4.23.2016 - InFilm 360 Cameras

As there has been a lot of interest lately in what gear we shoot 3D360 VR video with here at InFilm, I've decided to share a few details of the camera rigs we've been using for the past year. Now remember that we are filmmakers, not camera manufacturers or salesmen, so all this information comes as-is with no support, but do feel free to contact us below if you feel that we can help you with an upcoming project.

So here is the marketing-hype way to introduce our 3D360 camera systems: modular, upgradable, super35 large sensors, high dynamic range, log and raw support, integrated sync, full manual control, excellent low light capabilities, internal and external battery support, full workflow with industry standard software, adjustable interaxial 65-140mm, 16-24 virtual lenses, 8+ channel directional audio. All true of course but a bit more hype than I am comfortable with, so I'll give a few more details.

When I started shooting spherical images a few years back, the purchase options for high resolution full 360 video solutions were limited to some new at the time GoPro rigs (awesome bit of kit from Joergen Geerds), and really not much else worth exploring. My earliest 360 videos were made using a single camera, a Canon DSLR with an 8mm fisheye lens. This was actually a great solution, able to rotate around the nodal point for 100% perfect stitching with minimal effort, offering almost (but not quite) 180 degrees FOV on the long side of the frame. However, shooting one direction at a time had obvious drawbacks - nothing could orbit the camera, and there was an inescapable temporal difference across the shot.

So I started to build my own multicamera rigs. At first I had a strong desire to use what I already had - which included multiple Canon DSLRs and accessories from my previous life/career in Hollywood (these cameras have been utilized by more big-budget movies and TV shows in the past decade than most realize and I've been using them longer than anybody - I was entrusted with the very first 5D Mark II in America that shot 24fps by Anthony Dod Mantle and Canon themselves during the shooting of "127 Hours" and several of my shots from the cameras made the film). I started buying up EF mount 8mm fisheye lenses, and soon I realized the flaw in my plan - these camera/lens combos were just too big! The mirrored camera and associated lenses had a mile between the back of the body and the nodal point of the lens, meaning that multicamera 360 rigs built from these units had widely separated nodal points resulting in very difficult stitching in post production - I was going backward there.

So another strategy had to be adopted. I already knew that I wanted to keep the same image quality and control of exposure parameters that I already had, so I ruled out GoPros or similar action cams. But I still needed small cameras in order to keep nodal distances down, so I knew that I wanted mirrorless cameras and the shallow flange lenses designed for mirrorless cameras. I also knew that I wanted flat/log picture profiles and decent on-camera focus and exposure tools. After some costly missteps with expensive gear that still ended up being just too big, I realized that what I really wanted was to go back to the Canon DSLRs but stuff it in a mirrorless body - luckily Canon made just the thing.

The camera heads are modified EOS-M. The lenses are c-mount and offer just over 180 degrees field of view on these sensors. The rigs themselves are built by me, and they look like it. I've built a number a different configurations, each with it's own strengths. As you can see in the photos, these cameras have worked hard and continue to work a lot. We've shot with these rigs for well over a year, and we have yet to experience a single camera failure - although some bits are starting to look a bit beat up.

2D Rig

First up is the original 2D rig. This rig shot "Welcome To Portland!" as well as "Patsy's Rats: Burning Honey" and several other projects. This is by far the easiest rig to use - all camera controls are easily accessible, internal batteries and cards can be swapped quick and easy. This rig outputs footage that stitches very very well.

2D Tight

There are other 2D configurations possible with the same 4 camera heads and baseplate. This geometry shaves a full inch off the nodal distaces, giving it not much more parallax than a typical 6 GoPro cube 360 rig. It's useful in some situations when stitching objects close to the camera.

The Iliad-8

The next rig is omnistereo 3D, sometimes I like to call it the "Iliad". The 8 camera version of this rig shot "Trejo Eats Tacos" and a number of other collaborative projects. This rig is a bit more difficult to change batteries or cards (so it's usually run with external power) but overall still pretty easy to operate since all controls are very accessible.

The Iliad-12

This camera geometry offers a number of advantages in manual 3D stitching and a few disadvantages, as well as a tendency toward hyperstereo. I realized it needed to get better, so a 12 camera version was built and has improved on the deficiencies quite a bit without much downside. These rigs give absolutely amazing easily stitched 2D, and are ideally suited to the soon to be ubiquitous computational 3D stereo stitching solutions. This is still our go-to stereoscopic 3D geometry.

Stereo Pairs

Another 3d360 camera geometry, stereo pairs, has been explored as well. The advantages here are easier orthostereo, with smaller possible stereo interaxial than the omnistereo rig, and easier manual stitching in some situations. The first attempt was based on the above rigs and worked well in certain circumstances, but also exacerbated certain other issues with the seams. There are fewer seams, but the parallax there is much greater and the stitching suffers. Refinements similar to the second 2D rig above have been explored with limited success. Another drawback is that stereo pair geometries don't offer the fantastic 2D stitch that the above rigs do. This rig doesn't get used much, but it shares the same baseplate as the octo-omnistereo rig so it's always with us anyway just in case.

The Borg

This version of the rig has shown much more promise than I expected, I call it the Borg. Stacked stereo pairs improve the parallax situation in the seams and increase overlap, at the cost of a bit of vertical offset that our post process handles easily in most circumstances. This has proven to be a much better compromise than the other stereo pair rig, and there are a few shots from it in upcoming productions. This rig is a pain in the ass to shoot with, however, and big improvements are being made in that department in our next-generation system. The rigging is made up of the 2 2D rig plates we already carry and 4 thin struts, so this configuration is always with the kit as well.

Sync is achieved with a multilevel approach. First the internal clocks of all camera heads are are synchronized before each shoot using "EOS Utility" over USB. Then on set, power is applied to all cameras simultaneously via our external power solutions. Finally recording is triggered simultaneously using wired multi-emitter IR repeaters (not shown in photos). We can trigger both video and still photos (these rigs take high resolution raw stills) from some distance away. This is not genlock, but it has proven to be more than adequate for our needs, and it is rock solid reliable on set.

We shoot with Technicolor's Cinestyle picture profile and love it - it's great for 360 use. We also install and use Magic Lantern enhancements on all the camera heads, the wealth of UI options it adds becomes indispensible after using it for a while - plus it adds raw video capabilities.

8 camera heads and all the rigging, as well as 24 internal batteries and chargers, all fit into one briefcase size case that fits under an airliner seat. This can be configured as one 3D rig or 2 2D rigs. The 12 camera 3D rig requires a bit more space but is still rather compact when packed for travel. Assembly or reconfiguration of the rig takes less than 10 minutes.

These cameras have served us well for more than a year, but we are reluctantly moving on now. The next generation of our rigs offer much higher resolution, full genlock sync, and integrated camera control, while also improving on the low-parallax easy stitching that we are used to. There is always room for improvement, and we love a challenge.