Atomic blast footage?

Dear Cecil

I have oft wondered, specially each time I see it, how the footage of houses,cars and power lines getting evaporated by a nuclear/hydrogen bomb blast was taken. What kind of structure was the camera housed in to record the footage yet not get melted, and why aren’t we all living in one of those? (PS. I bet Bush is). And further, how come my 21st century cameras seem to have a life of about 6 months after I buy them, yet that black & white box brownie from the 40’s can withstand an atomic blast?! Good question, ay Cec! Got me stumped. I await with bated breath, so don’t take long.


Martin (info deleted)

“Making a positive difference in people’s lives and assisting them to achieve their financial goals is what I enjoy the most. That’s what I call real professional satisfaction. I get it every day.”

“The house in the photos below was located 3,500 feet from ground zero. The nuclear blast the completely destroyed the house was conducted on March 17, 1953 at the Nevada Tests Site – Yucca Flat. The photographs are clips from film made by a 35mm. Mitchell camera located 60 feet from the house. Shooting 24 frames per second, the time from the first to last picture was 2 1/3 seconds. The camera was completely enclosed in a 2 inch lead sheath as a protection against radiation. The only source of light was that from the bomb.”

A WAG is that other cameras for other blasts were protected but they simply transmitted pictures to a secure area. It wouldn’t matter if the camera eventually got destroyed during the blast.

Nice commercial.

It seems like you intended to send this to the “The Straight Dope” newspaper column, which I’m guessing explains why you included basically all of the contact information you have.

If you want to actually ask Cecil a question there is a link to an email address on the main website. Right below that link, it is suggested that you might want to try this message board. Typicaly when you use the General Questions forum you do not style it like you did, just ask the question (no dear cecil etc, as he typically is persona non grata in these parts.)

I’m also going to suggest that if you post here again you make sure not to include your real name, mailing address, company, email, phone number and etc in your posts, just as friendly advice.

As to your actual question there’s several ways a picture like that could be taken without the existence of some nuke-proof containment area. The camera could have just been broadcasting prior to it being destroyed. It also could have been singificantly far away from the blast but zoomed in very closely.

my 1st time here, lonesome loser - didn’t mean to create ad; it’s my embedded signature - in fact am happy to have it removed/edited (webmaster?)

also didn’t realise whole message would post - thought it was being ‘sent to a webmaster’ orwhatever…

cheers to all - am amazed the answer magically materialized minutes after posting…

Welcome to the magic we call The Straight Dope Message Board, or SDMB for short.


Just so there won’t be hundreds of reports, I reported the OP as having personal information that needed deleting. (And when you clean that up, Mods., you’re welcome to remove this too.)


I removed your contact info for you.

You’ll find that our community is very knowledgable about most things. Expect an answer within minutes of posting!

Glad to have you with us. Hope you stick around a while and join us.

Moderator, GQ

4.17AM here as I type… been up for an hour 'cos it’s still over 30 degrees and Adelaide’s melting… bit hard to sleep (expecting 40 degrees for NYE)

Thanks to all - best wishes - and Happy New Year!!!*

welcome, martincaf1! :slight_smile:

We hope you stay, as you’ve posted a good question.

The answer, as stated above, is “armored or remote cameras”.

And, of course, the fact that they didn’t really need to be used more than once.

“Broadcasting” assumes a video image, not a film camera. Since video cameras were pretty rare during the 1940’s-50’s when the bomb tests were first done, my guess is they were all film-based devices unless you have evidence otherwise. The camera could have been seriously damaged but still have developable film.

Here’s one photographer who shot a bomb test at night, from

He has some pretty impressive shots of the first few milliseconds.

Well, where to start. The camera was a
Mitchell which is far from a “Brownie”. In fact, it was a professional and very expensive high speed movie camera. One of the photographers was Edgerton who was pretty much the father of very high speed photography. Clearly the camera was highly protected – the article references two inches of lead and I suspect that was anchored in a pillbox or some other armored structure. A frame house, on the other hand, is not a particularly strong structure – even 100 mph hurricane winds can do a lot of damage to one. The house is not being so much evaporated as being swept away by a shockwave.

As for why are our houses not built to withstand nuclear blasts, I suspect you just haven’t thought about that very hard. But call your local contractor and price a house that’s constructed out of several inches of lead and concrete. (Oh yeah, don’t put any windows in your house or the armor won’t make much of a difference.) And consider the resale value of a house that’s still standing in a nuclear blast zone. Then get back to us if you still have any questions.
As for why your modern camera is only surviving six months, I can only surmise that you use it to drive tent pegs. However modern cameras do have considerably more in the way of sophisticated electronics, autofocusing and auto exposure mechanisms, and other subcomponents that represent a point of failure.

Hmmm…what about radiation fogging the film? In a normal explosion the film would be developable (is that a word?) even if the camera was crushed, but wouldn’t all those gamma rays and tetrion particles and unstable subluxations from the nuclear blast and suchlike ruin the film?

I know some of the cameras used an arrangement of two mirrors in a typical persicope type of configuration, like this:

The top of the periscope might get blown away in the blast but the bottom (which is safely buried under a bunch of earth) survives just fine. Note that the light, and therefore the image, of the blast gets to the camera long before the shock wave does. Also note that the camera, being buried underground, doesn’t receive all that much radiation exposure, so the film comes out ok.

Also, many of the spectacular shots of houses getting blown apart and such were taken from the side. This allows the camera to be behind a very large fortification (like maybe a hillside) so that the camera doesn’t have to endure anywhere near the full force of the blast.

A periscope. Yeah, I’ve heard of those… :smack:

Here’s a flash video of a nuke shot.

I have here in my hand a Bell & Howell Sportster Double Run Eight. It’s an 8mm camera, that ran 16mm film. Similar in heft per square inch to a Mitchell camera. No plastic bits, trust me. It is a heavy hunka metal. The Mitchell camera company made quite a few bodies, and I suspect but cannot promise that there was no plastic on those bodies anywhere. ( And, likely no bakalite either ! ). The movement ( the infamous “Mitchell Movement” which became the foundation for the Panavision Cameras ) was stainless steel, as were many of the internal components. I first trained on an old Mitchell BNC-R, and the magazine ran on a leather belt. :eek: I would guess that the Mitchell cameras used in the atomic blast filmings did not use a leather belt to drive the magazines…


The Filmo Sportster Double Run Eight.

The Mitchell model NC 35mm Cine Camera, circa 1933-1954. This is what it looked like. It was the standard for use in feature and newsreel work. A lotta metal in there…

Am I the only one tickled by the fact that Enola Straight posted footage of an atomic blast?? :smiley: :smiley: :smiley:

That’s actually from a great movie of remastered nuke shots – Trinity and Beyond. Narrated by Shatner, score by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. That shot is of the 280 mm nuclear artillery shell from Operation Upshot/Knothole shot Grable. The vertical trails are sounding rockets shot off right after the blast.