July 5, 2012

Forget 3K for $3K, How About 4K and 16-bit RAW for $1K?

Ever since RED first announced their 3K for $3K Scarlet, and then killed it, the independent world has been salivating over the possibility of shooting their films in higher than HD resolution for about the price of a DSLR. Turns out producing a higher-than-1080p camera isn't cheap -- though Blackmagic is doing a good job proving this wrong with their Cinema Camera. So what about 4K and 16-bit RAW for $1,000? Is this even possible? That's exactly what a company called Point Grey is introducing -- but there are a few big shortcomings if you'd like to shoot with this tiny camera on your next feature.

First, here's the introduction video for the new Flea 3 USB 3.0 cameras:

The camera is absolutely miniscule, but before I go further, this camera wasn't designed to be used for cinema. Just like Blackmagic is using an off-the-shelf sensor designed for medical, scientific, or machine vision, this particular camera uses a couple different sensors that are designed for those same purposes. One of those sensor options just so happens to top out at 4096 x 2160. So far, so good, but it only gets more disappointing from there. Not only is the sensor size 1/2.5" (right between 1/3" of many consumer cameras and the 1/2" Sony EX1/EX3 sensors), but it tops out at only 21fps at full resolution -- unusable for shooting movies, but then again, it was never designed to. If you want to shoot the camera in 8-bit monochromatic mode, you can get up to 60fps at full resolution, but that's not really that helpful. It seems as though it's possible to create your own resolutions, and somewhere between 4K and 2K sits 24fps, since at 2K resolutions the maximum is 60fps.

Either way, why would anyone want to use a tiny sensor with C-mount lenses and a camera body which needs to be tethered to a computer to be functional? This camera is capable of pretty amazing color reproduction using 16-bit RAW mode (which is what the far more expensive RED Epic is capable of), and even though you may have already seen this camera shared around the internet, no one has mentioned the possibility of using those old relic 35mm adapters with some C-mount lenses. Being tethered is a bummer, but it looks like you could get 16-bit RAW with somewhere around 3K resolution at 24-30fps. Used 35mm adapters are a steal, and what used to cost thousands can now be had for a couple hundred dollars. This camera isn't going to be a low-light killer with its small pixels, but the possibility of using a 35mm adapter with some C-mount lenses could actually produce some interesting results.

As these smaller, high resolution sensors get cheaper and cheaper, we'll see a lot more tethered cameras that are 4K resolution and above, and it's only a matter of time before some clever DIY folks get full frame 35mm angle of view at a fraction of the cost of digital cinema cameras. While quality might be hit-or-miss, there's a great chance many flaws would be hidden downscaled to 1080p. It will certainly be interesting to see what people might come up with in the future.

Below are some of the standard resolutions available with this camera. Again, it seems like you might be able to create your own resolutions, but you can find the link to the technical document about the camera below. You'll need to sign up for a free account to download it, but there is a wealth of information about how these cameras work.

What do you guys think? Even though 4K isn't needed right now in a lot of applications, what sort of hoops would you jump through to get those kinds of resolutions and the ability to really utilize 35mm lenses for a few thousand dollars?

Link: Point Grey Flea 3 USB 3.0 Camera & Technical Document

[via The Verge]

Your Comment

60 Comments

The first thing I thought when I saw this was, "high resolution security camera."

July 5, 2012

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It would be truly hilarious to see a comeback of the 35mm adapter at this point. For that matter, what about using one with JVC's small sensor fixed lens 4K camcorder? If we can't get these capabilities in DSLRs and get priced out of higher end products like the C500, why not go back to small sensor camcorders (with all their proper video features) and still use all of the 35mm glass most of us have collected in the DSLR era?

July 5, 2012

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Because 35mm adapters are goofy looking and retarded? The market for large sensor cams is brand new, but soon we will see more of the "golden ration" cameras i.e super 35 sensor, raw, full range of inputs/outputs and proper body style for 5-7k. the FS100 is a great example but the sony video look is awful.

July 5, 2012

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john jeffreys

oops i meant golden RATIO

July 5, 2012

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john jeffreys

Hmmm... the sony video look is awful, huh?

Can't speak for the FS100 but...

