November 2, 2013

First Images from Apertus' Super 35mm Camera Prototype, the Axiom Alpha

About a month ago, the open source Apertus Axiom camera project showed its first signs of life by sharing its open module concept ideas and camera designs with the public. This milestone took Apertus one step closer to meeting their self-imposed goals they've put in place to guide their project toward crowdfunding, and as of Friday, they've drawn ever closer by capturing their first images with their prototype and proof of concept for the Apertus Axiom , dubbed the Axiom Alpha. They've shared some of these images on their website, and discuss at length certain issues, like sensor defects, ghosting, and black specks, as well as a game plan for solving them. Continue on to see where Apertus is at with the Axiom Alpha.

After a busy month of programming, testing, bug fixing, and more testing, Apertus reports that the "Zedboard is now fully communicating with the CMV12000 image sensor." To get an idea of what that means, as well as the significance of their success, the team explains the process as "a spaghetti network of 70 wires, working in pairs, all sending signals at 300MHz in both directions, and those signals are carrying the clock and data to and from the sensor."

Below is a visualization of the "FPGA floorplan".

That's not the only milestone Apertus has reached -- they've got images in 4K. However, just like me first thing in the morning before I put on my makeup, they're looking a little rough. Apertus explains that the pictures are uncalibrated and uncompensated, and have their fair share of problem areas.

Above is an image taken with the Axiom Alpha, of which Apertus provides a thorough analysis, which you can read below:

  • Green and yellow arrows show sensor defects. We knew that the sensor would have defective zones, as we're working with a piece that did not pass QA. This is ideal for prototyping, where there is the potential for many things to go wrong and / or be damaged.
  • The Red [area] shows ghosting, caused by the mirror used to take the picture (the prototype assembly can currently only take pictures facing the ceiling), as it has a glass front and a mirror back. When positioned at a 45° angle, you get a second (shifted) reflection from the glass.
  • The blue area shows black specks that are showing up throughout the entire image. If you wanted to sound cool, you could call it "film grain". In actuality, it's simply dust on the sensor's glass surface.
  • The general red tint of the image is the result of having not yet installed any infrared-cut-off-filter in this assembly.
  • The lens is cheap and lightweight.
  • The debayering algorithm we are using is done on a host PC and is very basic so that softens the image drastically.
  • There is no calibration/compensation of any kind implemented at the moment and the sensor was running mostly on default values for capturing this image.

The next steps for the team is to order an IR filter to fix the red tinting and find a sensor cleaning solution, but to fix the ghosting problem, they have already "ditched the mirror" and adapted their prototype setup. Below is an image taken from their second attempt, which does address the issues from the previous one, but still has some bugs that need to be worked out.

If you want the full story of where Apertus is at with the Axiom Alpha, check out their post here. And if you want to contribute to and support the project, head on over here.

What do you think of the images from the Axiom Alpha? Let us know in the comments.

Links:

Your Comment

23 Comments

I hope they'll succeed but they're working on a camera for years now without finishing anything. Good people though.

November 2, 2013 at 9:49AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

4
Reply
hansd

If one compares this to the Digital Bolex project, where Joe and Elle graciously shared their ups/downs/delays, there will be all sorts of issues still to come on Apertus. Technology and prices seem to be in a permanent state of flux at the moment, and a camera is yesterday's news very quickly in the race to get new ones out the door. Also, there seems to be a certain impatience factor from buyers eg some people are already considering alternatives to BM due to their delays. I might be completely wrong but I don't think people will particularly wait for this camera, in view of announced upcoming cameras which will actually ship.

November 2, 2013 at 11:57AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

8
Reply
Saied

I'm all for new startups and cameras, but yeah. Pretty much everything you said there. There are a lot of factors and variables that go into bringing a camera to market that are hard to anticipate. One of my first thoughts is what happened with Blackmagic and their sensor supplier's lack of QC. I'm sure this was something BM wasn't expecting and it caused a lot of frustrated early adopters.

Regardless, I wish these guys lots of luck, and I really hope their camera turns out to be amazing. I'm just not holding my breath on the thing coming out any time soon.

November 2, 2013 at 1:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

1
Reply

If you feel that a camera w/ strong standard features is considered "yesterday's news", then please, hand it over to more capable hands.

The biggest trouble w/ people today is the immediate, "gimme gimme now" syndrome and the need to become tech whores; keeping up with the Jones'.

If the camera has at least 2k ability, with 14-stops, 48fps and DNG RAW capabilities, that's the gold standard to start from akin to a low-range film camera. Everything else beyond that should be based on the Cinematographer and Director's imaginations. If you don't know what to do with these base features and NEED more as a filmmaker (especially if you aren't shooting a $30+m project), then you aren't worth the salt of your camera.

