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First Impressions of the Digital Bolex from SXSW, and a Short Documentary About the Camera

03.20.13 @ 3:24AM Tags : , , ,

The Digital Bolex D16 has been one of the most anticipated products in recent memory for the indie film community. Since it was first announced via Kickstarter over a year ago, and since it blew past its funding goal, Joe, Elle, and the team at Ienso Electronics have been incredibly busy taking customer feedback and zeroing-in on additional features for the camera. While it has taken quite a bit longer than those involved with the product design had anticipated, the finalized version of the D16 appears to be right around the corner. Joe and Elle were at South by Southwest last week showing the final design of the camera and fielding questions. Below is a quick video of Mike from the Digital Bolex team with the final version of the D16.

And here is James M. from the Digital Bolex forum with his first impressions after some hands-on time with the camera:

The side panels, handle and main body all felt very rugged. Action on the crank is smooth with a decent amount of tension and some built in “stops” that give a light click as you rotate it. Good stuff. Though to be fair some of the more strong arm shooters might feel it has too much “give”. As a follow focus it felt different but still quite workable. For menu navigation it just felt right. Better than buttons or touchscreens.

The onscreen interface when the camera is running is very smart and intuitive. ISO, audio meters, frame number AND frames per second setting, record setting, battery life and card status are all simply represented and easy to read. And I’m sure I’m forgetting something else. You know exactly whats going on with the camera on a single screen. It didn’t feel like I would have to learn another language to shoot with the D16 or spend most of my setup time in menus. 

In addition to these first reports from SXSW, Kurt Lancaster, author of the popular DSLR Cinema book, recently travelled to Toronto to meet with both Joe and the fine folks at Ienso, the electronics company that is handling the electronic design and production of the D16. He shot a few interviews and pieced together a short documentary that sheds some more light on the process behind taking the Digital Bolex from an idea to a tangible product.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m really starting to get excited about this camera. Seeing the immense amount of work that the Digital Bolex and Ienso teams have put into getting the camera ready makes me think that it will be an excellent product that fills its niche in the market perfectly, and it will do so at a price that will be hard to beat. Add to that the fact that 16mm C-mount glass is ubiquitous and abundant, and I think that it’s entirely possible that we’ll see a resurgence of the 16mm aesthetic, only this time in a digital flavor.

What do you guys think? Are you as excited about this camera as I am? Do you see the D16 becoming a truly viable option for independent shooters and students? Let us know in the comments.

Link: Behind the scenes at Digital Bolex in Toronto, Canada — Kurt Lancaster


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Description image 68 COMMENTS

  • Been holding on to my $4000, BMC, KineRaw mini, Digital Bolex,,? do you hear me? can i please buy any of you? I am tired of drooling over your pictures and footage.

  • That looks like a prototype EF mount in the video, not a PL.

  • that crank is the dumbest thing I’ve seen in a camera in a long time

    • So new, so innocent…

    • john jeffreys on 03.20.13 @ 6:15PM

      how old are you?

    • That crank (I mean the physical one, not the guy above) is the most beautiful, anachronistic thing about this camera. It is steam punk made real, a functioning and imaginative intersection of manual and electronic controls, a recombinant of historical references going back to Georges Melies, the Lumiere Brothers, Thomas Edison and the hand-cranked version of the Bolex I used in film school. The crank is not perhaps as practical as two buttons (up/down) and it may yet prove problematic in terms of how robust it is, but as a cinematic tool I think it will inspire some creative lunacy, which is what this entire project represents. I cannot wait to own one!

      • That’s horrible. 40 years from now people are going to have the same nostalgia for DSLR cameras as you do for a Bolex. Bolex’s are awesome…my cine lecturer kept making us jealous with his…but I would feel so pretentious running around with a DIGITAL camera that has a crank on it for absolutely no reason.

        Personally I think it would make more sense if they had a modern re-interpretation of the crank…

        In fact, if I wanted to look cool while making videos, I’d get a broken Bolex and shove a NOVO-mod GoPro in there and make better videos. And put on huge glasses without lenses to the dismay of everyone who actually needs glasses to see. To deep for you! TOO DEEP!

  • vinceGortho on 03.20.13 @ 5:09AM

    Does this come In non-hipster retro style?

    • it’s so unhip to be hip these days that any time now it will become hip again.

    • Yes, I’d like a black box with a sensor in it please. I don’t give 2-sh*ts about about what my camera looks like to people on set. Or if they think my movie’s going to be “hip” based on my set appearance.

