Lens Options for 360 Degree Virtual Reality Camera Rigs? And other thoughts on cameras.

Sony 360 Degree Virtual Reality Camera Rig

I’m a long way from upgrading my multiple (from six to a dozen cameras at once!) action cameras 360 Degree Virtual Reality Rig (thus I don’t need to worry about interchangeable lens options on this rig), but when I do I am thinking to go with Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera. Even though high resolution is very important for 360VR.

If you do go with 4K cameras then the Panasonic GH4 is a very popular 4K option (such as these guys using GH4 cameras for 360VR: http://shinichi-works.info/project_gh4.html). Also there is the Sony a7R mk2 / a7S mk2 options (but costs skyrocket, after all you’re not buying just one camera but many!) or Sony A6300 (which has overheating issues, an especially troubling issue if you have six of these operating all cramped up close together to each other! As then they’ll overheat even faster). Also Blackmagic Design has their Micro Studio Camera, but that requires an external 4K recorder, which introduces significant size/power/cost issues. Samsung NX1 is also very much worth a look (& NX500, but in 4K it has a harsh crop factor), but it is a dying system and ever since the NX1 hack came out the secondhand prices of the NX1 have been staying high.

Thus in the end I’d prefer the BlackMagic Micro Cinema Camera (BMMCC), because I’d prefer the dynamic range, bit depth, and color space of the BMMCC. And while the Panasonic GH4 / G7 does a max of 30p @ 4K, you are gaining resolution but giving up frame rate and I’d rather keep it at 60fps (as arguably high frame rates are nearly just as important for Virtual Reality as resolution is. Least you give the viewer motion sickness. And you can get higher resolution by using more cameras!). Presumably the GH5 will give 4K 60fps, but that will probably cost US$2K or more per camera (and you need many multiple ones of them of course for complete 360 degree coverage!), and it hasn’t even been announced yet so who knows.

Though given the likely length of time until I’ll be upgrading, we’ll surely see a Panasonic G7 sale by then which might make that option too cheap to resist vs going with BlackMagic Micro Cinema Cameras.

Anyway, I have still been putting a lot of thought & research this year into the various options for the future, and I decided I’d at last put the metaphorical pen to paper and share a few of my thoughts on this particular aspect of lens choices. We can broadly speaking split it into three groups:

  • a) native mount (i.e. MFT lens, or E mount lenses if a person was using A6300/A7 series instead), but then this can severely limit a person a couple of years down the track if they change bodies. It would be a lot smoother / cheaper if only the bodies need to be swapped out and not lenses as well. I’d like to have some degree of versatility with this rig.
  • b) full frame UWA lenses (in Nikon F mount of course, as I’ve explained in other blog posts), but not an option as you can’t then go truly wide if using them on APS-C or smaller bodies. And A7r mk2 / A7s mk2 are the only truly interesting options to consider here for use that are full frame. Maybe with the one exception of the Rokinon 14mm f2.8 lens, which does almost hit the sweet spot for price & focal length even when used on APS-C. Or the Rokinon 12mm F2.8, but then you have to deal with fisheye distortion.
  • c) APS-C UWA lens, this appears to hit the sweet spot of maximum versatility plus maximum FoV.

 

    APS-C lens options:
  • Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6, max FoV but I’d be concerned about the slow f-stop, as then you’d start to be losing one of the key gains of ditching GoPros with their poor lowlight ability.
  • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (or the newer Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8, but that costs more so no), this is the lens I own myself and is in my eyes the “best” UWA lens for normal filmmaking, but does that mean it is for 360VR too?? Hmm
  • Rokinon 10mm f/2.8, is lighter/cheaper/wider (all 3 keys points for a 360VR rig) than the Tokina but is a fixed focal length (probably not a disadvantage though at all! As you absolutely don’t want that focal length to change once you’ve set it, thus why people will tape down zoom lenses if using them on a 360VR rig). However the Rokinon 10mm f/2.8 isn’t cheaper than Tokina when you consider the older Tokina models can easily be picked up secondhand, but the Rokinon can’t be so easily found at all secondhand as it is a newer lens.
  • Rokinon 16mm f/2, the fastest option but by this point at 16mm it is only barely UWA at all.

Outside these options listed, I can’t think of any good UWA lenses, or am I missing something? Everything else that comes to mind seems that they’d all be a worse compromise somewhere in price/FoV/speed/etc than these four that I listed.

Keen to hear in the comments your views on my thought process and each of the options I reached at!

What if Kinefinity’s KineMount became a universal cinema mount?

Is by any chance KineMount an open mount like say Micro Four Thirds is? I am guessing it is not.

