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Why Can't We Have Beautiful Digital Cinema Cameras?

The very notion might be preposterous for many individuals. Cameras are tools, why should it matter what they look like? Does one choose a particular hammer over another because of its aesthetics? Not usually, often with any tool, style gives way to performance. For the longest time, personal computers were nothing more than grey boxes. Apple was a big part of the movement away from boring, grey boxes. Not to give them all of the credit, however, since there is a large modding community in the computer world that feels the same way — and they’ve been creating beautiful PC cases for years. But what about cameras, specifically the digital cinema kind? The Yolk Y2 Digital Cinema Camera aims to address that pesky function over form notion, and truly design a camera that is aesthetically pleasing and functional.

The Y2 was designed with equal parts power, aesthetics, and functionality. The project was originally supposed to be a 2/3″ 2K CMOS sensor camera with a mechanical shutter and optical viewfinder, that recorded RAW to Cinema DNG. When it was first announced, Super 35mm sensors weren’t nearly as abundant as they are now. According to Cinescopophilia, the camera might be resurrected and it’s possible that the project could be funded through Kickstarter (confirmed that this will not happen, but still interesting nonetheless):

During early design stages of a product like the Yolk Y2 2K camera a finite element analysis can be used to evaluate conditions and forces on products and their materials under certain environmental conditions. The drop test is an important process in determining the final strength required for a product. With this FEA testing are we seeing Yolk GmbH resurrecting the Yolk Y2 camera project?

Here are those videos:

Here are a few bigger photos of the camera:

Some may not appreciate the aesthetics or simply don’t understand why it matters, but for a tool that you’ll be spending so much time utilizing, why can’t it be beautiful and function exactly how you need it to be? This might be better explained with an analogy. When buying a new car, it’s often what the car looks like that attracts a buyer in the first place. It starts with the aesthetics of the vehicle, inside and out. Often the sticker price is enough to turn people away and not actually see how the car feels, but if they make it past the cost of the vehicle, the next step is to see how one might fit in the car, and then lastly how the car drives. There aren’t too many individuals who buy a car simply because they looked on a spec sheet and found that the engine could push out 400hp.

Cars are a little different than cameras, of course, but cameras are getting to a point where the actual internal specs won’t be greatly improved from the previous generation. We can arguably already produce images that are high-resolution and are as pleasing as the previously dominant format — film. Functionality, both internally and externally, often outweighs the look of these cameras. When something is made to last only a few years (the way many cameras are made), priority is given to just making the thing do its job — and do it well. 35mm film cameras, far more than digital cameras, required both form and function to be considered when they were designed. More care could be taken when designing the body, because these were tools meant to last a generation. They were built of metal parts, and their mechanical nature meant that if they broke down, they could be fixed far more easily than the cameras of today. I’ve heard plenty of cinematographers call certain film cameras works of art — but I’ve never truly heard that about any digital camera.

So does this really matter? Why should we care if digital cameras are works of art? Cameras don’t have to be beautiful, they just have to work and get out of our way when we’re trying to do our job. To answer that question though, we should consider the car analogy. Unless you’re a professional racer, why do you care what your car looks like as long as you can get from point A to point B. Honestly, some don’t care, and if you’re one of those people, you probably don’t understand why this is even a topic of discussion in the first place. If you’re like me, however, and you can appreciate all of the different facets of camera design — not just the internal specifications — you will understand that this is not a question of why, but why not?

We invest so much time, energy, and money into filmmaking, but manufacturers have been designing digital cameras the same way for years. Car enthusiasts don’t just appreciate certain cars for their performance (though they certainly could), they appreciate them for their style and the care with which they were designed. A good tool does not have to be a boring tool. Some might like the design of certain digital cinema cameras — many enjoy RED’s masculine design overtones, reflecting the high-performance nature within. Others genuinely like the Arri Alexa, and its subtle curves and overall functional nature (you can throw it on your shoulder if you need to). I personally have always been partial to Aaton, and their insistence on design and functionality, especially with a camera like the Penelope Delta. While it’s not beautiful, per se, it incorporates all of the facets of design that high-end automakers consider when they design their sports or luxury cars.

It’s nice to see camera designers beginning to appreciate that a $100,000 camera shouldn’t just be a sensor shoved into a grey box. Blackmagic is one of the first companies in a long time that has very carefully considered all of the these factors when they designed the Cinema Camera. Not only does it combine high-performance with beautiful aesthetics, but it also has been built in a way that allows it to be made cheaply. Some have argued that Blackmagic took form over function to the extreme by not creating a removable battery — but with any design — there are always concessions that have to be made in the name of other factors. In this case (according to what I’ve been told), the camera could be made considerably cheaper and smaller (not to mention stronger) by not having a battery compartment. Even if you disagree with their decisions, it’s just proof that digital cinema cameras don’t have to be ugly. Our tools can function, and we can appreciate them on another level.

If I’m spending thousands of dollars on a tool, I want to know that great care has been taken to make it function as best as possible. Fantastic external design is a perfect way to convey that idea. Sony, Canon, Nikon, and others, where are our beautiful cameras? Show us that cameras don’t have to be throwaway electronics — that you spent as much time carefully considering your design as much as we spend working on our films.

Link: Yolk Y2 Camera

[via Cinescopophilia]

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  • “Good” looking cameras are for hipsters. I still think my canon looks sexy enough.

  • I remember the reaction I always got when I did all my shooting with my Canon XL2 SD Mini DV. I always got the “this has to be a serious shoot” wow factor. Would I shoot SD over HD these days, well, not really unless the project called for it. I think it really has to come down to how you feel about the results you’ve achieved for the good of the project.

    • john jeffreys on 07.20.12 @ 12:54AM

      Ugh, tell me about it. My film club at school used a terrible XL2 all the way until last year, when I finally forced them to use DSLR’s. Their reasoning was that the XL2 “looked more professional” and it impressed clients. Such narrow minded idiotic thinking. Its about the content, not the tool.

  • Daniel Mimura on 07.24.12 @ 5:13AM

    Has anyone every used a 16mm Canon Scoopic? Hands down it gets my vote as worst camera ergonomics for a motion picture camera EVER.

  • The Yolk Y 2 camera, combines ergonomics and technology with modern aesthetics. From my point of view a rigid piece of gear that I can hand hold, a camera that is an extension of my body and eye, a camera I can use in almost any situation and on top looks good, for sure will win me over other cameras in the market. For me product character is essential, congratulations to the design team.
    My only concern when I read the tech specs is the sensor size, the sensor should be at least s16, a s35 would be perfect.

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