Tim: We are here at the Digital Bolex booth. Can you tell us what is the Digital Bolex?
Elle Schneider: The Digital Bolex is a 2K RAW shooting digital cinema camera. It shoots the same resolution as a movie theater VCP projects. And it is a CCD chip which means there are no rolling shutters, so you can run around with it
Joe Rubinstein: There is also a simulation of a 16mm movie camera. So it uses all the old lenses that you might use from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, but you can also use newer lenses with it like the CP2.
Tim: Do you need a special adapter to use the newer lenses?
Elle: It is not an adapter. This whole camera system is an interchangeable mount system so it is not only you can just change the lenses, you can change the entire mount as well, so there are a couple of screws here, here, and on the inside, you can take this whole piece off. This is a C-Mount which is default, so we have already started prototyping our EF mounts which is for Canon and other glass that is very popular right now. We have amazing designer building lens mounts for us. W have also prototyped the microphone and turret mount for C-Mount
Tim: Now in a world where there are lots of cameras that are made by giant name companies, why do you have a new camera? Why bother with new production?
Joe: Super 16 is a specific look. There are a lot of film makers like the look of Super 16, Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom, Black Swan, they shot the Walking Dead on Super 16, Hurt Locker was on Super 16. It has a look that’s different than 35, Super 35, or full frame kind of thing. And for people that want that look, this is the right camera. And also there is a lot of lenses like these that have nowhere to live; that these are amazing lenses; they don’t make lenses like these anymore. And getting to use that glass on a high quality camera.
Tim: A camera like this might drive those lenses to higher prices?
Tim: Now you are on Kickstarter. What has that process been like? And why did you use Kickstarter?
Elle: Well, Kickstarter for us was just as much a publicity tool for the concept as it was to actually raise the funding for the camera. We knew that we needed a set amount; we asked for less than half of that. We wanted to gauge interest. We knew that if we sold out cameras then that would be able to prove to our manufacturing company, put money into the project if this is worthwhile and surely something to put time and money into.
You know, when Joe started to come up with this concept he had trouble convincing people that a raw shooting filming camera was something that consumers wanted, and really it has been something that consumers wanted for a long time, but it is just that bigger companies have decided it doesn’t fit into their product pads to make, so we sold out of cameras in 30 hours -- which is amazing. And we’ve just been going at it since then.
Tim: What does shooting RAW allow people to do?
Joe: Shooting raw allows you to really control the color, contrast, and look of your film in a way that you can’t do with compressed footage; compressed footage falls apart very quickly once you try to alter it in any way. But the other thing it does is, it really simplifies the on-set workflow. So when you are on-set, you don’t have to match everything, get all of your settings perfect, because you are shooting raw data, you have the ability to adjust it, change color, temperature and things like that so it actually speeds up your on-set workflow.
Tim: When you are shooting raw or when you are shooting at all, where are you are storing the data that you are actually taking? Is it in the camera or do you next on a recorder?
Elle: So there is an internal SSD drive in here. And that dumps to the two CF cards that are in here.
Joe: Dual CF card slots.
Tim: So what kind of capacity does that give it at current drive sizes?
Elle: Well, I’d say, it’s going to be probably a 400 gig drive inside. And that gives about 80 minutes of footage, and then you’ll have to dump it and offload it.
Joe: If you get two 128 gig cards, 256 gigs total, that is about 51½ minutes of full res, at 24 frames, if you change the res, if you change the framerate it goes up and down.
Tim: Is there also the ability to use an external recorder to have a longer uninterrupted shoot?
Joe: There isn’t currently. But we are planning an HD-SDI module that would strap to the bottom of the camera when the pistol grip comes off, and behind this trap door, there is a raw feed and that would allow something like that.
Tim: Now speaking of that handle, the look of this camera is sort of retro. What drove that?
Elle: I mean there are a couple of reasons. One is the ergonomics of film cameras have generally across the board with better ergonomics than video cameras have been. This is something that with a pistol grip it is very balanced in weight, you can run around and shoot with this for hours, and it is not going to be heavy or weird. It doesn’t require you to have a harness in order to comfortably hold your camera. So that is the main part of it. Part of it is also to reflect the Bolex brand who partnered with us to create this camera, and they are known again for their esthetic design and ergonomics so we wanted to harken back to that.
Tim: What are some of the engineering challenges in making a brand new camera?
Joe: Oh there are so many. The biggest one is really just deciding what to put in it, how to put it in; that’s probably been our biggest one and we have a forum with hundreds, maybe thousands of really intelligent people that have been helping us make those decisions. And so this is sort of a crowdsourced camera; not just crowd funded, but a lot of decisions of what went in it have actually been crowdsourced.
