Pathé Three Color Camera


Here is an astounding Pathe camera, serial number 975, manufactured before 1914. It’s so incredibly rare to have a camera that shot color pictures from before there was any color film. Historically this represents a very special time in the motion picture industry.




This camera had to have a great silent era working career in the 1910s and then after sound was developed it continued to be useful up into the 1930s. That’s a much longer career than almost any Pathe camera.


Around 1934 Mr. Shirley Hunt had a special lens manufactured for this Pathe camera to prove a patent for his motion picture three-color system.

All black and white film color systems used a simple system of taking separate images through primary color filters and then projecting the images on a theater screen back through the same color filters. The problem was that the images were not taken at exactly the same time but were taken in successive order. The only color systems that semi-worked were two color as three color took too much screen time and the effect only worked due to human persistence of vision. The lag time of three-color images didn’t work with human eyes but the two-color system wasn’t much better. A huge problem with two color systems was that if your subject was close to the camera and travelling across frame the second image wasn’t registered in the same place as the first image and you would get what was called a color artifact during projection. The images seemed to chatter, first in red and then in green.



This color system takes three images simultaneously on a single frame of 35mm film so there will not be any color artifact. Inside the lens there is a prism with three color filters, red, blue and yellow. Each image has its own color. When projected back through the same lens, prism and filters the three images converge into one on the screen, in color. The patent title is “Natural Color Cinematography”.


Mr. Shirley Hunt patented his three-color process and after using this Pathe camera to prove his system worked scaled it up to a single strip process using three lenses, three color filters, blue, yellow and red and much larger film. This camera came with all the patent petition papers dating from 1935 through 1939. Mr. Shirley Hunt died in 1936 and his wife continued with the patent process as the administratrix. The patent was granted in 1939 and the patent and much more paperwork is still with this camera, along with over a thousand feet of the film he used to prove his three color process. Mr. Hunt was also working on a two color 3D system. It is mentioned in some of the paperwork that there were examples of this system on some short 16mm filmstrips. Those filmstrips are in an envelope that comes with the camera.


I don’t know of any other color system that is this well documented and where the papers and the camera are still together in one place. If I were to display this system I would definitely frame some of the technical drawings and hang them on the wall behind this camera. It’s so complete that the lamp house even comes with a spare 500-watt bulb.

Patent number: 2153564

Filing date: Mar 4, 1935

Issue date: Apr 11, 1939

The patent and drawings come with the camera and can be seen online here:


The camera will shoot today. It cranks smoothly and evenly and doesn’t scratch film. Here is a tour of the camera/projector and then watch the video:








The Video: