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?