If you are not aware of the Drama project, Otis Grapsas, has spent his last three years of his life to research and develop his full HD uncompressed camera. Otis is an engineer who apparently designs and builds custom digital imaging systems for a variety of applications. Obviously a challenging undertaking to design a digital cinema camera, but he does seem to be taking the most efficient, open hardware, simple system approach.
The DRAMA is currently using a 2/3″ Kodak 1920×1080 CCD sensor, recording to open media, HDD or SSD, and focused on easy integration with an IT editing and postproduction workflow. The camera records 12bit RAW bayer which can be developed to many popular formats, but fully uncompressed MOV/AVI is recommended.
The quality the DRAMA delivers is nothing less but mind blowing – especially when it comes to skin tones.
An 8bit uncompressed image from this prototype (with gain and additional sharpening to show the grain – click on the picture to enlarge)
This is without an OLPF filter actually.
Debayers only add noise and artifacts when they try to be clever (95% of the debayer algorithms on the market). The Drama debayer is blind, it does not make decisions, it does not try to detect the signal/detail type. This makes it more natural and appropriate for video.
The sensor noise is not visible in motion because most of it is actually signal in this setting, just like grain is actual signal in film images. It’s uncompressed so it denoises well if required, but it can be quite pleasing aesthetically. Drama embraces the CCD noise and bluray and higher quality output can preserve it.
The whites come from the highlight shaping in the film emulation gamma curves and they look quite natural even when there is serious overexposure. This is an important part of the filmic look.
The bayer material is meant to be finetuned and developed using the supplied software to uncompressed HD or DNxHD. Dailies can also be generated in SD, MP2 HD, MP4 HD etc with preview or production quality.
The idea behind this uncompressed project is to only use uncompressed AVI/MOV whenever possible to maintain quality. Using eSATA, RAID5 storage costs about 800 euro for 22 hours uncompressed and will work in any computer, including all modern laptops. All NLEs should be fine with uncompressed HD.
The DRAMA was created with independent filmmakers in mind.
Optimized for aesthetic and skin tones, cheap – of the shelf – media and a nice price (10000 Euros) for a package that works out of the box. This includes 2 large batteries(last around 5 hours), charger, monitor, and media for 2 hours of recording.
The Kodak 2/3 imager delivers a resolution between low ASA 16mm and low ASA 35mm film. The low MTF (limiting) resolution will be 800 to 900 lines depending on the lens and aperture. The MTF will be very high, due to the large pixels of the sensor (2/3″ 1080p). A small pixel sensor (1/3 and 1/2″ 1080p) can produce very high resolution but it lacks high MTF in the low and medium frequencies which are important for the perception of contrast, so it produces a high resolution low contrast image. By comparison Drama will provide high resolution but also high contrast and images with mid frequency punch. A flat MTF to a high percentage of the limiting resolution is an advantage of large pixel sensors.
Grain size between 16mm and 35mm film.
Although Drama can produce an HD image free from grain, it will also be able to produce a grain similar to the image above and also a trichromatic grain. There will be an option to increase the grain size and bring it closer to that of 16mm film. These could be aesthetically more appropriate for the subject compared to the clean HD look. An ultra clean HD look can be achieved using the prescribed optical filtering when total lack of grain is required.
The processing implemented on Drama takes into account the revival of 16mm film, the departure from the sterile HD look and the search for more aesthetically pleasing images with higher levels of texture. Key to this ability of the Drama is the fully uncompressed recording and the natural look of the uncompressed CCD noise.
HD images from compressed camcorders lack grain because grain and detailed texture cannot survive the low quality real time compression codecs. Compression schemes work by eliminating detail in mid and high frequencies (DCT and filtering), the image is artificially clean, less natural and less engaging to the viewer. There are flat areas that do not have any texture which gives the perception of a noise free image and high contrast edges that produce good test chart performance, but true photographical image quality is compromised from an engineering and aesthetical point of view.
The Drama grain and texture cannot be maintaing in low quality broadcast and low resolution web videos and it will also be compromised by all production HD codecs and most workflow codecs (with the exception of HDCAM-SR and DNxHD. But it will look great on high quality BluRay encodings, film recording for theatrical projection and high quality digital cinema distribution formats which are all formats that are interesting to filmmakers. An uncompressed workflow is recommended.
In a recent post at DVXuser Otis Grapsas stated:
The project is getting to be very interesting. I’m still convinced there is no commercial future in the consumer market sales sense but I’m very impressed but what is happening.
I have been contacted by 9 filmmakers so far who have a serious interest in getting one or two Dramas for their next project. What is amazing is that I was surprised to find that every single one of them is artistically accomplished with awards from major film festivals. I usually talk on the phone but I had the chance to meet 2 of them in person so far in Athens and Thessaloniki. It is exactly the market I was interested in. They work exclusively on feature filmmaking, going through production of a feature every 1 to 2 years.
It’s always about projects that require 6 to 12 week shoots and the budgets are 100,000 to 300,000 euro. Film is prohibitively expensive for most of these projects due to the required shooting ratio, and the currently available digital cinema solutions cost way too much for long term rentals, especially when more than one cameras are required. Buying the cameras is usually less expensive. But buying such expensive cameras is a large part of the budget once you add all the required shooting/workflow components. It’s not really an option with most high quality camera packages being 40,000 to 200,000 euro.
It feels great to talk to a filmmaker and hear all the points I have been making on the thread for almost 2 years now. It justifies the decisions and the time I have spent. It feels great when somebody appreciates your hard work down to the details. My plan was to enable low budget filmmaking, the 50k to 200k projects and offer a quality that was not previously available. An alternative to the everyday 5,000 to 10,000 euro camcorder these projects have to use.
Drama will not sell many units, it was not designed for that, but it looks like it will go to the right hands. Interesting projects and real cinema. I’m very enthusiastic about its future.
These photos show the state of the Drama for the past 11 months.
– The body size is the same with an A4 sheet of paper.
– The total weight in this lightweight shell is 5,200gr:
2,600gr for the body
400gr for HDD media catridge
1200gr for 220Wh battery
700gr for the 8″ touchscreen monitor
300gr for the Fujinon 12.5mm C-mount prime lens
Otis is currently designing a real shell for the camera and adding software features.
Everything is hand wired point to point on this prototype. The lens mount is a C-mount which easily adapts to other formats like PL, B4, Nikon etc. In the configuration shows in these photos, it will operate for more than 2 hours with this battery and record more than 2 hours of uncompressed 12bit 1920×1080 bayer to the internal media cartridge. Only a single cable is required for operation. It connects the monitor to the body. All connectors are push pull, even USB, GigE, eSATA etc.
I can´t wait to get my hands on the DRAMA and give it a spin.