It’s interesting to see over time how things can often come full circle. Following more than sixty years of filmmaking production and camera production, Panavision was one of the first filmmaking companies to embrace digital back in 2006 with the Panavision Genesis, and despite an incredibly strong start with usage on films like Apocalyptico, Superman Returns and Zombieland, its support dwindled over the years as competition from Sony and ARRI moved in until the Genesis was last employed in 2012 for the film Ted. This year, a new digital camera from the company, the Millennium DXL, was on hand at Cine Gear 2016 just a few days after its introduction on June 1st in Hollywood by Michael Cioni, President of Light Iron and DXL Product Director.
Like the Genesis, with a sensor developed by Sony, the sensor in the Millennium DXL is sourced from RED Digital Cinema, who are really the only current competitors at 8K resolution with their own 8K Dragon sensors which can be found in the latest version of the Weapon camera. As the Millennium DXL is going to be priced for rental at Panavision houses only, that’s a smart move on the part of RED, who offer the same sensor capabilities in their own much more affordable camera systems. No doubt they’ll be making quite a bit from sensor sales to Panavision, and to top it all off, RED will most likely be seeing more usage in studio productions and feature films with the Millennium DXL whereas ARRI has typically dominated the space since the move to digital.
The 8K Weapon is currently being used to shoot the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel. So if the basic price point for a RED Dragon with 8K Weapon sensor starts at roughly $60,000, what does the Millennium DXL offer in contrast? Light Iron has taken on the color science aspects of the Millennium DXL. Previously, the company was known primarily for being an innovative post house with on-set DIT solutions as well as creator of the Outpost mobile DI workstation carts before acquisition by Panavision in December of 2014. We got to see the latest iteration of the Outpost this last April at the NAB convention, and the amount of attention to detail that has gone into the design of the cart cannot be understated.
Based on the nomenclature of the Panaflex Millennium XL and XL2 35mm film cameras, the Millennium DXL, like those models, is designed to be lightweight and quiet. At only 10 lbs, the Millennium DXL body houses an innovative cooling system that makes it almost silent despite the compact body and massive amount of data creation. A lot of thought has been put into their camera rigging, as well. Senior Camera Applications Engineer Dominick Aiello led us through a tour of his rig designs at NAB and the cheeseplate system was very versatile with plenty of articulation throughout the sides and top for adding peripherals and accessories wherever preferred. It’s well thought out for camera operators. The quick-release Steadicam-compatible dovetail plate at the bottom of the camera, for example, allows the system to be swapped freely between tripod or stabilization systems without any tools. The cheeseplate also incorporates integrated electronics for viewfinder systems to reduce cabling and clutter.
The only current competitor at this level, besides of course RED’s own 8K and 6K solutions, is the ARRI Alexa 65 with 54.12mm x 25.58mm sensor, though that camera tops off at a resolution of 6560 x 3100. At a very accommodating weight of only 10 lbs (most camera systems in this class, like the Alexa 65 at 23 lbs, are easily double that), the Millennium DXL has a large format 8K sensor at 40.96mm x 21.60mm, requiring large format lenses with an image circle that can cover a diagonal of 46.31mm. So no DSLR lenses here, although of course not, because this is a top shelf system for high end filmmaking. On the other hand, many of the lenses that can be used don’t find common usage in filmmaking, so their look, despite the heightened resolution, is not only organic and smooth in aesthetic, but also not seen very often in previous digital films.
Panavision Super Panatar lenses, Primo 70 glass, Sphero 65 models or System 65 sets are supported by the DXL mount. Panavision had their full lineup of Primo 70 lenses on display at NAB. Complimentary to the Millennium DXL, the Primo 70 mount series are also designed for pleasing skin tones, a flat field, natural sharpness and minimal breathing or aberration. Primo 70 lenses can be used on the camera through motorized and wireless lens controls via a Preston follow focus. For other lenses, a cmotion lens control module will also be available for 15mm and 19mm support rod systems.
