This #MagPiMonday, we’re revisiting CinePI, a brilliant open source project using Raspberry Pi as a high-end film camera. We first talked about it in 2021, and now an updated version features in the latest issue of The MagPi, so let’s see how far it has come.
Whenever a new Camera Module, or updated software for existing camera hardware comes out, we dream of all the cool things we could do with it. While custom cinematography and automated processes are high on our list, making a cinematic-quality camera is where Csaba Nagy went with CinePI.
“CinePI is an open-source project that can transform a Raspberry Pi into a high-end cinema camera,” Csaba tells us. “Its standout feature is the ability to record 2K RAW Cinema DNG video at frame rates up to 50 fps with 12-bit colour depth. This makes CinePI an ideal camera for capturing cinematic-quality footage in various projects, such as short films, commercial work, and YouTube videos.”
2K is basically 1080 p. However, at a 12-bit colour depth, that is astonishing – most stuff you see will be at 8- or 10-bit colour.
“Almost a decade ago, I began using a professional video camera, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, for my film-making hobby,” Csaba continues. “The steep learning curve that accompanied the camera forced me to gain an in-depth understanding of the processes involved in creating cinematic images, aspects that most consumer and amateur camera gear obscure from users in the name of convenience and simplicity. As a result, I spent countless hours learning about image sensors, codecs, bit-depth, dynamic-range, colour theory, and other related concepts, which allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of camera systems and how they function.”
Using this knowledge, Csaba went about trying to build a low-cost, open-source camera that everyone could use.
Csaba chose Raspberry Pi for this project due to community and software support that comes with it – apparently some of the code is based on stuff that started life on official projects and tutorials.
“The development/build process for the most recent version of the CinePI began in September of 2022, where initially the core software was being tested/developed,” Csaba says. “The physical/hardware design quickly came together in January of this year, where the body was 3D-printed and all bits of hardware were assembled together into the final end-result.
“There were many modifications that were made to individual components in order to have all the hardware co-operate with each other. The greatest hurdle to overcome was the use of a HyperPixel 4.0 Square display which utilises nearly every GPIO pin of Raspberry Pi, meaning all extra hardware would need to interface with Raspberry Pi using a single I2C bus. This included an RTC, an I2C I/O expander, and power management board, which all had to connect via this single bus.”
Quiet on set
The result not only looks very cool but is incredibly functional, being able to record RAW video at 50 fps and 12-bit colour depth – remember that films run at 24 fps, so this makes for an excellent working file.
“It delivers better image quality than the Raspberry Pi’s built-in image processing engine, which uses H.264 compression,” Csaba explains. “Users can customise the camera with their own external sensors, buttons, HATs, and I/O. Real-time image monitoring and adjustments are possible with an attached HDMI monitor or compatible LCD touchscreen… CinePI records video as hundreds of frames in Adobe Cinema DNG format, which can be edited using software like DaVinci Resolve.
“The test footage I have captured demonstrates that the 12-bit RAW codec retains a significant amount of colour information in the shadows and highlights, resulting in superior quality compared to what the Raspberry Pi can offer by default… It’s competitive with cameras that cost orders of magnitude more than the parts required to build a CinePI.”
Csaba is not done yet, and wants to add a larger sensor, a HAT that handles a lot of the extra functions, and exposure assist tools – stuff that is beyond our understanding in general, and beyond Csaba’s skills to currently implement.
“[I’m] always looking for more people to get involved with the project,” he finishes – head to cinepi.io if you want to help.
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