      Although, now that I’m thinking about it… there seems to be a new kind of filmmaker emerging. The kind that obsesses with how their gear “looks”. This is kind of an offshoot of the filmmaker, that instead of focusing on what will improve their product in the end, focuses on looking “professional” in the process instead. As if the audience somehow cares (or will even know) how “pro” your camera looked or if you had 12 AC’s unnecessarily operating 3 focusing systems on a 80lb rig. Physiologically, I think it comes from an old adage along the lines of “those who can’t… emulate”

      • Wedding photographers using Red Scarlet, for instance. Yeah, like I want to see your wedding in 2K or 4K?! Clients want to feel the team they hire is “professional” not only for the look they produce but the look they are. Digital Bolex may well be “the new black” or it may be “retro hipster” but however you see it, it will be a really cool tool.

  • Can we please stop lambasting the Ditgital Bolex team for being ‘Hipster’? Sony and Canon are run by businessmen in suits and ties – does that stop them making great cameras? No! So can we please return the conversation to the quality of the product and not the creator’s attire.

    • It’s just that – generally speaking – suits and ties i find more reliable when it comes to technology than ‘Hipsters’ I’ll say it again: That ‘Hipster’-thing might needlessly spoil the company’s reputation among serious photographers when it comes to customer support, for example. Might be a good product, but you also want to know whether you buy good and competent service with it. And whilst not deminishing the company/product per se, it still casts a faint shadow of (again probably unneccessary) doubt on both.

      • Of course, that ‘doubt’ comes from feeling excluded from a community of popular and attractive people, and not from any concerns about qualifications or values on their part.

        Look at pictures of Tarkovsky on his sets. He was hipper than a Brooklyn bartender.

          • Well, shouldn’t have jumped on that silly suit and tie-argument in the first place. It is ridiculous and a such should just have been ignored, which I didn’t. Still it is bit of a stretch to turn my concerns with costumer support regarding the company’s appearance into … well, me hating them for what they are wearing. Probably it’s just that we haven’t seen any kind of footage from the camera in it’s recent form.

        • To each his own, André. I dare not tell anybody how to dress or appear in public UNLESS they want a lot of money from me. In that case they better want me taking them serious. Tarkovsky was a director, not the head or founder of a camera company. Those look much more like this: or this
          Trust is just a huge value when it comes to investments like these. Sony, Canon, Nikon, BlackMagic, ARRI, RED and even Kinefinity have a much more somber, distinctly more serious public appearance, and I dare say they know why: Because that’s what sells expensive technically elaborate products to professionals and people who simply like some solid support with their 3000+ USD DSLR/CineCam. Maybe this whole Hipster-attitude is a good marketing strategy for the D16, as they might not aim for the die hard photographers but for the well-off young couple’s male side that wants another expensive toy – like the original Bolexes were. And good technology helps selling it to those clients, aswell. Yet, if you asked me whether I’d buy a BMCC or a Digital Bolex, I’d go for the BMCC because it has enough qualities to justify its price and BlackMagic has the street cred regarding customer support. And Bolex’s camera won’t be the last one in that price range with global shutter, that’s for sure.

          • As long as the camera works, I’ll buy one from a stranger in a gorilla mask. I can’t imagine what these people might have done to spoil your trust except get dressed with the lights on.

          • I live in north Brooklyn so I’m well familiar with the hipster demographic and love to shower them with hateorade on a regular basis. That being said the problem with your argument MattN is that none of the so called suits are providing the 3-4k market with a reliable digi cine cam, and it looks like after years of opportunity they will continue to ignore that segment of the market probably because there is no profit to be made with their current business model. The closest is the fs100, af100. The suits didn’t drop the ball there just not picking it up. So if 2 hipsters and a small electronics company wants to shake things up and help move the market forward then I salute them and wish them success.

          • How is that even true? All of RED’s branding is unnecessarily edgy and at things like NAB they’re all wearing baseball caps and Ed Hardy level T-shirts with tons of spiky metal and RED emblazoned on everything. They don’t look like suit and tie professionals either they look like bikers, yet no one seems to care.

            Somehow you’re doubtful because they don’t look like uptight Japanese businessmen? Get over yourself.

      • I think it’s odd people are putting so much emphasis on what the creators look and dress like. The camera is in a “retro” style bolex body, but other than that and Joe’s hat, I’m not really seeing the “hipster” connection other than people being angry they dont look more nerdy or more business like. People wear thick glasses now – it’s the fashion. People used to wear ripped jeans. Steve Jobs was dressed like a super villain from a Bond movie his whole career. Who cares? The product’s abilities are all that matter, and real professionals care about that. When RED came out people through similar offenses their was because Mr. Jannard had previously started a designer sunglasses company. How’s RED viewed now?

      • Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs were called hipsters when building a wooden computer inside a garage…the rest is history

        • The IBM business men had way better tech support for their computers. They may have taken up 700 square feet and run on cathode tubes and key cards, but god damn if that tech support wasn’t top notch.

      • Space Captain on 03.20.13 @ 12:39PM

        Since Jean-Pierre Beauviala doesn’t wear a suit, he clearly cannot be trusted.

