Slugline

Simple, elegant screenwriting.

Needables
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM
  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz
Thursday
Mar152012

The Passion of the Bolex

Elle & Joe

My last post focussed on some concerns and questions I had about the Digital Bolex Kickstarter campaign. Despite stating numerous times that “I really want these guys to win,” I didn’t spend much time talking about what I liked about their project—and have thus unwittingly been cast as a vicarious mouthpiece for some far more negative appraisers than myself.

I could have mentioned that I appreciate any camera concept that sets out to capture the highest-quality image and bring it home unadulterated. I could have pointed out the planned on-board XLR inputs and metal construction. I could have talked up the compact size, or the affordable price. I could have cast these positives against the embarrassing backdrop of expensive, brick-shaped cameras made of cheap plastic that hammer your footage into an over-compressed pulp before committing it to a CF card, offered by camera companies with high-end markets to protect.

But all that stuff now pales against my new favorite thing about the Digital Bolex: how its creators reacted to my blog post.

Three days after launching their campaign, which funded successfully in less than 24 hours and has now well exceeded its outside target of $250,000, who do the Digital Bolex creators want to talk to? The grumpy guy who posted a bunch of concerns and tough questions.

Elle was a good sport about my post right away on Twitter, but Joe also sought me out via the Prolost contact form. We had a delightful chat this morning via phone. Joe specifically wants to connect with filmmakers who have reasonable concerns. He sees thoughtful critique as an opportunity, not an attack.

You know, like all our favorite camera makers.

Joe is so mellow in the Kickstarter video that I was immediately taken aback by how enthusiastic and passionate he was on the phone. He and his partners have an idea that seems so simple to them that he’s shocked they’re (nearly) the only ones doing it. Here’s some of what we talked about:

  • The reason Joe feels they can make this camera at the price they’ve set is that it is the simplest possible digital camera—just a sensor and a card slot, with the bare minimum of electronics in between. He points out rightly that the D16 needs to do far less than any of the many far less expensive video cameras out there. A $200 flip camera requires more processing power than what they’ve envisioned, because it needs to debayer, color-space-convert, and compress the footage in real time.

  • Joe harkened back to the days of the original Bolex and other 16mm film cameras, when the camera “didn’t affect the image quality at all, it just carried the film.” “[The Digital Bolex] is just the carrier between the sensor and the card.”

  • Joe’s other passion is about on-set monitoring and the ubiquitous flip-out LCD panel on digital video cameras. He hates them—or rather, hates that they’ve taken the trust away from the director/cinematographer relationship. The director sees the ugly little image and thinks that’s what their movie is going to look like, instead of listening to the DP. “That little LCD has robbed the independent film industry of cinematography.”

  • If there’s one criticism Joe’s sick of hearing, it’s “If Red couldn’t do it, how can these guys?”—a chorus of which I must confess to being a part. Of course, the situation is more nuanced than that. Red was aiming for an integrated, electronic zoom lens at that price point, as well as all the powerful internal computing horsepower required to compress Redcode footage.

    Ultimately, it seems clear to me that Red chose not to pursue the 3K Scarlet rather than “failed” to deliver it. “We recently came to the conclusion that, indeed, we cater to the professional market,” wrote Jim Jannard. “We want to build the best tools possible for those that want to ‘man up.’ Life is short and the clock is ticking.”

  • Amazingly, Joe expressed the same sentiment, but carried it in a much different direction: “You only have so much time in this life,” he said to me. “I want to spend mine having fun.” I can think of no better expression of the difference between Digital Bolex’s lofty camera promises and Red’s.

  • They’re not kids building these cameras in a garage. They have manufacturing partners who know how to bring camera stuff to market.

  • I asked Joe about the 4:4:4 descriptor on their site. He said it was pulled directly from Kodak’s documentation of the CCD sensor, and that he realizes it’s misleading in the context of a raw workflow.

  • Joe has a background in image software and is very interested in debayering techniques. He’s researching how to provide the best quality 1:1 2K RGB renderings of the D16’s raw DNG files. Now that they’ve hit the $250K mark, raw processing software is a part of what they plan on delivering to their backers.

  • But the Digital Bolex also lists JPEG and TIFF output, so real-time debayering is in the plans. Joe estimates that a high-quality JPEG frame could be about 1/3 the size of a DNG frame.

Unlike some seem to, I get no joy from fearing the worst about a project like this. I wasn’t very happy about writing Tuesday’s post, and while most of you got it, the easily-inferred negativity that I tried to dampen with honest optimism was enough to bring the internet to my door, resulting in my first opportunity in months to delete a couple of nasty comments.

Now I’m glad I wrote what I did though, because, as a result, I have a new friend who makes cameras. Thanks for taking the time Joe, and a hearty congratulation and best of luck to you and the Digital Bolex team. Maybe some of my readers will ask themselves the same question I posed to myself: In your short time on this Earth, would you rather be a pessimist and be proven right? Or an optimist who’s occasionally wrong?

