October 7, 2013

'It's Alive!' Apertus Shows Off Infinitely Modular & Open Source 4K Super 35mm Camera

In an age of 6K RAW and 2.5K for $2K cameras rapidly announced and released, it's possible even for novel and notable concepts to fall by the wayside. Amongst the competition, I'm sure I was not alone in hoping against such a fate for the fully-open source Apertus Axiom camera project. A fully transparent and modular global-shutter Super35 CinemaDNG 4K with 15 stops of latitude and 150 fps at full-res is still a damn desirable piece of equipment. It now appears that the Axiom is showing its first signs of life with an improved modular design. Check out the details below.

Given how much has changed since the camera and its mission statement was first announced, I wasn't the only one "feeling the heat" for the Apertus team. From its blog (abridged, my emphasis):

In October 2013, we can see that the market for digital cinema cameras is noticeably more crowded... we have asked ourselves many times if what we are attempting to do is actually a good idea... emerging from an international community with no corporate funding behind us. A number of people have called us crazy and predicted that our vision will not be a success. And after opening up our doubts, our fears and examining them at length, we are still arriving at the same conclusion: YES, this is what our hearts and minds are set on and we're going to do it!

In a sense, the low-cost/high-quality world of digital motion picture cameras has been primed for Apertus's proposition on multiple fronts. The geniuses of Magic Lantern have rewritten expectations and exposed the "limitations" of out-of-the-box DSLRs (all in a collaborative open source context). The open format CinemaDNG is finally getting some serious support from its parent Adobe, and has good friends in Blackmagic & DaVinci Resolve. And, of course, manufacturers RED and Sony have proven the flexibility of modular design (especially with third-party hardware).

At the same time, the rapid nature of change in the camera market has put some ill at ease -- and understandably so, in many cases. The timing of BMPC 4K's announcement in relationship to its predecessor's shipping delays raised big questions about investment vs. obsolescence -- unplanned or otherwise. In this sense, too, the creators of Axiom are far from oblivious:

We want to stress that Axiom will not be outdated anytime soon - it will be built from the ground up as a system that will evolve over time. We and the entire community will be able to deliver new interfaces, codecs, firmware and significant degrees of newer functionalities all via a simple software download to the camera. It is our intention to use this to create a very powerful ecosystem around Axiom, providing long term support alongside the development of new features.

Even now, this vision puts the modularity of other camera systems in a new light. What's so great about modularity if there's only one source of components -- or a very limited number of sources, with mixed-bag pros and cons to the offerings of each? With an active enough community, total transparency, and the knowledge-base that a fully open source environment could establish, the sky truly is the limit for Axiom. Completely remove traditional product cycles from the motivation of any camera design and you have something of a revolution, really.

The rest is enough to cast at least some doubt aside. Here is a large rendering of Axiom's Open Module Concept, courtesy of Apertus (click for full size):

The excitement has a definite direction, too: in addition to extremely intriguing mock-ups, actual progress is being made. The title of another recent post, "Axiom Alpha Prototype Hardware complete," tells you a good amount about what you'd want to know regarding the present state of Axiom affairs. In its efforts so far towards assembling and testing a 'feature-reduced Alpha,' Apertus is seeing results:

apertus axiom-modules-cinemadng 4k raw camera open source alpha prototype sensor

At present, all [alpha] components have been properly installed and testing/verifying electrical connectivity has indicated that everything is in good working order. On the software side of things, we have basic communication with the sensor on the Zedboard up and running and can set/get registers on the image sensor through the Zedboard's Linux shell. The next step involves getting actual image data from the sensor, however before we can do this we have to create a memory interface for reading/writing to and from DRAM, storing and retrieving the image data from inside the FPGA.

Price-wise, this camera will not be able to compete directly with something like the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K -- although, as indicated in the promotional graphic above, it should come in "well under" its original 10K target price. Nor is this a machine that really fits into the 'mainstream' market at all. This project will not be one for the impatient prospective camera buyer. These embryonic affirmations of functionality are good signs, but Axiom has a long way to go. It is not with doubt, but with some vague sense of appreciation for their determination, that I wish Apertus the very best of luck. Few pursuits contribute to a 'democratization of filmmaking' in the ways this project is trying to. Now, back to being patient.

