Last Monday, April 18, an hour before NAB 2016 opened, Craft Camera’s website started taking reservations on a new, modular camera system, offering Super16mm HD or Super35mm true 4K resolutions, and a “buy it by the slice” design similar to recent RED models. [Corrected 25 April: the 4K sensor is (or will be) Super35mm size, not Super16mm as previously reported.]
Update, 25 April: Some in the twitterverse are very upset that I’m reporting on this at all. They correctly point out that all we know about Craft is that they have a website, anonymously registered last August, and a CGI video: there’s no indication of who these folks are or what their actual technical abilities might be beyond 3D rendering, and no guarantee that sending them your hard-earned dollars will ever result in receiving a camera. This is all true, and while I thought I made the coming-out-of-nowhere point sufficiently in the article, apparently I was too subtle for some. Let me state it clearly for the record: all we know about Craft is that they can make websites and 3D renderings. We don’t know who they are, if they’re sufficiently experienced and well funded enough to actually develop a camera, or whether the whole thing might just be an attempt to scam $500 out of credulous suckers. Until we have more evidence, it’s simply impossible to determine whether Craft is the next RED or the next Moller Skycar. Caveat emptor.
The slices, called “elements”, are functional modules: video capture, storage, power, audio, and so on. You can build a simple HD studio camera for under $1000 (HD video element + LCD monitor element, with your choice of PL, EF, or MFT mounts), a full-freight cine camera for under $3300 (4K video + 4K store + handle + LCD + audio + power elements, and throw in an ND sled and a wireless control link module for good measure), or mix ‘n’ match elements as you see fit to build anything in between.
The concept echoes that of the 1989 Sony FDL 330 TV/monitor, which is a good thing: that little display was uniquely adaptable. But Craft Digital Systems, the 2015 startup behind the camera, has taken things a few steps further:
- A wedge-locked interchangeable lens mount. The Craft camera lets you swap mounts with the flip of a locking lever. If this works well, you’ll be able to switch between the PL, EF, and MFT mounts — $299 each — so quickly that you can bounce between Veydra MFT primes, Canon tilt-shift lenses, and a rented PL-mount zoom as easily as between lenses with a common mount. (How well this system maintains a consistent flange depth, of course, has yet to be determined.)
- An “ND sled” carrying two ND filters that slots into the top of either video element, just ahead of the sensor. The filters may be used singly or in combination to deliver three levels of internal ND. Presumably the ND sled replaces a “clear glass sled” so that the optical path length doesn’t change when the filters are used… but this is also still to be determined.
- A side-mounted, rotatable smart grip with multiple controls. The grip can be attached to any of the elements — and the LCD element can similarly be inserted almost anywhere in the stack (well, not in front of the sensor, for obvious reasons) — so you’ll be able to build up the camera with handle and LCD mounted pretty much wherever you want them.
- Optional Control Links for Ethernet, wireless, or serial and LANC remote control.
It’s a very attractive concept, shown off in a stylish CGI video. The open question is whether Craft can actually deliver this camera system by the end of the year; “there’s many a slip ’twixt the concept and the ship”, as many product designers have found to their chagrin. You may note that the technical details are somewhat sketchy so far; Craft’s FAQ simply says, “We hope to publish our final manufacture and testing specifications in early summer.”
Then again, the Digital Bolex D16 came together and delivered as promised; it makes a surprisingly beautiful image and is oddly fun to operate, and at NAB, I saw quite a few of them being used for show coverage.
Craft is taking $500 deposits to reserve a place in in the production line, with a 10% discount for the pioneers. It’s very much like the way the RED ONE was initially rolled out. Craft has said there’s a limit to the number of reservations, but they won’t say what that limit is. So — if you feel lucky, and don’t mind sending money to strangers with no track record, no reassuring “about us” section on the website, and and no shipping products — hie thee to craftcamera.com forthwith to get your spot in line.
Disclosures: I only know about this because in December last year I signed up for Craft’s mailing list following a mention of Craft on the Cinematography Mailing List… and then completely forgot about it until I received an email just as NAB was starting. There is no material connection between me and Craft, nor have I received any compensation or other blandishments to advance their cause. I find their vision very intriguing and their pricing attractive (low, but not so low as to be unrealistic), and I’m eager to learn more as they make more information available. I do note that they’re coming pretty much out of nowhere, with no back-story or track record to lend them any street cred, and there’s more to building a successful camera than a well-conceived modular design and a spiffy website — so I neither endorse them nor do I take any responsibility if you send them money and they don’t deliver.
On the other hand, I was initially skeptical about RED and Digital Bolex, and both of them came through (if not always quite on schedule, grin). So, if you’re interested, go ahead and take a punt: they’re only asking for $500 up front.
All images in the article derived from Craft’s press-kit pix, with brightness / contrast / sharpness / etc. adjustments made for clarity purposes. Apologies to Craft’s graphic designers for mucking with their meticulously-adjusted tonal scales and backgrounds.