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A History of the Digtial Bolex Camera Project and an Update on Its Progress

07.29.12 @ 4:11PM Tags : , ,

It’s been quite a while since we’ve written about it in-depth (March, actually), but the Digital Bolex project has undergone some minor changes since the success of its Kickstarter campaign. The Digital Bolex, if you haven’t heard of it before, is very similar in concept to the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. Take an off-the-shelf sensor, make it inexpensive ($3,300), and let it shoot RAW. While it’s a little unfair to compare them since they have different overall design philosophies, and Blackmagic has quite a bit more money invested in their own project, there are certain advantages and disadvantages to each one.

Joe Rubinstein, one of the creators of the project, has written a very long post on the Digital Bolex site regarding the history of the project all the way up to where we are now. It’s an interesting read to see how a camera goes from inception to final product, and it has information about some of the changes that have come along the way as well. Here is a little bit from that post:

Initially The D16 was going to be the first consumer product made by Polite Technologies, but after a hard 1st quarter it was decided that, if I wanted to make the D16, I had to do it alone and not have the protection of the umbrella company. This meant that I was going to sell my half of a company I had spent 6 years building from the ground up. This meant that I was going to take all of the personal investment I had made in Polite in Public and transfer it to this new venture. Essentially taking away my monetary safety net, and walking out on a business tight rope. Many of my friends said I was crazy. Crazy to sell my share of a healthy working company in order to take a risk on something like this.

In June the team signed contracts with Kish Optics, a lens designer in Los Angeles who is going to create custom Bolex lenses for the camera. They also are working with a company called Pomfort in Germany who is programming the transcoding software. The hardware has been slightly upgraded for the most part, and here are the current specs. It seems that there was a huge push for an additional monitoring system as opposed to the B&W only output of the original design, so they decided to add an HDMI port which will give a full 1920 x 1080 image.

The camera is set to release in the next month or so according to the Kickstarter campaign, so it will be interesting to start seeing some more images from regular people from this camera. One of the big advantages this camera has over many other designs is that fact that it can take virtually any lens imaginable, especially older 16mm and Super 16mm lenses. Its smaller sensor, however, means that there will be an even greater crop factor for still lenses than that of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera.

The Blackmagic Cinema Camera will likely have a slight advantage in resolution thanks to the fact that it is recording more resolution in-camera (2432 x 1366), and after debayering, it should resolve around 1080 (when the camera is downsampling in-camera to ProRes or DNxHD its already doing this debayering to get to 1080p). The Digital Bolex will resolve a bit lower thanks to its 2048 x 1152 recording area a similar amount of resolution if you use the entire 2336 x 1752 area of the sensor, or crop that to 16:9 which leaves you with 2336 x 1312. The only downside is that would cause vignetting for many Super 16mm and 16mm lenses (you win some, you lose some). In the end, resolution is not nearly as important as image clarity and the ability to manipulate in post, and that is really where we will see what these cameras can do.

Here are some more videos released so far with footage of the camera (if you haven’t already seen them):

The footage below was made to look vintage through After Effects:

Link: Digital Bolex: Progress and Process


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Description image 33 COMMENTS

  • john jeffreys on 07.29.12 @ 4:48PM

    Sigh, the Black Magic kinda killed the hype for this camera.

  • The video looks very… retro… which is a nice aesthetic but so far it seems like all the footage coming from this camera has a cheap Super 8 look to it…. not a bad thing necessarily, but a very limiting thing if you want to play with the footage. I think the BMD camera is looking a lot nicer, and it’s cheaper. I feel bad for the guy who sold his company to make this, wish him the best…

  • VINCEGORTHO on 07.29.12 @ 7:26PM

    The only thing about the blackmagic camera that looks bad is the god-awful aliasing.

    • The aliasing in the later videos are due to a mistake in the conversion between the original Prores file to DPX sequence (That Baselight required). It’s very clear when comparing the original “Pool shark” video with the later versions of grading with the aliasing.

  • Why would anyone choose this over the black magic?

