CinePi V2
Image courtesy: CinePi

Cinema cameras aren’t cheap. Even the entry-level Blackmagic Design cameras start at over a thousand dollars, and most other brands are five or ten times that figure. However, there’s a new cinema camera that only costs a few hundred dollars, the CinePi V2. The catch is that you have to build it yourself.

What’s the CinePi project?

The CinePi project is an open-source cinema camera based around the Raspberry Pi 4 computer. The camera also includes an HQ camera module and a four-inch touchscreen. It’s all powered by four 18560 cells and a Zero2Go power supply. There’s even a Noctua fan for cooling. The wedge-shaped 3D printed body is a little reminiscent of the original Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera 2.5K model.

What is the Raspberry Pi?

The Raspberry Pi is a single-board computer that was developed in 2012 in the United Kingdom by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. There have been several generations of the computer over the intervening and the Raspberry Pi 4 launched in 2019. It’s a tiny device, measuring only 3.37 inches by 2.22 inches (85.6 mm by 56.5 mm). However, it packs in up to 8 GB of RAM, two 4K micro HDMI display outputs, four USB sockets and a gigabit ethernet port.

What’s involved?

There’s a detailed guide to building your own CinePi cinema camera on the github website and the project is up to version 2 now. The website has a detailed list of the custom parts and readily available off-the-shelf components that you need. You will also need to 3D print the camera’s case. In addition, you will have to do some soldering to put it all together. However, the guide does state “Depending on the parts you decide to use in your build, you may be able to completely avoid soldering all together.” 

How good is CinePi?

The Raspberry Pi HQ camera used in the CinePi has a 12-megapixel resolution and a 7.9 mm-diagonal Sony IMX477 sensor. It also has an interchangeable lens mount that can be used with CS or C mount lenses. Despite these limitations, the CinePi can capture 3,840 x 2,160 CinemaDNG video to an external device such as an NVME SSD or a CFExpress card at 25 frames per second. In addition, the software running the camera has a clean and simple interface for changing settings.

What we think

The CinePi V2 cinema camera is an interesting project. Some of the sample footage from the camera shared online looks good, especially when shot in brightly lit conditions. However, you do have to bear in mind the small sensor and limited quality of the lenses available. As it’s an open source project it will continue to develop and improve though. In addition, the Raspberry Pi 5 launched in September this year so the CinePi V3 could be even more powerful.

Pricing and availability

The Official CinePi V2 Build Guide is available on the gituhub.com website. The guide includes a full parts list with links as well as the prices for major components.

Pete Tomkies is a freelance cinematographer and camera operator from Manchester, UK. He also produces and directs short films as Duck66 Films. Pete's latest short Once Bitten... won 15 awards and was selected for 105 film festivals around the world.