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Aaton, Maker of the Penelope Delta Camera, is in Financial Trouble, Plus a RED DRAGON Update

04.29.13 @ 12:05AM Tags : , , , , ,

We’ve mentioned the Aaton Penelope Delta a few times, not only because it is a seriously impressive piece of machinery, but also because it comes from a long line of well-designed cameras from the French-based company. While certain manufacturers are going small and/or modular, a few — namely Aaton and Arri — are still making cameras that are well-balanced and can be thrown on your shoulder right from the factory. Unfortunately, the company has faced a few setbacks with their still unreleased camera, and now it looks like those issues have put them in serious financial trouble. We’ve also got an update about the RED DRAGON sensors, and why we’ve yet to see any footage (even though the hardware is done).

As a refresher, here is a walkthrough of the Delta from Abelcine’s Mitch Gross:

Here’s a bit from the French Association of Cinematographers website, thanks to Cinescopophilia for the heads up (Google translated from French):

Unfortunately, mass production has been hampered by defects controller Dalsa sensor, then the uneven performance of the sensors themselves, the quality was not up to the prototypes.

Unable to deliver the ordered and already made many cameras, Aaton found itself short of cash and had to resort to bankruptcy proceedings to allow its purchase by a buyer.

The future Aaton offer two new instruments movie: the successor to the Cantar recorder and a camera “documentary” digital reflex viewfinder type A-Minima.

Jean-Pierre Beauviala and Penelope Delta

So if they can survive, does that mean it will be the end of the line for the Penelope Delta? It’s a camera I’ve been very interested in for a long time thanks to the fact that it does not have any rolling shutter, and it’s pixel shift and ND filter tech is unlike anything we’ve seen anywhere else. It’s also a camera that is built with film productions in mind, and doesn’t require anything fancy in the way of add-ons — you’re basically good to go once you get your lens, battery, and media in order.

Seeing Aaton go out of business would definitely be unfortunate, as they have been extremely influential in the film industry. They were one of the go-to documentary cameras in the 70s and 80s, and were certainly helpful for low-budget filmmakers shooting on 16mm. I have worked a bit with their A-Minima, but when they introduced the Penelope, it was truly the next evolution of the film camera. While their first foray into digital originally involved an interchangeable back for the Penelope — it was later slightly redesigned into its own digital-only version called the Penelope Delta.

Only time will tell what’s next for the company and whether we’ll see more from them in the future. It’s interesting that they seemingly had the same issues that have plagued the Blackmagic Cinema Camera – so it’s pretty clear that fabricating sensors is a very complicated business, and plenty of things can go wrong even at the high-end.

RED has been pretty quiet since NAB where they were upgrading cameras on the show floor, but company President Jarred Land has offered an update:

Dragon is coming along well.. Graeme is working his magic and getting some incredible new color science buttoned up for when we are ready. REDCINE-X with Dragon support is ready. The Dragon camera firmware is complete. The Sensors and ASICs are performing like champs, its all down to the bottom end noise that was found in the power supplies, which have been redesigned and we should see those come in from manufacturing in a couple weeks. 

The slice of production line is back from NAB and we are stocking up on all the mechanicals, sensors and ASICs so we can hit the ground running to do the upgrades when everything comes together. 

I know everyone is eager and waiting.. thank you for your patience.

They’ve also been doing lens tests with the sensor, so we should have an idea soon enough which lenses should work with the camera. It looks like we are going to have to wait a bit longer to see some footage from the sensor, especially since they had to redesign the power supply, so hopefully we’ll get something exceptionally tasty sometime in the next month or two that really shows what this little guy can do. Of course you’re never going to see the resolution online, but you will absolutely get a sense of the color depth and dynamic range.

I think at this point RED really can’t get away with delivering buggy cameras, so if the sensors and other electronics are really done, I’m sure they are testing like crazy to make sure everything is solid right out of the gate.

If you need to get up to speed on everything RED is doing with DRAGON upgrades, be sure to check out our previous post.



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Description image 23 COMMENTS

  • Hunter Peterson on 04.29.13 @ 12:18AM

    Imagine if RED were to buy Aaton. How crazy would that be.

    • If RED bought Aaton, I’m sure it would be only for their patents and they would likely close down the company.

      • agree, but it would be great if arri buys it, the technology developed by these two companies have been the best so far. Blend it on a well design body and there you go

  • Pre-RED taking off, Dalsa was the great 4k hope. I talked to Storaro in early ’07, and that’s the camera he was waiting for. They just never quite got their shit together, never got anybody to shoot features with their camera. Got lost in the shuffle and closed.

    • Right, storage was a huge pain. Uncompressed 4K is still a pain now, but we at least have drives that can fit inside the cameras to handle it.