      • You’re actually concerned with their attire? Oh my god.

      • How they dress should be totally irrelevant… They clearly are serious in their endeavours as they built a seriously competitive product, based on great business philosophy, quality production, passion, as well as a distinct attentiveness and consideration for their consumers, which I have rarely seen to this extent. Plus, they are filmmakers ! How can they not be taken seriously ? I personally have great trust and respect for people with a similar mindset, philosophy and objectives, regardless of how they dress. Take Robert Rozak of Juiced Link. Great products and prices from a genuinely passionate and dedicated person, on both a professional and a human level.

        • I completely agree with you. From what it looks like their audience is going to be film students and low budget film makers. They aren’t trying to get guys like Philip Bloom to shoot with their camera (although lets be honest, that would probably help sell a fair amount of them.) They want it to be accessible to they people who can’t afford a RED or ARRI.

  • Every time a new camera is released someone is shown holding / using the camera with a Zeiss CP lens attached It usually ends up looking like the lens has swallowed the camera. Why anyone would use this large, heavy, slow full-frame lens with a highly portable 16mm style camera is anyone’s guess.

    • Kenneth Merrill on 03.20.13 @ 9:48PM

      Oh maybe because it’s some of the best glass out there.

      • john jeffreys on 03.21.13 @ 1:36AM

        >some of the best glass out there
        >rehoused stills lenses
        >50mm 1.4 lens design is softer than a baby’s bottom

  • Anthony Marino on 03.20.13 @ 6:41AM

    Looks great. Happy for Joe and Elie, they’re certainly doing it. Besides looking like a “neat” camera the imaging from the interivews looked great. It’s a serious tool, nice skin tones, good sdof, variable recording formats, XLRs, 2k etc. Hopefully the success of both cameras, including the BMCC will further democratize filmmaking and set the bar for other companies to offer such quality at low price points. What intrigues me most about this camera (besides its price) are the makers. Like the bmcc I hope these guys are hugely successful too. Lord knows what’s next from these guys. Hey I’m rooting for them because you gotta figure the “big guys” aren’t. What they accomplished thus far should be really inspiring to all filmmakers, not to mention being filmmakers themselves their feature set is most likely maxed out for the price their offering. I don’t see these guys crippling other products they may come out with in the future (at least not yet) for the sake of the
    almightily dollar like so many other manufactures we keep shelling cash out to. For all our sakes and to those of us who can’t afford the $30,000.00 camera it’s a tool we should all be rooting for. Thanks

  • I can’t wait to see some footage from this camera with proper 16mm glass. I think the Angenieux 11.5-138 would make for some amazing visuals (and Wes Anderson snap zooms). That 16mm CCD sensor is just what we need!

  • Is there an ad on EVF viewfinder you can put your eye up to?

  • Digital Bolex are listening to their audience – quite unlike canon –
    This is what will make the camera a wonderful success 😉
    Well done guys

  • The D16 Bolex preserves what the original meant to people in the 1930s: small with a high quality image. Once the prototype is in people’s hands and we start seeing reviews, version 2 will be more refined and make more sense, just as it happened with the BMCC. The best part about this post is knowing that a real camera company is helping produce this camera.

  • steve varnell on 03.20.13 @ 10:32AM

    I find it interesting they seem to have been concerned about many of the comments about the BMCC and went more in the user comment direction than the BMCC did. Its not many items, but the XLR, SDI, and Lens mount. Just like the BMCC the proof will be in the pudding. Nether the less, these are exciting times.

  • That bts video was terrible. I’m somewhat excited about the camera, but man… I’ve seen very few videos paced that slowly. It feels like a rough assembly, not a deliverable video.

    • Also, it was really distracting to watch because most of the shots were out of focus. What’s with this obsession of doing interviews with extremely shallow depth of field? We can all do that now, get over it. It ruined most of the shots and was distracting.

    • Yeah – seriously! Pro tip: set your depth of field to deeper than your interview subject’s face.

      Still interested in seeing what this camera can do. Exciting times.

  • I’m holding out for the Digital Eclair.

    • Ha! That would be awesome. That was a great camera.

    • I worked for an Eclair dealer in the early 1970s. The ACL was a great camera. With a 9.5 to 57mm lens it was a small light easy to hold camera. A much more ergonomic camera than a Bolex.

    • That was what I thought when I first read of the DB. They are channelling the wrong camera. I had a load of Bolexes, including three Rex 5s, but I only used them for special purposes. My favorite cameras for handheld use were the Eclair – Aaton cat-on-your-shoulder revolution and evolution. A much better form factor than the amateur pistol grip Super 8 compromised form that the DB follows. It’s as if the creators had little experience of different cameras and just went with something ‘cool’ when the camera that was truly ideal was an Aaton. Their subsequent string of displays of technical ignorance makes me hope that they have some good guys helping them.

