The Vinten story
William Vinten began manufacturing Kinemacolor projectors for Charles Urban in 1909, and the following year the company was formally incorporated. Based at 89-91 Wardour Street, in the heart of London's film district, the company traded as W. Vinten Cinematograph Engineers.
At the outbreak of the first world war the company workshops were taken over by the government. Vinten and his skilled team of engineers were invited by Sopwith at Kingston-on-Thames, west of London, to work alongside them in their aeroplane factory.
In 1915, the association with Sopwith led to a request from the newly formed Royal Flying Corps for William Vinten to design and build a special cine camera for use in aircraft. Vinten developed the Model B - the first camera that could be operated while hung over the side of an aircraft. This was the start of Vinten's long and close association with the military as well as the film industry.
William Vinten became an associate member of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (SMPE) and was elected to the Royal Photographic Society. He was also involved in the creation of the voluntary Film Censorship Board, which evolved into the British Board of Film Classification.
In the economic slump following the first world war, William Vinten's company was reduced to a mere three men. Inventive as ever, he stayed in business by producing small components for car manufacturers and accurate tools for the jewellery trade.
As the company grew, William Vinten's oldest children Maisie and Charles join the business. Later, daughter Pip and son Bill also joined, the last remaining as director of innovation until the mid-1980s.
Vinten expanded and moved to Cricklewood, in north London. The growth in the business mainly came from the revitalised film industry, which saw the business create specialised equipment for companies such as Kodak.
The Model H 'silent' camera was launched. As its name suggests, the camera was designed to meet the demands of the talkies – it went on to become one of the most popular studio cameras of the 1930s in Britain. Trade press references during this time refer to Vinten cameras being used on many British productions and in many UK studios - Elstree, Welwyn, Scottish Film Productions of Glasgow, Highbury, Wembley, Stoll, Merton Park and more.
Vinten supplied a variety of equipment for the world's first "high definition" public television transmission tests from Alexandra Palace in north London. The Baird studio used an intermediate film system, based on a modified Vinten Model H camera. Vinten camera mounts and microphone booms could also be found in the competing Marconi-EMI studio.
By 1937 around three-quarters of all films shown in Britain were processed using equipment developed by Vinten. The company also had a strong presence in creating both sound and production equipment.
Founder of the company William Vinten died in 1937, aged 57. The British Kinematograph Society Journal in December that year paid tribute to him:
"The British Kinematograph Industry has lost not only an outstanding personality technically, but a man of vision, shrewdness and quiet generosity, whose qualifications gained him not only universal respect but the personal affection, and, in many cases, gratitude, of those who were fortunate enough to know him well."
Vinten launched the HS300 high-speed film camera. According to Charles Vinten, his father started work on the camera when he was wagered that he could not make a faster intermittent camera than the Marie system, which could run 35mm film at 170 pictures per second. Not only did Vinten accept the bet, but he also proposed that he should almost double the speed to 300 pictures per second. Charles Vinten completed the design after his father's death.
The Second World War created an increased requirement for reconnaissance cameras. Vinten's military contracts secured a world market presence for reconnaissance work, particularly with the F24 camera.
The end of the war saw the first prototype of the Vinten Everest studio camera. Closely associated with the Everest was the Pathfinder dolly.
In the late 1940s the broadcast market began to flourish and Vinten developed the first telerecording camera, giving broadcasters a means of capturing and archiving live television. From this first involvement, the BBC and Vinten worked together with increasing closeness. This collaboration saw Vinten adapt many of its film camera supports to create equipment more suitable for television studios and cameras.
A new derivative of the Model H camera, which captured sound as well as pictures in a single pass, was used by the BBC to record the Royal Wedding. It was also used in 1953 to film the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, pictures which have been seen around the world.
The first order for the F95 camera was placed by the UK Ministry of Supply. The F95 was capable of stereoscopic photography, in which objects photographed on the ground appear three dimensional.
The Vinten Heron crane was developed for the BBC, which bought models for its London and regional studios. The biggest innovation in the crane was its ablity to crab, thus allowing it to move freely in any directions, giving it the flexibility of a pedestal with increased height range and speed.
The first two prototypes of the Vinten HP 419 hydro-pneumatic gas-balanced pedestal were delivered to the BBC. The pedestal enabled TV cameramen to track and jib at the same time without losing sight of the viewfinder. Many thousands of the HP 419 design were sold worldwide, some of which remained in service half a century later.
The principles of the Vinten pedestal, developed over three years in the 1950s, have yielded over sixty years of worldwide success.
The MkIII pan and tilt head was launched. The head was the first to meet the BBC's specifications for manoeuvrability. "The moment I knew this was a breakthrough came when Marconi stopped work on their own pan and tilt head" said Bill Vinten. "They had already spent large amounts of time and money developing a torque-bar head, but I took the prototype MkIII to them and the research director said to the mechanical designer, 'well, you can forget that one'."
Vinten received a request via the BBC from the Queen. She asked for a less intrusive dolly to be used at Sandringham during the filming of the second Royal Christmas Message. The Vinten Outside Broadcasting Dolly was designed to fulfil this requirement. The dolly, which ran on solid or pneumatic tyres, was quite narrow so it could be wheeled easily along a narrow passage or through a royal living room. In the studio, the Vinten Pathfinder MkII, converted from the original Pathfinder film studio dolly for television work, allowed the BBC greater movement and flexibility in drama and light entertainment.
