January 16, 2014

Open Source Apertus Axiom 4K Camera Project Exploring Swappable Sensors, Lens Mounts, & Filters

You may have read some of our previous coverage on the Apertus Axiom Open Source 4K camera (not to be confused with Axiom Images who just shot RED DRAGON aerials), but the concept continues to improve. The team is hard at work on their prototypes, and while their module concept idea is not new, they are working on having the first open source camera with easily interchangeable mounts, sensor filters, and even image sensors. Click through for more on their open module concept and how they've expanded it.

Sebastian from Apertus sent this over earlier today, showing what they're working on:

The Axiom Alpha prototype with the CMV12000 image sensor is just the beginning, we want to offer a wide range of different image sensor modules in the future. Whether it be a Super16, Four Thirds or Full Frame Sensor or a module that allows fine-tuning the sensor alignment shift for Stereo 3D, there are so many possibilities. And since we rely on FPGA based designs for image processing, the camera head (Axiom core) will less likely be a limiting factor for processing the data of a different image sensor.

We plan to utilize the IMS Mount system from P+S Technik, allowing us to mount: PL, Canon EF, Canon FD, F-mount, B4, C-mount, Leica M, Leica R, panavision and BNC-R lenses to the Axiom. But it doesn't stop here - We also want to make the lens mount base itself interchangeable. This will mean that anyone can manufacture their own lens mounts (utilizing CNC mills or 3D printers as an example) or buy existing mounts from various sources. The distance between the image sensor plane and the lens mount (the so called FFD will be kept extremely short so as to allow for maximum flexibility with a range of lens mount systems.

So let's keep in mind, first off, that the open module concept is still, in fact, a concept, and they are working on getting their first cameras together -- though we have seen the first images from their prototype. With that said, this should be the future. I say should because this kind of openness may never reach any of the big manufacturers. That's because they make more money selling a completely new camera body with new accessories, and it's very possible that manufacturing and volume make it easier for them to just start over than upgrade existing models.

RED originally wanted to do something exactly like this, but they have backed off their "brain" modular concept in recent years. The new DRAGON sensor needs completely new image processing internally to take advantage of the power, and that is due to the ASICs inside (or Application Specific Integrated Circuit). This is hardware designed to perform only specific functions. They are very fast for this reason, but they can't be upgraded once they've been built (you can only add code on top of them in the form of firmware).

Apertus, on the other hand, uses an FPGA (or Field Programmable Gate Array). This means it's more flexible over the long-term, and should be able to scale with different hardware and image sensors as its logic can be reprogrammed when necessary. There are different applications and reasons for using an FPGA over an ASIC (and vice versa), but to keep things simple, ASICs have generally been used because they can be produced in higher volumes more cost effectively. Apertus has been able to take advantage of the FPGAs because of other lower-cost hardware advancements. Up until recently, the team would have had to build custom hardware to do this work, but now they can use FPGAs for development and production. (I may be slightly off on the specifics here, but it's pretty complicated stuff.)

Breaking it down into again, Apertus wants to keep everything as open as possible, from the software to the hardware, and give users the option to add and remove modules as necessary. They are still going to be building and selling many of these hardware components the average person can't build themselves, but everything else is going to remain open, and coders and hardware builders can change whatever they need to for any custom situation. They want to make it simple to add a 3D printed lens mount to the camera, or attach your own custom module.

If different sensor modules could be provided inexpensively enough, you could essentially have one camera designed to do anything you need it to do. Need ultra low-light, high frame rates, or infrared for a particular scene? Change out the sensor. What if you wanted to take advantage of Super 16mm lenses because you think the project should have that feel? Drop in the sensor designed for the format. It may seem like one sensor designed to do all of these things would be ideal, but the reality is that it's next to impossible to check off every single box. We may be getting closer that, but the more one sensor does, the more things usually cost, and the longer development takes.

