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RED, Arri, and Sony: Meet Panavision's 70mm Digital Cinema Camera

01.6.13 @ 12:44PM Tags : , , , , , , , ,

While there have been rumors for years about Hollywood rental and camera company Panavision developing a new camera to replace the aging Genesis, that’s pretty much all we’ve gotten: rumors. Back in early December at the Plus Camerimage 2012 festival, Panavision unveiled a prototype for a digital camera that will have a sensor equivalent to 70mm. It’s interesting and significant for a number of reasons, mostly because the last time Panavision developed a camera it became the standard that other digital cinema cameras had to live up to, and also because it signals that the company might think that’s where the future of movies is headed.

Thanks to Cinescopophilia, and to Cinefii for the pictures and info from Panavision. Here is what we know so far about the camera:

  • The camera will feature on-board recording via an SSD, perhaps 1.5Tb
  • It will feature a Titanium body, and should be a couple of pounds lighter than the Arri Alexa.
  • It is expected to record DNxHD and ProRes, in RGB and maybe RAW.
  • The sensor can be windowed down to 42mm and 35mm formats.
  • They’re keen to allow a wide range of metadata to be captured and recorded onboard, making it “the VFX department’s dream camera“
  • They are also looking to develop a new open codec format

We’re expecting to see a prototype in the next six months…

In addition to the new camera, Panavision have announced a new range of Primo 70 lenses.


So why might you even remotely care about this? Certainly, the gearhead inside many of us finds any new camera creation interesting (I cannot exclude myself from that). It could mean that Panavision doesn’t believe they can compete on the digital Super 35mm front alone. Another possibility is that this is where they see the industry headed — or at least they are going to make sure their camera is “future-proof.” Rather than build a camera with a full-frame or Vista-Vision sensor, they are shooting right ahead to a 70mm/65mm or Medium Format sensor. In terms of sensor technology, there are finite advancements that can be made in a given physical size (though RED’s new Dragon sensor is definitely bumping up against these limits). With a larger sensor this size, you can get improvements in dynamic range and noise performance, which means that the sensors can be made more light-sensitive, with less noise, and overall better image quality.

Now, this isn’t the first camera with a sensor this big. Vision Research, who makes the Phantom camera, already has a camera with a similar size, the Phantom 65 Gold 4K High-Speed Digital Camera. This camera, however, will likely be a whole new ball game in terms of quality and specifications. It’s not clear right now what resolution this camera will record at, but it wouldn’t make any sense to me for it to be any lower than 8K. If this is going to be a great visual effects camera, and they are looking towards the future, they are going to want to oversample for the next format, which is 4K. They also probably see this as an IMAX type camera. Eventually film may disappear completely, so having a camera that can match that quality is going to fill a need. So who cares about 70mm if we’re already having trouble getting focus on full-frame? Well, according to the info so far, the new Panavision 70mm digital camera will be able to window down to standard formats (full-frame and Super 35mm) very similar to RED’s cameras. This means you’re gaining all the advantages of a larger sensor (like I mentioned above), but you’re not having to necessarily deal with the negative aspects.

Basically, this could be a one camera to rule them all, especially if they figure out high-speed. Panavision has been at this game for a long time, and their gear is typically rock solid. When they build something, it’s built because people actually need to use it some day — though size and weight have never been one of their considerations — until now that is.

We don’t really know any more about it, but it’s safe to say that image quality is the highest priority for the company. A camera lighter than an Alexa, with high dynamic range and resolution, that can crop to the major formats sounds pretty good. Oh, and they’re building brand new lenses, so for all of your motion medium format needs, they’ve got you covered. So what could be the only catch with this guy? Well, it likely won’t be cheap, and it’s probably going to be a rental only. Panavision has never been in the business of selling cameras, so I don’t really see that changing. But if you’re looking at the market, buying is the new renting, so it might be something they consider if they keep the price somewhere around an Alexa (or even close to the Aaton Penelope Delta). We know RED is not going to stand by, as they announced a long time ago that they were working on larger sensors, and Sony and Arri will probably not be too far behind.

While I don’t want to be trying to focus with Medium Format motion anytime soon, the image quality improvements thanks to the sensor will mean better-looking movies for years to come, and it also makes for a fantastic trickle-down effect: everyone tries to stay on the cutting edge and it’s a race to the bottom for the consumer.

Link: Panavision’s new Alexa-killer… we’ve got the early details — Cinefii

[via Cinescopophilia]

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  • The question is… will it blend? I mean how much?

  • Awesome article. Thank you for this – great analysis.

  • Homer Gaijin on 01.6.13 @ 1:56PM

    Cool! it’ll be very expensive I’m sure, but compared to the cost of shooting real 70mm film the digital workflow it will be a huge savings. Brilliant if they actually create that open source codec they mentioned.

