It’s Alive! First Cinema DNG Frames from the Digital Bolex

We just got back from Toronto, and we have news and images to show you!

Proto-D16

When I was first dreaming of this camera, I would spend hours looking at frames of S16mm film and comparing them to the compressed HD video that was accessible to me. At the time video was highly compressed, skin tones looked mushy, dark tones were blocky, and large areas of subtle gradations just completely fell apart. By contrast film rendered gradations, skin tones, roll off, and blow outs beautifully. 

The beauty of film is what drew me to this art form in the first place. I was always excited to shoot film, and even more excited to watch footage for the first time, but I had the exact opposite feelings when dealing with video. Shooting was stressful, and while watching footage for the first time I often cringed. Eventually through editing and color correction things would come together, but that moment of love at first site was gone.

I desperately wanted a digital camera that I could feel that excitement for. Something with the kind of detail and integrity of the image I got with film. Basically an image I could fall in love with. When this opportunity eventually presented itself I couldn’t say no. I knew I had to pursue it.

We planned the camera from ground up to fulfill this one desire. We designed it to offer the image quality and shooting experience I couldn’t find in compressed video cameras. All of our decisions were driven by the desire to make the image as good as it could be, but at the end of the day would it work?

We decided to do extensive testing with the sensor we had chosen and off the shelf electronics, a sensor prototype. Our sensor tests were beautiful and dynamic. They told us that we were on the right track. We decided to move forward, designing the image path, an analog front end, the analog to digital conversion, and all the things you need to make a camera. Each stage of the cameras electronics presents opportunities to improve image quality, but also inherent are risks of failure. Would our design for this camera create footage as good as the sensor tests we did? Ever since we shot those tests I have been desperate to see images our design would produce.

If you read my previous post about image improvements you know that we have come a long way in image quality in the last few weeks. While I was there they got the first clean looking images our design had ever produced.

Since then I have seen a few of the images the guys from Toronto have sent me, but they were mostly of charts and things. I was excited to see the progress, but couldn’t relate to the images cinematically.

Charts

I needed to see it first hand, I needed to put a person in front of it and know what the room looked like. I needed to hold the camera and see it for myself.

Elle and I Headed to Canada, this time we were going to get to shoot some images. We got to Toronto late on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday we eagerly waited in the conference room as Mike had the guys put some final firmware updates on the camera. They brought it in, the sides were taken off, but the display was on. This was the first time we could hold the camera and see the display live. It was an amazing experience. This thing we had been dreaming about was finally working in our hands. But of course as with all things this trip wasn’t going to go exactly as we had imagined. While the top screen was working, we couldn’t yet record because the sensor clock and the frame buffer were running out of sync. This was because they were writing new firmware for 24fps instead of 32. They expected to have this completed the next day.

D16-Sides-off

On day two the clocks were in sync, but something on the hardware had been shorted out. They do a lot of testing and this happens from time to time. So they were going to have to change out a board, and this was going to take some time. Most of the team stayed very late that night.

On the third and last day we were there, I walked into the office and Mike said, “It works”. At least to a level I could shoot a few test images. We were ecstatic. The 24fps recording was still not finished, but we could record.

They brought the camera in, this time with a large color monitor that could show 2K.

From the moment I started focusing the camera on Elle a smile started to creep across my face. The image was sharp, detailed, and beautiful. This was the camera I had been dreaming about.

I was eager to try out some of my recent lens purchases, including a Canon 50mm 0.95! Vintage glass looks amazing to me compared to most modern lenses. So full of life and character.

vintage-lenses

I have selected three examples.

The first is a 15mm Elitar Soligor.

15mm Elitar Soligor

The second is a 26mm Kern-Paillard Pizar AR.

26mm Kern-Paillard Pizar AR

And the third is the infamous Canon 50mm 0.95.