Reader Comments (13)

Great Post! It remembers me to the picture with two circles where one represents your comfort zone and the other one the place where magic happens. In this case magic happened! Best of luck for the project!

March 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterPeter Hainzl

Yes, great post! So happy to see a discussion and a debate happening between real people in meatspace rather than just barbs on twitter, comment sections, etc. We need more of this! This makes me respect Stu and the D16 team so much.

March 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterRob Unck

Thanks brother, for both posts.

I can't quite explain why I'm so excited to see this camera. I don't have the bandwidth for a raw workflow. I don't have c-mount lenses. I love the pictures that larger sensor cameras are producing.

But for some reason, when I saw the trailer for "One Small Step," I got the itch. And it made me think about what I hate about almost all digital cameras: digging through menus, picture profiles, compression artifacts (I love compression, just hate the artifacts :)

I'm super impressed that Joe contacted you. I know I'm not the only person who respects your insight, and it's great that you've been able to shine a light on both sides of this story.

March 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterNels Chick

Maybe next time you chat inquire why camera manufacturers give us XLR jacks, but inferior sound recording to my candy bar sized zoom x1.

Seriously, it's not just the digital bolex, even the 16k C300 only offers 16bit/48khz audio. Am I the only videographer that wants to pump sound directly into camera and not sync later in post?

I know syncing is getting easier with plural eyes and the like, but it still takes time, and I have to deal with mounting the external recorder on my rig.

March 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterCasey Stone

This is another classic Prolost post Stu - well written, insightful, honest and inspiring. This is why I started reading your stuff years ago, bought your book etc.

And your closing line basically sums up my approach to life.

March 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterStephen van Vuuren

"Maybe some of my readers will ask themselves the same question I posed to myself: In your short time on this Earth, would you rather be a pessimist and be proven right? Or an optimist who’s occasionally wrong?"

Is there room for realists that openly recognize the likelihood of failure but go for it anyway? Odds are the movie won't get made, the screenplay won't sell, the band won't last and this camera/camera company won't be a success.

But that's no reason not to go for it anyway!

I didn't move to LA and get into editing because it was logical or reasonable. I got into it because I had a dream. Hell, I still have dreams and everything I do professionally is to further those dreams (directly or indirectly). My documentary "Looking for Lenny" was just released and we shot it in SD (www.lookingforlenny.com, ***shameless plug***). It's 2012 and our SD movie got released. How crazy is that?!?

I think there is a difference between talking about legit concerns/hurdles and just being a hater. I think your original blog on the camera was the former and was a well grounded piece. Of course, for me personally, I usually approach a situation by first identifying why it won't work and addressing those problems. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

March 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterAndrew Kimery

People spend big bucks on gold plated cars, art, 10,000 gallon fish aquariums and other crazy things so they have something to brag or talk about to impress their friends. Investing in these hip kids with a retro flair will give us all stories to tell at parties one way or the other we'll own up to it and won't feel guilty. Besides would you rather blow $2,500 on these kids with a dream or Goldman Sachs?

Investing is gambling. If you can't afford to lose it don't play. My own personal feelings, it doesn't have a snowball in hell chance of becoming reality but it's sure a fun story.

March 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterGary Garrison

There is a camera already out there with almost the same specs and philosophy as the Bolex. It's called Ikonoscop and costs €7700 just for the body.
Compared to the Bolex it has HDSDI, additional Oled display and an universal IMS mount.
Since I doubt the extra features cost €5K, either the ikonoscop is overpriced or the Bolex will not match its advertised price.

March 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterEmmanuel Plakiotis

Gosh, if only someone had thought to mention the Ikonoscop.

March 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterStu

I loved both your posts because I can tell you ARE excited about this, but have healthy skepticism. Nothing wrong with that.
Whether it succeeds or fails, here is a group of people who are passionate about this industry. I look forward to some great stuff from them.

March 20, 2012 | Registered CommenterTodd VanSlyck

Thanks for both articles, great read and lots of good information... what's especially interesting about that camera (or at least what it appears to be on paper) is the way how it's planned and the price is set reminds me of a basic democratic process as opposed to a centrally controlled process that we can witness when a large company develops a video camera... it's an interesting political thing, and in case the digital bolex project succeeds and other projects inspired by that one come up, it might just force the big companies like Canon to overthink theit price politics. i wrote a few more thoughts on that here on my blog: http://florianrazocha.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/the-digital-bolex-and-canon-political-dimensions-of-video-cameras/

March 22, 2012 | Registered CommenterFlorian Razocha

This is nothing more than a repackaged GX2300 by Allied Vision.

http://www.alliedvisiontec.com/emea/products/cameras/gigabit-ethernet/prosilica-gx/gx2300.html

And here is a picture of El Cinematographer with egg on his face hoping nobody can read the words on the side of that red box.

http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/attachment.php?attachmentid=49929

Unbelievable!

March 24, 2012 | Registered CommenterEric Vonn

Great post, nicely balanced, very much looking forward to the progression of the company and the product itself when it arrives.

March 30, 2012 | Registered CommenterToby Loc
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