Menu

First Impressions Of The Digital Bolex D16 & Why It’s Perfect For My Next Short Film

When Digital Bolex first hit the scene in 2012 with their Kickstarter campaign, I was instantly fascinated by the camera. At that point there was really nothing else like it on the market (and in many ways that’s still true), and like many of you I was extremely eager to try it out for myself.

Somehow though, it took me until now – 4 years later – to actually shoot with the camera for the first time. As much as I wanted to test it out for myself, by the time it was released I was already knee deep in productions with other cameras like the BMCC, C100, RED Epic, and others. In the end, it took me quite a while to come around to actually shooting with the D16, but now that I have had a chance to shoot with it for a few days, I have to say I’m quite impressed.

Digital Bolex was kind enough to loan out the D16 to me last week, and although I’ve only shot with it for a few days now, I already feel like I “get” the camera, and understand what it does best. Before I get to some of my first impressions though, here is why I wanted to shoot on the D16 in the first place –

A couple months ago I was gearing up to shoot a short film on Super 16mm film. I’ve always really wanted to shoot on 16mm and the short film I was developing called for that gritty, raw aesthetic that Super 16mm film is known for. I also liked the challenge of shooting on film as it’s something I’ve never had the opportunity to do before. The idea of creating spontaneity and immediacy for the cast and crew seemed exciting, and after realizing how affordable shooting on 16mm could be, I was completely on board.

In the end though, the project shifted gears in many ways and ultimately called for a different format. While the aesthetic of S16mm film was absolutely still right for the creative direction, the logistics of shooting on film no longer made sense. The concept of the story changed, as did the length of the project, and other key factors that subsequently made shooting digitally a more viable option.

I’ll still be shooting another upcoming project on the S16mm film stock I now own… So for those of you interested in that project, I will be sure to post updates on it soon. But for now, back to this –

Once I decided to shoot this piece digitally, I considered loads of different camera options, from Alexa to RED to Blackmagic to others. In the end though, I kept getting pulled in the direction of Digital Bolex. I spent a lot of time researching the camera, watching test footage, and really understanding the aesthetic that the D16 was able to deliver… And it was unlike any other camera out there.

Having never shot on the camera before, it was hard to know if what I was seeing online was simply very well graded footage, or if the D16 just had a really filmic look right out of the box. The only way to know for sure was to test it out myself.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

All of my thoughts below are very much first impressions. This isn’t meant to be a detailed review (hopefully I can do one in the future), but rather some of my initial findings with this camera as I’ve experimented with it over the past few days.

The first thing that hit me when I started taking some test shots on the D16 was that this camera feels more analogue than digital. People often compare it to the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera, but in many ways the D16 is closer to an Arri SR2 (film camera), than any of it’s digital equivalents.

I feel this way not only because of the image quality (we’ll get to that), but also because of how the camera operates. From the pistol grip to the internal memory, the overall design of this camera is unlike any other digital camera I’ve ever used.

I wasn’t sure I would want to use the pistol grip at first, but soon discovered that for handheld/tracking shots, it works beautifully – especially on a wide lens. You can actually hold the trigger down when you want it to record and it will stop when you release. It might seem gimmicky at first, but in some situations it can actually be really helpful to shoot that way and can help keep your overall footprint small.

What really makes this camera feel like a film camera though, is the fact that you are quite limited in your ISO settings. Although the camera can now go up to ISO 800, it performs best at ISO 200, and from the test shooting that I’ve done so far I would only ever want to shoot on this camera at ISO 200, as the image looks so perfect in that sweet spot.

Shooting everything at ISO 200 might seem limiting (and in some ways it is), but it’s more manageable than you might think. There are loads of extremely fast S16mm lenses (some in the F0.85 range), and as long as you use fast glass and aren’t shooting in the dark, you’ll be just fine. In fact in some ways you’ll be better off, as the D16, like a film camera, requires that you light your interior scenes carefully and purposefully.

Here are a handful lightly graded test images I shot around the house when I first picked up the camera:

Digital Bolex D16 - 5 Digital Bolex D16 - 4 Digital Bolex D16 - 3

Most of the test shots you’ll see on this post were shot on the excellent Veydra C-Mount Cinema Lenses.

So often now with digital cinema cameras, DPs avoid lighting their shots properly because they can get a “clean” image at a high ISO. Unfortunately, a clean image isn’t always a nice looking image, and a poorly lit shot will always look bad no matter what camera it’s shot on. Although it might seem like a compromise, in some ways it’s a nice challenge to have to light your shots as if you were shooting on 200T film. And if you rise to the occasion, the results will be incredible.

A well exposed shot at ISO 200 on the Digital Bolex D16 looks so filmic, I would be hard pressed to find any other digital cinema camera that looks more like film. Even a camera like the Arri Alexa – which is arguably the best digital cinema camera ever made – doesn’t have this exact look straight out of the box. That’s not to say an Alexa isn’t extremely filmic, but certainly not in a gritty, 16mm kind of way. The D16 has a very unique and distinct look that is extremely reminiscent of actual film. This is probably thanks to the CCD sensor (as opposed to CMOS), and great color science.

