Demo-1 the DIY Cinema Camera that hasn’t been……

I need to preface this, because the idea has plagued me for years. I need to put things to bed. Some ideas are that unreachable at certain points in life. So many things I can now do I once failed at. Things I’ve yet to do but have prepared well for I’m ready whenever the moment comes.

I curated a reddit on this subject: Reddit

Inception of Obsession

A few years ago, I fell into trying to understand cameras. Not in the sense of using them but in the sense of how they were made and what made them up. What followed was a long string of reteaching myself how a basic system works. I had build PC’s before and had a basic understanding on how to hack certain things. I was a bit of a Mcgyver at my day job maintaining AV displays with little to no resources but what I could find around the campus or crazy cheap.

Black magic had come out with their first cinema camera, the Axiom camera was called another project while in process of getting boards made for what is to be the open camera and a few small crowdfunding projects had run through trying to create a camera from off the shelf parts. The piecing together of a device to take in video at acceptable quality is something hard to do. Harder if you dont know how to solder, even harder when you dont know how to code and impossible if you need to learn both of those and how to design a way to put it all together.

Now since pretty much making a device from scratch wasn’t entirely in the cards I looked back into my research. Some industrious filmmakers decided to mod a mac mini and attach it to an external sensor all in a nice package that looks really cool. I had then delved back into an old mainstay, my PC building abilities.

Took the red pill……

Now alot of options exist for external imaging sensors and with capabilities that vary for what you are trying to do and how they are to be interfaced into the computer unit. I had access to a Flea3 from Point Grey. Its a USB 3.0 imaging sensor that has a c-mount front. Its part of a system in my day job where we can essentially read bar codes and QR codes in a warehouse/inventory environment. The sensor has alot of capabilities, the software with it has some pretty interesting capture modes and bit rates. Since deciding this road was the easiest to travel I set down it and have worked towards making a package to use with a sensor like this. I acquired parts and have been stuck on what essentially would be the box. I have methods to make a desktop motherboard mobile and mounting the sensor in the box itself, but still the box has taken many forms with much failure.

The Master

I love Stanley Kubrick, honestly his images always speak to me. He is someone that even as much as I try to see like him I still get surprised by a shot when I replay his movies. The more I’ve discovered about him keeps me a fan. He was deeply involved in his process of making images. Customizing camera systems and even the optics he accomplished , along with his DoP of course, some of the sharpest and hard hitting images of any filmmaker. My second favorite Director is Hitchcock without a doubt, Rod Serling is in there but more so for writing. But one thing Kubrick didn’t abide by was settling on what he could and couldn’t do as an auteur, even more so as a director. Throughout this process one of the things keeping me wanting to do more with it is Kubrick. I’d throw on 2001 and realize how much he did and with such humor, all while probably being told that he was crazy. Watch Barry Lyndon and the mastery is almost too apparent that I often lose sight of what that movie is really about. I’d challenge anyone to try and light only by sun and candle, but you’re using film instead of digital. Armed with this I fell in love with this process again. Knowing I can do what I want within the limits of what I have but limitless within that was great.

Recently the movie “Tangerine” pushed me a bit. I abhor apple products, but they create pretty images. They shouldn’t cost that much. But the movie accomplished in driving me deeper down this road as well. Because we visual artists should try to push our art.

Credit Where Credits Due…..

I have to give credit to a few people:

Black Betty — These guys gave this obsession the direction it needed.

Soren Mueller — The software I’ve wanted to replicate for this project, his designs been sold as far as I’ve heard.

Janosch Simon — This dude is farther than I am at this, I envy his case. His end goal is different but definitely a great artist. Love his images too.

Janosch is what gave me my final bit of inspiration. Seeing his setup, beyond the nice GUI was the case. Machined by a CNC to his specifications he has a nicely functional setup to do the high speed raw filming he was looking to do. It dawned on me that maybe I was really wanting a modular camera setup. The issue with alot of cameras is that once you get the camera thats relatively it. I’m a “magic lantern” user with my Canon T2i. It was an amazing development as was the “personal view” hack for Panasonic cameras. Most other cameras have an update thats a “game changer” for their system but you can’t do anything about your sensor or your mounting system. The latter can be adapted and the new “Ursa” cams have the ability to be used without activating the sensor. But what if you had a kit that you as a filmmaker could change as you saw fit. The sensor I have is capable of 4k resolution at 8bit. Its nice and with how the color rendering spectrum is changeable makes up for the last of bit depth. But when 8k is a cheap enough standard I’d want to be able to upgrade without changing much around the sensor.

The fork in the road…..

So the project went from being a camera to a camera kit. I see so many partnerships that can be made from this, so much of this field I love coming together to create solutions that both push the art form and the profession.

○ NLE’s- I’m an Adobe Premiere user, I’d be an evangelist if I knew all the other functions of this program. I loved it since CS3. Having worked on an Avid system I know that this project could be very useful for either or any NLE manufacturer. LUT’s that can be used on camera is one way, this is something Davinci being what it is now would probably benefit most not having a robust mobile app like “Premiere Clip” but also being fairly lightweight of a Color Correction program turned NLE. The backend of this kit being a x86 architecture machine can definitely be taken advantage of to quite a few ends.

○ Optics- Alot of these sensors use C-mount lenses as their taking lens. There is alot of old C-mount lenses from the 16mm hey days. Glad to say there are more lenses coming out now and hopefully in the future that can help support this project. But any lens system can be integrated into this system. C-mount is pretty adaptable and the mount at the front of the sensor is usually removable that any lens system can then be used.

○ Sensors- At this point sensor manufacturers don’t really have a consumer market. Most of these out of the box sensors have capabilities beyond your run of the mill camera or DSLR. Not impeded by limitations such as codecs and small form factor integrated boards off the shelf sensors that just “plug & play” can be quite powerful if used correctly. If a kit were to exist this market would most certainly grow without much change in how they manufacture their product. Innovations in this field would make already formidable businesses even stronger. There have been a few forays into this field for cinema use but they’re relatively one trick ponies. Mostly trying to make up for limited space in a certain setup.

○ SSD’s- Space, space, and more space. Filmmakers need to become pro’s in handling data. Knowing how your data moves and life cycles of storage systems is paramount til the project is over. Its the blood that keeps your project running. In archiving longevity is key. Either way we will need more space and possibly this project might open up M.2 class SSD’s for more wide adoption by board makers.

There’s many more bullets I could go on with. GUI packs and the like. It’d be a fight and not an easy one. But the benefits to the one artist looking to get more out of his/her image can be infinite.

Closing the show

In closing, I’m at the point of needing a case to get all of this together. I have ideas beyond that for the different form factors and styles of filmmaking. Budget ideas for crews with small budgets, having a Demo-2 be the 8mm style and possibly use D-mount lenses. This idea is rarely far from my mind, it still bugs me quite often. But at this point I want to make a film more than a product. Because these products exist and work, but I’m still on the search for the better way. Always want to change the process. If you are a filmmaker and want to try your hand at this please have at it, the reddit up top has the resources that started me off. If you break through I’d be glad to be a bounce board or assist in your process.

Thank you for reading.

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