Canon 50mm  0.95

The images aren’t perfect of course. The temperature is a little yellow, there is a dead pixel, and some other small issues, but I love the texture of the images, and the natural organic look. I am so happy with what these images look like for the stage we are at.

There is still a lot of tweaking we have to do to get these images to where they need to be, but we have come so far in just the last couple of weeks I believe we will get there very soon!

Below are the raw files so you can transcode them yourself. I transcoded these using RPP as the new debayer algorithm in our software isn’t ready yet. I turned off all the sharpen settings, used film curve, and auto color. Here are my settings…

RPP settings

We were a little pressed for time during this trip, but within the next week or two we will be getting a camera delivered to us in LA, and we will do much more comprehensive tests with various lighting conditions. At that time we will upload CDNG sequences for you guys to play with.

We are still on track to deliver the first 100 cameras in August and have our next pre-sale in August too.

We will do another blog about where we are at in that progression soon, as well as one about where we are at with the software.

For now have fun with these…

26mm Kern-Paillard Pizar AR : Canon 50mm 0.95 : 15mm Elitar Soligor

And as always, thank you for your interest and patience,

Elle Schneider, Joseph Rubinstein, and the entire Digital Bolex Team

This entry was posted in News by joerubinstein. Bookmark the permalink.
joerubinstein

About joerubinstein

Joe Rubinstein is one of the founders and CEO of Digital Bolex. At Polite in Public, a photo marketing company he also co-founded, Joe was the Chief Technology Officer who worked with electronics developers and software developers to create the Polite in Public Photobooth which helped define modern photo marketing services.

129 thoughts on “It’s Alive! First Cinema DNG Frames from the Digital Bolex

  1. Man those images look gorgeous! (Elle too) ;o)

    Thanks for the DNG’s. Can’t wait to play with them.

    Looking forward to ordering a camera too.

    Definitely worth the wait.

    Congratulations to you and the Ienso team for a job well done.

    Razz

    • That is the next step, these images are actually from image sequences, but the frame rate was not perfect so the motion looks funny. We will have this fixed soon and we will be posting image sequences as soon as we can!

  2. A1 guys, I’m very happy !

    When mine arrives in August (hopefully before my birthday) I’m gonna knock you over with the D16 and my secret Cine Nikkor selection, big love x

      • Well, I’m a big fan of working in raw, so that there is a plus for me. I would need to do some serious tests but right now I’m eyeballing dynamic range and how much detail can be extracted through various sharpening methods without digging into the file and creating artifacts. So still experimenting really.

  3. Fantastic news you guys! Congrats on your achievements. You know I’m a huge fan so I won’t bother with more superlatives.

    Shipping Kickstarter cams in August and pre-orders shortly after? That’s even better. Sign me up! Will the D16 lenses be available at that time as well?

  4. Congratulations. This is really exciting to see and you should all be very proud of yourselves and the hard work you put it.

    I’m going to give these files a whirl tonight.

    I can’t wait to order the camera. I just picked up a set of Zeiss Super Speed mk III primes for the D16 and am selling my Sony F3L.

      • It was dumb luck. I found them in this place clearing out old stuff that had been in storage for ages and they were just dumping them, along with lots of other stuff.

        The next week they realized what they had and set the prices accordingly.

        • Wow that sounds like a once in a life time find!
          I just bought a Canon 0.95, shown above :)
          And the guy I bought it from says he takes them out of decommissioned X-ray machines.
          Apparently X-ray tubes were not very bright back then and the 0.95 was a big deal to the medical community.

  5. Looks like a long road still ahead of you:
    -There is an unidentified problem with the hardware of one board that needs occasional replacement.
    -The firmware is fully unfinished. I had assumed that most elements are in place and that now a GUI will be programmed. Instead, there is not even an algorithm for 24fps. And what about lower resolutions?
    -No GUI yet, and the final menu structure still open to discussion.
    -After more than one year in the works, the Pomfort software -essential to really render high quality images- isn’t even able to deliver the very task it was planned for, high-quality debayering (at acceptable speed, i.e. in OpenCL).

