A mighty big promise: Craft Camera to launch modular, interchangeable-mount video cam this year
posted Wednesday, April 20, 2016 at 5:59 AM EST
Ever since the advent of digital imaging, there's been an oft-repeated refrain from a significant number of photographers and videographers: "We want a modular camera system!". It's an idea with great appeal, but would it work in the real world? After a few efforts at such a system over the years, none of which has really been priced affordably enough for enthusiast or consumer use, we may finally get our answer -- at least if an Atlanta, Georgia-based startup company has its way.
The thought of being able to choose your own image sensor, lens mount, display, storage and so forth is an interesting one, and not just because it allows you to tailor the camera to your shooting style. It also raises the possibility of being able to upgrade or repair your camera more easily as time moves on, replacing only the parts you want and retaining the rest.
Of course, this approach brings with it potential downsides, as well. For one thing, the connections between modules offer another opportunity for a failure, particularly if the camera itself is frequently disassembled into its component parts for configuration changes in the field. And with each separate part needing its own separate housing with which to provide a modicum of protection against damage when the parts are separated, it likely increases the size and weight of the overall camera over a one-piece design.
And there are other potential concerns: As new technologies appear which weren't anticipated at the offset, there's the potential that they either can't be included, or that they will fragment the ecosystem, with some modules being incompatible with others. Nor does the need to maintain many separate products at retail rather than a single one-size-fits-all design sit well with manufacturers or retailers. And the dream of affordable upgrades or replacements for end users may not pan out, given that its likely you'd only be able to source new modules from a single manufacturer.
But be that as it may, it's nonetheless exciting to see a real attempt at just such a modular design, courtesy of tech startup Craft Digital System Inc. The company's promised, modular Craft Camera system looks to be just what many readers have told us you've wanted over all these years, with a really granular choice of components on offer.
Not only can you choose your lens mount and image sensor separately, but you can then pair them with separately-available display, handgrip, storage, control, audio and power modules. There's also an optional ND filter accessory which slots into the top of either sensor module. Lens mount options include Micro Four Thirds, Canon EF and Arri PL, while image sensor choices include a 4K (4,096 x 2,160 pixel) Super 35mm unit, or a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixel) Super 16mm one.
(For those unfamiliar with these sizes, Super 35mm is approximately the same size as the more well-known APS-C format, while Super 16mm is a little bit smaller than the 1"-type sensor format used in many fixed-lens enthusiast cameras these days, as well as Nikon's 1-series mirrorless cameras.)
There are a few catches, though. For one thing, the Craft Camera system looks to be intended solely for video use, so still image fans haven't found their utopian ideal quite yet. And while you have a wide choice of accessory modules, many of them have only a single option available. The sensor module (or Video Element, in Craft parlance), the lens mount (aka Speed Mount), the storage module (only two options, both specific to the sensor module chosen), and the Control Link (Wi-Fi, Ethernet or Serial LANC) do give you multiple configuration choices.
For the other modules, though, the only decision is whether to include one or not. For example, thus far there's only a single LCD Element module with a top-mounted tilting screen, but no fixed-screen or tilt/swivel options. Nor do you have a choice of different grip styles, battery options, and so on. Of course, this is understandable at launch, and could change over time.
But that assumes the product can make it to market at all. For a company which has appeared as if from thin air, Craft Digital System is high on glossy marketing renders, flowery prose and aggressive deadlines -- first shipments are promised for this December -- but rather light on specifics as to product specifications, let alone on pictures of actual, working product or sample output therefrom.
That's not to say the company can't achieve its goals, but it does cause us to temper our enthusiasm a little, having seen numerous, similarly glossy products announced and then quietly shelved over the years.
If the Craft Camera does make it to market, we'll be watching it with keen interest though, and not least because -- for what would seem perhaps a rather niche product -- the pricing seems fairly aggressive, at least for a brand-new product with no direct rivals at anything resembling the price. (Not that it's cheap, by any means, but it's certainly within reach of enthusiasts.)
The Full HD video / storage elements together will run you around US$1,000, plus another US$300 for the lens mount and US$50 for the battery. The 4K video and storage elements together come to around US$2,000. Other modules run US$200 or US$300 apiece. According to Craft, introductory pricing for a full system will be anywhere from $700 to $2,800 depending upon your chosen configuration.
And if you're wondering what we mean by introductory pricing, Craft is soliciting $500 deposits from would-be customers, with the promise of a 10% discount on the final product once it reaches the market. These deposits are said to be refundable, but that does rely on the company itself successfully remaining in business, an important consideration for a startup with no proven track record. That suggests a cost of around ~US$800 to US$3,100 for a system at standard pricing.
As a proof of concept for a similarly-modular still image camera, the Craft Camera could tell us much about whether the proposition is realistic. But as of now, we'll have to wait for our answer. As noted previously, availability isn't expected until December for the first units, and that's if the fledgling company can meet its goals. More details can be found on the Craft Camera website.
So what say you, modular camera fans? Is this the product you've been waiting for? And if not, where would you like to see Craft Camera tweak its offering? Sound off in the comments below!