March 19th, 2012
For the most part, I find Facebook to be a complete waste of time. I equate it to gold mining — you have to sift through yard after yard of dirt and rock to find that tiny fleck of precious metal. I found one of those rare nuggets last week as I was digging through the frozen tundra of Facebook. One of my “friends” posted a news article about a Kickstarter effort to create a new digital video camera. I would generally ignore this, except the headline mentioned “Digital Bolex”. Being a fan of small gauge filmmaking, this sparked my interest and I researched a bit further. It turns out there are two filmmakers who are trying to resurrect the Bolex name, but to grace a digital camera. What they are planning is not your average low-fi digi-cam though. One of the things I don’t like about my Canon T2i is the compression it applies to video. The compression is not terrible, but it puts one at a disadvantage if you plan on doing any serious post production work like color grading. The Digital Bolex will shoot uncompressed 1080p HD footage using an off-the-shelf Kodak(?) sensor roughly the size of the super 16 frame. Actually, it sounds like the footage is a sequence of RAW images instead of a tidy little .mov file like those generated by my DSLR, but turning those individual images into a video file is pretty easy. I do this all the time with the time-lapse footage I shoot. Right now it looks like the makers of the Digital Bolex are way past their fundraising goal, so I think the project will actually come to fruition. I can’t wait to see what the early adopters have to say (note: I will not be an early adopter). I the closest competition would be the A-Cam dII, which I think uses the same c-mount lens system as the Digital Bolex. However, the A-Cam dII uses a proprietary memory storage solution rather than something more conventional. The Digital Bolex uses more practical CF cards, which are relatively cheap and plentiful. There are a couple of things that don’t excite me when reviewing the Digital Bolex’s specs:
Audio Inputs: Two XLR inputs, which is great, but no phantom power. To me it seems pointless to offer XLRs without phantom power. And those inputs should also offer channel switching so either channel 1 or 2 can be routed to both channels. My DVX100 use to do this and it was a great feature I used all the time. Maybe the Digital Bolex will do this via software?
HDMI Outputs: Needed for an external LCD monitor. I think there is an adaptor that allows you to do this, but there should be a dedicated jack for a standard HDMI or HDMI mini cable.
Ergonomics: To be perfectly honest, I never really liked the way my old 16mm Bolex felt in my hands. The only saving grace was the brick-like weight. Some of the old super 8 camera makers made cameras that felt wonderful in the hand, like Eumig and Nizo. Not a big deal though, since I shot using a stabilizer rig a lot these days.
Of course the cost of the Digital Bolex won’t be cheap when they finally start building them. Sounds like they will be in the $3k neighborhood, which isn’t all that bad considering a Canon D5 Mark II DSLR runs about the same. I still have a bunch of great c-mount lens, so this camera is totally something I would love to have. But I’m not sure I’m ready to make that kind of investment for my minimal documentary work. If the audio options are improved and if an HDMI jack is added, I might consider a stretch for the camera though.