  • I’ve been waiting for the new Panavision camera for a while, Glad it’s almost here. Panavision keeps all of their gear in house, so the likelihood of this one going on sale is extremely low. I’m really excited to be working with a Panavision camera again, they’re truly an AC’s dream.

    • I agree. I would be very surprised if Panavision ever allowed this camera to be sold. It goes against the company’s business plan and when others have failed, Panavision has kept going so they are clearly doing something right. Why change a good thing?

      I was a camera assistant for many years and I have to disagree with you about the Panavision system being an AC’s dream. I always preferred working with Arri. I found it a quicker system to break down with fewer fiddly accessories needed for different configurations. Also, we had way fewer breakdowns with Arri. Of course, that may just mean the Arri rental house here did a better job with their QC and servicing.

    • ryan o'hara on 11.3.13 @ 11:50PM

      Panavision itself is an AC’s dream… however, pulling focus on 70mm isn’t. Not even close.

  • I think the resolution of the 70mm sensor should be kept around 6K for high sensitivity, maybe that will lead to a base ISO of 12800 (Phantom 65 has a base ISO of 6400), to avoid opening up the aperture for more light. You all know that the insanely shallow DoF on full frame DSLRs, let alone a 70mm sensor (about 4 times bigger than full frame).

    I remember that Double Negative did a test on perceived resolution, they came to the conclusion that based on current display/projection technology, the audience cannot distinguish the difference between a 5.6K scan and a 8K scan.

    • Correction: Phantom 65 doesn’t have a base ISO of 6400, it might be another camera which I can’t remember.

    • 70mm (65mm camera film) is actually only about 140% the size of a “full frame” still photo neg, because 65mm cine cameras have a vertical film transport, while 35mm still cameras have a horizontal film transport. Imax is horizontal 65mm, though. If Panavision didn’t specify their sensor is 70(or 65)mm vertically, then it’s likely to be the horizontal dimension. It’s also a safe assumption due to the huge difference in economy of building Imax lenses versus 65mm.

    • Nate Opgenorth on 07.12.13 @ 11:58PM

      @Marvin, yeah 6K seams fine to me….I love RED But saying “OMG RED HAS 6K WE MUST DO 12K for 65mm!!!!” is a bit overkill…I’m sure if the Arri Alexa’s 3K+ Sensor downsampled to 2.8K can look as amazing as it did upscaled to 4K for Skyfall then a fricken 6K 65mm digital camera with uncompressed/RAW can look amazing downscaled…I like the Alexa better BUT when I saw Skyfall I LOVED the Alexa and what they did with the sharpening…it was simply amazing and they didn’t need a bloated pixel count. I’m not against 4K I just think that in some cases its overkill, kills your system for no reason, and as a delivery format for common persons its not always going to shine…but thats another argument. Base sensitivity ASA NEEDS to be at least 2x better than RED Dragon or all the RED Fanboys are going to go on a rapid campaign about why RED is better than everyone else. 12800 BASE ASA would be a dream…especially since when shooting full 65mm your DoF might actually be too much, hell trying to pull focus at 1.8 on Super35 is already enough!

  • This is kind of a let down… I was hoping for a 6×6 haselblad sensor shooting 16k @ 1000fps with 24 stops of dynamic range fitted into a GoPro sized camera so that I could shoot my family vacations…

  • Panavision is a super class act and the cream of the crop, the folks in Hollywood are A plus. There is no way this camera will be for sale. When you buy into Panavision it’s a system, soup to nuts. Along with that is exemplary custom service.

  • If anyone knows how to build a camera it’s Panavision.

    • Daniel Mimura on 01.17.13 @ 1:10AM

      Tell that to any steadicam operator who has had to use the Genesis.

      It’s so gigantic and heavy, a grip or AC has to carry the power supply in a backpack.

      People call it the Genocide.

      They’ve been struggling to avoid becoming obsolete for some time now…this newer lighter camera seems like a step in the right direction. A new lens system? I’m skeptical. It sounds like yet another attempt to remain proprietary.

  • F*k full frame..70mm is da shit. F*k aluminum…titanium mofos. – Panavision CEO

  • Hope this is awesome! Was not a fan of the Genesis, you can spot the films shot on it a mile off via smeary motion blur. Apparently a bit a nightmare of shoot with too, I’ve been told, but maybe that’s the folks I know who’ve used one, no first-hand knowledge myself…

  • If it’s like 15-perf. 65mm or at least 5-perf, color me interested. Not that Panny would wanna sell this thing in my lifetime, lel.

