January 11, 2017 at 4:09AM

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Is a Digital Bolex a Practical camera to use to make short films?

Was wondering if the D16 Bolex is a practical camera used to make short films. Because of limits such as little freedom of transportation - living on campus - using my schools computer resources for editing - walking, walking, walking - student budget ... it is not likely that I will have anything other than a one man-band type film production workflow. I'm also not looking for an everything camera (weddings, sports, gigs) because like I said I'm not mobile. That said something ergonomically friendly is helpful. I'm also looking to find a voice and with the idea of what I'm looking for color (vibrant or realistic color palette), dynamic range and a robust-alive image is what I'm studying.

Questions
How does the D16 rank up to my circumstances?
Is it built and made for cinema?
I haven't seen films made with it that are more than 15 minutes?
Pro and Cons?
Alternative Cinema Cameras?
Longevity?

Thanks

28 Comments

I would say the Digital Bolex is absolutely perfect for producing shorts! It works like a real cinema camera and doesn't have artifacts (alias, moire, rolling shutter, compression, bad on-board audio etc.) typical cheap still/video cameras do. It does true 2K, not that it would matter to a college student, but you could use it down the road for theatrical releases because it not only has the pixels but also the color gamut.

"How does the D16 rank up to my circumstances?"

If you can get a computer of your own, I'd say it's great, but you should have your own computer regardless of what camera you get. If you can't afford a computer, I'd suggest a lesser camera so you can get a computer. The D16 runs about 5.5GB per minute and needs to be trans-coded like Arri or Red before editing, not good on a public terminal.

"Is it built and made for cinema?"

It is by far the least expensive camera that genuinely IS made for cinema. It was designed by real filmmakers FOR filmmakers that are as disillusioned with the DSLR/video market as I am.

"I haven't seen films made with it that are more than 15 minutes?"

You said you wanted to make shorts right? What really limits its use for actual cinema are: budgets allow Alexas (sometimes Red), PL-mount didn't come till late in the game. Despite that, it's been used as a B-cam for several TV shows, often uncredited.

"Pro and Cons?"

Pros: forces you to work like a film maker, not a video shooter posing as a film maker. Rugged, good form factor, lenses run $5 to $5,000+. Most natural image I've seen in a sub-$15,000 camera.
Cons: massive data requirements, requires knowledge of photography, viewfinder kinda' sucks (they figured people would buy their own viewfinders regardless). Not for people who like to record hours and hours of video per day.

"Alternative Cinema Cameras?"

$10,000 minimum, realistically, more like $30,000. I know people use GH4s, BMCC, A7 etc. but they are consumer cameras and their engineers admit it. Statements to the contrary are marketing propaganda,

"Longevity?"

I was involved late in the camera design and I can tell you that it was built to last. The D16 creator said he *expected* to do a limited run so they should last at least 10 years. The body/chasis is mostly metal, they used good quality components, there's hardware that serves no immediate purpose like WiFi and Bluetooth so that somebody could develop apps for it down the road. There were complaints that the SSD isn't field-removable. That's because SATA connectors are rated for a few hundred swaps and that wasn't good enough for the D16 team.
Other cameras in the same price range may have more features, but they are geared towards consumers and semi-professionals. That's not to say that other cameras aren't reliable, just that their model for sales is different, intended to be replaced every 3-4 years. That said, you will need a light meter and know how to use it because nothing about it is automatic.

January 11, 2017 at 8:51AM, Edited January 11, 9:00AM

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Great insider scoop, Stephen!

Michael Tiemann

January 11, 2017 at 9:02AM

Hey Stephen, have you ever compared Pentax c-mount 1.4 and 1.2 on Bolex?

Hubert Napierała

January 15, 2017 at 6:00PM

Hey Stephen! Thanks for the insight here. Out of curiosity, whom were you working with when you were involved in camera design, and what dates?

Elle Schneider

February 6, 2017 at 4:59AM

The Bolex is pretty good for making shorts. You need to fully understand what this means though.

1) It is really good for handheld shooting. The handle is great and C-mount lenses are usually well suited for pulling your own focus.

2) You will absolutely need an EVF or an HDMI field monitor for shooting. The camera is literally unusable without one.