  • So happy to see 16mm come back.
    I’m not particularly interested in this camera yet – I don’t really care about the design I only really want to see shot footage – but I agree with the majority above that version 2 should be pretty cool. I also think this IS an exciting camera for young filmakers and certain projects.
    My preference for my work having now shot with the BMDCC is to wait for the first wave of H265 4K cams to hit in about a year or so. The images from these low-cost RAW cameras look great, but I’m not going to make 1 cent more on my day rate for it. By the time I’d mastered it, an entire new wave of cameras will have hit.
    As for my larger production clients, they are all buying/renting F5s and F55s. I’ve never seen a camera line be so successful so fast (ok, maybe the 5D2).
    Looking forward to seeing the DigiBolex at NAB.

    • IanLUrquhart on 03.20.13 @ 1:50PM

      @markondon, thanks for this comment. Amidst the mostly trivial discussion of mostly hypothetical cameras it’s nice to hear from a fellow pro with real-world perspective.

  • I talked to Digital Bolex at SXSW. I had two matching CF cards in my pocket to get some footage but they did not have a working model. One of our clients, Melvin, owns the BMCC and took a picture posing with his camera and the D16.

  • They had soft focus on almost all these interviews.

  • There’s no problem to argue over for those that hate the ‘hipsters’ making them a camera. Canon has a bunch of men in suits making the perfect cameras for you, with the same sensor 4 years later, multiple models, each with an extra setting on the far flung menu, each making you spend more each year, and giving you an image that you can’t tell apart from the 2009 model. But hey! They have good tech support, no ugly crank and oh! Did I mention? They wear suits too, black ones mostly. I guess you are already taken care of. But for a newbie like me, this or the BMCC will definitely be my 1st taste of RAW, can’t afford a Scarlet, and don’t even mention the Canon 1DC.

    • For a newbie either camera is a terrific purchase. Good luck. However, as a working pro, the 1 DC is very attractive, and the people that make it can work in the nude for all I care.

  • I’ve been following this one since it was announced but I’m still very cynical. The concept is good, at that price point there is clearly room in the market for it but, and this is a very big but, can the camera actually do what they say it can do and will they be able to get enough of them out there?

    There are many threads on other sites that are still convinced this is vaporware and nothing but a money-making scam. Many don’t think the camera (at least a working model of it) will ever exist much less be able to be supplied to a hungry market. Even BMCC have had huge problems in getting large quantities of their camera into shooters hands. What chance do these “hipsters” have?

    I really hope the critics are wrong and these guys can pull it off. If for no other reason than to show Canon etc that their insistence to recycle old sensor technology over and over again and ignore what shooters want and need is a bad move.

  • I would have loved to have seen a built in viewfinder on it. So you can just pick it up and shoot without strapping on a bunch of other stuff.

    • Thyl Engelhardt on 03.21.13 @ 4:36AM

      The LCD panel functions as a viewfinder. No external viewfinder is required, though maybe recommendable.We will have to wait and see how the image on the LCD turns out.

  • The crank thing is just plain stupid

  • The BMC and the DB are products of the LCD iPhone viewfinder age we live in, I like to put my eye up to a viewfinder goddamit. The Red Scarlet provides for a EVF and the Ikonoscop only allows for that style of shooting. The original Bolex had viewfinders of course, I just don’t get it, am I just old?

    • No, I agree with you. While a true optical viewfinder would be my first preference (though I haven’t seen that in a long, long time) I lean toward preferring cameras to have at least a slight ENG feel to them – think EX3, XL2, etc. – so that when they come out of the box, they are good to shoot without spending a dime on anything else.

  • Christian Hubbard on 03.21.13 @ 1:13PM


  • It’s ugly. Incredibly ugly. I’d feel bad going around with this camera. The buttons on the back are cheesy! I say no. Even if the image is fantastic! I’m going to pay twice to buy ikonoskop instead!

  • I tell you what, unless this thing has some freak mishaps internally, this camera is gonna carve out an entire new niche – and be at the front of it. I’m really excited about the camera to, but the Digital Bolex means more than that to me.

    These people represent what the future of product development will look like.

    Don’t get mixed up with the details of personal tastes. Just look at the big picture. The ability to go from idea to market is being so revolutionized that the gap between the end user and the product maker is being transcended – the user IS the maker. This means niche technologies will see an increase in smarter, more innovative products and the big boys in the industry either support this change or try to fight it and get left in the dust of the next 15 years.

  • My dislike of that camera keeps rising. It looks nowhere as “cool” as the initial renderings and that small sensor is just so outdated ! As a toy, it could be fun. But I don’t care about toys when it comes to shooting.

    • Exactly what is outdated about the sensor? I don’t understand. It’s capable of producing 2K images, the same format that is projected in the majority of modern commercial digital movie theaters.