  • AD Stephens on 01.9.13 @ 7:56PM

    I’ve been hearing about his camera for a while but not seen anything as conclusive as you guys have given us here with this article! Brilliant stuff!

    People were saying ‘oh yeah it’ll be 65/70mm (in sensor size), but what about lenses?’, but if you can window the format to S35 or a 4:3 for 2.40:1 anamorphic (like the Alexa 4:3 or Studio) then if you can still use the 35mm 4-perf Panavision anarmophic lenses (or Hawks with 2x squeeze) or Primos at 1.85:1 or whatever, and still get decent results if the sensor is resolving at 6 or 8K. If they’re making new lenses for the 70mm format then even better! Although I’ll be feeling sorry for focus pullers if their DP wants to work wide open.

    Will be interesting to see if Panavision release it with an OVF, or a model at least with an OVF.

  • I used to have a panavision sweatshirt. The logo is cool. They will never
    offer anything for consumers though, mark my word.

  • If it has real-world resolution and image capture capabilities comparable to actual 65mm film cameras… then this could mean a resurgence of ultra large cinema screens. That is, if they can create 65mm equivalent digital projectors…

    Going to a regular, any-town-U.S.A. multiplex (not the premiere theaters in L.A. and New York) now is like going to a very large home theater. The screens are tiny compared to what they used to be. Just in Denver, I remember the Continental (before they masked the wall-to-wall screen down when they got rid of their 65mm projector) and the Century 21 (before it was demolished)… these classic road show theaters had HUGE screens and fantastic sound! It was an absolute treat watching movies there.

    The return of 65mm along with Dolby Atmos 64 speaker digital surround and premium speakers… almost cinematic perfection! Now, if only there were enough good movies made to showcase this technology!

    Is this sensor being design in-house at Panavision or are they using the 8k Sony sensors? Hopefully, they learned from the awful, smeary television-quality equivalent image the Genesis put out.

  • The larger the formats get, the closer we get to having some sort of computer-controlled focus that lets the AC switch between focus points by merely selecting them (as in easyfocus). I don’t think we’re really that far from seeing cameras with built-in 3D scanners that are aware of the geometry around them. It would simplify a HUGE amount of things in post (pulling a key, metadata based focus pulls, AI autofocus, etc) The only reason this doesn’t exit yet is that there are 1st AC’s who want to work.

  • 6 months for it to be shown, but when will it work? How much will it be,( they will not sell it)
    How will Post Prod handle this ?

    It real easy to put a bell around a cats neck, that hard part is to find the mouse to actually do it.
    Then lenses,etc, Sorry this has big mess written all over it. Power consumption,
    Oh please……

    Panavision does not have Red,Sony or Arri money to get this off the ground.

    • Nate Opgenorth on 07.14.13 @ 2:25AM

      I’m going to throw this out there. You mentioned Panavision doesn’t have Sony, RED, or Arri money…HOWEVER all those brands sell their cameras…Panavision doesnt have to worry about producing large amounts of cameras if they keep the rental theme…also in general Panavision makes cameras and glass that ALWAYS fit somewhere because its usually made out of a need, glass isn’t going to be some insane problem as there is hopefully going to be some way to adapt medium format glass and maybe even DSLR glass, I know I know some people laugh at DSLR glass but its beautiful on RED and right now the only set of primes I can think of that cover 36×24 are Zeiss Compact Primes and some others out their…What I would kill to see is those old vintage 65mm anamorphic 1.25x squeeze lenses they used to get Ultra Panavision 70 by squeezing a 2.76:1 image onto a 2.21:1 70mm negative…perhaps a bit too wide but certainly beautiful and I’m the nut job that would LOVE to shoot a movie 2.4:1 and rotate a scene or two in 2.76:1 if I felt it would give a certain look.

  • Panavision never built a camera from the ground up by themselves. , They redesign cameras and lenses with a logo

  • Yeah focus on medium format is so hard. It requires you to actually know what you’re doing, like how to read a depth of field chart, and, y’know, lighting a scene so you can get a suitable depth of field.

    To hell with all that, I ask nay, demand to be able to shoot in available light with the lens opened up to 2.0 and not have to worry about focusing dammit!

  • Great article.

    One point, however, the phrase “race to the bottom” is a way of describing something BAD for consumers and people, not something good. The way it’s written now means that all the companies with competing cameras are trying their hardest to make the worst cameras.

    I think you meant the opposite?

  • Any DP who wants to shoot 70mm WFO shouldn’t be shooting anything with a budget capable of shooting 70mm. Having nothing in focus and brutalizing your crew (not to mention actor’s missing marks) doesn’t make you a good film maker.
    Pick your stop and light to it. If you can’t do that find another job.

  • rather use their film camera…cheaper