Panavision/Light Iron and Red Team Up on New High-End 8K Camera System

Way back in 2005, collaborating with Sony, Panavision introduced its Genesis digital motion picture camera, which contained a Super 35mm-sized sensor designed by Sony. Many referred to the Genesis as a “Panavised” Sony F35, because it used Sony’s technology and Panavision’s tried-and-tested knowledge of what cinematographers wanted in a digital camera system. 

The democratization of digital film tools made it a quiet decade for Panavision, once the crown jewel of the industry. But the one constant over the past dozen years has been an ongoing convergence between production and post. In late 2014, Panavision made a big move in acquiring Light Iron, a boutique post-production house that paved the way for the modern digital workflow, from on-set capture to delivery. In their early days, they were known for their efficient workflow with Red cameras. And after yesterday’s announcement, the acquisition makes perfect sense.


The Millennium DXL on display at Light Iron's launch event. Photo by Neil Matsumoto.

The Blockbuster
Large-format cinematography has become all the rage in Hollywood, with the Arri Alexa 65 being used on successful films like The Revenant and Captain America: Civil War and the 8K Red Weapon capturing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Digital large format has become the de facto platform for today’s blockbusters.

And so, in a bold collaboration with Light Iron and Red, Panavision introduced a prototype of a new large-format digital camera — the Millennium DXL. (The name is derived from the original Millennium XL, aka eXtra Light.) Presented yesterday by Light Iron President Michael Cioni at the Light Iron facility in Hollywood, the Millennium DXL contains an 8K sensor from Red and new color science and workflow from Light Iron. Cinematographers can capture large-format high-resolution images, but they can also capture more than 20 megapixels of anamorphic footage.

At the event, Panavision screened an impressive Millennium DXL promo video, which was shot by cinematographers Brandon Trost, Derek Frankowski, Mitch Amundsen, Dean Semler, ASC, ACS, and Phil Newman. Each DP's work showcased different strengths of the camera, using different large-format lenses in different environments and lighting conditions.

Tech Specs

  • Sensor Type: 16-bit, 35.5 megapixel CMOS
  • Resolution: 8192×4320
  • Sensor Size: Large format (40.96×21.60mm; 46.31mm diagonal)
  • Recording: 8K raw with simultaneous 4K proxy (ProRes or DNxHR)
  • Recording Media: SSD (1 hour on a single magazine)
  • Color Profile: Light Iron Color (compatible with popular gamuts and transfer curves)
  • Weight: 10 lbs.
  • Max Frame Rate: 60 fps at 8K Full Frame, 75 fps at 8K 2.40:1


Another view of the Millennium DXL. Photo by Neil Matsumoto.

Small Body, Big Picture
Seen in person, the Millennium DXL's body is clearly quite compact, with ergonomics closer to an Alexa than a Weapon. Because it’s a Panavision system, the DXL’s form factor is cleverly designed for camera crews, including dual menus on both the operator and assistant side of the cameras and quick, modular changeover accessories that don't require the use of tools. For a powerful studio camera, it’s also extremely lightweight at 10 lbs. (An Alexa body is about 17 lbs., and an Alexa 65 is roughly 23 lbs.) Although the body is small, Panavision designed an efficient airflow system that releases heat more quietly than other cameras. The DXL has six independent video outputs, so it takes a ton of GPU processors to process all that high resolution video.

But before you dismiss the DXL as a Panavised Red Weapon, the big advantage of the Panavision system is its color science. Designed by Light Iron Supervising Digital Intermediate Colorist Ian Vertovec, Light Iron Color is a new color matrix that is designed to run at the sensor level, pulling raw data right from the sensor. Light Iron Color also easily integrates with the Millennium DXL’s 8K sensor and Panavision’s large-format lenses. Colors in the promo video looked very natural in mixed lighting conditions, with less crispness than you might see in Red camera footage.

Large-Format Lenses
Panavision has over 60 years of experience in producing large-format optics. “Not a lot of people have seen large format,” explained Cioni during his presentation. “It doesn’t look like 35. There’s a different texture to it.” Also, according to Cioni, the images from large format don’t look sharper, but smoother. And that smoothness is retained whether you finish in 4K, 2K or HD. 

Another factor with the large sensor is that you’re getting close to a 1.8x magnification. For cinematographers, this is almost twice the magnification of a Super 35 sensor, giving you more z-depth control, e.g., 100mm depth of field on a 50mm field of view.

Panavision’s new Primo 70 line is the latest set of large-format lenses that have cinematographers (and camera assistants) drooling over due to their embedded motors. On a DXL camera with Primo 70s, a Preston follow-focus will drive the lens without cables or rods and rails.

The other key advantage for the DXL is that with its Panavision lens mount, you can now return to different eras of glass with vintage lenses that have shot some of the greatest images in film history. Lenses like the Ultra Panatars, System 65s, Spheros and more can bring a new type of look to digital cinematography.

Panavision is also introducing a new T series of anamorphic lenses. Since their anamorphics are built for a larger sensor, they can deliver 4K by 5K anamorphic. This is essentially 21-megapixel capture, compared to the Alexa 4:3’s Open Gate, where you’re getting roughly 7 megapixels. The DXL now becomes the anamorphic camera to beat, as well.


Michael Cioni. Photo by Neil Matsumoto.

Seeing Red
According to Cioni, Panavision evaluated all the sensors on the market and determined Red's to be the best for their needs. The 8K sensor delivers an impressive 15 stops of latitude. “The general perception is that if you need a lot of dynamic range, you have to have big pixels,” said Cioni. “This is why the Red sensor is so unique, because it has ultra-small pixels — and a lot of them — and it’s still giving us 15 stops." Like the Red cameras, the DXL will apply compression in 16-bit raw capture mode, since uncompressed 8K raw files would be unrealistic for on-board capture. You can also capture ProRes or DNxHR for direct-to-edit workflow with all current NLE systems.

Panavision has been renting Red cameras for years (Alexas too), but the company is clearly positioning the Millennium DXL as the highest-level system for professional digital cinematography. According to Cioni, Panavision also has a clear roadmap for the DXL’s future, with a focus on the always evolving digital workflow over the coming years. “Some of our competitors had a very bad day today,” said Cioni, eliciting laughter from the audience. “And it’s going to get worse. You can print that.” Panavision is back, baby!

The Millennium DXL will be available for rental through Panavision in early 2017. A prototype and demo will be on display at the Panavision and Light Iron booth at Cine Gear Expo at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles this weekend.