Digital Bolex D16 - 1

It’s hard to describe exactly what it is about the D16 image that makes it feel filmic as it isn’t any one thing. It’s not the dynamic range (other cameras that have more DR are much less filmic), it’s not just the fact that it has a global shutter, and it’s certainly not only because of the RAW recording format. It’s the combination of so many different elements that create the look the D16 is known for, and it’s something you just sort of feel while you’re watching the footage.

The RAW images are extremely flexible in post, which is fantastic of course. What I find most interesting though, is no matter how much you push the color, the image always seems to retain that intangible “film look”. The RAW files aren’t just a blank canvas that give you a neutral starting point. They truly have that cinematic looked baked it, and retain it exceptionally well, no matter how you choose to color your footage.

Here’s a before and after example of a graded shot of my dog, Peanut.

Digital Bolex D16 - 2A Digital Bolex D16 - 2B

The single biggest reason I like this camera is because it has an identity. Unlike many of today’s cameras (like Sony’s FS7 for instance) that attempt to serve everyone – from narrative filmmakers to event shooters – the D16 has a specific purpose. It is designed to authentically emulate the look and process of shooting on Super 16mm film, and it does that extremely well.

Often times people complain when a camera like the D16 can’t do everything that some lesser expensive cameras could. For instance, it’s easy to pick apart it’s lack of low light ability or it’s limited frame rate options… But the truth is, if those are important considerations for you as a filmmaker, you shouldn’t even be looking at the D16 in the first place. This camera is designed for a specific purpose as I stated above, and that comes with a specific process.

In the case of the short that I’m shooting this week, the D16 is truly a best of both worlds option. It will allow us to capture a truly authentic Super 16mm look, while still maintaining the conveniences of shooting digitally, which are necessary for our production.

The project itself is a mood film I’m creating as part of the development process for my feature (more on that in the near future), and as the edit comes together I’ll be sharing footage, more detailed feedback on the camera, and a behind the scenes featurette on the making of the short.

All of the images above were color graded in DaVinci Resolve using the Film Convert plugin. You can buy Film Convert for 10% off by clicking this link and using the code: KROLL

About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!

29 Comments

  • Doug
    July 2, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    It’s crazy that so far past a camera’s life cycle I’m still having a hard time choosing between a D16 and an URSA 4.6k, which—spec-wise—is superior in every imaginable way. There’s jsut something about the richness of that CCD and the run-and-gun potential makes up for so many of its shortcomings.

    Really like your work, btw.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      July 4, 2017 at 6:58 pm

      Thanks, Doug! And I agree – there is something VERY special about the Digital Bolex. It definitely has a timeless quality to it.

      Reply
  • dMb
    June 10, 2016 at 3:26 am

    omg – I am jealous 🙂 this is a dream camera for me that maybe someday I will own- I have a bolex d8 film camera and a few rolls of b&w that I haven’t developed yet. not sure why.
    Awesome site btw, stumbled into it tonight 😉

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      June 13, 2016 at 9:13 pm

      Thanks so much! And I hope you get a chance to shoot on it one day, it’s a really great camera… Oh, and go get that film developed!

      Reply
  • Andrew
    May 16, 2016 at 8:46 am

    Noam, I have just watched your stills on Instagram and Twitter…your shots are wonderful and I can’t wait to see more footage.
    This camera has been often underrated, I think that if you can post a simple guide about exposing and postproduction, in particular the grading process, you will do a very big favour to the D16 community.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      May 16, 2016 at 7:40 pm

      Really appreciate that Andrew! I will certainly be posting more on the D16 in the near future and will share as much as I can with regards to settings, grading, and more.

      Reply
  • Luke
    May 10, 2016 at 9:40 am

    I can’t wait to see how this turns out Noam. The D16 produces such a beautiful image, I’d love to have one myself. Looking forward to seeing the camera used in a narrative piece.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      May 16, 2016 at 7:26 pm

      Thanks a lot Luke. I’m about to post some still images from it and will be sure to share the full piece as soon as it’s ready.

      Reply
  • errikos bari
    May 8, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    Very nice enjoy your self from sun sunny Athens Greece.

    Reply
  • David Rasberry
    May 8, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    I’ve had my D16 for nearly two years now. Still don’t see any other affordable (for me) newer cameras in the market that I would replace it with for personal creative film making. I am a video engineer by trade these days, but began my career shooting 16mm film for TV.
    The D16 is such a pure simple photographic instrument. Its images are wonderfully free of common digital artifacts that plague any camera shooting compressed video: No rolling shutter jello, no aliasing or chroma moire. With the unique Kodak patented Bayer color filter, nothing touches it for pure color. It can capture the full DCI-P3 color gamut and more, well beyond what current REC709 video can reproduce. It is a blank canvas for a creative artist.
    The BMCCC and Micro are nowhere near the D16 as a complete robust production camera. They are limited to 1080p, where the D16 is designed as a true DCI 2k native cinema camera. They exhibit aliasing artifacts due to not having an OLPF as well as rolling shutter artifacts. They do shoot raw and can produce lovely images when handled properly. But you have to add a lot of accessories to make them practical for production. Don’t know about the new micro, but the BMCCC has proven to be fairly delicate and easy to break in some respects.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      May 16, 2016 at 7:25 pm

      Very well put David. Thanks so much for sharing this.

