Alexei’s Dream Camera

May 5, 2012
By
JVC Falcon, designed by Alexei Berteig

The dream camera I designed and pitched to JVC back in 2008.

I’m totally beyond excited – I’m the proud new owner of an Arri Alexa! I look forward to offering this excellent tool to my clients.

This all started back in 2006 when I was on retainer with JVC as a “consultant.” I was an owner/operator of the then-exciting GY-HD101, the new generation of HDV cameras. Did a lot of shooting with that camera, a lot of which I’m quite proud of. At the time, Panavision and Sony had just come out with the Genesis (i.e. F35), Arri had the D20, Phantom had one high-speed camera, Dalsa was still making noise, and the RED 1 was still vaporware. It seemed obvious that Digital Cinema was around the corner. I gave a presentation to the head of sales China and the head engineer of JVC camera global, in which I proposed that JVC jump into the fray.

I went ahead and designed a camera. Of course, not being an engineer, I couldn’t say exactly how the electronics would function, but I had some pretty strong ideas of the form-factor and basic functionality of the camera.

A couple years later, Arri announced the Alexa. It was a serious case of deja-vu. As far as I was concerned, it was EXACTLY the same camera I’d proposed to JVC. “Dumb” side controls and display. 33cm long, 15 cm wide, 16cm tall. Built-in lightweight rail clamps. Cutout for on-the-shoulder shooting. Seperate remote identical to the controls on the camera. EVF button for zooming in for a 1:1 magnification factor for critical focus. The list went on and on.

I thought, “I’ve got to get that camera.”

Here’s what my Dream Camera and the ALEXA have in common:

  • Incredibly, the JVC Falcon and the Arri Alexa are within a few cubic centimeters of each other in terms of size. 15 cm tall, 14 cm wide, 30 cm long. Even the form factor is the same; the battery on the back matches the cross-section of the body. There’s even a cutout on bottom of body for quick shoulder-mounting, and the bottom of the camera mounts directly to standard base plates.
  • Multiple frame rates. The techs at JVC asked me, “how much is enough?” I instantly said, 120fps. Why? Because at that frame rate everything looks beautiful.
  • 35mm-sized sensor
  • Records on solid-state media or external disk
  • Swappable side module for expansion.
  • Overscan on the VF so you can see what’s just outside of frame
  • Viewfinder on rails so the camera can be shoulder-mounted or telescoped behind the camera for use on a geared head.
  • User-programmable buttons on viewfinder.
  • Operator-side controls (inside of camera body)
  • Assistant-side camera settings display (on outside of camera body)
  • Separate wireless controller for start / stop, ramping and other camera functions.
  • All the I/O ports near the back of the camera so that if the camera is tethered, all the cables trail neatly off the back of the tripod or over the back of an operator’s shoulder.

Things I didn’t think of that Arri did:

  • 15mm lightweight rails supports built into the body.
  • Operator-side loading of digital magazines.
  • Dual-SDI out, T-link etc…keep in mind this was during the time when the only external recorder capable of 4:4:4 recording was the Sony SR deck.
  • Squat viewfinder, so that you don’t have to mount the VF way out beside the lens when using the camera on the shoulder.
  • rectangular rails for VF mounting so there’s no twisting off of horizontal when making fore-and-aft adjustments of the VF position.

Things I thought of that Arri didn’t:

  • A removable control module that snaps into the side of the camera, allowing for either on-camera control of menus and so on, or remotely. It would be nice if this handheld remote was standard equipment for the Alexa.
  • The remote control has sophisticated audio mixing controls on it.
  • Built-in ND filters
  • Hard switches rather than menu controls for ENG-style shooting – if you put your finger under all the switches and flick them to “up” you’re basically instantly in auto mode if you’re run-and-gunning it.
Camera designed by Alexei Berteig for JVC, pictured with lens

Here's the camera all dressed up.

Some of the similarities are not coincidence, given the standard distances from lens center to baseplate, size of AB-mount and V-mount batteries, and so on.

One of the big ideas here was to do a remix of Digital Cinema cameras and ENG cameras. I always found it useful to have bomb-proof switches for discrete color and exposure functions, such as the typical white balance and gain. The user buttons have little braille dots on them for buttons 1, 2 and 3. So even if you’re glued to the viewfinder you can make your adjustments purely by feel.

Camera designed by Alexei Berteig for JVC, assistant's side.

This view shows the dumb side of the camera with the controls and ports covered.

Camera designed by Alexei Berteig for JVC, showing controls.

This shows the remote control unit taken out of the body and reversed so the controls are accessible.

 

Camera designed by Alexei Berteig for JVC, detail of remote control.

A detail of the control panel, that doubles as a remote.

At the time I presented this camera to JVC, it seemed that their mentality was locked into a set of standards related to HD signals. The engineer was talking about 1.5 Ghz, 59.97 clock cycles, and all of this sort of nonsense. I remember saying, “a hard drive doesn’t care how fast you write data. A frame is a frame, and those frames can be distributed later over any project frame rate you want.” I similarly told them that signal compression should be left to the user’s discretion. My favorite part of this remote is the big dial on the right, which controls frame rate for speed ramps.

In hindsight there’s just so much wishful thinking and blissful ignorance in what I was proposing. You can see in the picture above that the choices for resolution are boiled down to 1k, 2k and 4k, as if there was never going to be any aspect ratio other than 1.77:1 (16:9).

Anyway, the Alexa is real, and my JVC Falcon is not.

the Arri Alexa seen beside the JVC falcon for comparative size.

Real. Not.

Alexei Berteig

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One Response to Alexei’s Dream Camera

  1. garry berteig on May 15, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    funny how things go. I worked up some parallel concepts to Facebook (Portrait) and wikipedia (OOMind) with Mishkin – so similar it is spooky – but our $s were not there to make them happen. And other stuff too. another time, another planet? – who knows.
    DADA

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