CinePi – A DIY Camera Built with Off-the-shelf Components Offers Cinema Quality

October 17th, 2023 Jump to Comment Section 3
CinePi - A DIY Camera Built with Off-the-shelf Components Offers Cinema Quality

Cinema quality hardware carries a hefty price tag, as most indie filmmakers can attest to. Getting your first camera is something that a beginner needs to save up for. However, Canadian filmmaker Csaba Nagy of Schoolpost, has created an open-source solution powered by the ever-popular Raspberry Pi microcomputer that costs pennies on the dollar compared to most cameras. This is a great solution for filmmakers who don’t have extravagant incomes, and provides a sense of pride since you build it yourself. So let’s have a closer look!

A DIY cinema camera

Whereas competitors can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, you can buy the parts needed for this cinema camera for about $250. A parts list is available on the GitHub build guide provided by Schoolpost. And just so you know, all of the information and software needed for this build is available for free. You only need to pay for the parts and have a rudimentary understanding of electronics- most of the components are plug-and-play.

schoolpost, cinepi, cinema, camea
Source: SchoolPost

The base is a Raspberry Pi computer inside of a 3D-printed case. Attached to the board is a 4-inch touchscreen display and a Raspberry Pi High-Quality camera module with a Super 8-sized Sony IMX477R 12.3 megapixel sensor. However, this is a modular system and you can swap many components out; for example, thanks to community member Will Whang, Nagy was able to use a newer 20.2 megapixel IMX283 sensor and a Micro Four Thirds mount from a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera in the build. So the parts are upgradeable or customizable as needed.

Cinema quality visuals

My favorite thing about this build is the results, which speak for themselves. You would expect something labeled as a “cinema camera” to provide quality images, and the CinePi does not disappoint. The camera records 12-bit CinemaDNG RAW files via external USB 3.0 which are easily color graded in post. The software for the camera is also available on the Schoolpost GitHub. Here’s a short filmed entirely with the CinePi from Schoolpost.

And if you need more proof, here is another short that is partially shot with the CinePi. According to Schoolpost, the “majority of the sequences from 1:12-3:02 are filmed on the CinePi,” if you want to see how the footage cuts with non-CinePi footage (a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and a Canon EOS-R were used for the rest). I think it’s pretty seamless but judge for yourself.

Fostering a community of filmmakers

Possibly the best outcome of this project is the community of people who make and use this camera. Over on the CinePi Discord server, there are about 670 members who share their builds, troubleshooting, videos, and images captured by their CinePi’s. Schoolpost always intended for the camera to be free and open source so that the community can improve and grow upon the functionality to make it the best it can be. Nagy says, “Perhaps in the future, provided through the efforts of talented individuals from the community or established companies already in this space, we can see the production of larger sensor modules that will work on the Raspberry Pi platform.”

Schoolpost, CinePI
Csaba Nagy using the CinePi during the production of ‘Timekeeper’. Source: Schoolpost.

Nagy’s background in Computer Science coupled with a curiosity about how to improve the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera ultimately led to the creation of the CinePi. With off-the-shelf components coupled with the best of open-source software/hardware, this is a project to be improved upon and accessible for filmmakers of every budget. As long as you are determined enough to build it yourself, you can reap the benefits.

What do you think of the open-source CinePi camera? Do you know anyone that might build one? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to share your images and videos if you do build one!


Notify of

Sort by:
Sort by:

Take part in the CineD community experience