Ryan Koo - "All the footage I’ve seen to date shot in S-Log has been beautiful, with very film-like highlight renditions and gorgeous colors.", "I have to profess my love for the appearance of Sony F3 S-Log footage."

Timur Civan - "The F3...stellar image. I actually am going to use it on a feature film I'm shooting in the coming months."

Sony's F3 Shoots David Bailey Drama For BBC
Tim Palmer - "the bottom line is that the F3 delivered much more filmic looking images. I can’t fault the F3 one bit in terms of it’s visual aesthetic... immensely pleased with the results... from the PMW-F3".

just to quote a few.

July 5, 2012

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dixter

yeah, the F3 is a legit camera but my statement was geared mostly towards the FS100/700

July 5, 2012

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john jeffreys

FS700 look is awful? what? cine gammas really close to S-log . You can creat a very pleasant look with this cam. Even 8 bit 4:2:0 can produce amazing imagery with this "turbo" AVCHD.

ok sir... Yes the F3 stands out but is so cheap when you equip it... And also cheap to rent... lol

July 5, 2012

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Alex Mand

FS100 and FS700 looks great. I personally love the colour and using the FS100 gives me lots of flexibility to be creative with lens choices. I'll definitely use the 100 again and rent or buy an FS700 when it becomes available.

July 5, 2012

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only thing i like about the FS cameras are the e mount's shallow flange depth (i think thats what it is) allowing you to use any adapted lens mount under the sun

July 6, 2012

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john jeffreys

this is not real... maybe for some, it just creates more complications, initially people will get interest and do lots of tests with it, when they find that ergonomics are not there they go back to normal beloved DSLR, RED and Sony... But it is a good courage to boost and create more new comers into a video market!!!

July 5, 2012

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Peter

There are many people in the world with tiny hands to work this thing- Mr. Jackson's hobbits, for instance.

July 5, 2012

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You mean Tolkiens Hobbits?

July 5, 2012

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Tom

This camera wouldn't have any worse ergonomics than any other camera you just mentioned. Camera ergonomics are dead...unless you are talking about Aaton (or to a lesser degree, Arri) Seriously. Red isn't ergo, it's a box. F3 isn't ergo b/c it's lighter than the kit lenses it comes with...

and D-SLR's? They are *not* ergo...(assuming you are talking about for motion imagery--they're beautifully comfortable for stills, with 60 years of evolution behind it.)

They're all too small...you can't put it on your shoulder and hand holding, if you're working more than an hr or so...is just painful unless you can build it out to a good shoulder sized rig.

Ergonomics with most modern cameras are almost solely in the hands of the operators in how they build it up.

July 8, 2012

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Daniel Mimura

What's the benefit of 4K aside from reframing in post or doing green screen work? That's an honest question: what do you get with 4K, really?

July 5, 2012

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Ben

I don't think you get much more than you're mentioning, but coming from post, I have to say it's pretty liberating to be able to just punch in to 200% on a wide and have a close up with out losing any quality, effectively doubling the coverage. Also stabilizing without quality loss is nice (but unless it's really bad 2k is good enough for that), and for the few people who work in big budget features, it is a possible delivery spec. However the extra time and money it takes to handle 4k, not entirely sure it is worth it yet (for anything other than features).

July 5, 2012

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MRH

I thought higher resolution sensor inherently have higher dynamic range? I remember an article awhile back of a DP saying it is the single biggest reason for 4k.

July 5, 2012

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Rob

Actually, it's the opposite. At any given sensor size and identical fabrication technology, higher pixel densities mean smaller photosite light-capturing areas and generally lower sensitivities and dynamic ranges.

July 5, 2012

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Tzedekh

No, dynamic range and resolution are independent. One exception to this is that if you downscale an image using a pixel binning algorithm, you can (but aren't guaranteed to -- see below) actually gain dynamic range, so this is probably the source of the aforementioned DP's misunderstanding.