W Vinten Ltd relocated from Cricklewood to Bury St. Edmunds, to a new and large industrial site in otherwise rural Suffolk. Most of the staff followed the move, enjoying the benefits of moving to the country, and according to the Bury Free Press, the local community warmly welcomed the new arrival and potential employer.
Vinten was awarded the Queen's Award for Technological Innovation for the Peregrine crane.
The Vinten Kestrel outside broadcast crane was launched, providing a large variation in camera height for location work.
Vinten was floated on the London Stock Exchange. The growth of Vinten as a public company and brand name went from strength to strength throughout the 1970s.
The success of the company led to structural changes. The name of the existing company was changed to Vinten Group, and a new company W Vinten Ltd set up. Vinten Group took care of investment holding and policy making, while W Vinten Ltd was responsible for the actual development, manufacture and sale of television and reconnaissance equipment.
The Vinten Fulmar pedestal received the first annual award from the Guild of Television Cameramen. The Fulmar was another leap forward in pedestal design, eliminating oil as a balancing fluid and relying solely on nitrogen (and sophisticated mechanics) to produce a smooth, low effort, silent pedestal.
In the early 1980s Vinten began to develop remote control camera systems in conjunction with the BBC for their news studios. The Microswift brand was born. Shortly after this a second venture was undertaken with the Saskatchewan Legislature, using the Microswift robotic cameras to televise state government proceedings.
The Vinten family founded the William & Ellen Vinten Trust to provide charitable donations to further the education and training of Vinten employees and people in the local area.
The lightweight Vision range of pan and tilt heads was launched, incorporating Vinten's patented Perfect Balance, revolutionising the way in which camera operators worked. This new range doubled the company's turnover.
In 1988 Vinten split into two separate entities. W Vinten Ltd (now Thales Optronics Ltd) focused solely on reconnaissance equipment and moved into new premises. Vinten Broadcast Ltd remained on the same site, concentrating on camera supports for broadcast.
The Vision range received a Design Council award at the British Design Awards, with Richard Lindsay announced as runner-up for the Prince Philip Designers Prize.
Vinten robotic camera control systems were awarded an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Technical/Engineering Development.
The last formal link between the Vinten Group and the Vinten family ended when Bill Vinten retired from the group board in September 1992 at the age of 72, having worked in the company for 43 years. Bill Vinten lived close by and continued to take an interest in the company until his death in 2015.
Introduction of the Vector range saw the first commercially available pan and tilt head capable of providing fully adjustable, perfectly balanced support for any full facility video camera.
The first Vector head, the Vector 70, was famous for its unique pantographic counterbalance mechanism that allowed heavy broadcast cameras to be balanced without the use of interchangeable cams. The Vector 700 and Vector 750, developed from the Vector 70, are now familiar sights at virtually all major broadcasting events.
From 1989 to 1995 the Vinten Group began a series of acquisitions, including Manfrotto, Bexel, Gitzo, Bogen Imaging, TSM Inc and Sachtler. In 1995, this culminated in the Vinten Group plc changing its name and becoming the founding company of The Vitec Group plc. The Vinten name was preserved as the most widely recognised name in camera supports.
The Vinten Quattro pedestal range was introduced, offering for the first time a four-stage column design. This results in a height range of a metre with smooth on-shot movement and perfect positional balance throughout the full stroke. Three versions of the pedestal are available which are widely used throughout studio and outside broadcast applications.
Following the acquisition of Radamec in 2003 a new brand Vinten Radamec was created. Radamec was a successful developer of robotic camera supports and systems, and adding it to the extensive skills and experience in robotics at Vinten has led to a single, powerful brand.
The headquarters and factory building in Bury St Edmunds is named the William Vinten Building, in a ceremony performed by Bill Vinten, son of William Vinten, founder of the business.
Stan Gosling, head of service at Vinten, is recognised by the Guild of Television Cameramen with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
The latest version of the Vision pan and tilt head, the Vision AS, is launched at NAB2009 to considerable acclaim, garnering a number of awards at the exhibition. The Vision AS range brings Vinten’s prized Perfect Balance technology to the range of modern lightweight cameras and camcorders.
100 years on from its foundation, the company is still founded on William Vinten’s guiding principles of highly innovative design and extreme precision in manufacturing. Through a dedication to meeting the expectations of its customers, with products which meet their real requirements and excellent service and support, Vinten remains the world leader in broadcast camera supports.
Launch of flowtech 75 & 100. Sachtler and Vinten, both Vitec Group brands and global industry leaders in camera supports for over 100 years, introduced the flowtech 75 & 100 making it the ideal tripod for heavy-duty electronic newsgathering (ENG), electronic field production (EFP), and a wide range of wildlife, commercial, and documentary productions.
Vinten moved to a new 66,000 sq. ft factory as part of the Vitec Production Solutions relocation to a new headquarters in Bury St Edmunds, UK. Guests celebrated the opening of the William Vinten Building, including Elaine Vinten, the wife of Bill Vinten (son of Vinten founder William Vinten), the board of directors, staff and representatives from the Bury St Edmunds community.