    • Compatibility with Super 16mm and 16mm lenses – for the price there isn’t another camera that can do what this one can in terms of recording (RAW), and lens compatibility.

      • darren aronofsky must be really happy, he’s been shooting 16mm on three of his movies. now he has a digital alternative as film is almost extinct.

    • Hey Roy,

      I don’t want to be preachy, but here are some of the advantages the D16 has.

      1. CCD sensor (No rolling shutter)
      2. Intended for handheld use out of the box (Comes with a pistol grip, and again, no rolling shutter)
      3. Native lens use / No Crop factor. When using 16mm and S16mm lenses (basically if you use still glass on BMCC you are spending a lot of money on parts of the glass the camera doesn’t see, most expensive part of many lenses is preventing distortion at the sides)
      4. In camera back up. We back up your footage as you are recording it so if your cards get corrupted you still have the drive in the camera, just like the pros! (this is a big deal actually)
      5. On camera power and HDMI for use with common EVF’s.
      6. Balanced XLR Mic inputs with 96K 24bit professional quality sound and Phantom power.
      7. And quite a bit more transparency at the “corporate” level. We tell people exactly what sensor we are using and exactly how many cameras we are selling for example. This may not seem like a big deal, but we are trying very hard to listen to people and make something people want.

      Speaking of sensor, Joe we are going to give people full sensor recording too…
      Resolution: 2336 x 1752
      Total Resolution: 4.1 MP
      Pixel Size µm: 5.5
      Diag. mm: 16.1
      Max Frame Rate (fps): 32
      Which will be great for people that want to do anamorphic.

      I’m not saying the D16 is better for everyone, because it depends on what you are shooting, but I believe the D16 will be better for people who are interested in a small run and gun package that still provides high quality images, and above all is fun to shoot with!

      I am a DP and have shot a lot of films, most in 16mm film. Basically this is the digital camera I have always wanted that no one else would make for me :)

      Thanks for your comments, Joe

      • All of those advantages make sense. BMC’s letdown for me was the lens mount. Either way I would like both formats to succeed wildly. I am done with Canon and Sony for awhile now(I still have pany love thanks to the GH2). For what I do the GH2 is the only cam under 5 G’s that’s cutting it in res other than EX’s. Digital Bolex just needs to get these in the hands of the respected pros ASAP.

      • Thanks for responding, Joe, we always welcome when creators can clarify and join in the conversation.

        I did not realize you were going to be able to record the full sensor. That’s a pretty big deal (especially for anamorphic) – I think that should be added to the spec list because it’s something no other camera at this price range can do.

        Though that full recording area would make many Super 16mm lenses not cover the full sensor (if I’m not mistaken), I think at least having the ability to record that whole sensor is significant. I don’t know if you’re planning on also allowing a 16:9 mode at that full sensor width, but that would give you 2336 x 1312, which is a rather large boost in resolution at the cost of lens compatibility (for smaller image circles like some 16mm and Super 16mm lenses).

        • Hey Joe,

          Thanks I like to be part of the conversation whenever I can :)

          The full frame image will be a bit taller and just a tad wider than S16mm which is why we originally thought 2K(S16 mode) and 1080(16 mode) would be the most useful formats.

          S16mm is 12.52mm wide, our sensor full res is 12.85mm wide, on some S16mm glass this will cause vignetting. The sensor is 9.64mm tall v.s. S16mm’s 7.41mm tall, but due to the nature of lenses any S16mm should cover the hieght. The more telephoto the lens the more likely it will be to cover the full sensor size without vignetting.

          We are also including raw processing software with our camera, and basing it on the best floating point transcoding currently available. We believe the pairing of our math intensive transcoding software and the patented “Sparse” bayer pattern will provide uniquely accurate color representation(in this price range).

      • “3. Native lens use / No Crop factor. When using 16mm and S16mm lenses (basically if you use still glass on BMCC you are spending a lot of money on parts of the glass the camera doesn’t see, most expensive part of many lenses is preventing distortion at the sides)”

        Well..,. since this does have a crop factor you could get a lens that doesn’t have the greatest qualityat the edges, and maybe alot of distortion on the edges, but has good quality in the middle, then you should be golden with the BMC. Another advantage the BMC has is Resolve, for some that might not be a big deal, but for me its huge, and BM is a decent size company.

