion picture use, but for large format view cameras, as you said. This is supported by the gear ratio and the not tightly screwed cranks.
      Ferenc Kelle

  4. This site is excellent and informative so thank you for putting it all together, but I must point out that you are reinforcing a commonly held and highly irritating myth. Ignoring the perpetual arguments about who invented what first which have already been pointed out, the Arri heads are absolutely not belt driven. This myth does great damage to the reputation of the heads and as anyone who has built, stripped or serviced them knows has no foundation in truth. The belts you can see are nothing more than dust covers to protect the mechanism inside and keep it clean. The boat of the head is driven by a chain that wraps around a gear cluster inside, and the gearboxes are entirely mechanical and direct. There are no belts transferring drive.

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  6. Gregory John Jiruska

    Geared Heads is not the place for a friction braked PAN and TILT HEAD. The Houston Fearless Cradle Head was invented by my father, engineer John Lynn Jiruska / Jack Jiruska. He named his one man company Jackson Products. He licenced his patented invention to his future employer Houston Fearless. He needed something a lot better for his 300lb. RCA/NBC TK40 prototypes color TV cameras he was developing for General Sarnoff. He recieved a technical Oscar in 1954 for the color TV camera. AS an engineer / cameraman he shot Kukla Fran and Ollie-first electronic color TV show. Your Show of Shows. And the 1954 Rose Bowl Parade-first coast to coast color network broadcast. Which he built the New color mobile units for. He then went to Houston Fearless. Left and started his own company Ram Enigneering Corperation. Invented and patented his own color motion picture film proscessing equiptment for the CIA and NASA. He personaly operated his equiptment to develope the U-2 SPY PLANE film from Cuba, during the Cuban Missle Crisis for JFK. Because we could not put one of our film satelites up quick enough. His equiptment developed astronaut White,s first US space walk film. So we could watch it on TV. He then became the Director of Engineering Developement for the Piper Aircraft Company. Where he recieved an SAE award for the airconditioning of light aircraft. Then he owned Jackson Air Service and The Advanced Aircraft Company.

  7. Hello, just a quick question: do reduction gears fit onto a geared head and increase or reduce the number of turns of the wheel? For example, can they increase the number of turns for delicate pack shot work, or make whip pans faster? I’ve never used reduction gears. Thanks!

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