A lot of whining, not enough shooting and not nearly enough thanking today.

November 2, 2013 at 2:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

4
Reply

Hi KahL, Please note I do not criticize the camera at all and wish the project well, exactly as I wish the Bolex and Ikonoskop well, but I was basically observing your second sentence and saying it might affect the perception of the camera at this point in it's development. I think there is such a thing as "future release fatigue" if a release goes too far into the future. Best.

November 2, 2013 at 3:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

3
Reply
Saied

KahL What i think the gent is saying is there is a time gap between when a camera needs to be released and when it becomes old hat, I waited for the 4k BMCC production camera and just thought to hell with it I'm going the the BMCC 2.5k version. Just like you i agree when people end up striving for visual perfection i.e resolution then the whole process of creating becomes a waiting game as opposed to one of a shooting a production game. I love the BMCC. Just wish the damn thing had built in white balance instead of guessing or running to get a light meter. This may sound like a lame example but here we go. when i was 14 duke Nukem came out, the game was awesome! Prolly the best first person shooter ever. They perfected to make another which would top this. it came out 13 years later and was a pile of shit! Why because it took way to long to develop and games had evolved. So i guess i see what both of you guys are saying.

November 2, 2013 at 10:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

7
Reply
Matt stewart

True, work is money, buy now, buy theirs when it comes out. But donate a little to it now.

4k is a gold standard too, and long after 8k is here, 4k will probably be used as much professionally, as the gold standard for human visual range is between 4k and 8k 16-20 stop, 70mm.

November 3, 2013 at 1:16AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

4
Reply
Wayne.

I want this to go through. Just because I want a real full super35 sensor camera within a lower pricerange...

Why? Well... 2:1 anamorphics simply. :)

November 2, 2013 at 12:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

2x's is exciting, these other offers at 1.33 not too enthused. Is it correct to think only a true 4x3 sensor window can handle the 2x's crop? Thanks

November 2, 2013 at 2:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Anthony Marino

Uhm... 1.33:1 actually IS the same as 4:3... Divide 4 by 3 and you get 1.33333 (3's ad infinitum) in the same way that 16:9 is the same as 1.78. ;)

First iterations of the Cinemascope format actually produced an image close to 2.66:1 by utilizing the full 1.33:1 image times the 2x squeeze (or rather 2.56:1, if memory serves) but later on, demands on sound formats reduced the final image to the now standard 2.39.

In general any sensor can "handle" a 2x anamorph. If you want the 2.39:1 image you will just have to crop the imager to about 1.2:1 . The reason I'm excited about this 1.33:1 imager, isn't so much that it's "perfect" for a 2x anamorph (again, it needs a slight crop to get the standard scope ratio), but more so it replicates much more closely what a full 4perf frame with any given 2x anamorphic optic will look like than a 16:9 cropped to 1.2:1 would produce with the equivalent anamorphic lens... and it nets more photosite resolution doing it. 3464x2887 (assuming 3840 aka quadHD or UHD pixels in width on the sensors) vs 1296x1080. Even going half rez debayering it comes up on top with 1732x1443.

But the short version of my argument would simply be, it looks more like the films that I love that are shot on anamophics. ;)

November 6, 2013 at 2:51AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

Thanks for the lesson. I'm learning and appreciate you sharing your knowledge. It's fascinating how these lens work and the look for me is wonderful. I was under the impression the 4x3 sensor is better suited for Ana 2x lens and the 1:33 better for 16x9 sensor however you cleared that right up. You gave me some good starting points for me to explore and hopefully learn. Here's a dirty little test (if I may share) when I first got my hypergonar 16mm STOP the flares look great, just need to secure it better , but thanks again and stay well https://vimeo.com/76792263

November 6, 2013 at 7:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Anthony Marino

I should probably note that everything I said above corresponds to a 2x squeezed image. If you just want 2.39 from 16:9 sensor using full vertical and horizontal resolution. (No cropping), then a 1.33x squeeze might work better. But to fully replicate the look of 4 perf 35 mm anamorphics (fully oval bokeh, barrel distortions etc), you basically need to replicate those circumstances with a 4 perf height sensor and a 2x squeeze lens-combo.

November 8, 2013 at 4:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

would be nice to support the project.... they need the money for a sensor that is in final quality...

November 2, 2013 at 2:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

11
Reply
francis

The coolest thing is that this is open source. Once the programming is in place, anyone can add features, much like the Blender project. If everything was open source, we would all have the cameras we wanted ages ago. More companies should embrace this style of engineering.

