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Digital Cinematography Cameras of the Past

Tags: camera

Before the days of DLSRs that shoot stunning HD and 4K video, came an elite group of cameras who made all that technology possible and changed the face of cinema forever. See how far we have come in just 15 years.


Sony F900

It was June 1999 when George Lucas revealed Star Wars Episode II was to be the first major Hollywood movie to be shot 100% using digital cinema cameras. Sony and Panavision developed the High Definition 24p camera that Lucas would use to accomplish this and thus the first CineAlta camera was born: the Sony 2.3″ CCD toting HDW-F900 (also called the Panavision HD-900F after being “panavised”). The F900 was replaced by the F950 which featured higher resolution and better color reproduction.


Thomson Viper 

2003 gave us the Thomson Viper Filmstream camera, here is a excerpt from the Viper’s brochureWith three 9.2 million pixel Frame Transfer CCDs capturing 1920×1080 resolution, the Viper FilmStream camera system delivers an RGB 4:4:4 10-bit log output—uncompromised by electronic camera signal processing—to a field recorder. There is no color sub-sampling, color-space conversion, irreversible video manipulation, or compression.

This was a pretty ground breaking at the time. The ‘Viper’, still one of the best names of any camera ever, featured a 2/3″ CCD sensor and could shoot up to 29.97fps in 1080p. However like the SI-2K, people wanted s35mm depth of field and the ability to use existing film glass.


Panavision Genesis

2004 brought us the Genesis from Panavision. After the success for the F900 and F950 and their variations, Panavision wanted something more fit for purpose. The Genesis featured a proper s35mm single CCD sensor to obtain the same field of view as traditional film cameras. The Genesis was developed with Sony and features Sony sensor technology outputting a 4:4:4 LOG 1080p footage . The Genesis was well received by professional cinematographers and directors being used for some of Hollywood’s biggest productions of the time. But the relationship between the two companies ended in 2004 and is probably the reason no other Panavision branded cinema cameras were made.


Arri D-20

Before the Alexa there was the D-20. Released back in 2005 this camera paved the way for the now legendarily successfully Arri Alexa. The D-20 used a single s35mm CMOS sensor so featured the same field of view as conventional film cameras and was equipped with a PL lens mount for existing cinema glass. The D-20 had both a mechanical shutter, variable from 11.2° to 180° and a electronic shutter. The D-20 could also run at 1-60 fps. Numerous components of the camera were borrowed from Arri film cameras such as the 435ES.  There were two settings similar to the Alexa, RAW data mode shooting at 2880 x 2160 RAW 12 bit Bayer data and HD mode 1920 x 1080 4:2:2/4:4:4 YCbCr/RGB 10 bit depending if you used single or dual link HD-SDI


Dalsa Origin

The first commercially available 4K digital cinematography camera, the Dalsa Origin was originally announced at the NAB show in 2003 but wasn’t available for rental until 2006 with a price tag of $3000 a day. The Origin featured a  4096×2048 sensor which boasted 13 stops of dynamic range. The camera output an impressive uncompressed, RAW Bayer pattern 16-bit image, which was considerably higher than other cameras at the time which were limited to 8, 10 or 12 bits. The raw data was output to an external storage unit at approximately 400 megabytes per second. In 2008 Dalsa was acquired by Arri, securing Arri’s future in the digital cinematography market and ending Dalsas.


Silicon Imaging SI-2k

In 2007 we saw the introduction of the SI-2K from Silicon Imaging. The SI-2K featured a 2/3″ single CMOS sensor outputting a 2k 16:9 signal with 11 stops of dynamic range. Not the most popular of cinema cameras it did, however, gather a lot of interest as this was one of the first cameras that wasn’t from a big camera manufacture. However the average picture quality and small sensor sized helped the SI-2k stay firmly in the shadows of the digital cinematography world.



RED Digital Cinema Camera Company was founded in 2005 by Oakley founder Jim Jannard, the RED ONE being the companies first offering to the digital cinematography world. The RED camera as it was simply known was a massive hit, independent filmmakers fell in love with this camera and Hollywood followed suit. Still in use today the Original RED ONE camera, released in 2007, featured a 4K Bayer pattern CMOS s35mm sensor and recorded internally to proprietary SSDs using a proprietary compression algorithm. Many accessories were manufactured to outfit the camera and everything could be bought directly from RED. Including touch screen monitors, a viewfinder and battery systems. RED also show no signs of slowing down with their current offerings the RED EPIC and Scarlet being used for many features, commercials promos and much much more.


Cameras we should also mention that have changed the world, the 2/3″ CCD Sony F23 and the S35mm CCD F35, which started Sony’s F series of cameras that is now continued by the F55 and F65. Not forgetting the Highspeed Vision Research Phantom and the Weisscam HS-1.

The post Digital Cinematography Cameras of the Past appeared first on Digital Cinematography.

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Digital Cinematography Cameras of the Past


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