Uncompressed HD recording – the new DRAMA HD camera finally comes to life

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.

Frank Glencairn

20 thoughts on “Uncompressed HD recording – the new DRAMA HD camera finally comes to life

  1. Pingback: A Greek Drama « Camera Rumors

  2. Hello,
    What a fantastic prototype…it is independent engineers like yourselves that make the most interesting advances in camera design. Well done!
    rob spence.

  3. Since Otis is banned on almost every forum, its difficult to find any updates on the camera. Last I heard the camera was complete and he was looking forward to production. What happened?

  4. Last thing I heard from Otis is, that he plans to separate the recorder part and the sensor head in two nicely milled aluminum housings. I gonna drop him a line and ask what´s going on.


  5. There is no Drama camera! Otis is basically a troll or a mentally disturbed individual. He has no camera, and no means to make such a thing. He has talked about this camera for years on tons of forums until probably the moderators figured that he’s a just nut-case so they banned him.

  6. g3nov3s3, glad to meet you again:) If you want to accuse me, use your real name at least.

    It’s either than I’m a troll, or that the industry cannot tolerate this level of quality at this cost. Their business (their sponsors) strive on providing cheap rolling shutter CMOS, low pixel quality and heavy consumer level compression and image processing at 8,000 and 10,000 euro prices. They are also depending on your frequent upgrades every time they release something “new”, such as a 5mbits higher datarate, new media or a different compression format.

    Even small companies do not treat us any better. It’s all about vendor specific systems can be monopolised and overpriced. Take a look at Ikonoskop with their 1,980 euro per hour recording system (2x160gb cards). That’s 5,940 euro for three hours of storage. On a 8,000 euro camera (body, C-mount support, expresscard reader) for a 13,940 euro total.

    I recently added support for machine vision cameras on the Drama software so that the entire hardware can be open and more flexible in configuration. Future sensors will be easily accomodated. For 1080p, it’s a drop-in replacement.

    The tethered Drama configuration is similar to SI-2K mini + laptop, but the head in the Drama case is available from multiple vendors and offer an option from Kodak, Sony, CMOSIS and any other future sensor.

    The Drama software requires a Windows XP or later laptop with Gigabit ethernet and dual 2.8ghz cpu, 2gb ram and supports any video chip including integrated intel. A DIY system with proper specs will also work.

    An upgrade to the Drama deck will be available. There will be no loss in the upgrade. The Drama system has some advantages vs a laptop, such as a low 10dB/20dB (SSD/HDD) constant acoustical noise level, integrated removable storage, better mechanics, industrial quality connectors, cabling improvements, power outputs for accessories, Anton Bauer battery mount, multiple monitoring outputs, etc.

    Recordings on a tethered system are stored in an affordable external 1,000GB 2.5″” HDD SATA raid0 connected using an existing SATA port or one added to the laptop using an expresscard. The Drama software stores an entire video with its audio in a single file for easier file management. This provides a full 3 hours of uncompressed 1080/24p 12bit RAW recording. A single SSD can also be used of course, and if the laptop has a second internal drive, or a removable bay, a single 2.5″ SSD can be installed to be used for Drama recording. The datarate is 600mbits/sec or 75Mbytes/sec.

    For sound recording a USB2 sound card is recommended. One with top quality amplifiers is about 200 euro. USB capable mixers are also compatible. If you want something more rugged, Sound Devices, the producers of the best film sound recorders, produce a USB sound solution for about 500 euro. The link to the laptop is entirely digital and the sound is recorded in sync. An advantage over integrated sound is that the sound person has hands-on control to the actual controls and LED monitoring even when operating the boom.

    An 8″ 800×600 touchscreen monitor can be used for control and monitoring if monitoring and controlling from the laptop is not desirable. In any case, the laptop monitor can be used as a second monitor.

    The heads require a 12V source but they also support wide voltage range. You can power an 8″ LED touchscreen monitor and a camera head for 6hours using a 70Wh battery.

    The main sensor remains a Kodak 2/3″ 1080p CCD, the same used in Ikonoskop dII, but a Sony 2/3″ 1080p CCD and a CMOSIS 2/3″ 1080p GLOBAL SHUTTER CMOS will soon be available. The heads are available from multiple vendors.

    The tethered solution further reduce the cost for those who want to use a laptop and make the system more affordable. Including 3 hours of storage a system like this will cost about 5,000 euro, not including the laptop.

    The full Drama image quality and the entire feature set is maintained when using a tethered solution because the Drama software stays the same. This includes the film emulation, all proxy generation features, image control, transport, sync audio, metadata manipulation etc.

