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New Lenses for the Digital Bolex D16 Camera Make the Traditional Follow Focus Obsolete

02.13.13 @ 1:53PM Tags : , , , ,

What good is a camera without lenses, especially those designed specifically to take advantage of the format? Digital Bolex has settled on the final design for the body of their D16 camera, which has a Kodak Super 16mm-sized sensor, but they’ve been in development on some low-cost but extremely sharp lenses to go along with the body (designed by Kish Optics). These lenses are probably unlike anything you’ve ever used before, as they are fixed focal length and fixed aperture lenses. Prime lenses with one aperture setting, you say? Absolutely, and they’ve also got a pretty ingenious way of focusing these lenses that will have you running and gunning in no time.

So what’s so special about these lenses? I’ll let Joe explain (emphasis is mine):

Normally, a lens focuses by moving some of its interior optical elements independently, and sometimes the front element too. In the case of the Kish lenses designed for the D16 all of the optical elements will move in unison when focusing.

This means we can build the focusing mechanism into the lens mount, instead of into the lens itself. And the focusing mechanism can be controlled by the crank electronically, making it a built in follow focus. This requires the purchase of an electronic lens mount, but it means you only have to purchase a focusing mechanism once, greatly reducing the price of each lens and the overall lens package. You can even use it with some vintage C-mount lenses, turning vintage glass that would be very hard to connect to a conventional follow focus into useable glass for cinema!

The exact price of each lens has not been set yet, but we think we can offer these lenses for between $200 and $300 each. And the Universal Follow Focus C-Mount should retail for between $500 and $600.

There are tradeoffs with anything related to cameras and lenses. The way to create cheap and high quality lenses (without huge volumes) is to make them in this fashion, and as an added bonus, you will be able to control the focus with the crank on the side of the camera. You might be wondering how sharp they will actually be — Joe also answers that in his post:

The Kodak designed CCD in the D16 has the capability of resolving roughly 45 lines per millimeter resolution. As a reference, the resolution of most DSLR lenses is around 30 lines per millimeter, which is plenty for the way they capture video and for still images in relation to print resolutions. My challenge to Kish was to design lenses with higher resolution, lower distortion, more color clarity, for one quarter the cost. This is what we came up with. These lenses are rated to 45 lines per millimeter resolution, have extremely low distortion, with very high color clarity.

Here are some field of view equivalencies and more specifications for the new lenses:

10mm: S35mm = 21mm,        FF = 30mm
18mm: 35mm = 36mm,           FF = 50mm
38mm: 35mm = 80mm,           FF = 100mm

10mm: focus range: 3.3′ (1 meter) to infinity
18mm: focus range: 3.7′ (1.12 meters) to 6.5′ (1.98 meters)
38mm: 5.6′ (1.7 meters) to 6.5′ (1.98 meters)

So these lenses are actually designed to resolve as well as the sensor itself, but there are some things that are left out to keep the cost down. You are stuck with an f/4 aperture, and the camera cannot be pushed nearly as much as a DSLR in lower light situations (though I believe it can be pushed to 800 ISO acceptably). There are also considerations about the maximum and minimum focus distances for each lens, as they all won’t be able to focus completely to infinity (another reason they can be made so cheaply).

There is some good news for those disappointed by the f/4 aperture: they are working on creating a set of f/2 lenses which would give you an extra two stops over the f/4 lenses. Making them faster will make them more expensive, though, so that’s why we are seeing the f/4 lenses first. Also of interest will be a set of f/8 lenses that are also in development, which I can only imagine would be cheaper than the f/4 set.

Just like the original Bolex, there will be a turret made available that will allow you to switch easily between the three lenses. Here is a prototype:

These developments make this camera even more interesting, even if it’s not going to be your A-cam (though there is no reason why it couldn’t be). The team at Digital Bolex have certainly thought of almost everything, and they are trying to make realistic decisions that will allow for an overall better (and still pretty inexpensive) camera. I’m fascinated by the ability to use the hand crank on the side of the camera as a focus mechanism. A follow focus adds to the bulk of any rig, but as I understand it, you won’t need one with these lenses since they will be controlled by the crank.

The set will first be available to those who have already purchased the D16, and they should be for sale within the next few months, with availability ramping up just like the camera.

What do you think about this development? Aperture and focus distance issues aside, do these lenses actually make you more interested in the camera?

Link: The first set of Digital Bolex Lenses — Digital Bolex


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Description image 61 COMMENTS

  • This is all interesting but we need video samples with those lenses!!

