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posted by - Thursday, 27 September 2012


At IBC this year, Aaton demonstrated a functioning Delta Penelope Digital Cinema Camera. The Delta Penelope project was first announced jointly with AbelCine at NAB 2010 as a “digital mag” upgrade to the Penelope Super-35 film camera. Since then, the camera has evolved into its own complete design, featuring a CCD (as opposed to CMOS) Super-35 sensor, an optical viewfinder with spinning mirror shutter, and Aaton’s famed ergonomic “cat on the shoulder” design. 

Aaton has always been known for its innovative, “outside of the box” concepts, and the Delta Penelope contains several truly pioneering features. One of the ironies of today’s light sensitive and lightweight digital cameras is the need for cumbersome ND filters in front of the lens when shooting outdoors or in bright light. The Delta addresses this using a unique shutter that allows the camera’s sensitivity to be adjusted from 800 ISO to 100 ISO. One half of the shutter is a traditional half moon with a spinning mirror to reflect light to the viewfinder. The multi-bladed shutter mechanism extends over the other half of the disk and uses adjustable slits like a Venetian window blind to adjust the exposure level without altering the shutter angle. This innovative Aaton shutter negates the need for ND filters, which would block light to the eyepiece and could cause excessive IR pollution to the image.

Another revolutionary design is in the sensor, which is the first in the industry to be mounted to a moving assembly. By offsetting the physical position of the sensor by half a pixel with each frame, the spatial resolution is increased over time. 

This is akin to film image capture, where the random structure of grain and silver halide crystals in each frame creates greater image resolution in the changes that happen on the image surface level between frames. In other words, while an individual film frame may appear relatively low in resolution and high in grain, the random structure of the actual imaging material on a strip of filmstock means that information is captured in different spots and grain deposited in different positions from frame to frame. When these frames are shown successively one after another, the cumulative effect is an overall increase of resolution and a decrease in visible grain structure. This is increased temporal resolution via increased spatial resolution.

In the case of the Delta Penelope, when the sensor movement option is engaged, the resolution increases from its native 3.5K to a virtual 7K. The movement of the sensor also eliminates fixed-pattern noise, a major issue with standard electronic sensors; the offset is also tracked and noted in each frame’s metadata for post interpretation and plotting. This unprecedented moving sensor may well be the ultimate in Aaton “lateral thinking.”

Other notable features include an HD video tap for ease of client viewing (even while the camera’s shutter is sending light to the viewfinder), excellent onboard battery life, and low weight. There is a simple jog wheel on the top of the camera (accessible from either side) for basic camera settings, a full-featured display and control panel on the assistant’s side of the camera, and a basic display on the operator’s side. The optical viewfinder also features a histogram to the right of the groundglass, akin to Aaton’s traditional lightmeter. Large vents on the sides of the camera virtually eliminate fan noise and are located away from the operator’s head. Additionally, an unlimited number of cascading LUT presets can be loaded into the camera for viewing and metadata.

The Super-35 CCD sensor was developed with Dalsa, a pioneer of Digital Cinema with the original Origin camera back in 2006. By utilizing Dalsa’s advanced CCD design, the fill factor – which is the amount of surface area of the sensor actually used to gather light – is dramatically increased compared to CMOS sensors. Plus, an electronic global shutter eliminates the dreaded “jello effect” of rolling shutters. 

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The Delta Penelope captures 16-bit Linear RAW files in the Adobe CinemaDNG format. Because CinemaDNG is an open, non-proprietary format, it can be easily read and transported with various post programs and is fully compliant with the ACES protocol. Baselight can open the files and BlackMagic Design’s DaVinci group is currently testing a beta version of Resolve 9 that can as well (see the screenshot above for an idea of what it will look like). Included with this article are a couple of test DNG frames – download them and test for yourself to see the camera’s 14-stops of dynamic range and the minimal and filmic grain structure. If you do not have access to Baselight or Resolve, Aaton recommends software called RawTherapee over Photoshop or Mac OS X Preview for more accurate color rendition.
The files are recorded to an onboard Aaton DeltaPack, a raided group of relatively inexpensive SSDs, which can be hot-swapped on the camera, much like a traditional film magazine. The Aaton Ergon download station and Aaton DeltaDock data transfer unit complete the Delta Penelope system. The DeltaPack and DeltaDock 3.5″ architecture is also compatible with the Codex Vault and Marquis Mist; Aaton has also developed the inexpensive DeltaShuttle HDD for open compatibility and integration into existing workflows.

The visionary Aaton Delta Penelope will ship in a limited initial test run before the end of the year, with a full rollout of the camera scheduled for NAB 2013. For other views on what Aaton showed of the Delta Penelope at IBC, check out Jon Fauer’s article over at Film & Digital Times, as well as Australian DP John Brawley’s in-depth blog post

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