In the meantime, Apertus is planning on a crowd-funding campaign following the completion of a working prototype. They could also use some help testing their HDMI output test pattern generator and things on the engineering side in general. So, if you want to help the Axiom from the lab to reality, head over to Apertus.

Links:

Your Comment

47 Comments

If RED was the camera equivalent of Electronic Arts, then these guys would be the equivalent of Valve.

October 7, 2013 at 8:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Tyler

Haha, I think Blackmagic is more like Valve. They both love delays. Soon, the bmcc 4k will end up like half-life 3.

October 7, 2013 at 9:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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dan

haha so true

October 7, 2013 at 11:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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eddie

That's really funny and sad at the same time.

October 8, 2013 at 12:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Sean

So much appreciation for all that has happened here today, I love you guys, lets hangout

October 8, 2013 at 3:00AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Like the RED Scarlet was only 3 years late. And nothing like promised.

October 8, 2013 at 5:12AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Tulio

On one hand, maybe Apertus will end up being the equivalent of CCP Games, where they become known for one extremely niche and highly technical product that has an enormously dedicated hardcore userbase (EVE Online).

On the other hand, with all the crowd input and focus on community-generated content, this could just as easily end up as the camera equivalent of Second Life... >_>

October 8, 2013 at 7:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mr Blah

hah, that's hilarious!

October 9, 2013 at 11:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Roger

Only valve doesn't have issues with shipping their products lol

October 11, 2013 at 11:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Derek

Hear hear! Well written non posturing!

October 7, 2013 at 8:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Darren Wolff

I love stuff like this but the democratization of filmmaking is not in cameras being made more accessible anymore in my opinion. Cameras don't really need to get more inexpensive do they? But regardless of my opinion, good for them. Really just a thought.

October 7, 2013 at 8:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Wesley Dumont

Uh why not. Thats like saying because more people have access to pens and paper or electronic word programs that somehow it democratizes writing in a bad way.

Talent is talent...who cares if the tools are cheap.

Such a horrible attitude. I am not trying to be mean but lets hope your post was a joke or I misunderstood it.

Peace.

October 7, 2013 at 9:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Greg egan

Yes you did misunderstand his comment entirely but hey, dont let that stop you form jumping in and attacking the guy.

"It is better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt!"

Peace.

October 7, 2013 at 9:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Peter

Affordable cameras are only part of what is needed to democratize filmmaking.

The real roadblock is distribution and the reigning class has no intention of giving up their control anytime soon.

October 7, 2013 at 10:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Morton

^this

October 9, 2013 at 7:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jonas

Precisely!

October 10, 2013 at 6:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Seems like a stellar idea to me. I don't need 4K or RAW for what I do but 15-stops of DR and greater than 8-bit color depth would be nice. Like the old Chinese proverb says, may you live in interesting times.

October 7, 2013 at 9:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I DO applaud Axiom for their intentions. Open source and universal accessibility is an altruistic way to go.
That being said, RED, camera, is already on the path of modular design and upgrade ability. I DO NOT feel Axiom's ability to compete is threatened because of this, but they should carve out a niche to appeal to a certain demographic.
Price is seldomly the best form of competition. We want quality. That's why the Alexa is still #1 and holding strong. Create a beautiful image and the rest will come.

October 7, 2013 at 10:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Milkjam

Alexa is often considered number one because it's made by Arri.

October 7, 2013 at 10:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gabe

was considered

October 7, 2013 at 11:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

@gabe. But, more often, Alexa is considered number one because it produces the best image.

October 8, 2013 at 12:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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It's considered to have a better image because it's produced by an Arri.

October 8, 2013 at 3:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gabe

Yes, it's very true, it is becoming more crowded, at lower prices, in the digital camera world. Panasonic is scheduled to come out with a 4K video camera in November. It is supposed to have 4K @ 60 fps. FPS is one area BlackMagic is lacking. Because of heat issues their cameras only go to 30 fps right now. With Axiom building 4K @ 150 fps, along with it's other nice specs, and small-ish size, they should find a place in the video world. I like that Axiom is looking at how the market it really is, are acknowledging there is standing room only, and are counting the cost while they do this work in progress. I don't think I can say that about every camera manufacturer......

October 7, 2013 at 10:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

What is that 4k with 60fps camera Panasonic releasing?

