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Hardware / VR

This DC filmmaker has created a better 360 camera

Meet Bonsai's Excalibur. Could it be a VR gamechanger?

The Excalibur. (Courtesy photo)

Technical.ly's Editorial Calendar explores a different topic each month. The March 2017 topic explores augmented and virtual reality. See AR/VR coverage from all five of our East Coast markets here.

Braum Katz is a filmmaker. And as a filmmaker he wanted to be able to make really beautiful 360 video — cinematic quality, really. So he started to look at camera options.

And what he found was a little disheartening.

On the one had there were options like the GoPro Omni rig or Samsung 360 rig, which are fairly affordable but not quite the quality Katz was looking for. And then on the other end you’ve got options like the Nokia OZO — great quality with a v-hard-to-stomach $45,000 price tag.

“GoPro has a lot of limitations from a filmmaker’s perspective,” Katz told Technical.ly. And the Nokia OZO? “It’s not really practical for most people.”

So Katz, his brother Asher and fellow filmmaker friend Charles Blatz decided they could make something to split the difference. And make something they did: on Monday the team debuted the Bonsai Excalibur 360 camera at the DCVR Meetup.

The Bonsai team built a proprietary rig that holds up to four DSLR cameras. Mounted with the cameras, the Excalibur can create 360 video is 6k resolution. As Katz put it — “Excalibur eats 4k videos for breakfast.” The fact that the rig uses DSLR cameras also means that filmmakers have very precise controls over lens use and camera settings.

And Excalibur is not just about hardware, either. Bonsai has built a proprietary software system as well, a system amusingly called Arborist. The problem with shooting in 360, Katz said, is that it generates a lot of files. Arborist makes all these files easier to deal with by automatically sorting them into “scenes” on the basis of overlapping time stamps. Now that sounds useful.

The Excalibur’s target market? Hardcore hobbyists and professionals, Katz said. The entire package — rig, cameras, software, etc. — can be bough for just over $15,000. There are also rental options. This is expensive, yes, but also positions the camera at a price point between existing options, just as Katz intended.

Curious to see what the Excalibur can do? Check out this 6k resolution 360 tour of some iconic District spots:

The core Bonsai team working to develop the Excalibur is just six people strong — sadly Asher Katz passed away before the camera’s debut. According to Braum the tech was developed at locations “all over the DMV,” including Bob & Edith’s Diner in Arlington. Who doesn’t love a little American comfort food with their innovation?

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