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REEL LIFE / FILM & VIDEO FILE : Collection of Cameras Sheds Light on the Past : Wes Lambert of Camarillo has more than 80 of the cinematic novelties, dating from 1898. He says, 'Every one of them has a story.'


Inside a dimly lit garage in Camarillo, Wes Lambert demonstrates a motion picture device that predates Thomas Edison. The device, a perforated cylinder with drawings inside, creates, when rotated, an optical illusion called persistence of vision, which makes it seem as if the images are moving.

"Movies weren't invented by Thomas Edison or anyone," Lambert explained. "They just evolved."

He has some authority on the topic. Lambert's own persistence and vision have led him to accumulate the largest private collection of antique, hand-crank movie cameras in the country--more than 80 of them, the oldest from 1898.

"Every one of them has a story," he said.

And he's more than willing to tell them too. Point to a wooden box on the wall or a curiously shaped black steel case with a lens on it and Lambert is ready with a discourse on camera arcana. Take the Bell and Howell 2709B, for instance.

"This was the first camera with a metal magazine (to hold the film) and multiple lenses. The registry between the frames is so good that it's still used to film animation."

And the weird looking device next to it?

"That's a 1912 Akley, serial No. 2. It was the first action camera. Akley was a British taxidermist who filmed gorillas. He had so much trouble with the cameras then available, that he designed his own. It was the first camera you could pan with just one hand. It was so easy to use that it became the standard camera for newsreels and filming sports."

All of this couldn't be further removed from Lambert's own film experience. For 24 years he supervised and designed high-speed movie cameras and other optical instrumentation to gather data for missile tests in the California desert and later at the Point Mugu Pacific Missile Test Center.

Lambert's own contribution to the world of photography from his test center days is a multimedia array of white enamel lenses, all the size of cannon barrels, mounted on a 1,000-pound platform that takes its inspiration from anti-aircraft guns. It is about as far removed from the wooden, hand-crank cameras as a rhinoceros is from a troglodyte.

Still, his heart is with the old stuff. The list of cinematic novelties he possesses is exhaustive: a movie camera that photographs on glass plates, one of Edison's cameras, a Japanese movie camera shaped like a machine gun that was used for training Imperial Japanese aircraft gunners--there is always one more thing Lambert has to show his guests.

"Look at this one. It's a French camera called the Sept. That means seven in French. They named it that because it has seven functions."

Lambert demonstrates how the palm-sized black box can take movies, still pictures and even function as a projector or enlarger.

As enthusiastic as he is, Lambert, 70, knows he has to make arrangements for the collection.

"I'd like to see it in a museum in Hollywood, but I'll probably end up selling it and putting the money in a trust fund for my grandchildren's education."

So how will Lambert get used to the empty garage once he sells his precious collection?

"Oh, the garage won't be empty. My wife will finally be able to park her car in there."

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