While the concept of “open source” may seem arcane to many, it is in fact a profound intellectual and moral breath of fresh air – and has very specific implications for digital filmmakers. In the world of cinematography and photography, its champions are Magic Lantern (software), Apertus (hardware) and now Rogue Element (commerce), all working together.
Frankly, I’m surprised by my own excitement over a press release, but there you have it: a UK rental house has just announced that it is embracing open source (in addition to its regular business model), and I want them to be successful.
You should, too.
If you’re a regular planet5D reader, you know that – like many of you – we’re big fans of Magic Lantern, the open source hack for Canon DSLRs (and even a mirrorless or two) which unlocks tremendous functionality such as RAW, wide dynamic range and much, much more.
Even Canon uses Magic Lantern.
More recently, you may have read our coverage of the open source AXIOM camera by Apertus and its crowd-funding campaign here, here and here,where we were delighted to learn that Magic Lantern and Apertus were joining forces with the same ethos of transparency, community and competence.
With Rogue Element’s announcement of its support for the AXIOM as well (they will be renting the beta cameras at a price of zero — you read that right), we now have the basis for an open source digital video ecosystem.
Why is this important and why should you care?
If you’ve ever been frustrated by manufacturers who cripple the functionality of their lower priced equipment in order to encourage customers to move to much more expensive gear, open source is perhaps the best antidote: competition based on that same transparency, community and competence — with concomitantly lower price points (although credit where credit is due: Panasonic's GH4 and the broader mirror-less revolution have shaken up the DSLR giants).
Proprietary guys want to charge a lot of money for their gear? Totally fine, as long as you actually get what you pay for. One need look no further than Apple and Google in the ongoing phone wars to see a wonderful example of how “open” (Android) spurs the best effort from proprietary (Apple). No flame wars, please: both camps have their adherents, and to each his own.
But it’s when proprietary guys charge more by obfuscating what they’re actually doing that most of us get upset. It’s less about capitalism than rigging the game.
I’m not mentioning any names, but you know who they are.
On the other hand, too much innovation is simply exhausting and diverting, and more profits means more jobs for more people (unless it all flows to the top 1%, but that’s beyond the scope of this post). So we’re not against capitalism nor are we against proprietary gear.
But in the same way that journalism – when it functions well – works as the “fourth estate” and is a balance on the three branches of government here in the U.S. and elsewhere, open source can do the same in the world of things. It’s not for everyone, but it plays an invaluable role.
Oligopolies ultimately are most helpful to the oligarchs who run them, and in era of dramatically increasing inequality, gluttony and greed, that’s not OK.
To Apertus, Magic Lantern and now Rogue Element, we say: “good on ya.” We will be following your progress closely.
Rogue Element Embraces an Open Source Philosophy
Via Rogue Element Press Release:
London, UK. October 30th, 2014: Rogue Element has become one of the first digital cinematography companies in the UK to adopt an Open Source policy for its workflow and camera division, providing Open Source Digital Camera Solutions and services with full software workflow support.
In a move designed to unleash and encourage creativity, the Soho-based company is ensuring that 4K (and beyond) cinema is fully open to everyone by making AXIOM Beta Open Digital Cinema Cameras available to its customers.
AXIOM Beta cameras are the first products to be developed by apertus°, an Open Source cinema organisation founded by film makers and financed through crowd funding. The people behind apertus° were galvanised into action when they became concerned with the expensive and limited tools they were forced to work with every day. Instead, they wanted access to affordable devices and technology that delivered the highest possible image quality and could be customised to exactly suit their needs.
Since its formation in 2007, the apertus° project has applied an Open Source philosophy to everything it has developed. As no patents have been filed, anyone can access the technology behind its cameras and people are actively encouraged to adapt, modify, repair and even replicate them. To date, reaction
has been very positive. Not only has the company achieved – and exceeded – its initial crowd funding target but it also has the backing of some very important film makers and cinematographers.