November 2, 2013 at 3:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

1
Reply

Yes, much support. If they can establish a good open standard for any manufacturer to use on an truly open market, we can get quality cameras at a good price. New manufacturers can offer full performance and features based on how much they cost rather than artificial agreements and restrictions to maximize markups and profits, forcing the regular manufacturers to realistically price their cameras.

There is much talk of level playing fields, open markets and free trade, and not much of it.

November 3, 2013 at 1:02AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

3
Reply
Wayne.

Give them much support, donate.

November 3, 2013 at 1:04AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

1
Reply
Wayne.

If the camera is truly modular, you just need to switch the sensor/fpga/audio/sync etc. for a low price and get the newest stuff without changing what's still a standard. That's exciting and will save money on the long run.

November 3, 2013 at 5:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Samuel

That's correct to an extent. Most of the modular add-on's, as it is the case with Red Dragon, would still have to be released by the OEM. While it may be open source, I doubt many folks will bother to create a new "digital back" for Apertus out of the blue. Plus, the market is always going to be more saturated in the low-to-mid price range (say, under $5K-$10K) and then getting more sparse the higher you go price wise. That's one of the reasons Red was able to establish a bridgehead in this industry. It had very few, if any, competitors in its weight class. (plus, it had no scarcity of funds)
..
Nowadays, the prosumer niche is accidentally coinciding with the mass marketing push for the 4K adaption. This will, most likely, bring a deluge of products with similar features - from point&shoot heavily compressed 4K, as you already see with smartphones, to a high bit rate/Raw pro models. Unlike 2-3 years ago, when Apertus, iKonoskop and DB were more or less novelties, this is becoming a commodity market where only the big boys will be left standing. One might be able to make some money with mods like ML or the various anamorphics or rigs but the cameras themselves will be left exclusively to major manufacturers with grand economies of scale.

November 3, 2013 at 10:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
DLD

You really couldn't be more wrong.
You need to read a book on modern markets.
Chris Anderson's "The Long Tail" originally published in 2006 would be a good start.

Modern markets are more fragmented than ever. Smaller batches of unique products are becoming the norm.

This is pretty obvious in the camera markets. There are more camera models than ever before. It is actually easier for smaller companies to offer unique small batch products.

Modern production techniques and fragmented markets both favor smaller companies.

I'm not saying the big guys won't be successful, but the Axiom project could very well be successful too.

November 4, 2013 at 2:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

Marc Barros, most recently of Contour, has a different point of view.
.
http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/09/the-hardware-revolution-will-not-be...
.
As to niche products, one can make money on a decent product if his competition is likewise small. I have seen this in the home audio business where the mass market manufacturers and retailers are aiming at the core of its consumer base while the smaller companies pick the leftovers. But it's always been like that in the audio world with a multitude of loudspeaker and amplifier designs. In order to do this in the camera biz, you'll need to be targeting a miniscule portion of the market that a large size producer will simply ignore. Even there, that is likely to be a momentary omission. As Barros says, if the niche proves to be lucrative, all a major conglomerate will need to is to tweak an existing model to fill that gap.
.
So, to me, this looks nothing more than a Quixotic quest. If that was a Jim Jannard/Howard Hughes type with billions to spare, I'd consider this a harmless diversion of time and funds. As a serious endeavor, it's just too risky. And the fate of Aaton, iKonoscop and Panavision - to say nothing of Kodak - tends to prove my point of view.
.
PS. The Japanese are swimming in red ink too.

November 5, 2013 at 12:02AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
DLD

I actually see this as a really positive article that reinforces what I was saying.

The trick is to figure out a way to keep your overhead low and come to market with a good product, not a minimum viable one. Be patient, don't just release the first thing that your engineers can bang out. That is what we are doing and that is what the Axiom project is doing.

He says automate manufacturing as much as possible, which we do, and take time to build brand awareness, which again, we spend a lot of time and energy on.

At the end of the article he says...

"The resurgence of hardware not only has the opportunity to shake up entire industries, but the potential to forever change the definition of a hardware company. But only if these new startups can cross the above barriers. If they do, the new hardware company will soon begin to look just like a software company: a small collection of builders widely influencing how we interact with the world."

I could not have said that better myself :)

November 5, 2013 at 4:21AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

2
Reply

By the way, speaking of modularity of sorts - Canon is upgrading C100 ($500 via a mail-in to a regional repair center) to receive the same Auto-Focus system as the new 70D. Canon says it's the new software but still the same sensor.
.
PS. Joe, I wholeheartedly agree with your last post ... still think it'll be a tough going for the independents.

November 6, 2013 at 6:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

5
Reply
DLD

Nice lads, I wish them well.

November 8, 2013 at 1:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Natt