    • In the post Joe mentions that samples are coming.

      • Just like the camera body!

      • … You refer to yourself in third person?

        • I’m returning to Berkeley to fiinsh my undergrad, finally, so my cinephilia and blogging will have to take a backseat to studying, day-to-day, but they will never recess that far. My hopes for the year are to — keep filling in my blind spot gaps: lots of big names like Rivette & Dreyer and “smaller”/”newer” ones like JAPON or more Claire Denis, whom I’m falling in love with, albeit in a tangential, random-fire piecemeal fashion.– get a set writing schedule.– visit the PFA more than the cineplex.– fiinsh my damn SATANTANGO essay.– write a personal essay every month that may or may not reference film but engages some confounding idea / art / artist / growing pain / current life event. Whether the pieces go up on my blog or stack tucked away on my hard drive or get turned in for a class, I’d just like to generate more, and get more than daily notes out from my brain onto “the page”. DISCIPLINE!However: I’ve tried a film log but I don’t really see the point since I don’t watch nearly as many movies as I used to. Also, I’d rather invest that energy into exhausting an essay.Also, btw, this Warhol essay makes me wonder whether or not I may, in time, warm to him as a filmmaker. But yeah, it’s a long slog for me, too… Final thought: The real Edie Sedgwick was way more attractive than Sienna Miller.

      • Wait, other Joe. My mistake!

  • This is all very cool and new-retro but I just don’t see this thing as being more than a expensive toy. Its got great specs and all but I have a hard time seeing it as a working, professional, production camera. I watched the short they created with the prototype and loved the look, I just wish they would make a metal, professionally functional camera body.

    • It is. Metal AND weather-sealed. Joe talks about it in the “100 changes” post on their site.

    • This camera will surely have many pros as well as cons. Time will tell how it will work in the real world. It might finds its place. It’s too early to write it off.

    • Erik, you might have some catching up to do…

  • If the sensor has a native iso of 400 these lenses seem a bit slow for the camera. Particularly for the guerrilla filmmaker.

  • With a fixed aperture, how does one control light in a changing environment? If I’m in a shot where shutter angle needs to stay at 180, how do I effectively stop down? Constantly switching out NDs and trying to get a ND, ISO combo to work with the f/4 seems like a headache.

    • That’s the beauty of raw. Get it close when shooting and correct it in post.

      • I’ve been shooting raw for over a year. This is not a good way to think and you’ll end up kicking yourself in the edit bay. Raw can’t make up for improper exposure.

  • Fixed aperture? Now, obviously the aperture controls your depth of field, but its main purpose is to control your exposure. Unless the Digital Bolex has an ND filter at something like each 1/2 stop, maintaining proper exposure is going to be a nightmare unless you’re in the most controlled of filmmaking settings.

    To my mind it’s not about f/4 being slow–you should probably be shooting around f/4 anyway to give yourself a shot at critical focus. It’s about you having severely limited options to control exposure. Subject is one stop too hot? Better hope you have a tomato to drop, a dimmer switch, or the room to back your light up, because you sure aren’t stopping down to f/5.6 to compensate.

    I never used a traditional Bolex with the 3 lens turret–were those fixed aperture as well? It seems like it would be an even bigger issue on a film camera, as you might have to change your film stock just to control exposure?

    Help me out here. This seems absurd.

    • Right, you’ll need ND filters or a variable ND. If you’re inside it’s not likely that your f-stop is changing anyway, but outside that will be necessary. Also keep in mind this camera is RAW, so a stop too hot or too dark may not be a problem once you get it in post.

      • So the answer to the fixed aperture question is “fix it in post”? Dangerous precedent, haha. Does the camera have internal NDs or are we talking all front of lens?

        Was this a common feature of lenses back in the day and just predates my career? It seems like a confusing decision, either way.

        • That’s not quite what I said. It does not have internal ND filters. These lenses are as sharp as lenses costing thousands of dollars, but they will be available for only a few hundred.

          This isn’t a common design, but it’s a decision made for economics. We should also keep in mind that this isn’t the only option for lenses with the camera. It’s interchangeable mount, so you can use basically whatever you want, but they decided to build some lenses that are made specifically for the format.

          • If the lens turns when focusing… how will you attach a Mattebox with ND filters?
            If you then use a Variable ND the whole lens will turn (spin) (two times) with funny polarizing effects, or not?
            So how do you control exposure? Probably like consumer camera do, and this means changing shutter setting automatically. I don’t see this camera as a professional tool.

