I know the journey has been longer than we first anticipated, and for the people who have been inconvenienced I truly apologize, but let’s look at how far we have come since last March.
Last March when we announced the camera, we received more than 2000 enthusiastic emails in the first 48 hours, in addition to numerous Twitter, Facebook, and Kickstarter messages. While most of these were people seeking to purchase the camera, many of them also came with great suggestions for the product.
After this overwhelming response, we added a forum to our site and the ideas came flooding in. It took over a month before we had read and responded to all of the posts. At that point we had a critical decision to make: do we try to make the product better based on all these great suggestions?
This would of course add considerable cost, time, and risk to our project. After some deliberation we decided the most important thing was to make the product the best we could make it. This would require us to raise additional funds, change some fundamental parts of our business model, and begin a long process of determining which changes were worth making. Below are some of the changes we made. If you are active on our forum you probably know most of these already since most of these were inspired by long discussions with you our forum members.
Steel to Carbonized Aluminum: One of the first things we heard was that the product sounded like it was going to be too heavy. So we switched our skeletal structure from machined steel to carbonized aluminum. This not only made the camera lighter, it also would allow us to make the frame faster in the future since the aluminum could be made in a mold.
Pistol Grip: We knew we wanted a pistol grip from the beginning, but we didn’t know what kind, and we didn’t anticipate how much thought this would take. We made over a dozen changes to the grip from its first 3d model.
- Shape: We tried 4 different shapes and found one that seemed to fit everyone’s hand pretty well. The section between the trigger finger and the thumb was significantly slimmer than we thought it was going to be so we had to create a much larger foot print for it on the camera body. We not only changed the top of the pistol grip, but we also changed the bottom of the camera to make sure the mate between the grip and the camera body was very secure.
- Placement: Originally we thought the pistol grip would be placed towards the back of the camera pushing the screen on top of the camera forward, but after holding it we realized the grip had to be much more centered.
- Attachment mechanism: The pistol grip used to slide in from the back and have a locking pin. This proved faulty in extreme circumstances where the camera was pointed at the ground, so we switched to a locking thumb screw that tightens into the tripod mount. This is more secure from all directions.
- Triggering mechanism: The pistol grip originally contained electronics that interfaced with the camera through topical contacts. After some testing with dirt and moisture we decided to make the grip completely mechanical and embed the switching mechanism under the camera. The trigger now pushed a small lever in the base of the camera instead of having internal electronics. This makes it more reliable in weather conditions and makes it easier to make alternate grips.
- Tripod hole on the bottom of the pistol grip: We originally hadn’t intended on putting a tripod hole on the bottom of the grip, but after a forum member pointed out it is a good place to mount a wrist strap, we not only implemented the mounting point, but we also purchased vintage style wrist straps for all of our Kickstarter camera backers!
Lens Mount System: The lens mounting system was originally built into the frame of the camera, when we switched from steel to aluminum we had to rethink the mounting system. The aluminum while being very durable was not up to the exacting mechanics the lens mount system required. We switched to two machined brass elements that fit together with .02mm of variance between them. This gives us a very precise way to change lens mounts and be assured our flange focal distance is correct.
Rail System for the Removable Lens Mount: In redesigning the lens mount we also implemented an internal rail system for the cover that makes changing it easier and adds support to the entire structure.
IR and OLPF filter placements: We have had many thoughts on OLPF filters (Optical Low Pass). Some people on our forum demanded they must be put in place, others said they would be happier without one. ONE SMALL STEP was shot without one, and we liked the look, so originally we had thought it wasn’t necessary. When we couldn’t come to a good agreement on whether to include it or not on the forum we decided to put it in, but make it user removable. In order to make this filter removable we had to change the way it interfaced with the sensor block. Now you can remove the OLPF, but you need to replace it with a piece of glass with the same thickness in order to maintain optical path integrity, so we are making a non-OLPF filter you can buy to stick in there.
Camera Surfaces: When we first envisioned the D16 we pictured something that was a call back to the look and feel of cameras from the 60’s and 70’s. This was meant to say to people “Remember the reliability and quality of the great Bolex cameras?” The response seemed to be “Yes we remember, but you don’t need textured plastic parts to draw that analogy.”. Originally the major surfaces of the camera where a mix of chrome and textured black plastic. Today they are all metal. The only things that are plastic on this camera are the knobs on the right side and the black section of the pistol grip.
Analog Volume Knobs: Like most digital cameras when we first designed the D16 it had only digital control of the audio levels. One of the first groups to speak up on our forum were the audiophiles who were tired of having to use external devices to get sound quality that matched the image quality. They said, “when you turn the levels down digitally you are also compressing the over all signal essentially lowering it’s resolution.” We needed an analog stage for our audio, and we needed analog volume knobs. This required not only a couple of knobs, but a whole new circuit board needed to be added. We decided if we were going to do this we were going to do it right…
24 bit 96k Sound: So in addition to the analog gain stage we also bumped the audio up to 24 bit 96k resolution. This was not an easy task. We looked for many months for the right circuity to make this work. And again it required us to add a small circuit board. In the end I think we found a really good solution that will give unprecedented sound quality to the D16, especially for a $3K camera!