      Reply
  • Robert Cuadra
    May 7, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    Love this camera and the D16 team is always updating its firmware and support is near top-notch – great community too! I shot my short film on the D16 (except slow motion; that was with the GH4):
    https://vimeo.com/137954835

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      May 16, 2016 at 7:24 pm

      Thanks for the share! Will check this out sometime soon.

      Reply
  • Simone
    May 5, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    Beautiful images (as usual, when you post something!): being Super16, how does it stand beside the Micro Cinema?
    Thank you very much,
    Simone

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      May 16, 2016 at 7:21 pm

      Thanks Simone! I’m about to post some more that were actually from our shoot. Check back soon to see them. It’s a very different camera than the Micro – which gives a cleaner, more modern digital cinema look. The Micro is also designed to be more of a gimbal camera or crash cam, although you could certainly rig it up and use it as an A-cam. In a nutshell, the Micro is more versatile and easier to light for, but the D16 has the ability to deliver more filmic images, at least straight off the cards.

      Reply
      • Simone
        May 16, 2016 at 11:31 pm

        Thank you very much Noam! 🙂

        Reply
  • andrew
    May 5, 2016 at 8:58 am

    Great review, Noam! I am impressed by the look of this wonderful camera, very analogue! Could you please upload the original .dng files, it it is possible?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      May 16, 2016 at 7:18 pm

      Hey Andrew! I will try to do this in a future post when I actually release the film. Thanks so much for your feedback.

      Reply
  • Xiong
    May 4, 2016 at 10:45 pm

    Yeah i agree completely, ever since it was announced and more footage was shown, i was in love with this camera. I mentioned in the past my love for the look of film and the feel, thats what this camera nails. Its the imperfections that really make it “feel” like film. I really do think its the global shutter of the CCD sensor, feels very organic and human. Definitely saving up for either this or a black magic.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      May 16, 2016 at 7:18 pm

      Awesome – glad to to hear Xiong, and definitely stay tuned. I’l have some more shots and an edited video coming out very soon.

      Reply
  • Drew
    May 4, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    Noam,
    It is very coincidental that you are blogging about the D16. I’ve been out of filmmaking for almost a decade, but I am looking to get back into it. I love the “film” look and this camera is one of the few digital cameras that gets close to approximating it. I was interested in using the D16 for the project I am starting, but had some qualms about it. Your blog helped to remove some of my doubts, but a few remain. Does the camera still have a magenta highlight issue? Is the quadrant stitching of the CCD sensor still apparent and require a post-production fix? How does it play with Resolve, or do you need to use the software made for the D16? And, finally, how do you think it stands up value wise today against other cameras in that price range? Thanks for your help and I enjoy reading your blog.

    Reply
    • Mat
      May 6, 2016 at 11:24 pm

      I’ll chip in with my take. I have a D16 and the latest firmware has fixed the magenta highlight issue (which was at iso100) completely. The quadrant stitching issue is only evident if shooting with a cold camera and goes away after the camera has warmed up for a few minutes, but I haven’t seen any quadrant stitching issues even straight after a very cold start. As far as value, if you consider the camera includes 512GB high speed storage, XLR inputs, high quality pre-amps, 3-4 hour battery life then its very competitive if you work out the cost of a similar package with other cameras.

      Reply
      • Drew
        May 9, 2016 at 6:55 am

        Mat,
        Thanks for the reply and the information. It’s good to know the issues with the D16 are resolved. I’ll keep it in mind for my project.

        Reply
      • Noam Kroll
        May 16, 2016 at 7:21 pm

        Thanks for sharing Mat – great points.

        Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      May 16, 2016 at 7:17 pm

      Hi Drew – thanks so much for the note. Now that I’ve had some time to actually work with the D16 more extensively I can say that some of the issues you are asking about here were definitely not apparent – at least in my experience. The camera is truly unique and for the S16mm look I really don’t think there is anything else out there that beats it. No matter what the cost… In terms of value when compared to other cameras, that’s a tough question to answer. In some ways it offers less value since it doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles (high frame rates, etc.) that other modern digital cinema cameras have. But if all you want to do is create narrative content with a S16mm look and you’re working in controlled environments – it’s one of the best options (if not the best option) out there.

      Reply
      • Drew
        May 17, 2016 at 1:45 am

        Thanks, Noam. Great to hear from a second person that the initial issues with the camera are long gone. The D16 definitely gives a great “organic” image that reminds me of shooting S16 back in the day…and that is a very good thing.

        Reply
        • Noam Kroll
          May 24, 2016 at 7:16 pm

          Absolutely – it’s really astounding how close this camera gets to real S16mm film. Looking forward to sharing more soon…

          Reply

Leave a Reply