3) You can shoot around 1.5 hrs on the 512GB and around 3 hrs on the 1TB version. More than what you will ever need on a shooting day for a narrative project. For archiving and offload you should use a program like Slimraw (www.slimraw.com), which is essential for raw video work. It will compress the raw footage whle you offload, which greatly cuts on storage needs. Think ProRes data rates.

4) You can edit and color raw footage directly with free software like Davinci Resolve (https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/davinciresolve). This is the most practical way of working with Bolex footage by far. Resolve needs a decent GPU, so it may not be working on your campus computers if they lack graphics power.

5) Bolex has no on-board microphone. It has two pretty good XLR inputs. You will need a mic if you want any sound.

6) This camera needs light (it can do ISO 800, but you probably don't want to go above ISO 400). It is not the best choice for indoors shooting without proper lighting. On the other hand, C-mount lenses are usually pretty fast. In any case, the Bolex loves beeing shot outdoors.

January 11, 2017 at 10:16AM, Edited January 11, 10:16AM

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Ezi Seel
596

To add to what Ezi Seel said, I have done most of my shooting on the D16 without an EVF. I recommend one though.
I've never been able to get Resolve to work right on any computer (tried four different systems now) and I never tried Slimraw. My best workflow was to use Raw Therapee to transcode the DNGs to JPEG and then AVI Demux to join them into an AVI file without recompression.
ALL cameras need light! The reason so many cameras can be pushed to 1600 etc. is because the image sensors themselves have noise reduction built into them. Many times, the camera processor has additional noise reduction. You can push the D16 to 1600 too, but it would require Neat Video or the like. Beware, all noise reduction, in-cam or in post, reduces details you might want to keep. Always light to your camera's native ISO as a professional film maker does.

Further fun facts:
Though Joe R. (D16's creator) said the HDMI output is "ho hum", it's on-par with most DSLRs and you can capture clean, compressed video on any RGB capable recorder.

There's an auxiliary data port on the bottom of the camera, designed for real-time high quality conversion to uncompressed 10-bit video. Since the heart of the camera is an FPGA, somebody could program that port to do just about anything they want.

There's also enough on-board processing power to do real-time MJPEG to SSD.

They were developing a motorized lens mount that could be controlled by the dial on the side but never completed it.

I hope one day, they'll open up the firmware to the public so people can unlock the camera's full potential. I have to tell you, I hadn't been excited about a new camera in a long, long time, so the D16 is something special.

January 11, 2017 at 1:38PM, Edited January 11, 1:44PM

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Thanks for the information Stephen Baldassarre. It seems like the Digital Bolex is unrivaled. It also doesn't have all the other features consumer cameras have which I'm sure is sort of a thing lots of new filmmakers are obsessed about. Personally I'm still in that mindset of : but what about features, ISO etc. thats why I'm hesitant because I ASSUME I would want to do other things with a camera.
If interested where would I find one? I've been having a hard time looking.

Jackson Flowers

January 11, 2017 at 4:22PM

Like every other camera it is a Tool... The bolex is made as a professional Film camera. You can Shoot whatever you want on it including films (not limited to shorts). Seen stuff sho ton it and its impressive. and like i say on my post here dont pay so much attention to DR and light sensitivity. Learn the art of lighting, dont depend on an overwhelming DR.

January 12, 2017 at 2:00AM

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Wentworth Kelly
Director/DP/Colorist/Drone Op
2257

I can't think of a better camera specifically for short student narratives. This is the market space the D16 folks should have pursued instead of independent movie makers (a fickle lot we are) and production/rental houses. This will force you to really learn your craft since it's a not a grab-n-shoot camera. Go for the MFT version if you decide to take the leap.

January 13, 2017 at 12:41PM, Edited January 13, 12:49PM

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Marc B
Shooter & Editor
750

Thanks Marc B ! And why MFT?

Jackson Flowers

January 13, 2017 at 7:34PM

Funny you mention features. When I was asked to be part of the late development, Joe & I were pushing for few features while the DSLR shooters were pushing for more features. I even pushed for an FHD CCD. Making it true 2K almost doubled the cost of the sensor/OLPF! Any way, it's a digital version of a 16mm film camera, not a consumer video camera, so the money went into quality rather than features. What do you really NEED for features if not a robust image? They also wound up making the audio quality much better than anything else in that price range too, so there's no longer any need for an external recorder. FYI, the audio board is capable of 24-bit 96KHz, they just haven't unlocked the capability because apparently nobody in the video industry uses it.