        • Way-back-in-the-day all professional movie cameras had 3 or 4 lens turrets. The Mitchell BNCR mount and Arri PL mount are later developements.Take a look here scroll down the page to an Arri 16nn St with three lens turret and mattbox. AFAIK all professional film cameras had external ND filters.

          In the 1970s, when I started, it was common to only mount the lens you were using on the turret.

          • Lenses have a standard 40.5 mm thread to accomodate filters like TIffen, etc.
            So a good variable ND fitler should be the ideal companion to these.

      • I shoot a lot with eng cameras and they have built-in ND filters, usually three of them – but still I wouldn’t know how to shoot documentary without being able to adjust the aperture.
        I mean sometimes even three ND filters and f1.7-f16 is hardly enough to cope with different situations, any less control might be okay for controlled light shooting, but certainly not for documentary.

  • I still prefer C-mounts.

  • Are we talking about 2014?

    • Nope, for the camera, it’s going out this quarter for KickStarter backers, then late this spring for street sale I suppose. The lenses are coming this spring (I think for May if everything’s going well).

  • This camera is starting to sound more and more expensive and very anti-Bolex to me….

    • How can it be more and more expensive? Thoses lenses will be good alternatives and will cost a minimum (few hundred each, probably 1000$ for the lenses kit and the turret) and you can still use differents mount for the lenses you already have.

  • None of this seems too out of line, just a little odd. The weirdest part to me is that using the handle as the FF completely reverses most people’s shooting position–as in, you would have to hold the camera in your left hand and pull focus with your right. Which is fine if you never pulled focus before and hadn’t developed that muscle memory, otherwise….

    Also, I guess the fixed aperture means we’ll be seeing their Kickstarter for a Bolex-branded variable ND in the very near future.

    • Thyl Engelhardt on 02.14.13 @ 3:12AM

      This has been discussed multiple times. Evidently, Joe is convinced that it will work great. Hold the camera with the left hand, operate it with the right hand. It is not intended to be put on the right shoulder either, since the XLR ports are on the left side. It is a bit of a secret still, how this will turn out….

  • Further thinking on fixed aperture: if the resolution and clarity are as good as they say, then for the price difference between these and some Distagons or whatever, one could easily pick up a couple nice used tungsten fixtures (a 1K and a 2K perhaps), some bounce and a couple of nice NDs… although I don’t notice any front-side threading on these guys, so I guess drop a light and add a matte box to hold your NDs. Whatever. The D-Bolex crew seems to have a plan in place. I’m sure they’ll have a solution before too long. The right-handed focus pull is still stranger to me than fixed apertures.

  • Retraction: There is a front-end thread visible in the close-up, so there you go. 3, 6, 9 screw-on NDs and it’s time for fun in the sun!

  • vinceGortho on 02.13.13 @ 4:46PM

    Tech talk is great. A lot if people here are very knowledgeable about cameras.
    But can nofilmschool hire one blogger who does nothing but articles on filmmaking?
    And not just interviews from working directors but techniques on working with actors. Contracts for lowbudget filmmaking.

  • The more I read about new developments for this camera the more its becoming more interesting. That Turet is AWESOME!!!

  • F4 lenses on 400 asa? Pushing it stops in the grade? What year is this? I shot a million feet of 16mm. I’m ok with not shooting it anymore, especially at that aperture.
    Very cool and all though.

  • it´s a RAW camera, with no rolling shutter, 2K and you can use cheap c-mout (i got a few for GH2) and now this new cheap great lens with possible f/2.0 in near future… with a 16mm sensor size… if S16 is good for films like Aronofsky´s PI and Black Swan or Kathryn Bigelow´s movies, I think this camera will be good for some other storytellers too.


    • S16 is a good format, very close to 2/3″ which has established itself as THE documentary format.
      It’s very easy to pull focus when stopped down to 5.6 or 8, but you can still get nice shallow dof when you open the aperture to 1.8 or even only 2.8

  • There are plenty of downsides. There to every set up for every unique situation. But look at the positive sides and it’s hard for me not to be impressed here. What else is even remotely close to this set up? It’s a refreshingly bold move and something that is both a throw back and a progressive solution for indoor filmmakers at the same time. I love it. and even if this isn’t the camera for you we will all be benefited from those it is the right camera for simply because of the way the digital bolex pushes the technology in new directions. All the features of this camera put together are what make it a true player… That is, once we see it in the wild. But I think these guys are gonna surprise a lot of people who have written them off for creating vapour ware.

  • This project is going from the bizarre to the ridiculous. Who is it aimed at? A RAW camera with fixed aperture lenses. WTF?

