How to Train your Designers

The NXCAM concept block shown recently by Sony got me thinking. If I were the designer, what would I do? Where are cameras headed, how will they be used, are we learning anything from the designs of the past?

Sony’s NXCAM 35 prototype suggests that sensors could be semi-permanently attached to the lens instead of the camera. When you change lenses, the sensor stays with each lens. An integral lens-imager unit would reduce dust and smudges on the sensor, help guarantee flange focal depth and consolidate multi-mounting standards. I wouldn’t want a permanent “marriage” of lens and sensor. Being able to replace the sensor is a good idea. Clearly the lowering costs of a standalone sensor and cover-glass/UV/Low Pass Filter block make this possible. The  lens and sensor assembly would then attach to the recording and viewing “box.”

Speaking of boxes, that’s what many of the latest cameras are resembling. I hope designers take the time to actually try hand-holding their creations with some of the heavy lenses that will be fitted to these boxes. Remember the Arriflex 16SR, 35BL,  and Aaton cat-on-shoulder cameras? They were revolutionary because the camera was comfortably placed on the cinematographer’s shoulder, without the need for cumbersome body pods and back-bending contortions to balance the weight. These cameras were also notable for their flexibility. They did not assume everyone was right handed, right eyed and right shouldered. Some of the latest designs remind me of the viewfinder-in-back, back-bending days of Arriflex 2C, 16BL, Eyemo and others.

An eyepiece should be sharp enough to see critical focus, and positioned to be used by either eye. Handgrips should mount directly to either side of the camera body, with rosettes or threads. When handheld or shoulder-resting, camera operators often  like a load as light as possible: no baseplate, no rods, no mattebox—just handgrips and a clip-on sunshade.

Camera manufacturers should study designs of the past. It’s not naive to say that some of the lessons of camera history are worth repeating.

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