ACL vs. ACL II

During the course of its production, the ACL went through various changes.  There are two official models of the camera, the ACL (1971) and the ACL II (1979).  Prior to the ACL II, éclair made various changes and improvements to the basic ACL, so some people have come to use the name ACL 1.5, but this is quite confusing as it can refer to any number of evolution over an 8 year period.  In some of its literature, éclair uses the names Type ‘74, Type ‘78, and so forth to identify this evolution.

It would be logical to assume that the ACL II is a superior camera to the previous ACL. However, in fact, the camera body and mechanism hardly changed at all, and a properly maintained ACL body with the correct accessories can be rendered virtually identical to an ACL II.

While the ACL II was an official release, it is more difficult to differentiate between an ACL and ACL 1.5 because the upgrades that are considered 1.5 were added incrementally by éclair over the years.  Cameras were produced that have some, but not all of the 1.5 upgrades.  After 30 years of use, nearly every ACL has had a part or two upgraded that would make it resemble a 1.5 version.  However, there are several key upgrades that are generally recognized as the distinguishing features for each version:

  • Motors: The ACL has a small motor fixed at 24/25fps (recommended only for 200′ magazines).  The ACL 1.5 and ACL II have an upgraded heavy-duty motor (made by the French electronics giant THOMSON-CSF) which pulls 400′ magazines and runs at up to from 8 fps to 75fps.
  • Viewfinders: The ACL has non-erect image rotatable or fixed viewfinders.  The ACL 1.5 has an erect image Angénieux dove-prism orientable viewfinder.  The ACL II has an erect image KINOPTIK orientable viewfinder.  An LED relative light meter was optional on the ACL 1.5 and included on the ACL II (however, this is sometimes removed during Super 16 conversions).
  • Bodies: If the body is etched with MADE IN ENGLAND then it is definitely an original ACL.  The ACL has a Jaeger 4-pin female power connector.  The ACL 1.5 and ACL II may have MADE IN FRANCE etched and include a standard (Cannon) 4-pin XLR male power connector.  The ACL 1.5 has a medium base.  The ACL II has an enlarged flat base (toggle switch) with ACL inscribed and a side mount for an on-board battery.  The ACL has a sliding magazine lock while the ACL 1.5 and ACL II have a flip-top magazine lock.
  • Handgrips: The ACL and ACL 1.5 have a straight handgrip.  The ACL II has an ergonomic handle with an on/off button.

The Original ACL (ACL 1)

The original ACL included a small 24/25fps motor (for 200′ magazines only) and a non-orientable viewfinder.

The ACL has the smallest and lightest body of all the versions.  The biggest drawback is the small motor, which is not capable of pulling 400′ magazines without losing sync, blowing a fuse or burning out the motor.  A technician easily replaces motors with a heavy-duty motor, the original ACL offers the advantage of being more compact and easier to operate hand-held.

Another drawback is the non-orientable viewfinder.  This does not have any effect on the footage; however, it can be an inconvenience for the cinematographer when holding the camera at unusual angles.  The viewfinder can also be replaced with an orientable version.

The final drawback of the ACL is the shutter driveshaft design is not technically designed for running at 75fps, though it may run perfectly fine at high-speed depending on the camera.  A technician can also upgrade the driveshaft.

The ACL 1.5

The designation ACL 1.5 was never used by éclair and is essentially the same camera as the original ACL, with the addition of several improved accessories.  The 1.5 includes an Angénieux orientable viewfinder and a variable speed heavy-duty motor capable of pulling 400′ magazines.  The body has a slightly larger, medium sized base and a built-in light meter.

A significant internal change was the addition of a longer, single bearing in the shutter driveshaft to accommodate the 75fps rate of the new motor (rather than a separate bearing on the top and bottom as in the ACL).

Other minor changes over the years included moving from a hardened steel connecting rod to a plastic rod, and a flip-top magazine release-latch cover replaced the sliding lock

The ACL II

It is the official éclair successor to the ACL.  This camera body includes a large base for future electronics, anatomic handgrip with toggle switch and an on-board battery.  The viewfinder is a brighter KINOPTIK orientable viewfinder.  The side handle-adapter includes running and sync lamps and a jack for connecting the ergonomic handgrip switch.

The ACL II includes all improvements that are found on the 1.5 including: flip-top magazine lock, heavy-duty motor, camera shutter driveshaft modification and 4-pin XLR power connector.  The top carrying handle is shorter and flatter than the 1.5.

Differences between British and French bodies

The British and French bodies differ in functionally unimportant ways – a slightly different aerodynamic style of the mirror shaft, a different rounding of the aperture plate’s edges (British has a gentle slope while French has a harder edge), and a slightly lighter-weight transmission shaft housing on the British model. The British and French models use different diameter gears in the mechanism (these parts are not interchangeable between British and French cameras).

More negligibly, the British model has an extra screw to the right and left rear sidepieces of the body, and an extra screw on top of the plastic cover going into the latch assembly block. The French model has the serial number on the side of the housing, the British on the left rear.

A cover that flips over the top of the magazine release on the ACL II replaces the sliding lock on the ACL 1 and 1.5 designed to keep the magazine release from being depressed. Neither design successfully prevented magazines from prematurely falling off! The best lock of all is to use part of a clothespin (clothes peg) wedged between the top of the magazine and the release latch; this forces the latch to stay engaged in the magazine.

Both British and French bodies and mechanisms function identically with the exception of the shutter driveshaft modification of bearing to accommodate 75fps.

Feature comparison for identifying ACL versions:

Today, so many ACL packages have been put together by mixing pieces from different era cameras (mutts), that an item billed as an ACL II may not necessarily be exactly as it originally came from the factory. Therefore, it makes more sense today to run down a list rather than to rely on the terms: ACL 1, 1.5 and II.

NOTE: If an ACL was MADE IN ENGLAND, then technically it could only have been an ACL 1 — the ACL 1 shutter driveshaft was technically not designed for 75fps, although it would seem that having your technician add a custom-made long bearing would likely retrofit the camera to factory-like specifications for high-speed use. Just make sure that if you use 200′ magazines, they have the high-speed roller configuration (see above).

ACL MiE

ACL ACL 1.5 ACL II
Body British or French, both are equally functional (75fps difference in shutter driveshaft at TOP)
Magazine latch lock Slide beneath latch Flip-cover over-top latch Flip-cover over-top latch
Battery connection Jaeger mini-plug Jaeger mini-plug Full-sized CANNON 4-pin XLR plug
Battery type
External External On-board with 2 vertical keyhole slot mounts
Viewfinder Angénieux rotatable, fixed (non-erect image) Angénieux orientable (erect image) KINOPTIK HC orientable (erect image)
Motor 24-25fps Multi-speed, heavy-duty Multi-speed, heavy-duty with external sync
Base Small sliding switch Medium sliding switch Large toggle-switch with ACL inscribed on bottom
Carrying handle Large Large Small & wide
Handgrip Regular with 2 gelatin filter holders, no switch Regular with 2 gelatin filter holders, no switch Ergonomic handle with on/off push button
7-LED light-meter None Optional Optional
Elongated bearing in shutter driveshaft for 75fps None Available Available