Good video cameras do not come cheap. Actually, they are pretty expensive. Even the basic ones. And if you want RAW video recording, you are looking at no less than $1,899. (Hey, if you know any camera that does RAW video for less, hit us in the comments). Well, this is changing. Enter CinePI – an open-source cine camera.
CinePi is a free, open-source project that includes the hardware, firmware, and electronics to build a fully working 2K camera with incredible specs for under $200. The downside, you would need to be quite a tinkerer to build it.
The CinePI project
CinePI is an ambitious project by Csaba Nagy to build a fully working video camera (or cine camera) from off-the-shelf components. The camera’s core is built on a Raspberry Pi 4 ($144.99) and a Super8 Sized Sony Sensor.
(I know these two components alone are over $200, but the RasPi 4 will hopefully return to its sane pre-covid price – about $60).
Those are combined with supporting electronics and a fancy 3D-printed body to create a full-fledged cinema camera. If the body looks familiar, it is because it was inspired by the Sony ZV-1, which is almost the perfect size for the Raspberry Pi 4 board.
Along with a place for storage, the body has a place for an SSD, power supply, and hey! It will even fit a SmallRig ZV-1 cage.
This is definitely not the first camera we have seen based on a Raspberry Pi. The Pieca, Paparazzo, and Pi Cam are all projects around this platform, but the CinePI is the first I’ve seen taking the concept to production level.
But why make the CinePI?
OK, good question. I was curious too, so I reached out to Csaba Nagy to ask. Here is what he tells DIYP:
Oof, why? 😅 it’s a classic case of why not? It does seem kind of silly to use a Raspberry Oi as a cinema camera; That is, until you realize that at its essence, what is a cinema camera but a sensor and a processor board? – Raspberry Pi is the most accessible type of open hardware and software available, so it’s kind of a no-brainer.
It’s really just a one-person project at the moment, officially, I guess? But this is changing by the day, and there are certainly those that helped me with getting this project off the ground.
And this is sort of a passion project; I became really interested in the technical aspect of cameras around the same time I bought the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K in 2013
I really enjoyed using that camera; filming in RAW was a game changer for me coming from a Canon T3I DSLR shooting compressed 1080p video.
I like the idea that cameras and their hardware/software be more accessible, well understood, and tinkered with in general.
I like to think CinePI positions itself nicely between projects like Magic Lantern and it’s hacked/modified firmware for Canon Cameras and the Apertus project that takes a more “ground-up” approach, building everything from scratch; including the hardware/software.
With Raspberry Pi you can take a very accessible / cheap / off the shelf single board computer, add an image sensor; and start writing your own open source software using very well documented Linux based tools and libraries
Yes, you build the CinePi with available parts, and yes, it is no competition for a brand-made camera. But still it offers a very impressive list of features:
- Super8 Sized Sensor ( Sony IMX477 )
- 12-bit CinemaDNG Recording
- 4.0″ High Res Touch Screen Interface
- Internal High Capacity Battery
- Real-time clock
- USB 3.0 External SSD Recording
- 1/4″ Mounting Points
- 40mm Noctua Cooling System
The main bonus here is the ability to record in 12-bit CinemaDNG format. And while the camera only gives 2K native output, I am pretty sure there is enough data to blow the video to 4K without any significant loss, at least for YouTube usage.
The only caveat is that you need to save your video into an external USB 3.0 SSD and supply a lens. Those will bring up the cost. But storage and lenses are not part of any other camera anyways.
CinePI test footage
If you are not convinced yet, here are two short videos that Csaba shot as test footage.
Building the camera kit
Once you get your hands on all the components (there’s a list here), there is an easy-to-follow build guide. Well, maybe I should swap easy to extremely detailed. But if you feel comfortable with a screwdriver or a soldering iron and have made a Raspberry Pi project or two, you should be fine.
When I asked Csaba about the software complexity, he told me that “The camera uses the native 64-bit Raspberry Pi OS Lite, the software that controls the sensor is Libcamera, and the main camera application is called cinepi-raw ( that is the portion I developed, based on libcamera-apps ) the GUI uses LVGL Library.” If this does not sound like Chinese to you, you will enjoy this project very much.
Seeing a community project at that scale built around an open-source community is fantastic. One can only hope that between devices like Phoneblocks and the Frame.work laptop, a fully modular camera will find its place. If you want to follow the project or become a contributor, head over to the CinePi GitHub page.