Introducing the VistaVision Butterfly Camera

A number of years ago, I acquired this Mitchell VistaVision Butterfly camera with the intention of using it to shoot plates for visual effects sequences. When it arrived, all but one of the magazines were frozen closed and every bit of equipment had case foam adhered to it. I was able to use the one functional 400’ magazine, scraped and washed all the case foam off the camera, and shot with it a grand total of one time. The camera went back into storage pretty much as you see it in the pictures here and remained there for at least 15 years. With the renewed interest in shooting on film, and especially in large format, history demanded I bring this camera back to life.

I was glad to see that the several handfuls of desiccant packs I put in its case kept the camera in good condition while it was being stored. With a little more scraping of case rot off the camera and the one working magazine, and some very heavy re-lubrication, the camera ran like a dream. Feeling confident that the camera was still in shooting condition, I turned my attention to repairing the four 1000’ magazines and the four 400’ magazines.

The magazines are made of cast magnesium and showed a tremendous amount of oxidation in every nook and cranny. All of the lids were welded shut from oxidation. Slow and careful work with penetrating oil, nylon punches, and a special tool I put together out of parts that came from Mark Armistead’s rental facility let me eventually get all the lids free. The magazines all need to be stripped, cleaned, primed, and repainted to put them back in shooting condition.

As you can see in the pictures, I was able to complete this operation for the first of the 8 magazines this week. One down, seven still to go! Once I am done with the magazines, I will show you how the camera is serviced and I’ll demonstrate the camera running with film.