    • I adjunct at a film school that would love a couple of these just so they can use all of the old ARRI S16 primes that are collecting dust in the equipment room. :)

      Truthfully, I’m just as excited about this camera as I am about the BMC, albeit for different reasons.

  • He needs to get it into the hands of some enthusiastic people pronto. This footage does look VERY retro – which is cool, but can be achieved other ways.

    16mm is how I grew up so I’d love this to work, but not looking great so far. I also wish him the very best.

  • Blackmagic seems like the better bet plus it comes with Davinci Resolve for FREE. Not sure if any of you have used Davinci but its amazing. I hope the D16 does well but the Black Magic seems like better bang for your buck. And from the test footage the BMC looks better as well. The D16 footage seems really dark in some of the shots.

  • If you think you buy a $3000 Black Magic camera and you’re all set, you’re in for a surprise. Just like all the cinema camera’s there’s a lot of stuff on the side that you need to buy to get a decent workflow going, even though it comes with DaVinceResolve. I think in the end the Bolex will prove to be much cheaper over all.

    • like what? the only thing i can think of that the BMC doesnt have is an external battery. Everything else is the same as any other DSLR set up. BMC also has a much better display and internal codec to 10bit proress 422…something the DB doesnt have if im not mistaken. It also seems to have much better highlights. Im not being sarcastic, I actually dont know what else you need? i guess Solid state drives are expensive?

      • I will say that you need a pretty legit workstation with a powerful graphics card to use resolve effectively. this would point you toward the mac pro i guess (i believe the windows version is still pretty unstable). its pretty painful to run resolve on a macbook pro (which is what im doing right now) and its pretty expensive to upgrade your equipment to actually utilize resolve (what i will be doing soon). i guess that is an indirect expensive if you dont already have the equipment?

        • but…a good computer will also be needed with the DB right? with GPU acceleration is resolve not pretty good on mid level work stations? I will also be upgrading my computer setup soon so this would be a great discussion to have. Computer requirements for resolve and editing various formats in premier pro

    • ? Who thinks that? I wish both well, but right now the BMDCC is ahead on points.

  • My problems with the D16 is the low-res viewfinder and no HD-SDII output so that you can use a high quality external viewfinder. The fragile mini-HDMI won’t last long in day-to-day use.

    Other than that, it looks good.

    • D16 spec list shows “HD-SDI available in separate unit”.

      • Daniel Mimura on 08.10.12 @ 10:42PM


        People need to get over HDMI. It’s great to connect my tv to video game consoles. All this HDMI capability is b/c of D-SLR’s.

        HD-SDI all the way.

  • Don’t forget that the footage in the ONE SMALL STEP trailer was run through AE to look vintage. Once more people are playing around with the footage you’ll get a better sense of what the camera is capable of…

    • Thanks for the clarification Elle, I will add that to the post.

    • Exactly. So let’s see some straight out of the camera, simple setups please.

      Also, I’m not sure I care about what sensor you’re using, or how many units you’ve sold, but cheers.
      And I’m a customer that has spent $20k on just cameras in the last year. If your footage looks good, I’ll buy one. Love the onepiece vibe. But I’ll probably buy a BMDCC first based purely on the look right now.

      If you can get anamorphic cranking on this, that’s your niche right there.

  • I’ve been keeping an eye out for the digital bolex since it began on kickstarer. The fact that it can film in 2k makes it amazing. However, I don’t like the idea that in order to get the right look that I want that I’d have to do tweaking in post. However the key word here is DIGITAL not film, so I can’t complain too much.

    I’m excited about this camera.

  • Jackie Tappers on 08.2.12 @ 4:19PM

    I think the Digital Bolex is going history making, here’s to the crazy ones !

  • if the price is true, No rolling shutter, S 16 lenses, some Leica, a pistol grip, too sexy to be.. just great

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