Okay, Apertus doesn’t actually look like this just yet. But you can shoot video using an all-open solution today – and that’s an encouraging sign for more ambitious plans down the road.

Forget deeper philosophical or political arguments for a moment. Right now, the proprietary chain of technologies for video, from sensors to firmware to software, is a mess. Lovely as a lot of camera technology is, pick up a modern digital camera and you’d be forgiven for wondering if its designers had ever seen a computer.

Part of what makes the Apertus project so interesting, then, is that its notion of open source cinema production is also one in which the camera is as open as the computer. The surprise is, this isn’t just a distant pipe dream. You can assemble many of the components of the Apertus today, and people are already shooting actual video with it. This is still DIY-only; there’s no date set yet for when this may be something you could buy. But there are already some tantalizing possibilities.


The new, open CinemaScope: a still from the open source camera.

  • A camera that’s greater than HD, here now: the open hardware / free software for the Elphel 353 already allows 16:0 and beautiful CinemaScope 2.35:1 with prices well within the stratosphere, at resolutions greater than 1080p. The camera is itself interesting, built to be a “network camera” with Ethernet on it. Bigger sensors or even full-frame sensors are in the works.
  • Open codecs: Record to RAW, with open source Dirac Pro codec support in the works.
  • Linux audio: You can right now use any USB audio interface with Linux support. That’s actually a plus, not a minus, because of the work being done on boxes like RME’s Fireface UC, which has Linux support and exceptional audio fidelity and performance.
  • Open, touch-enabled software: Finally, this is a camera that you can control in hardware or on a touchscreen tablet PC using open software – a camera with an interface that is as intelligent as a computer interface. The work is being done with MPlayer and Java.

Sample footage, taken with the Elphel 333 camera on which Apertus is currently based, is available on the Apertus site. Below, a great example by David Roux-Fouillet and UsfProd. Keep in mind that the roadmap calls for better sensors down the road – but that, at the same time, this kind of footage is possible now with a really inexpensive camera.

Pi├Ęces de David Roux-Fouillet – Usf Prod – Failed Cocoon Time Lapse HD from UsfProd on Vimeo.

Of course, this really can’t be considered a full-blown solution yet, but I’m impressed with the amount of real progress so far. There’s clearly enough there to demonstrate why this concept could be useful. Have a look, and let us know what you think or what more you’d like to know:


The Elphel camera is currently the basis for Apertus. Check out the Ethernet port on back.
  • zach

    Wow. Very impressive for the price. Now, if only they could make it accept 35mm still camera lenses, I would be sold. Also, since it is a "network camera," it would be cool to add PTZ functionality (ala CCTV cameras).

  • ml

    Who's going to do the open-source zeiss-style lenses?
    (not impossible. mostly they are expensive because they are hand-made for a small market.)

    so you can pull focus properly when your actors start moving about in that new-found shallow depth of field.

  • neb

    Behold: the smart camera (GigE anyone?). It's interesting to see the opensource media community adopt technology and techniques previously staples of the the manufacturing machine vision sector. Very exciting.

  • massta

    Get two and build a stereo optic rig. The time lapse cocoon makes me wonder if this would be great camera choice for stop-motion.

  • I used a couple of elphel 313s for a stereo optics system a few years ago. Absolutely wonderful cameras to work with, and they even have an active support channel on Freenode. In the past, they've even offered discounts on the hardware if you promise to develop open source software and give back to the community. Not sure if they still do that.

  • I used to bug my boss at ILM, who was an robotics engineering phd from MIT, about helping me hack my, then new, first gen digital rebel into a film camera.

    This day was to never have come.. doo doo dooooooo!!

    I'm still pretty excited by the Red Scarlet, but I could definitely empty a box of tissue to a few of these.

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  • RoyMacdonald

    Super Nice. This camera is what i've been waiting for for a lont time. I'll try to buy one as soon as my budget allows me to.

  • Jens

    Hi, you write that the RME Fireface UC has Linux support. Where did you find this? Many thanks, Jens

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