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This article was first published on the open everything blog of Horst JENS.

Axiom, an open source / open hardware film camera

Linuxwochen Wien 2015
Axiom Beta at Linuxwochen Wien 2015

During the Linuxwochen Wien 2015 event last weekend i had the opportunity to meet some of the guys of the AXIOM open source film camera project in person and listen to talks about the camera project and about their sucessfull crowdfunding campaign on indiegogo.

I especially enjoyed talking with Sebastian Pichelhofer and Herbert Pötzl (equally long-haired and also from Austria).

From a the axiom blog i learned that the AXIOM project people had showed a nearly working prototype in Las Vegas in April 2015 and that the filmmakers in the team have a gift of making funny videos for their supporters

Linuxwochen Wien 2015
Axiom Beta: black-white sensor working, at Linuxwochen Wien 2015

At their booth at Linuxwochen, Mister Plötzl was proud to present the even more working camera prototype (Axiom Alpha) who for the first time managed to output still images (i could see a black-white picture on a screen). Mister Pichelhofer told me some background information about the project. Togehter with the 2 public talks of Mister Pichelhofer (about the Camera project and about crowdfunding) i learned some interesting bits:

The resolution of the camera could be 4 times as high as it is when all sensors were monochrom. As it is, 4 color sensors are placed in a square to produce one pixel. Each sensor can only "see" one color.

According to Mister Pichelhofer, you can either have a very good photo-camera or a very good film-camera but seldom both functions (with high quality) in the same unit. The axiom team aims to create a very good film camera. Making still images with it is possible, but not the main goal.

It is possible to make slow motion videos with the camera; however the bottleneck is not the sensor but the amount of ram / data pipeline to external harddisk to store those images. Thus the current version of Axiom camera can shoot very fast image sequences but can only save a small amount of them. Heavy modifaction on the computer hardware would be necessary to create a high-speed camera capable of shooting longer slow-motion sequences.

The Axiom camera project was born out of the need to have full control over an open-source / open hardware camera. The project members are coming from all over the world, and many of them work in the film industry.

There exist "camera hacking" sub-cultures who managed to do "things with cameras that were never meant to be possible". I got the impression from Mister Pichelhofers talk that commercial camera vendors use product differentation by disabling / hiding features of camera hardware/software in cheaper cameras and enabling those features in expansive cameras instead of fully documenting all possible features of their cheaper cameras, as an open-source / open-hardware community would do and expect others to do.

axiom tec specs
Axiom camera tec specs (from Indiegogo Site). Image rights: Axiom


The Axiom team managed to raise €204,568 Euro with a crowdfunding campaign on indiegogo. Unlike many other crowdfunding campaigns, the axiom team choose to raise money for the development of the camera (to research and build more advanced prototypes) but did not used the crowdfunding campaign to sell not yet exiting cameras. Backers were promised however to be able to order the fully developed camera (once it is for sale) to a reduced price "at cost". It is not clear at the moment how high the (reduced) price will be, as the development of the camera is still in process.

The main question "how do you successfully crowdfund" was answered with insights from the axiom team:

Funding started high with lots of coverage in social media, blogs etc, and than stayed minimal until a final peak near the end of the campaign. During all the time of the campaign, the axiom team invested a lot of manpower in updating blogs, reaching out to internet communities etc. In hindsight, it was not clear if those activities helped to reach the necessary peak funding toward the end of the campaign or if the activities simply did not matter.

Funding and media coverage "took off" as soon as an existing, well connected camera-hacking site with similar goals featured the Axiom campaign and called their fans for support. The axiom team think that this tapping into an existing network of like-minded people was crucial for the success.

The axiom team made a point of first developing and showing an prototype before asking for money. Sucessfull fundrising campaigns exist however promoting "just an idea" but the axiom team felt it was good to prove that some physical prototype exits to get potential backers interested.

When choosing between "fixed funding" (all or nothing) or "flexible funding" (you get all fundings even if you do not reach your funding goal), Mister Pichelhofer argued to choose the fixed campaign. Reasons are that flexible funding campaigns do not signal thrust in it's own project and financial calculations. More important, a failed fixed campaign is an important indicator that a product is not yet attractive enough for the market. Also, the cut crowdfunding platforms take from flexible funding is often higher compared to fixed funding. For the same reasons, Mister Pichelhofer advised not to pay a missing amount to a fixed campaign goal with his own money: beside manipulating the crowdfunding platform and taking the risk of running into legal problems: the main risk of investing own money into a crowdfunding campaing is to ignore the message that the market is yet interested enough in a product. Chances are high that the fully developed product will also fail in the market. Unlike the relative cheap costs involved with a failed crowdfunding campaign, having invested time and money into producing and marketing an unattractive product is expensive.

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