With high-end cameras like ALEXAs and F65s costing so much money already, it would be interesting if those companies just created camera bodies that matched your needs (either big ENG style like ALEXA or small and nimble like EPIC), and then you replace the sensors and the hardware inside with simple modules, just like you would with your computer. I'm sure they have their valid reasons for this, but with the owner/operator culture growing, it makes even more sense than ever to design a camera that can expand and change with technological advancements and user requirements.

For more updates on all things Apertus, head on over to their website.

Link: The Extended Axiom Open Module Concept -- Apertus

Your Comment

13 Comments

Thats very encouraging news

January 16, 2014 at 9:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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shaun wilson

"the owner/operator culture growing"
You have solid metrics to support this? Still plenty of hire companies doing fine and growing - new ones opening. Plus there are/were a ton of owner/ops out there previously. I suspect you mean in indie drama >100k only? I'd like to hear more on this.

Re the Axiom: Its a fantastic concept and I look forward to NAB 2016 to try it out.

Re your other point, I know a couple of the suspects you just mentioned have had serious discussions about user swappable sensor modules - more from an upgrade or 16:9 to 4:3 perspective than a s35/S16 format perspective. It'll happen at some point from one of the majors.

January 17, 2014 at 12:43AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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marklondon

I mean in literally any field where people shoot video. There is more and more video popping up everywhere, and more people own and shoot with 24p cameras than at any point in history. Growth of this site is a pretty solid indicator of that. This is especially true in countries that used to be poor, but now have booming middle classes.

January 17, 2014 at 1:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Joe Marine
Camera Department

I'd even take it further honestly. Once a good online distribution model takes off, I think most aspiring directors/producers will own a camera... making them director/operator/owner... maybe even their own DP if they know lighting.

January 17, 2014 at 5:06AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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bwhitz

I believe Ricoh just stopped producing their swappable GXR cam. On the other hand, there are several versions of the detachable lens/camera for the mobile market a la Sony QX 10.

January 17, 2014 at 3:26AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DLD

With the GXR concept you purchased integrated sensor+lens modules. I never understood why they thought that would sell. I think the concept would have sold much better if they had kept the sensors and lenses separate, that you could upgrade sensors at a time of your choosing and buying lenses is, well, buying lenses as it is for any system.

January 23, 2014 at 3:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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William Koehler

FROM THE ARTICLE: ***Breaking it down into again, Apertus wants to keep everything as open as possible, from the software to the hardware, and give users the option to add and remove modules as necessary.***
Modularity has nothing to do with the open source directive of the Apertus project. Modularity is just... modularity. A proprietary product can be be modular, too.

The open source nature of the Apertus project is much more powerful and has much more potential than the proposed modularity of the Axiom camera. The open source nature promises to finally give cinematographers everything they want in a camera now and in the future. Look at the open source Magic Lantern, and how they are regularly creating features more advanced than all of the proprietary camera manufacturers -- and those developers have to reverse-engineer the closed proprietary Canon firmware and hardware. Imagine what such developers could accomplish with a camera that offered completely open firmware/hardware.

The modularity is a minor consideration compared to the project's open source nature.

January 17, 2014 at 3:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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x

Sweet. A digital camera with possible different film stocks (sensors). :)

January 17, 2014 at 8:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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guto novo

This sounds promising.

January 17, 2014 at 8:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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maghoxfr

I hope the project will succeed

January 22, 2014 at 12:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Natt

I like the concept, but I don't expect it could be financially viable.

While the article mentions the cost effectiveness of ASICs, it doesn't quite do this justice - an ASIC with millions of transistors running over 1GHz can be produced in volume for a few dollars per unit. FPGAs of similar size and clocking at lower speeds can cost many hundreds of dollars...

January 24, 2014 at 12:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Stephen G

Axiom is quite a cool Project!!! I've been to a presentation from the creators yesterday in Vienna's Metalab and saw the Alpha version there. It sounds quite promissing, I'm especially intrested in all the knowledge which will be publicly availible. Hopefully they will succeed!

March 8, 2014 at 8:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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August 25, 2014 at 9:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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