October 8, 2013 at 12:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dombra

I don't know what it is going to be called, and I don't know the price. They are using the sensor from the GH3. It's projected to be out in November. But if I understood correctly, it's not going to be a high end priced camera.

October 8, 2013 at 12:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

I also heard, but can't confirm it, that the next GH will not have 4K video. The person told me said he wasn't certain though. The issue they are having is size. One important factor why the GH's sell so good is the small size. So they may have to compromise size to get 4K video in it. They don't want to do that. So they have a little dilemma. The dilemma is other camera makers will be putting 4K video in their DSLR, or mirrorless, cameras. So to compete they are pressing to find a way to get 4K in the GH.

October 8, 2013 at 1:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

nice. Thanks for the info. Hopefully it will be a 10bit camera at the least.

October 8, 2013 at 1:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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VinceGortho

They should have the technology be able to go 2K though, with perhaps an option for RAW video at lower resolutions, and that may be a better compromise than holding of for small form factor 4K. I don't see the DSLR/mirrorless market dying for 4K. Anything is a significant step up from 8-bit/H.264 I know rather have RAW 1080P than compressed 4K.

October 8, 2013 at 11:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Marc B

True. I really hope the GH5 gets 10 or 12bit even if only at 1080p or 2k. Maybe 4k compressed as a bonus, now that 4k is becoming more and more popular. It's good to have options, in any case. One thing is for sure - they ought to ditch the SD card slot and put a CF instead. And I don't give a damn about size. I doubt videographers and filmmakers chose the GH2 for its size... I certainly didn't. It's all about performance.

October 8, 2013 at 4:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dave

It's not really those using the GH for shooting video that would care about a little bigger camera. But, it's the "hybrid" shooters, doing both photos and video, that want the camera small and light as possible since they carry it around for hours sometimes.

I don't care about the size either. Canon had to make the 1D big to get 4K in it. And it's working just fine for them. I came across a guy setting up a 1D in Danville, California, in a parking lot. I stopped as I was driving by and asked him if it was the 1D with 4K. He was VERY happy to tell me it was. He was setting it up fast. He seemed anxious to start shooting that big boy. He didn't mention anything about it being a big camera. It's gets the job done right. Maybe Panasonic should make a second line of GH's that is bigger and has 4K video.

October 8, 2013 at 8:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

This 13 minute video shows videographers/photographers, including Philip Bloom, using individual frames of 4K video as stills. They don't have to stop shooting video, and switch settings, to get stills. I do think the GH, and all cameras, need to go to 4K.

[ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRDIV0trv_Q ]

October 8, 2013 at 9:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

The solution to that problem is to make the battery grip for the next GH camera be a supercharger of sorts.
Instead of just having more controls or battery life, it could have more cooling, processing power, or just some raw and/or 4k outputs that link directly to the camera's internals. Problem solved -- optionally, to boot.

October 8, 2013 at 7:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mr Blah

150 fps is in 10bit, not 12bit mode. 12bit is 90fps.

The dynamic range is 10 stops, not 15stops. The 15stop mode is extended dynamic range mode. You don't want it in this type of camera.

10 stops is possible for this CMOS technology, but less has been measured in some of the implementations.

http://www.jm-vistec.com/Datasheets%20&%20Manuals/Cmosis/Flyer%20CMV1200...

October 10, 2013 at 7:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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NoWay

Being an open source camera does threaten all the major manufacturers the same way all the Linux derived apps threatened the dominant software company of the day (i.e., Microsoft). Being open source, publicly funded and de facto non-profit will also put a major squeeze on the bottom lines of the manufacturers producing the higher end product. Those under $10K won't feel too threatened yet. The problem for Axiom is, as Dave mentioned, having the majors deliver "good enough" products for substantially less than $10K. So far, only two Sony camcorders have materialized, with the BMD allegedly on the way. However, by the time this camera is shipping, more can be on their way without the hassles of an open source service.
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I do applaud them for thinking forward. The unit is modular and thus can be updated for a longer product cycle and their targeted niche is far above a mere consumer level with the specs to match. That will be the only way for an independent manufacturer to survive.