Weather Sealing: Again inspired by our forum we added weather sealing for people that wanted to take our camera into the jungle, snow, or other damp places. The way the frame was designed though didn’t allow for the kind of panel access needed to do the weather sealing properly.
Side Plate Structures: We had to take our frame and divide it from 2 structures into 4 major structures to allow for the weather sealing. This also allowed us to make the port connections stronger.
Fold Out Crank: Some people thought the crank on the side of the camera was unnecessary, even silly but we believe in the usefulness very strongly. It was recommended on the forum that instead of making the crank bulky we should make it folding so we came up with a folding crank that allows you to put it away when you aren’t using it. We are also working on making it unscrewable if needed.
Crank Position: We also moved the crank forward and a little lower, making it more comfortable to use.
Improved Sensor Gain Stage Controls: We have doubled the fidelity of control on the sensor board. This means we have much more finely tuned control over how the sensor behaves than most cameras makers do. The use of a CCD sensor instead of a CMOS sensor in this camera has many benefits.
- CCDs have a more flexible analog gain stage. If used properly this can dramatically improve sensor performance.
- CCDs also don’t do any analog to digital conversion, which means that we as the camera makers can decide how that happens, again improving performance.
- CCDs are generally less noisy especially in the darks at their native ISO. This is important for the economy of bits and the final image.
- CCDs can be passively cooled much easier so internal fans and limited record times are not a problem.
- And of course our sensor has a global shutter instead of a rolling one.
Mounting Screw Holes on Top: We have recently added 4 screw holes in the top of the camera to allow more placements points for accessories and contact points for rigs.
HDMI Port: Of course one of the biggest things we added was a full HD 1920 x 1080 HDMI port, giving users the ability to take advantage of the amazing EVFs on the market today. This not only required a complete redesign on the DSP board it also required us to change the layout of the left side of the camera.
12V Power Output: It was suggested that if we are making our camera compatible with EVFs why not go all the way and add a 12V output for the monitors so you wouldn’t need a separate battery for your monitor. We thought this was a great idea since the battery belts used to power the D16 are usually far more powerful than what the camera needs. We thought at first we would use a D-Tap power output, but the connector shape didn’t fit with the already crowded plug space, so we went with 4 pin XLR.
Headphone Port Placements: When we added the 4th XLR plug we had to move the headphone and SD video tap outputs. We ended up putting them higher up which again required some board adjustments.
Trap Door for HD-SDI Module: We had a lot of people interested in HD-SDI, timecode, and several other features we consider pro-use, but this would have significantly increased the cost of the camera. So what we decided was to add a trap door to the bottom of the camera that had a raw data feed from the FPGA. This means in the future we will be able to make an HD-SDI module that will connect to the bottom of the camera and have many of the pro-features that people would like to see. This required a redesign of the FPGA board, and an upgrade to the processor.
USB 3.0: While we were upgrading the data paths we decided to upgrade the camera from USB 2 to USB 3. This was a total upgrade of the data path, not just the end connector. This will allow for faster downloads directly from the camera. We considered Thunderbolt at this stage, but USB seemed like a more universal answer.
Doubled the Battery Capacity: When bloggers were reviewing another camera that had a built in battery we had a lot of questions about battery life. We moved from a standard laptop style battery to a custom molded battery that raised the battery life from 2 hours to 4 hours.
2nd Tripod Hole: We recently added a second tripod screw hole for professional tripod plates and rigs.
Measuring Tape Post: And finally one of the last changes we made to the body was to add a removable post to hang a measuring tape on for measuring focus. This was common on film cameras, but is not very common on digital cameras except for very high end ones.
We have made many many changes to the camera, in actuality many more than 100 if you take into consideration that each of the items I mentioned above require dozens of small changes each. Take a look at how much complexity has been added to the internal structure too.
The number of electrical components in this camera went from just under 1500 to over 3000! This is a huge leap in complexity and in functionality!
This team works crazy hard for us, often coming in on Saturdays and Sundays when we’ve gone off schedule. Think about how long other companies take to implement features like these, and at what price points they usually implement them.
Has the journey taken longer? Yes of course it has, but we think it was worth it.
If we were like other companies we might release these upgrades one or two at a time over many years hoping people buy a new camera every 18 months, but we don’t want to do that. We said to ourselves and to our community, “How do we make a camera that will be relevant for the next 5 or even 10 years?”
This journey was the answer.
Later this week we will have images of the final camera body! And next week another big announcement