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Small Is the New Big: Shooting with Radiant Images’ Novo and Novo 2K

Some boxes of cereal contain prizes that are bigger than the Novo camera from Radiant Images. Developed in conjunction with View Factor Studios and released in February, the original Novo camera measures 2.47” x 1.85” (0.5” thick), weighs 3.2 oz and lets you monitor its recordings via Wi-Fi. Novo can shoot 2.7K Cine (2704 x 1440) at 24 fps, 1080p at 24 to 60 fps, and even 4K Cine (4096 x 2160) at 12 fps. Novo received a prestigious Mario Award from our sister publication TV Technology at the 2013 NAB Show.

“We took the basic technology of GoPro’s HERO3 Black Edition camera and gave it features that make it more compatible with the needs of mainstream cinematographers,” explains Michael Mansouri, vice president of Radiant Images. “We’ve been modifying GoPro cameras ever since the HERO2 came out in 2011, when we installed a lens mount that could handle interchangeable surveillance lenses instead of the HERO2’s fixed bubble effect fisheye lens. This latest incarnation, which we now call the Novo camera, is based on the GoPro HERO3 and has a lens mount compatible with C-mount lenses [Kowa, Fujinon, Mitchell, Schneider] from 3mm to 100mm. It also has an optional PL, EF or Nikon adapter.”

Although Novo uses GoPro’s 12.4 megapixel sensor, operationally, the Novo is a complete rebuild of the GoPro technology. In addition to accepting interchangeable lenses, Novo may be operated with GoPro’s auto-exposure feature disabled, allowing digital cinematographers to set the aperture manually. The tech team also developed a microprocessor that lets the operator communicate directly with the camera’s functions (power, Wi-Fi, record and aux) with four dedicated buttons.

In real-world use, it can be tricky to keep cables plugged in to the Micro HDMI and Mini USB ports on the GoPro camera, so Radiant Images gave the Novo an optional sidecar that includes extenders for these inputs to secure the connections. Radiant has also developed a handgrip mount, since the downside of something as small as the Novo is that it’s hard for large hands to manipulate.

There’s a microSD card slot on the side of the camera. A 64 GB card will hold 2.5 hours of 2.7K Cine video. All of the GoPro accessories, including the LCD control touchscreen and battery pack, can be fitted onto the back of the Novo, although the camera can also get external power via the USB port. On the top of the camera, a prominent polyplastic hump houses the Wi-Fi antenna, which offers a much wider transmission range than a stock GoPro HERO3.

Images can be monitored wirelessly in the video village or on a 4.3” onboard HD monitor. Radiant Images has also developed a helmet-mounted OLED heads-up display for shooters on the go.

But how does footage shot by the Novo look? Go to the videos section of novocamera.com to see some elaborate camera tests comparing images from a Novo or Novo 2K with footage from an ARRI Alexa, Sony F65/F55, Canon EOS-1D C and the HERO3. You’ll also find tutorials about fine-tuning the camera’s back focus to create depth of field, from ultimate macro to infinite deep focus.

At May’s Cine Gear Expo, Radiant Images brought out its latest upgraded model, the Novo 2K, which captures 2K video in an uncompressed raw format.

Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC

Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC. Photo by Rolf Konow/Universal Pictures

Legendary cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC (Deliverance, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and Academy Award winner for Close Encounters of the Third Kind), recently used both Novo and Novo 2K cameras on the Fox series The Mindy Project.

“We used it both underwater and mounted on a bicycle,” Zsigmond says, “and it let me get personal POV shots I could not have filmed any other way.”

In a 2011 production called The Maiden Danced to Death, Zsigmond mounted a Novo on various body parts of a dancer to get an intimate point of view.

“The Novo comes in very handy, but not just because of its very small form factor,” Zsigmond says. “On The Mindy Project, our primary photography was shot with an ARRI Alexa digital cinema camera, and we found we could intercut footage from both cameras seamlessly.”

His advice to other cinematographers? “Don’t be afraid to use the Novo because it’s so small,” he laughs. “Just don’t lose it in your pocket.”

Checco Varese, ASC, AMC

DP Checco Varese, ASC, AMC (The Aura, Under the Same Moon (La misma luna) and second unit DP on this summer’s Pacific Rim) was headed for Guadalajara when we spoke and his enthusiasm for the Novo cameras was evident. He had just shot the pilot for A&E’s The Occult with both a Novo and Novo 2K camera.

Checco Varese, ASC, AMC. Photo by Tamas Mack

“In The Occult, we used the camera to get helmet-mounted POV shots from a person fighting and I thought it was terrific,” Varese says. “It has all the bells and whistles needed to make it the best available micro camera I could imagine.”

It’s the camera’s ability to use multiple lenses that Varese finds so valuable. “With its fixed focus setting, you can choose your depth of field,” he says, “and this gives its images a very professional look. No pro DP wants to wrestle with autofocus or other automatic features of a prosumer camera. The Novo gives back control over the image to the cinematographer.”

For Varese, the Novo is suited for very specific uses. “With very high-quality glass, it is a fantastic camera,” he says. “But like any new technology, you need to understand its capabilities thoroughly. Using it is like moving from a Mac’s OS 5 to Mountain Lion. It’s what laser surgery is to a scalpel.”

Varese is still working on the pilot for The Occult. It’s worth noting that of the 10 pilots he has shot, all 10 were picked up. “It’s not that I’m that good, I just choose well,” he says, but his record speaks for itself.

“Whatever Michael Mansouri and Radiant Images come up with, I’ll use it,” he adds.

Gabriel Beristain, ASC, BSC

Gabriel Beristain, ASC, BSC, with Novo in handheld mount

Gabriel Beristain, ASC, BSC (Blade II and the Magic City TV series), was involved with additional photography on Thor II when we spoke. He recently used the Novo camera for car stunt work on the Exit Strategy TV pilot for Fox.

“The stunt created a very powerful fire when the car crashed on the Long Beach, Calif., set,” he begins. “Although I usually prefer the Novo 2K, in this case we decided to use the original Novo camera in HD because of its internal power. For small, quick shots, it’s really brilliant.”

For Beristain, it’s a matter of camera freedom. “I notice that in the digital world there is a lot of competition to create compact cameras, and some of them try to do all things for all people. But I have found that is impossible.”

It’s a matter of the proper design for the camera’s intended function.

“When I want something really, really small to fit into difficult places, the Novo gives me exactly what I need,” Beristain continues. “Now cinematographers have an option that is completely different from the cameras we use in the studio, yet it renders great images. It is a phenomenal tool to, metaphorically, have in your pocket.”

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