    I provide the Drama software that integrates the system, and unique calibration to each camera head so that the camera will be fully linear, free from colored shadows, clipping artifacts, pixel noise and tap calibration artifacts, even if the machine vision head does not support these features. I compliment or replace the existing processing on the head to achieve optimum image quality. The system stores the calibrated raw. Each individual camera has to be calibrated and an optical low pass filter has to be installed, so I will deliver the camera heads ready for use with their calibration fingerprint.

  7. Hi Otis, good to hear from you.
    Glad to see that the Drama is alive an well.
    And yeah, I think the sponsors on some forums have something to do with that banning.

    I believe in freedom of speech – and I support Otis, and the guys from Cinemartin on my blog cause I believe in those projects, and have nothing, but the deepest respect for this kind of engineers and inventors.


    • Otis, you really have to create a website, and provide frequent updates, otherwise this product will die before its born.

  8. Drama was designed for a very small audience. It’s not the kind of camera that should rush to market, or another camera that will appeal to the masses. For the particular niche, I don’t expect any competition in features or pricing, so I allocate resources accordingly. The web site has been ready for 2 months, but I decided to not publish it for various reasons. Basically, Drama is getting more attention than it could possibly serve and support as it is. I think of Drama as a service to the low budget filmmaking community and not another camera product. Even though Drama did receive some feedback on the web, most of the progress was done in private communication with filmmakers.

    Remember that two digital cinema camera attempts did not focus on what they could provide. One shot for the stars with a complex conglomerate of software and hardware vendors, and found very limited success. The other is doomed to fail due to miscalculations in market size that will keep it away from the investment break even point, in other words it’s heading to a future of price hikes in parallel with tiny demand and inability to support existing cameras in the future. I don’t want Drama to be like that. I have to make sure the small number of filmmakers and students that will invest in it will get their money’s worth in performance and support. Actually, a lot more that that:)

    g3nov3s3, now I get it, you are creating a running gag:)

  9. Yeah, he just created a new account on DVXuser to do it again Otis (I guess you saw that) .

    What a sad guy that is. And I think I know who he is. He could – at least – post under his real name, if he would have the balls for that.

    Anyway, I´m glad the Drama is still alive.

    best, Frank

  10. Thanks Frank, I wasn’t following dvxuser. Kittykatro is far too obvious with the repeated wording and everything. Very nice comments from everyone else.

    The Drama hardware costs have reduced a lot lately. Drama tethered capable laptops are 500 euro now and there is massive competition from the camera head manufacturers. Everyone has a Kodak 2/3″ model now. I remember paying more than 4,000 euro for the first boards without filter, now it’s a lot more reasonable. The complete tethered solution will cost less than 5,000 euro including software and hardware. Storage is getting better also, 1080/25p on a single HDD is now a reality and there are many advantages over a dual disk raid0. SSD on the other hand is still artificially expensive, even the low quality ones, probably due to good old price fixing.

    • Otis, I understand your concern about trying not to over-stretch, however, there are many low-budget/indie film-makers that are on the line about which camera to buy, and with a very limited budget. “Drama” seems to be a good option, especially since you say its getting cheaper.

      So, there either needs to be a website, or a way to contact you regarding the camera for potential purchase. Is it already available for purchase? Or can we get a prototype model for our indie film?

  11. I don’t know who this Kittycat is but he probably figured the same thing as me.
    Let’s think for a moment: what are the chances that a guy working in his garage can make a cinema camera and produce thousands of models?

    How many electronics company do you know from Greece? Did the greeks ever produced even simple electrical stuff like toasters, vacuum cleaners,etc…No! They buy all their stuff from China.. believing that they will make a competitive cinema camera is like believing an African nation can build a space ship – it’s just not gonna happen! The greek economy is also bust, they are bankrupt now,and up to their necks in debt – their main problem is how to survive now, not how to make cinema cameras.

    • In tethered operation there is even no hardware involved, it’s software only and everything is off the shelf. Factories trust the components for 24/7 operation in critical tasks. In integrated camcorder operation the assembly is rather simple, being an assembly on components that are produced in hundreds of thousand of units by large companies, heavily tested in different configurations, designed to work well together through strict standards and with very mature firmware. This is not something you can say for the typical camcorder, especially the digital cinema camcorder.

      I know many electronics and signal processing pioneers from Greece in hi-end audio, speaker design, digital room equalization, medical equipment, etc, many of them in person. Drama is not a toaster, it’s software, mathematics and control. We have a long tradition in math and control:)


      If you check the facts you will see that greeks have very low private debt for a european country. With the traditional high level of home ownership in Greece I assure you there are no survival issues and nobody will end up in the streets. The public sector is heavy and inefficient but that’s to be expected in any country these days.

      g3nov3s3 or whatever nick you respond to at the time, attacking a product is one thing but attacking a country and its culture shows a lot about the quality of education your received.

  12. Pingback: Anton Bauer Battery | Video Production & Editing

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