To understand why this happens with binning, say you're going from 4k x 2k to 2k x 1k, with each block of 4 pixels in the source image becoming a single pixel in the downscaled image. For easy math, let's assume that the source image is 8 bit monochrome, i.e., 256 possible grey values. Take the block of 4 pixels and add them up. You now have a possible range of 256 + 256 + 256 + 256 values, i.e. a range of 0 .. 1024, so we've gone from 8 bits to 10 bits (1024 is 2 to the power 10). This isn't exactly the same thing as a true increase in dynamic range, however, because there are some gotchas. Firstly, if there is no noise at all in the original image, areas of solid tone stay 8 bit because all you're doing is multiplying by 4. Practically speaking this means that you'd still get banding artifacts on areas like clear blue skies. The technique also doesn't change the response curve of the sensor. Full black is still full black, full white is still full white, so in principle the dynamic range is actually the same. However, when there is noise in the dark areas of the image, binning does help, because the noise signal from each source pixel is divided by 4. When you add them, noise is effectively reduced (not by a factor of 4, statistics isn't quite that friendly, but a factor of 2 is realistic). Practically speaking, this means you gain roughly 1 bit of usable (noise free) dynamic range from 2x2 binning, with all of the caveats mentioned above.

That said, there are better downscaling algorithms than pixel binning (this being the easiest one to explain), but their effects on dynamic range is all pretty much similar. Pixel binning can cause aliasing artifacts, so it's less desirable if you have the processor power for a better algorithm.

July 5, 2012

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0 .. 1023. I haven't had my coffee yet.

July 5, 2012

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Nice. never thought of that option but it makes sense. wouldn't it also screw with the edges though? i mean where you have a drastic color change you'd end up with sort of an average of the different colors. or am i missing something?

July 5, 2012

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gili

Dynamic range isn't necessarily directly correlated with an increase in resolution.

July 5, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

No, binning works fine for colour because what it's doing is effectively the same as a lens being slightly out of focus. This is also why binning is usually done at the sensor, where the response curve is mostly linear (number of photons in correlating with voltage out linearly), and any S curve/log curve/gamma curve is applied after binning.

July 5, 2012

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(that should have been a reply to gili above -- apologies)

July 5, 2012

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I was just about ready to put my Redrock Micro M2 Encore on ebay... think I'll wait now until they get back up to around $2000.

July 5, 2012

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dixter

I was going to sell my M2 as well. Along with a set of basic Nikon primes. But been watching other M2 Encores on eBay, and no fish are biting, even at low prices. So I figured they're better off in the bottom of my cupboard.

By the way, I don't know why more people aren't talking about using 35mm adapters with the Blackmagic camera.

July 5, 2012

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It won't work very well, the sensor is too big. To match the same zoom level required to make it work, I think you'd need something like a 300mm lens (but I did that calculation a long time ago). Without taking into account how unwieldy the rig would be, there aren't really any inexpensive options for getting a fast lens with that type of zoom. The 35mm adapters work well with small sensor cameras because the lenses zoom and focus internally, and they are also pretty fast.

So it works like this - the bigger the sensor, the wider the same focal length becomes, and then you need a much longer lens to match that original effective focal length.

July 5, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

According to Sony, increased colour depth and vastly more information to play around with in post. http://www.engadget.com/2012/06/03/sony-4k-resolution/

I also think consumers gain as it finally brings digital up to film standards, resolution-wise.

However, Ben, you are right in most other ways. As many have pointed out, there is so much extra cost involved in 4K and the like that it's not going to be viable for most people for years, even if the cameras themselves are cheap (data storage being the main killer, as well as the need to upgrade your workstation etc.). And, of course, it's going to be many, many years before TVs capable of showing it will be common. Even cinemas are slow in moving to it.

So no, unless you're made of money, there's not much point. Like so much of technology, your films are not going to get any better by using it.

July 5, 2012

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Might be good for shooting miniatures or stop motion. Table top stuff.

July 5, 2012

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Jeff

this thing is really only good for scientists, doctors, R&D, finding molecular bubbles in laboratories, and that what it was originally created for, and not for any kind of feature movies,..

July 5, 2012

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Peter

Incompetence, lack of talent and sense of craft seems to be the new standard. Someone will shoot a "film" with it. No lights, crappier sound, crappier photography, crappier..........

July 5, 2012

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Luis

"While quality might be hit-or-miss, there’s a great chance many flaws would be hidden downscaled to 1080p."

This sentence says it all. What's the point of having a 4k camera that only looks good if it's scaled down to 1080p?

July 5, 2012

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This isn't for filmmaking, you spec-obsessed sheep.