I think the D16 has very good dynamic range considering there's no internal processing to hide noise like on CMOS cameras. I got about 11 stops out of it without any trickery. A couple other DPs I know got more like 12 stops with a little more processing during the trans-code. Most cameras in that price range are 200-400 ISO natively. One DP said he got his D16 as high as 1600 ISO with some noise reduction. A DSLR would automatically crush the shadows and add median blur to hide noise and banding. That's why smart DPs always try to light for the native ISO of the camera, regardless of how high it goes.

They pop up on Ebay once in a while and a few rental houses carry them, so you might be able to at least rent one and see if you like it first. BTW, my most ambitious project for the D16 was a 2-hour indoor rock concert. There were several cameras involved, but it was the roving camera, 200 ISO, 1/48th shutter, F4 with a 10mm prime lens.

January 13, 2017 at 1:21PM, Edited January 13, 2:14PM

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I think you are forced to use a Mac computer to use this camera that alone was a deal breaker for me.

January 13, 2017 at 3:48PM

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Yes, that is the moment I also blinked. Joe did hint at a Hackintosh, but I wasn't really confident enough to deal with that. It is not clear to me exactly why they went - I do not believe it was lack of interest, it was something else. That Kodak sensor seems excellent but has a sorry history, considering the Ikonoskop camera also fell. Does anyone know if any other camera uses that sensor ? I understand the early demo footage the Bolex team used to showcase their camera (before one had been built) was from a security camera using the same sensor, but I don't know which model.

Saied M.

January 14, 2017 at 6:36AM

I do not have a Mac and have no problem with Digital Bolex video. As Ezi said, HFSExplorer works just fine.

Inexplicably Banned

January 16, 2017 at 6:57AM

January 13, 2017 at 4:23PM

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JeffreyWalther
Steadicam Operator
1541

Joe and Elle, are you reading this ? Is there any way at all to resurrect the Digital Bolex, even if you strip down the body ? Any way at all ?

January 13, 2017 at 4:34PM

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Saied M.
1167

Hey Saied! Manufacturing is a tricky business. We would definitely love to bring the camera back, but right now it doesn't look like it's in the cards. But if things change, we would be happy to bring it back!

Elle Schneider

February 6, 2017 at 5:21AM

The digital bolex company is out of business and altho I assume that there are parts and service available today, that won't last forever. If you purchase the camera, see it as a disposable camera, since if there is a service problem, very soon parts and service will not be available. However I assume in this range of camera people dispose of cameras every few years, so this may not be a problem for you. Anyway consider its longevity, all you need is one spare part not available to have junk.

January 14, 2017 at 9:58PM

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By law, the company that built Digital Bolex is required to have enough parts to cover projected service for seven years. The only moving part in the camera is the standard off the shelf fan. As far as I know, the only custom-made parts are the chasis and the FPGA.

Saied M. I don't know of any other currently manufactured camcorders that use the KAI-04050. Several industrial cameras use it but you will need a computer with GigE. That said, Ikonoskop's failure had nothing to do with the sensor, it was a lack of work-flow options. With Digital Bolex, it was a matter of economics. It cost much more to build than they originally intended and On-Semi further raised the price of the sensor this year but DB couldn't raise the sale price. There's still spare CCDs on the shelf at the camera factory and at On-Semi, but they didn't want to build new cameras that won't sell due to price increases.
In the video market, everybody wants "cheaper, more features!" and CMOS, although still inferior, is the only way to do that, so that has forced CCD technology (already about 5x as expensive as CMOS) to lose what economy of scale it had.

Inexplicably Banned

January 16, 2017 at 7:29AM

Since getting a new D16 is very hard to come by, try renting one from a private owner and testing it. To me it provides the most cinematic look except for Alexa and some Red cameras. I use it for shooting shorts and commercial work on daily basis. What is more, you can use crap lens and still make it look good. Last year I shot a little promo short for Warsaw City. I used Rokinon 12mm and Pentax C-mount 25mm. We had budget for a skeleton crew and some very basic lighting.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wq8PbJEeblw
I'm definitely shooting my next film on D16 and will continue using it untill it dies.