KineMount with OCT-19 adapter

There is a thread over on BMCuser about possible interchangeable mounts for BMD cameras.
http://www.bmcuser.com/showthread.php?16668-Possible-interchangeable-mounts-for-4-6K

Got me thinking that the absolute best result would be if BMD adopted the FZ mount in future cameras. FZ mount is what is used in the Sony F3/F5/F55, which I’ve used and is an absolutely wonderful mount! You can adapt it to anything else, for instance I’ve got a rock solid Nikon F mount on my Sony PMW-F3. So it works, and FZ is an already popular mount used by many.

But Sony will never let BMD use FZ mount. Thus the very nearly almost as good option is to talk with Kinefinity and see if they’d open up KineMount for everybody to use (in many ways KineMount is like Sony FZ mount, and kinda better… as Kinefinity have a focal reducer option! Yay). As if that happened it would be tremendously good news for both companies, and a massive result to help the indy / hobbyist / low / medium budget film industry.

Be great if Kinefinity and BMD could talk together with each other to create a universal mount system which can go onto dominate the film industry in the future. As no longer would consumers have to choose between buying a Canon EF mount model or the PL version (such as happens with the C300, BMPC4K, URSA, and URSA Mini), they can have both!

It would fit very well with BMD’s corporate philosophy of have having an open system rather than a closed ecosystem you’re forced to buy into over and over again (hello RED!).

Like Tim Siddons from Blackmagic Design said 17 minutes into this interview:

So BMD appears to support open systems (such as using SSDs or CFast cards) rather than vendor lock in (like RED does!!). And this would obviously benefit Kinefinity in increasing their awareness, thus it appears to be in everybody’s best interests to make KineMount an open mount.

KineMount already has adapters read to go, and even a focal reducer! (which doesn’t even exist at all for Sony FZ mount. Being able to gain a stop of light with the KineEnhancer, and shoot effectively with a “full frame” camera, certainly helps make KineMount even more attractive over Sony FZ mount) So Blackmagic Design wouldn’t need to make adapters if they don’t want to (plus others, such as AJA and Sony already leave making adapters up to 3rd parties to do that).

I *love* that Blackmagic Design provides lots of camera choice (BMCC is available in *three* different mounts! PL/MFT/EF), but it would be so much better if the buyer didn’t have to choose and could just do all of it with the one camera!

And it means less inventory costs for BMD and the camera stores (because they’ll only need to carry one type of each camera model, & not up to 3 versions of it!), and less design costs for BMD (probably, as doesn’t need to be done 3x over for each camera version).

Obviously to make KineMount a universal mount they’d need to drop the Kinefinity branding (otherwise other brands will find it hard to join in behind it), instead of calling it KineMount perhaps just simply call it “K mount” (although that usually refers to Pentax’s DSLR mount, so “CK Mount” maybe for “Cinema K mount”??).

If this open standard is well documented then you open the door to 3rd parties quickly making active adapters like:

EF Speedbosters
EF with built-in Vari-ND
EF with electronic Vari-ND
EF-Mount active adapters

Plus all the usual “dumb” adapters that enable using vintage photo lenses like Canon FD, Minolta SR-mount, etc…

What a dream world this would be to live in!! With so many choices and possibilities.

Hopefully if these two companies unite on a common open standard then you’d see other smaller manufacturers like Apertus & AJA follow suit with KineMount on their future cameras. And if a big player like Nikon or JVC entered the large sensor cinema market then there would be a universal mount they could consider adapting!

JVC for instance would have no other option, unless they chose EF *or* PL (or created their own sub mount from scratch!). JVC does already have the GY-LS300 with a Micro Four Thirds mount which is kinda a “universal mount”, but the JVC GY-LS300 camera is not aimed at the high end, and Micro Four Thirds with adapters is not rock solid like Sony FZ or KineMount are.

And while Nikon could use their Nikon F mount if they ever entered the cinema market, this would cripple their sales as it wouldn’t be PL for the higher end (unless they make two models like the Canon C300… again, forcing the consumer to choose between the two, rather than giving them flexibility) and at the indy / low budget level many people have unfortunately gone with Canon EF lenses instead and would feel resistance to changing mount to Nikon. But this way Nikon could offer a Nikon F mount cinema camera (with a KineMount underneath) with a PL adapter, which then additionally gives people the freedom of choice to use Canon EF lenses with a 3rd Party adapter or any other lenses their heart so desires.

Hope Kinefinity and Blackmagic Design read this and start talking together about making a joint open standard for cinema camera mounts!