July 5, 2012

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john jeffreys

As the first DSLR wasn't as well, nowadays you could use even an Iphone if you want. If the image coming out of this camera is interesting Im sure people will find a way to use it in a production. I could think of many situations this could be very useful, even as a crash cam.

July 5, 2012

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Marcus

crash cam, or pov cam, or mounted to a skateboard or car or moving objects. its a novelty camera

July 5, 2012

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john jeffreys

I can think of lots of uses if this thing is genlockable. It's small enough and cheap enough that you could build a 2D array of them as a lightfield camera. Just when you thought that 4K was too much data! :-)

July 5, 2012

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It also sounds ideal for mocap, where you want the resolution so you get best possible angular information, but you typically throw away the image data as soon as you've done feature extraction. I have some ideas I want to try at some point too about shooting with multiple cameras from multiple angles and doing 3D feature extraction on the images, making it possible to drop live action characters into a CG environment as 3D volumetric objects rather than just cards, without the thousands of hours of matchmoving that would otherwise be necessary.

So no, I'd not be likely to want this thing as a conventional cinema camera replacement, but it could be a killer for unconventional weird stuff, where you want the resolution and tethering is actually preferable.

July 5, 2012

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Exactly :) The rigs you will be able to build with this camera, especially at this size and price point will be unmatched. WIth that being said, I'm saying 4K iphone in 5 years.

July 5, 2012

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Chris

given that my htc sensation, from 2011, does 1080p 30fps at iso 800 AND you can even tap to focus while recording AND get some actual bokeh if you angle it right, id say less than 5 years.

July 6, 2012

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john jeffreys

Modular cameras are the future

July 5, 2012

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Raphael

Modular cameras are the present.

July 8, 2012

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Daniel Mimura

Question - I'm looking for a low cost (under $3000) digital camera in either 1/3, 2/3 of FF to shoot a silent film at specifically 16 -18fps in 720p or above, and shoots in Raw. Can this camera do it? (to which I'm calling the 'Ewok'). Have own rig, lens gallor, adapters, monitors, kitchen sink.

July 5, 2012

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shaun wilson

Yes this camera can do what you're asking - though I don't know if you can purchase it just yet. You'll just need to tether it to a Windows 7 PC and use the software provided.

July 5, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

You could also pick up a second-hand AF100, which will do those frame rates at 1080p. One of its unusual features is an ability to shoot at more than just the usual 24/25/50/60 fps options, and it also does 60fps at full resolution. Should come in at around the price you're talking about, and has none of the user interface compromises, a sensor that's just fractionally smaller than 35mm movie film (1.19 crop factor), and will work with just about any lens. And there's also a surprisingly good 7-14 zoom from Panasonic that will get you as wide as you want. Just sayin'. ;-)

July 5, 2012

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Thanks folks for the replies. I'll have a look at the AF100 frame rates.

July 6, 2012

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shaun wilson

In 24p mode the frame rates are 12, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 32, 34, 36, 40, 44, 48, 54, 60
In 25p mode you get 12, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 32, 34, 37, 42, 45, 48, 50

July 6, 2012

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A silent movie at true silent movie speeds? I'd love to see that, that'll look awesome.

The Artist looked really weird to me---not that it was bad, I liked the movie...but it was very off-putting to see a silent movie filmed at 24fps. I guess a silent film shot with a constant exposure will look weird too thou...

July 8, 2012

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Daniel Mimura

Why couldn't the idiots pump up the frames per second 3 more frames to get to 24? Such idiots.

July 5, 2012

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It's not made to be a cinema camera, as I said above. You can get 24fps depending on the mode you choose to shoot in. 2K will give you up to 60fps. This sensor was designed to be used for other purposes where frames per second isn't as critical as resolution and color accuracy - in this case the camera can do 16-bit RAW.

July 5, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

Total idiots, bro. They build a camera and then DON'T put 24fps at 4k? For $1000??? God after the DSLR boom not only would I expect camera manufacturers to do better than that, i personally feel that I'm entitled to have it better than that! Jeez! Gosh! Dang! Get it right, camera companies!

July 5, 2012

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Jason

I sense some sarcasm...But on a serious note, Sony is the one that built the sensor, so you can't magically make more frames per second than the sensor is capable of. They built this sensor for specific purposes outside of making movies - but the possibilities for filmmaking are interesting with these kinds of cameras.

July 5, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

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