January 15, 2017 at 9:39AM

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All Reds have rolling shutter which is very non-cinematic. The Alexas are better and the ones with mechanical shutters are great but extremely expensive.
Still, I really wish people wouldn't use crap lenses on the D16. Everybody using CCTV lenses etc. and poorly adapted, old still cam lenses has caused the camera to be viewed as "low fi" to the larger populous.
You did a fine job with what you had though.
If anybody is interested, I did a comparison of several lenses on the D16. I should note that they are all at F4 and cheap lenses like the Pentax 8.5mm got REALLY ugly when opened wider. The Meteor (from my K3) did NOT play well with the D16.
http://www.gcmstudio.com/imagesonly/lenstests_d16/

Inexplicably Banned

January 16, 2017 at 7:46AM

Stephen, D16 was considered a lo-if camera because the marketing department decided to give it a retro brand and utterly failed to allure professionals. I mean, they did such a lousy job that if they took over KFC they would rename it to Warm Dead Chicken.

January 16, 2017 at 12:06PM

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Yeah, good point. Still, with a professional lens, it could hold its own against many cameras that far out-priced it.

Inexplicably Banned

January 16, 2017 at 1:11PM

Hey Hubert!Our biggest markets were actually the established professional (ASC members, TV shows, 20+ feature films) and emerging professional crowds both in the US and internationally, as can be seen by the kinds of films made on the camera, and places they premiered (Venice, Tribeca, TIFF, Outfest, etc. so on) BUT neither of those markets cover your "average Joe" mid-level shooter, for whom the camera would never have been practical in the first place with the fully raw workflow.

Elle Schneider

February 6, 2017 at 5:03AM, Edited February 6, 5:03AM

I will shoot with Leica lens and a speed booster next week. I will post the result in this thread.

January 16, 2017 at 1:19PM

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Hey Jackson!

The D16 is built specifically for cinema. It has been used as B-cam on major network television shows, and primary or secondary photography on more than 20 narrative and documentary features, a number of which I have been personally involved with. A few of the narrative features shot on D16 that are doing the festival circuit or are out on VOD right now include Retake, #Horror, 6 Love Stories, Auld Lang Syne, Screamers, and Fame Dogs. So there have been a lot of projects shot on the camera longer than 15 minutes. Docs shot partially on D16 include (off the top of my head) Brand: A Second Coming, Lost Soul, Robert Klein Still Can't Stop His Leg, Along for the Ride which just premiered at Venice, and (I'm still confirming) Fire at Sea which is Oscar-nominated.

By our count (and all our data is self-reported by users), there are well over 100 short films out there shot on D16, and many of those have played at venerable places like Venice, Slamdance, Tribeca, Rotterdam, and over a hundred other festivals. One short is currently nominated for a Canadian Academy Award. There have so far been at least 3 Vimeo staff picks shot on D16 you can check out, including 2017 Slamdance pick Ford Clitaurus by MP Cunningham and 2015 Blood Drinker by Holomax.

While you are correct that the Digital Bolex isn't an "everything" camera, if you are primarily interested in shooting narrative or more cinematic documentary, it's a very affordable choice that gives you a wide range of latitude in post and the ability to choose from a century of lenses.

If you're curious to see where films shot on Bolex have played, check out our website: http://www.digitalbolex.com/festivals/

February 6, 2017 at 5:19AM

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Elle Schneider
Director/Director of Photography
46

Ladies & Gentlemen, one of the THE Digital Bolex founders!

To clarify your question to me, I should have been more forthcoming. I wasn't at the factory in Canada or anything but did correspond with Mr. Rubinstein a bit before the design was finalized, mostly dealing with audio since that's my specialty. He also specifically asked for my input on the mounts and lenses. I had actually started designing my own camera when I learned about the D16 and our ideas were so similar, I dropped everything to follow every facet of your development.

I have to tell you, I REALLY regret not saving up every penny I could to buy my own D16. I used one for a concert shoot and a number of tests a while back. I have to say it was everything I thought it would be, even if it had a couple firmware quirks. The announcement of discontinuation last year was such a sudden bombshell, I had no chance to act.

Inexplicably Banned

February 8, 2017 at 7:53AM

P.S. you guys should totally produce a camera based around the Sony Pregius (large pixel CMOS with native global shutter) sensors and blow away the DSLR market.

February 8, 2017 at 8:19AM, Edited February 8, 8:19AM

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