ASC and AIC Cinematographer Roberto Schaefer, who was responsible for films such as Quantum of Solace, Finding Neverland and Stranger Than Fiction, says: “I believe than an Open Source camera will allow us to customize the digital camera to our personal liking. That should include ergonomics and hopefully give the ability to get rid of the shoebox, front heavy trend of current designs. I look forward to using custom elements to create the new Digital Aaton, even though they are no longer in business. The design possibilities that I've seen from the apertus° project are exciting, as are the image creation possibilities. Not being locked in to any one company’s idea of what the images should look like is a
breath of fresh (film) air. Currently in order to switch film stocks we have to change camera systems.
The AXIOM will hopefully change all of that and allow us to change stocks with a physical switch.”
His views are shared by Emmy and Academy Award-winning DOP and Visual Effects Supervisor David Stump, who says: “The spirit of Open Source frees up the creative spirit to do something that no one else thought of,” while IMAX cinematographer Lee Ford Parker adds: “Open Source cameras are a step back
toward the dark room, in which making the tools is part of the joy of making the art.”
Rogue Element Press Continued
The AXIOM Beta camera has just been released and is currently only available at cost to the community that backed the initial crowd funding campaign. Rogue Element was one of those backers and Managing Director Dan Mulligan says: “Open Source is a fantastic concept and we are delighted to be supporting
apertus° by making this format available to the UK rental market. In taking on the Open Source philosophy, we hope to facilitate unfettered access to the technology and free up the creative spirit so that the cinema industry can engage in practices that encourage freedom of expression and is no longer limited by who can contribute.”
Established by Mulligan in 2001 firstly with camera rentals, Rogue Element then pioneered tapeless and file-based digital workflows and onset correction with 3D LUTs, S.two & Codex data recorders and Filmlight colour timing suites until 2011. Now starting an Open Source operation for 2014 onwards Rogue will offer new camera solutions and options for the Broadcast & Features markets.
Rogue Element can also provide dailies and workflows for Arriraw (Alexa 16:9/4:3 sensors) RED RAW (RED Epic & Dragon 6K),Sony S-Log3 (Sony F65), Canon RAW (Canon C100/300/500), Cinema DNG (Blackmagic), GoPro and many other of today's professional and niche camera systems. With this new operation for 2014 we want to pursue new avenues for the market.
Dan Mulligan, who has recently returned to Rogue Element after a three year stint at Technicolor, says: “The Arriraw format is now well established and there are a raft of high-end products catering for this market. We are still providing our customers with access to these workflows as they continue to develop, but thanks to our investment in the apertus° project we can now bring a very high quality Open Source 4K camera to the market at a much lower entry cost.”
Mulligan adds that for many film makers, cost can be an ongoing issue and the price of using high end equipment does bar many talented people from entering the market.
“This is why it is good to see the appearance of an Open Source camera system that has a much lower entry point,” he says. “The ability to develop and create your own 4K camera if desired and your build your own workflow is hugely beneficial for the film and broadcast industry because it will encourage content creation and allow people to get involved at much less cost, encouraging adoption to expand creative possibilities.”
Rogue Element is not initially considering charging for the rental of its AXIOM Beta cameras. Instead, it will make its income through consultancy and through supplying additional new sensors, lenses, tripods etc., and add on services such as storage and workflow.
“We want people to try them so we are making them as easily available as possible,” Mulligan says. “With the Axiom Open Source we now have a camera solution coming from an opposing end of the release spectrum with a differing approach to its target audience. There should be more than enough room for both
this and the higher end systems.”
About Rogue Element:
Rogue Element provides digital cinematography filming services plus data and dailies, to the Film and Broadcast industries. A pioneer in tapeless and file-based digital workflows and on-set colour correction, the company's growing rental division also supplies and supports a wide range of professional Digital Cameras including RAW camera systems and workflows, apertus° AXIOM Beta Open Source cameras and new solutions for RAW workflows.
Check out the services that Rogue Element here.
(cover photo credit: snap from Rogue Element)