Digital cinematography cameras

Digital cinematography cameras

Digital cinematography cameras can be purpose designed professional cameras but cameras designed for domestic use are also used.


There are a number of video cameras on the market designed specifically for high-end digital cinematography use. These cameras typically offer relatively large sensors, selectable frame rates, recording options with low compression ratios or in some cases with no compression, and the ability to use high-quality optics. With the possible exception of the noX (availability and pricing of which is unclear) and the Red One, these cameras are priced well out of the range of self-funded low-budget filmmakers. Some cannot be purchased at all, and are only available for rental at rates of thousands of dollars a day.

Some professional digital cinema cameras include:
* Sony CineAlta
* Thomson Viper
* Panavision Genesis
* Arriflex D-20
* Dalsa Origin
* Red One
* Panasonic VariCam

GS Vitec noX

The [ noX] , designed by the German company GS Vitec, is a 2K digital cinematography camera based around a single 1.2" CCD sensor. The company's web site says the camera was supposed to go on sale around June or July of 2007 in the European market [] , but as of March of 2008 no updated availability information has been posted. The price is also presently unknown.


The Silicon Imaging SI-2K is 2K digital video camera based around a single 16mm-sized CMOS sensor. It can record direct to disk in the compressed CineForm RAW format, and is notable for its tiny detachable camera head, which can be positioned up to 100m from the recording unit. The head and the recording unit together cost $23,000. The head by itself costs $13,750, and can be used to record to a laptop that has appropriate specifications and software.

Thomson Viper

The Viper, a three-sensor camera design, captures a 1920 × 1080 pixel image. In addition to uncompressed RGB output, the Viper is also capable of outputting RAW sensor data, which allows for more control in post-production.

The camera has a unique feature known as Dynamic Pixel Management, which allows the camera to change its aspect ratio by vertically ganging pixels. This allows the cinematographer to shoot at different aspect ratios without cropping the image (thus losing resolution) or using anamorphic lenses.

The Viper was first used on Rudolf B.'s short movie "Indoor Fireworks", though the first feature shot "entirely" with the Viper was the British independent Production "Silence Becomes You" by director Stephanie Sinclaire. [ [ Trivia for Zodiac (2007), IMDb.] ] The first Viper camera in the UK was acquired by Arri Media who loaned the camera for free to the National Film & Television School to test it on director Derek Boyes' award winning graduation short The Happiness Thief. The first major motion picture shot using the Viper was Michael Mann's "Collateral", which was followed by "Miami Vice" (Dion Beebe was the cinematographer for both films), which was shot with the Viper to HDCAM. The 2007 film "Zodiac" has been noted for its use of the Thomson Viper. Contrary to popular belief, it was not shot entirely in digital format: during the slow motion sequences, more traditional cameras were used.

One of the Viper's strengths is its ability to shoot with extremely low light levels, which allowed much of "Collateral" to be shot on the streets of Los Angeles, CA at night without the need for substantial supplemental lighting equipment.

While the Viper is designed to produce full resolution raw images in 4:4:4 log data, it can also produce 4:4:4 RGB video images; Michael Mann has used it this way. Tom Burstyn, CSC, using the Viper in the 4:2:2 HDStream mode, was nominated for an Emmy in Cinematography for the first season of the USA Network show "The 4400". The camera lacks on-board recording. The signals from the Viper may be recorded to either a tape format or a disk array, depending on what mode the camera is used in.

The Viper is also used to tape popular children's show "LazyTown" and "Flash Gordon".

Vision Research Phantom

At NAB 2006, Vision Research Inc -- a high-speed digital imaging company based in Wayne, New Jersey -- introduced and demonstrated live images from their [ Phantom65] digital cinema camera. The Phantom65 is the world's first 65mm digital cinema camera. It has 4K (4096 × 2440) resolution with adjustable aspect ratios, up to 125 frames-per-second recording speed, and a 70mm depth-of-field.

They also introduced the [ PhantomHD] high-definition camera. It can acquire images at HD (1920 × 1080) or 2K (2048 × 1556) resolution and shoot at up to 1000 frames per second, adjustable in increments of 1 frame-per-second.

Fusion Camera System

James Cameron and Vince Pace developed the Fusion Camera System aka Reality Camera System 1 as way to shoot features in stereoscopic 3-D. [] The digital high definition camera was used on Cameron's documentaries "Aliens of the Deep" and "Ghosts of the Abyss". Robert Rodriguez also used the camera to shoot "Spy Kids 3-D" and "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D".

There is a video [] about the Fusion system presented at NAB 2007 as the "Sony Fusion 3D Camera System". This is also referred to as the Pace-Fusion and Pace-Cameron system (they do credit collaboration with James Cameron). It uses two Sony HDCF950 HD cameras, which are presumably variants of the Sony CineAlta range.

'Prosumer' and consumer cameras

Independent filmmakers have also pressed low-cost consumer and prosumer cameras into service for digital filmmaking. These cameras typically cost under $10,000 (sometimes under $1000). Though image quality is typically much lower than what can be produced with professional digital cinematography cameras, the technology has steadily improved, most significantly in the last several years with the arrival of high definition cameras in this market.

These inexpensive cameras are limited by their relatively high compression ratios, their small sensors, and the quality of their optics. Many have integrated lenses which cannot be changed.

Standard definition

MiniDV is the predominant standard definition consumer video acquisition format. Steven Soderbergh used the popular Canon XL2 MiniDV camera while shooting "Full Frontal". The Danny Boyle directed British horror film, "28 Days Later" was also shot on MiniDV using the Canon XL1S, albeit with traditional Panavision 35mm film lenses. One of the first MiniDV cameras used on a feature film was the Sony VX-1000, which was used to shoot Spike Lee's "Bamboozled".

In 2002, Panasonic released the AG-DVX100, which was the first affordable camcorder to support progressive scan at 24 frames per second, duplicating the motion characteristics of film and allowing for easier transfers to film. This feature made the camera extremely popular with low-budget filmmakers.

High definition

Sony, JVC, Canon and other vendors have brought high-definition video acquisition to the consumer and prosumer markets with the HDV format. Though it is a high definition format, HDV video can be recorded to MiniDV tapes, which are inexpensive and widely available. HDV cameras are sold at a wide range of price points, with a wide range of capabilities. Many support progressive shooting modes, and some have sensors with full 1920x1080 resolution (though the HDV format itself can only record 1440x1080 pixels, and DVCPRO HD only records at 1280x1080 or 960x720). In addition, some Canon and JVC HDV camcorders have the ability to use high-quality interchangeable lenses, rather than the fixed lenses that are included with most prosumer cameras.

Panasonic also offers a high-definition camera in this price range, the AG-HVX200. The AG-HVX200 uses Panasonic's DVCPRO HD format (also used by their professional cameras) and uses 16:9 native aspect chips. Notably, the camera captures HD video to P2 solid-state memory cards rather than tape. The AG-HVX200 is also notable for its variable frame rate feature.


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