    Provided you don’t run out of money, I would call “August” to be very ambitious. 54.2 days left.

    • We have a very nice investor who is making sure we don’t “run out of money” :)

      You are correct there is still quite a bit of work to do, but the progress that we are making is incredible. I will try to address your points, but comments is a tough place to do it. Forum is probably better.
      - There is no problem with the hardware, while testing they are constantly physically tapping boards which sometimes causes shorts. This is normal.
      - We just got the first clean images from the sensor a couple weeks ago. To have the flipping and stitching done already is pretty incredible. We may ship the camera with just a few resolutions and frame rates working. Firmware updates down the road can deliver lower resolutions and other frame rates.
      -Most of the GUI is there, as I said in this post. Very few elements are open to discussion (just one really, and that has been decided).
      -The functionality of 90% of the Pomfort software is there. It was always part of the plan to offer several different debayering algorithms. The highest quality ones are obviously the most complicated.

      August is ambitious, but I believe we can make it.

      53 days now ;)

      • OK, I hope in the course of deciding on the GUI, no heads were chopped off. If you really focus on only some of the resolutions/framerates, and offer a basic Pomfort software, your time schedule does indeed look a bit more realistic. Maybe, I just got caught in a bad moment of euro-scepticism.

        Anyway, since hitherto, it was not completely clear if all the components put together for the first time in history, would be able to deliver a superb image, you have now reached a “proof of concept”, which is indeed one of the most important mile stones.

        Good to hear that you have another investor. Really. It is imho the most interesting camera project going on, more so than even Magic Lantern ;-)

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  7. Congratulations Elle, Joe and the whole team! This looks fantastic, your (our) dream becomes reality!!! I’m sure you will fix the last problems.
    Pomfort will also do a good job and deliver customized D16 software. They have enough experience…

  8. Thanks for sharing these and congratulations!

    I love how some companies nowadays share product insights during the development stage, how they talk about the weaknesses, bugs and problems along with the strengths and awesomeness of their products. This is a genuine relationship between the customer and the company. That is more important to me than the image quality and such. Hope you success, cheers!

    And some grading:
    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/9234555/_photo/_digital_bolex/BLX_15mm_GRADED.jpg
    -
    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/9234555/_photo/_digital_bolex/BLX_26mm_GRADED.jpg
    -
    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/9234555/_photo/_digital_bolex/BLX_50mm_GRADED.jpg

      • Thanks Jade!
        I graded them in RPP (Raw Photo Processor) which you can download free, but only works on a mac.
        And my settings are the basic ones, I included a picture of the settings in the blog post.
        No sharpen or anything special, just auto color and go :)

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  14. It was interesting seeing the camera without the side panels. You can really get an idea how well laid out and solidly planned things are inside.

  15. Joe and Elle and the rest of the Bolex team,

    Fantastic! I wish I was there to share the moment for the book! Really great blog with amazing images! Your hard work is really paying off!

  16. was watching the “lost” Steve Jobs interview, and when asked to what his success was due, he downplayed original ideas, quoted Picasso about how good artists copy and great artists steal, and furthermore stressed the almost ruthless, maniacal attention to minute details needed to eventually get a product to work. On other words, if it takes longer than August to get the camera finished, that’s OK!

  17. Bamm!!! And it’s here, or almost anyways.
    So happy for us and for you guys.

    Looking forward to play around with it.
    Thanks for creating this camera.
    Really.

  18. it was a pleasure to download those images and open them. What type of modification did you do to the 0.95? you find it with a c mount on it? Totally want one. I have the FD 55mm f/1.2 and a c-mount to FD adapter :/

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  24. Are you guys going to have 24fps on this or future cameras?

    I’m already a fan knowing that the camera has such character similar to when you hold a Super 8 or 16mm cam. Hope you guys really crack the market skull, cause you already have me sold on one.

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