With wireless controls and such a low weight, this camera is ideally suited for use with drones and car mounts or any other tight locations where you often find less capable systems like DSLRs being used. WiFi is built-in through an internal Ambient ACN device. It’s not really clear yet what that module offers exactly, but high end products on the Ambient Video Post Berlin site for ARRI cameras provide synced wireless timecode with zero lag and metadata through Ethernet plus WiFi communication that enables various operations from Apple devices. Light Iron says that most of the camera components are modular, so items like power inputs and ins/outs can be swapped out and upgraded as wanted or needed over time.
There are six (!!!) independent SDI connections, which will support an individual 1D LUT per channel or up to four 3D LUTs. The RED WEAPON 8K sensor captures 8K RAW in compressed .R3D format, so there is support for files by most NLE systems. With 16-bit capture, despite the whopping resolution (each 8192 x 4320 frame is roughly 35.5 megapixels), the camera claims a dynamic range of 15 stops and a top frame rate of 60fps in full 8K as well as 75fps in 8K when cropping the 8192×4320 frame to a 2.4:1 ratio at 8192×3456. This is alongside a proxy 4K stream in Apple ProRes or Avid DNx that can be captured simultaneously for instant edit and preview. Capture is performed to an SSD that anchors to the outside of the camera, which each capable of capturing up to 1 hour of footage per magazine. Externally, there are also a few other nice touches like dual menus so operators and cam assistants both have access to controls and files from either side of the DXL.
Panavision also released a new line of neutral density filters recently, the PanaND family, which they say benefits from the latest materials and manufacturing advancements for color neutrality and accuracy. Available in a range of 1-7 stops of light reduction with 0.3, 0.6, 0.9, 1.2, 1.5, 1.8 and 2.1ND strengths, the square filters are available in 4×5.65 and 6×6-inch sizes. Each filter has tactile markings so that you can figure out the opacity when working in the dark. “Until now, cinematographers using traditional ND filters to control exposure have always had to deal with color shifting and optical performance degradation,” says Haluki Sadahiro, Panavision’s director of new product development, in the press release. “Unlike traditional filters, PanaNDs are made with the highest quality glass and advanced coating technologies. As a result, they are truly neutral – cutting the light without altering the color temperature.”
The Millennium DXL and PanaND filters are available for rent at Panavision facilities around the world, with the camera slated for delivery sometime near the end of the year. They had working prototypes on hand at Cine Gear. There were so many people at their tent it was almost impossible to get close to the camera. It’s pretty exciting to see the buzz that Panavision has created. The preliminary footage, which you can see in the video above, looks very filmic and smooth, so we’re definitely anticipating more real world clips as they become available.
p.s. How cool is this Citizen Kane sequence?
MILLENNIUM DXL TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
Sensor Type — 16-bit, 35.5 Megapixel CMOS
Resolution — 8192 x 4320
Sensor Size — Large Format: 40.96mm x 21.60mm (Diagonal: 46.31mm)
Dynamic Range — 15 stops
Max Frame Rate — 60 fps at 8K Full Frame (8192 x 4320), 75 fps at 8K 2.4:1 (8192 x 3456)
Recording Codec — 8K RAW with simultaneous 4K proxy (ProRes or DNx)
Recording Media — SSD (up to 1 hour on a single magazine)
File Type — .r3d (supported in RED SDK)
Color Profile — Light Iron Color (compatible with all popular gamuts and transfer curves)
Weight — 10 lbs.
MILLENNIUM DXL ADDITIONAL FEATURES
6 independent video outputs
Supports 6 independent 1D LUTs or up to 4 independent 3D LUTs
Directly motorize Primo 70 lenses through wireless control
Built in wirelesss timecode for genlock (Ambient Control Network)
Dual menus (Operator side, Assistant side)
Advanced airflow system for superior temperature management
Custom cheeseplate with integrated electronics
Modular and tooless quick changeover accessories