    Folks…forget this joke and consider the new Nikon D5200 (clean HDMI out, lovely color, DR and DOF) with an Atomos Ninja. I’ve been testing mine for the last few days…and I’m blown away. Better than my D800, hacked GH2 and GH3.

    It not RAW, but HQ Prores 4:2:2 @ 220 mbps is stunning!

    • That I find interesting. Been looking hard at the 5200 as a b cam for my D800. Hadn’t thought of putting a Ninja on it. Post a link please if you can. Could be perfect for me.

      • vinceGortho on 02.13.13 @ 8:57PM

        Have you used the Atomos recorder?
        Is it worth the money?

        • I have both the Samurai and Ninja 2. Both terrific if you need them. With my D800 I don’t use the Ninja often. The internal codec is good for 99pc of shoots. It’s out shooting on a pilot for a drama pilot for a major network right now, sans Ninja.
          I saw the various D5200 vids but thought they lacked just a touch against D800 material. I hadn’t thought of lifting it the extra 5pc with the Ninja. So it’s looking like a slam dunk for me.
          Overall this is the problem with buying cameras. For my style I need at least 2, that match, and take the same lenses. This was the joy of the DSLR revolution to me. I’m sure a lot of us have run 4/5 cam shoots that pre 2008 just wouldn’t have been possible budget wise.

          • vinceGortho on 02.15.13 @ 4:12AM

            Thank you for the kind reply. Im enjoying the hell out of my d800.
            No longer interested in blackmagic. This will hold me off.

        • Yes read this. Was almost convinced but the clean HDMI out may have pushed me over the edge.

    • A photography camera that records video!? Blasphemy!

      The camera can take any lens imaginable. This is just one option they are offering. These lenses will resolve as good as any lens you’ve ever used, and most likely could be better. Otherwise they probably could make a normal $1,000 C-mount lens that’s almost as good, but who wants that?

    • Yes, I would love to see footage from the D5200 if you have or can post sometime. Internal codec VS external recorder. The D16 lens turret will prove very useful for run & gun. As a lone shooter on doc assignments where a few seconds can make the difference if you get a shot or not, I often work with 2-3 cameras simultaneously (one with wide, one with telephoto, …), but it makes the rig bulky and sometimes tough to manage, so having a turret (+ XLRs) makes this camera appealing for “on the fly” type shooting.

      • Hacked GH2 with Pana 12-35 f/2.8 and P&C Pistol Grip could be pretty good “on the fly” shooting option. Super small and light with image stabilization..

      • Nothing beats a shoulder mount eng camera with a good wide-angle zoom (like 6-80mm) for run and gun shooting. No need for extra stabilisation, the form factor alone is enough.
        You can literally shoot a 20 min long sequence shot including walking around and changing focal lengths for in-between pick up shots, but if the editor decides they want the whole 20 minutes unedited they can totally use all of it unedited (well, that doesn’t really happen, but I guess you know what I mean)

        With a DSLR or even a handheld camcorder I’d feel totally disabled doing run and gun documentary.
        There’s a lot of things I love to shoot with a dslr or film camera with fixed focal lengths, but run and gun documentary is certainly not one of them.

  • Some interesting technology hampered by a slavish adhererence to old-fashioned Bolex ergonomics. Instead of copying a 1930s Bolex, I think they should have copied a moderd Aaton A-Minima

    If I bought one the first thing I’d do is toss the pistol-grip handle. I didn’t use one in the 1970s, why would I start now?

    Number two would be a bracket that bolted to the bottom of the camera with an Aaton grip on the right side and a follow focus on the left. Moving the follow focus to the left should be no-big-deal.

    Third would be a real remote viewfinder — lots of good ones out there.

    • I wish someone would build a digital CP16. Much better :-)

    • I agree totally. Keep things fuctional so that people can easily migrate from current camera form facture to the Bolex. I am used to focusing from the side of the camera like most people.

  • I love the torrent and idea of these lenses but aperture, and low light compatibility are a must. F2 IMO is not low light compliant. F1.6 is the highest.

  • I’m glad they’re being their decision-making process – it’s been interesting to read about.

    These lenses will work well in many controlled circumstances, and probably make this camera very useful for non-documentarians. They’re limited obviously, but if the image quality is as good as promised that’s a compromise I bet a lot of people would make. Somewhere between $1100 and $1500 for a set of 3 lenses and the adapter is extremely cheap if the quality is there.

    I like the way they think. But it does make the BCC seem like a run-and-gun in comparison.