Tim: What are some examples of things you put in that are ideas that have come from that crowd?
Elle: Well, the HDMI cord is a big one. We were originally just going to have regular video output on it, for better monitoring.
Joe: And also originally we were talking about having like a thick rubber piece around it, some other ways to make the cable not fall out, and we discovered a cable that 6 mm above it, had a little screw hole, so we put a little screw hole 6 mm above this, so you can take the screw out, and screw in this custom cable and we found that somebody on our forum suggested that.
Tim: Now you have made a lot of changes even after the Kickstarter has shown off prototypes or early prototypes I guess. Could you tell us one or two of those important changes?
Joe: Oh gosh. So we went from a steel body to a carbonized aluminum body; the actual shape of the body has changed.
Elle: It is a little bit narrower.
Joe: Yeah, a bit narrower and a bit longer in shape, little bit has changed. And really every little piece, every piece has changed a little bit. There is almost nothing left untouched.
Tim: One thing that a lot of people have commented on, it is almost like a crank on the side? Could you talk about that?
Elle: Yeah. Sure. The crank has three functions. This is not the way you are supposed to hold it but that is okay. The primary function of the crank is that we are building set of prime lenses, and with those prime lenses, they are fixed focus, fixed aperture, which is a little unusual. But we are building a mount that will allow you to focus them using this as the follow focus so you don’t have to again break it out to get a follow focus on to the lenses, and that mount will also work for over vintage prime lenses as well, which is cool. It also allows you to record metadata. So for example, if you are shooting and you know you want to put a grain pattern on later, you can crank it more furiously in places you want more grain and a little bit lighter, just a touch in some places and
Tim: So leaving notes?
Elle: Exactly it is. Keep a lot of metadata information, say throw a grain pattern on it, it posts and it gives you a really nicedynamic pattern, and in our post production software that we are building, we are hoping to allow people to create their own filters so you can do double exposure, you can do things like replicate more experimental aspects of film camera that are not inherent in a digital camera because of the controlled environment of a digital camera. And the last thing it does is, you can set it to free range frames per second. So you can set it actually record as you are cranking as fast as you are cranking or as slow as you are cranking.
Tim: Between now and when people who have signed up via Kickstarter start getting their cameras, what is the timeframe like right now and what are the obstacles?
Elle: Well, we have one major obstacle left which I would like to explain, but it is really a couple of engineering things that it is hard to put a specific time estimate on them; it could be a day, it could be days, it could be a week, it could be a little bit longer that. We are really down to very few items on the to-do list, so it should be very very soon.
Joe: So basically the front end of the camera has been vetted and works, the sensor and all that stuff, at the back end the FPGA and the DSP all work. But there is a part in the middle, on the FPGA that is a frame buffer and the frame buffer has to sync the front end of the camera, the sensor, the disk video monitor, the HDMI out, and the recording device and the DSP to the hard drive. So it has about five clocks it has to sync, and so far we have had trouble getting all five clocks to sync together. So we haven’t gotten an image all the way through. But once they figured this out, it’s basically a simple thing; once they figure this out, we’ll have a fully working camera.
Tim: Does that mean then that mass production will be fully in place then?
Elle: Well, we are never going to mass produce right off the bat. So we have the capability of right now of building 100. And then we are going to slowly increase that level until we are at a place where we can be comfortably rolling them out. And we would like this camera to sell very well, but we see it as more of a boutique item and not necessarily something that will be in Best Buys across the world. And right now, our demand far exceeds our supply even probably through the end of the year. So we are going to be doing direct sales for the time being.
Joe: Our business model doesn’t really support retail. The cost of the materials inside this camera are probably 3 to 4 times as much as similarly priced cameras, so for instance our sensor is 4 times more than in similarly priced other $3000 cameras, and things like that, and because of this we can’t really do the retail model, retail is so much more expensive of course. So if this camera was going to be available retail like at B&H or Best Buy, it would be a $5000 or $6000 camera.
Tim: So who is buying?
Elle: Mostly independent filmmakers, people that really want a high fidelity, theatrically screenable image but are not satisfied with things at this price point. We like to compare it a lot with the Arri Alexa and sort of like _____sized version of the Alexa, the new Arriflex that has come out. It’s just another similar camera to this, but those are very big deal big budget items. Most picture cameras that are being used are far too pricey for ordinary people. We are hoping that this will be the solution for people who are on a bit more of a budget and also people who just need to run and gun and shop unlikely.
Joe: There has also been a lot of interest from documentary film makers, and from professors in film school institutions.
Tim: I think I am going to cut it there.
Joe: Sounds good.
Tim: Thanks very much.