Black Betty: the First Cinema Camera That Can Shoot, Edit, & Post Footage Completely Internally
The brand new camera design is in the open (You guys are good!). Black Betty is much more than a camera. It’s a complete cinema solution utilizing an Apple Mac Mini computer with a Silicon Imaging SI-2K Mini for the imager. It also happens to be the first single unit camera in existence capable of shooting, editing, and posting footage online, without the need for any other hardware.
Black Betty weighs in at a little under 10 lbs. (16.4 when it’s built up completely), but it is the most balanced camera I’ve ever used in this price range. When you put it on your shoulder, it immediately calls to mind the small film cameras that became one with their operators. This camera is a handholders dream size and weight to keep things steady — and with a handle, you’re good to go. That’s why it was created, to completely get out of your way and let you use the wide range of 16mm and Super 16mm lenses out there. This was a passion project to create a camera that would utilize as many off-the-shelf parts as possible, while creating a completely new housing from a solid block of aluminum, which also happens to have more tapped holes for accessories than anything on the market.
The SI-2K Mini (used extensively in movies like Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours) is a 2048 x 1152 2/3″ CMOS sensor that records DCI 2K/1080p up to 30fps, with higher frame rates at lower resolutions. It has at least 11 stops of dynamic range and operates comfortably from around ISO 160-500. The SI-2K Mini is more or less just a sensor in a small housing, and it uses Gigabit Ethernet tethered to some sort of device — like a laptop — that will then be used as the recorder. In this case, the internal Mac Mini (which also uses its own SSD) is running the Silicon Imaging software to record CineForm compressed RAW files in many different ratios, ensuring that you can save space when you need it and shoot less compressed when you want the highest fidelity. Here’s the unfinished front housing of the camera along with the lens mount, a P+S Technik IMS mount capable of taking almost anything in existence, including PL, Nikon, and more:
The 720p touchscreen drives the Silicon Imaging software (the camera only has start/stop and on/off). Simplicity is the name of the game here. Shoot RAW, expose properly, and get beautiful shots. You can also see the standard 2.5″ SSD drive slot used for recording media in the back:
Check out some footage from the camera. This is a teaser from Jeff Stern’s The Morning of Everything, shot on the Cooke 9-50mm zoom and Zeiss Speeds:
Here is a little bit from our exclusive interview with the creators of the project, Adam Van Voorhis, a Cinematographer and Equipment Manager at Rule Boston Camera, and Mike Szegedi, an experimental filmmaker and Senior Manufacturing Engineer at Bluefin Robotics:
NFS: So this thing actually runs a full operating system?
Adam: It boots Mac OS and Windows, and that opens the door to a lot of creative, fun stuff. The Mac Mini that’s in here is just an old Core 2 Duo, because we wanted to butcher something old first, before buying something new. But you could conceivably put a new Core i7 Mac Mini in here, boot up into Mac OS, load your footage into DaVinici Resolve, and hook up another monitor to it. Then load that up into Final Cut X, edit away, and grade your footage — all off the camera if you wanted to.
NFS: Does the footage play in real-time on the system?
Adam: Yeah, it’s not a heavyweight codec. If you wanted to you could do everything with it including surfing the internet and Chromecasting your files to your television in your living room. It can do all of that. And that’s something that is exciting, as computing technology changes, so can the camera. Even if the computer changed form factor, we could just make it fit into the housing. Because we know that wouldn’t get bigger.
Mike: I don’t know of any other camera in the world that can do that right now. I’m not saying we’re the first, but we might be — even though it’s a DIY thing. We might be the first camera that has all of these capabilities built-in, without having to hook up a laptop. [Editor's note: This is the first cinema camera that can do all of these things in one housing.]
Adam: …And obviously it’s not super practical to use the camera as your editor, grading station, or to review all your footage, but if you didn’t have another choice or you don’t have the resources, why not take advantage of something like that? Why not share your frame grabs over WiFi. Say I’m in the field and I need to get a still frame, or I need to get my footage off, and I have nothing. Sure, just upload it.
NFS: Theoretically you could upload your footage wirelessly.
Adam: You could. It would be slow, but there’s nothing stopping you from doing anything like that. There’s nothing stopping you from taking Bluetooth keyboards and Bluetooth mice, and using them to do things like trigger the camera remotely. I’ve triggered the camera from hundreds of feet away with a Bluetooth mouse and it works, and that’s damn cool.
Mike: Since it’s an Apple device, you could probably use Apple devices to trigger it.
Adam: Sure. Anything that you can do with a Mac Mini, you can do with the camera. It’s simple.
Mike: ..but powerful.
Right now Betty is being positioned as a rental camera, and you’ll be able to get it from Rule Boston Camera. We’ll have more from Mike and Adam, so stay tuned, and if you’ve got questions, it might not be a bad idea to hold off and ask them once the full interview has been posted, as there will likely be more than a few questions answered.
Link: Black Betty Cameras