  • That’s a shame about Aaton. The Penelope Delta was one of the most interesting cameras I’d ever heard of when it was announced. (I actually was under the impression it was in production…) It has to be challenging to stay profitable when you have to delay a camera that’s so central to your future business for such a long period of time.
    I’ve used Aaton’s XTR Prod before, and it was easily the most ergonomic film camera out there. Hopefully they’ll recover from this.

  • How much money do they need to survive, 1, 5 or 10million?
    Can’t believe that they are getting out of business….

  • I dont understand how Red can be far enough along with Dragon to be doing conversions at NAB yet not have any footage to show??…. or was that the show?

    • You keep peoples attention until something happens. People wait around until they see something – extremely great time to take advantage of the ‘wow’ factor RED offers on a year to year basis. In no particular order ;

      >Announces Dragon > *attention received* > announces dragon upgrades > announces RED ONE low prices > Announces price drops > announces scarlet upgrades…

      They have an amazing marketing model. I’m sure some of the stuff they were doing wouldn’t have gone as noticed if it wasn’t for being overshadowed by the ‘mysterious’ Dragon sensor.

      • Do not forget the costant crap talk about the competition to take the fanboy focus out of other problematic things:

        I wonder, who made all those (what 20 000 ?) 4K projectors around the world that are used to show films shot with Red…

        • The only posts you ever make on this website are negatives one towards RED. You really have nothing else to comment on as a filmmaker? Ironic and funny how you seemingly check REDUSER, constant enough to pick up on a thread that was started a few hours ago.

      • RED’s marketing and hype truly are unparalleled in this industry. And, good for them for it. I don’t like the competition-slamming, but it’s probably true that if they didn’t needle the big guys, we wouldn’t have a camera ecosystem that’s so awesome right now. That benefitted everyone who makes films.

        On the other hand, yeah, it’s absolutely true that with RED you really need to back away from the hype and take a deep breath and find the reality. I’d never make a business decision on their hype, and sometimes the hype seems like the main thing. The fact that they were upgrading Epics to dragon on the floor, knowing full well that they had problems? And that there’s no dragon footage, really, available, yet they’re taking money for upgrades to dragon? Wow. RED’s at a critical juncture right now- they are finally facing true competition, and it rightfully scares them. Personally, I think they’ll do alright, though. Especially if they keep cutting prices for their “razors”, and possibly on the “blades”, too. Get that Scarlet down to $5K body including the SSD module and Canon mount.

        What RED has done is make an awesome camera, after a series of huge multi-year-long public beta tests. The new Epics, with the reduced fan noise, are truly awesome.

        But as importantly, they created an army of indie guys whose primary investment in this world is their camera- and who will rise up and crush dissent of any kind.

        I’d call them half camera company, half social media company, actually. And I think that’s why Jarred’s president- remember where he came from, with DVXuser. All in all, brilliant. But not the right choice for everyone in every situation, despite what the legion of REDheads… I mean, fans… would have you believe.

      • I don’t think Red’s marketing is all that great. Outside of fanboys like us, the company isn’t very well known. Ask anyone about Sony, Panasonic, heck, even Panavision, and they’re likely to have heard about them. And the marketing ? Promising stuff and delivering late is BAD marketing. The whole “clean room” idea at NAB was really really weird. Like Ford pretending it’s building motors at a car show. SHOW ME THE DAMN CAR ! Keep your promises and deliver: that’s the best marketing they could have. And they don’t.

        • But Sony and Panasonic all have a serious consumer line. I disagree about Panavision. The average joe not knowing who RED is isn’t indicative of poor marketing – in fact, it would be only wasted marketing dollars if they tried to get an average consumer to know who they are. The consumer isn’t their customer, the pro/independent video and filmmaking industry is.

          Not a RED defender here, just a defender of good marketing.

  • Would be sad to see Aaton go, much more than the remains of Kodak or certain German company.

  • I think there was a certain hubris on the part of Aaton, they came late to the digital revolution and expected filmmakers to be enthralled. A digital version of the A-Minima should have been out years ago to compete with RED. The digital camera market has moved at such pace that they find themselves now without even that Aaton S16mm niche they owned for years. By creating cameras for only rental houses they completely missed the boat.

    • First camera I used was an Aaton S16mm… Great cam! that is a “built like a tank” real example… A 20 years camera working solid, just a slight shift on the gate one time, so easy to fix…

      It’s sad unfortunately…

  • I see what you did there mentioning these two companies together.

  • Time for a kickstarter!

  • What a shame that such a visionary creator of mechanical cameras couldn’t transition successfully to a workable digital design –especially since companies like Black Magic Design have created interesting, affordable systems. The era of camera fetish, for me, is definitely over. I can’t imagine becoming as emotionally attached to a digital camera the way I once cherished my Arri SR. These days, it’s all about the glass.