Look at how quickly Canon EF mount become popular and an almost “standard” with many low / mid range cinema cameras! (such as Varicam LT / Arri Alexa Mini / BMPC4K / BMCC EF / URSA / URSA Mini / Axiom / etc ). If a rock solid sub mount for cinema usage, such as KineMount, was set up as an open standard and adopted by a few manufacturers then I think it won’t take many years at all before it gets to the common usage level.

Speculation: RED Raven vs URSA Mini 4.6K vs Kinefinity Terra 6K

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RED Raven, Blackmagic Design URSA Mini 4.6K, and Kinefinity Terra 6K (there is also a 5K option, which gives a global shutter):

They all offer higher than 4K resolution in raw with a S35 sized sensor (although…. RED Raven barely barely squeaks in here as an option, because its max 4.5K option is only possible when shooting wide. Doing standard 16:9 and it drops down to “merely” 4K resolution, and its crop factor then ends up being closer to a Panasonic GH2 than a S35 camera! But you’re stuck with the awkward Canon EF mount with no way to speedbooster it to get a wider field of view from your lenses).

RED’s Raven and Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini are no strangers to us if you’re followers of camera news, but Kinefinity unfortunately is unknown to many even though they’ve released many cameras over the years. And now yesterday they released the Terra 6K and Terra 5K! Here is a list of Kinefinity’s current cameras that they sell (which doesn’t include in this list their oldest models):

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The Kinefinity Terra 6K has an impressive listing of specs, putting its features at near to RED Scarlet-W territory. And uses the proven Kinefinity 6K sensor which we’ve seen before with the KineMAX 6K can produce nice imagery, so hopes are high with the Terra 6K (the cheaper Terra 5K however uses a new 5K sensor which we’ve never seen anything from before).

So which of the top 3 low budget cameras with higher than 4K raw options would I likely prefer?

If you don’t factor in the price / support / brand name cred, then I’d go for a Kinefinity Terra 6K over URSA Mini 4.6K or RED Raven any day of the week.

However… in the real world those are factors to consider, thus here I go:

For brand name recognition it would rank: 1st) RED 2nd) BMD 3rd) KineFinity (“who??” Unfortunately would be a common reaction)

Customer support: 1st) RED 2nd) Blackmagic Design 3rd) Kinefinity (though the gap back to 3rd would be smaller if you’ve got a Chinese speaking partner to help smooth out the language barriers and provide a connection in China, which I do)

Price: URSA Mini 4.6K, then a Terra 6K would be roughly the same price or maybe a little more (or maybe even less, as the Terra 6K starts out more expensive but has radically cheaper media than a UM46, which would claw back the cost gap. So it depends on your personal configuration), and then finally last would be a complete RED Raven package which is about double the price of a similar UM46 kit (or even nearly 3x time the cost, once RED’s higher accessories costs are factored in). Which then simply rules out the RED Raven for me. (however, if you work in an environment where specifically RED is being requested by your clients over and over again, then swallowing the multiple times higher cost for a RED simply becomes the smart business decision to go for. Rather than buying a camera package which won’t get picked up and used)

And so I’d be left with a tight contest between UM46 or Terra 6K (cost is basically the same more or less, and arguably the support with Kinefinity isn’t “too much” worse than BMD?? Depends on your location in the world, and how much of a language barrier you’d experience personally with Chinese).

Do you go for the well known, and a bit better supported, URSA Mini? Or take a punt on the Terra 6K with its better features? (smaller size / higher frame rates / higher resolution / more mount options / focal reducer option / WiFi / radically lower power consumption / cheaper media / more input & output options / 3D sync / claimed higher dynamic range / likely better low light / etc)

I’m feeling like leaning towards the Kinefinity Terra 6K!

A video shot with the Kinefinity KineMAX 6K (same sensor as is in the new Terra 6K):

Colours of Culture Bali (by KineMAX) from Kinefinity on Vimeo.

Kinefinity has put up prices now in English (so no more needing to translate Chinese, and convert RMB to NZD/USD):
http://www.kinefinity.com/shop/terra_preorder/?lang=en

Terra 6K Body is: US$5,999
Basic package is: US$6,999
Pro Pack is: US$8,999

Looking at that it would seem either the body only with the KineBACK + KineGRIP (about US$1.5K extra), or the Terra Pro Pack are the most interesting options (as I reckon a KineBACK is pretty close to essential to have as an option for professional shooting, and the KineGRIP is just so nifty to have if you want to slim down the Terra to merely DSLR size). Then kit out the rest of what is needed from your existing gear collection. If you need extra batteries they’re cheap (as the power draw of a Terra is less than half of a RED Raven or UM46, and BP-U batteries or V mount can be sourced cheaply from eBay), and media is cheap too (as you can use off the shelf SSDs if they’re fast enough, you don’t need pricey MINI-MAGs from RED or CFast cards).