Marc Barros, of the defunct Contour, shed some light on the business environment. I quote :
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Take cameras, for example. To make an amazing product you need: (1) a quality lens, (2) the latest image sensor, and (3) a powerful processor. The best lenses are made in Japan (often by the camera makers themselves), so access to these components begins with $500K up front in engineering services and a guaranteed minimum order well into the thousands. Meanwhile image sensor companies are quickly being consolidated — so if a purchasing company isn’t a big name, it can’t even get access to the good stuff.
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http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/09/the-hardware-revolution-will-not-be...

October 7, 2013 at 11:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Cameras these days are gettin cray cray.

October 7, 2013 at 11:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Ian B

While the arri crowd and monolithic camera fanboys will be all against that, the modular design is a thing and here to stay. I wish Apertus well.

October 8, 2013 at 12:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Natt

I would recommend Apertus team to carefully consider - why while most camera manufacturers claim that their products are "modular" (and many are - more or less), none have such seemingly simple and elegant layout as they proposed. Maybe they are missing something?

October 8, 2013 at 2:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Anyone wanna help a dude?

What does the model:
Genlock, MocoBus, Trigger, Sync do?

October 8, 2013 at 5:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dilbert

Dilbert: Genlock is to lock sync to an outside timing source as in multiple cameras. Mocobus is motion control. Trigger is as in trigger via wireless transmitter. Sync is TC in-out.

October 8, 2013 at 11:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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ronn

Looks just like that camera I have been dreaming of for quite some time! I hope they make it big!

October 8, 2013 at 1:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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The days of getting excited over a product announcement and a kickstarter campaign are long gone for me.
Nothing is "alive" yet... But i do hope this comes out soon.

October 8, 2013 at 2:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Cls

I think simple need to understand that this camera features the same sensor as the Black Magic 4K.
The 15+ stops of Dynamic Range will be through implementation of a dual exposure system similar to RED'S
HDRx feature. But there are motion artifacts in processes like that. The sensor's native Dynamic range is
10+ stops, when shot in Raw with a good gamma curve you'll get between 11 and 12 stops. Expect the same image quality as the Black Magic Production Camera, but with Higher frame rates.

That is all

October 8, 2013 at 7:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Daniel

Well, you get higher native ISO with larger pixels. The "exposure bracketing" will probably become the holy grail of the new camera, however. I think the Pentax K3 has a triple frame readout and here's what the new Nikon D610 spec sheet says, "Exposure bracketing - 2 to 3 frames in steps of 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 1, 2 or 3 EV". (I assume the smaller increments can handle more frames and the 3 EV stagger only handles double). Theoretically then, a 120 fps video camera can shoot for five frames and, if the video processor can handle something like 5 x 3EV, you'd have some HDR.

October 8, 2013 at 8:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

True, however The Red Epic also has high frame are readout a, and it still suffers from motion artifacts.
I'm not meaning to bash this camera, I'm excited for it, but I think too many people just read promised features without fully understanding the specs, and consequently become misinformed about its true capabilities.

Either way, a HDR video function will have its uses, and 150p 4K footage, even at 11 stops is to die for! I look forwards to seeing footage from it!

-Cheers!

October 9, 2013 at 3:16AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Daniel

There's a company called goHDR that promises 20 F-stops with their technology (some sort of a compression software package),

October 9, 2013 at 1:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

I think this will be a really intriguing option for filmmakers that are starting up or growing as it will allow them to purchase an easily upgradeable product. Also with this it could provide some interesting rental possibilities. Being about to have this camera and rent modules to meet clients wishes seems like a good option.

October 10, 2013 at 4:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Justin

Just read an article on why newspapers are dying. It's because newspapers should more accurately be called "soapsheets" as in "soap operas." They are failing because they aren't selling their lifeblood -- ads. No ads, no paper.

"Film making" is, and always has been, a business. It's about deals and selling. Today more than ever it's about product placement, toy spinoffs at McDonald's, and a host of other side deals.

The scripts that get green lit are written according to the formula set down in concrete in the book, "Save The Cat - The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need." It's why every successful film looks and feels like every other successful film. Some day we may tire of teen angst and alienation, but not while they're buying the tickets. Some day we'll tire of massive explosions, even in period dramas, but not while there's an international market that eats up movies with minimal dialog.

So, inexpensive cameras are cool -- love my D800 and its capabilities undreamed of 20 years ago -- but they aren't going to make you successful as a film maker. Selling something will make you successful.

October 11, 2013 at 8:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dan