While it’s fun to live on the bleeding edge of technology it’s important to remember that everything comes from somewhere else. Our current excitement about Kinefinity cameras is no different. I first became aware of the company in 2014, and really started investigating the brand in 2015. It took until late 2016 to order one, and late 2017 to actually receive the camera I ordered, ha. Then I started shooting footage like crazy.
But there were people who’d shot with the older models, too, and they were just as excited. Before the Facebook group this website is one of the places they’d congregate. A few people who’d bought cameras wanted to talk to one another. One of them happened to know about setting up a website and more people trickled in the door. I found this site on Google, just like you, and would check in every couple days to see if there were any new posts.
The KineRaw begat the KineMini 4k, the KineMax, and now we have the Terra and Mavo lines. It’s a progression. I met Dan Chung at NAB 2018 and he told me he’d been one of the first outside of China to own a Kinefinity. In fact, here’s an article Dan wrote in 2012 (!!!) after he and his then business partner Matt Allard each tested the KineRaw 2K. Allard even shot a music video with it:
When looking at things this way it’s much easier to understand why, say, the color rendition seems so robust on these cameras. The company has been at it for more than six years. More than that if you count the fact that Kinefinity evolved from an aerospace camera company that’s still its parent 2. It’s also more difficult to accept the firmware bugs and communications delays when you consider just how long they’ve been around. But Kinefinity is still a young company, still up-and-coming, still punching above its weight.
One of the reasons I find Kinefinity so fascinating is that a small group of people got the idea in their heads that they would compete with deeply entrenched players, not in the digital sector where new apps regularly upend older behemoths, but in a manufacturing sector, where heavy machinery is needed along with skilled workers. Kinefinity’s rise, then, is comparable to a company like Tesla, whose unique blend of technology and manufacturing (along with notorious delays in production) is making headway in a long-established sector with deep-pocketed competitors. This achievement is all the more notable when compared to other upstarts like the Digital Bolex, AJA Cion, and Craft cameras, who were either pebbles that caused small ripples or flashes in the pan, depending on if you like water or cooking metaphors.
This is not to say that Kinefinity is infallible. Unlike Tesla, who receives near-universal positive press while making a luxury item, Kinefinity aims to upend their competitors by making a more affordable product; the occasional lack of polish does not go unnoticed. For filmmakers, lower prices are good news. The field has always had a high barrier to entry due to costs. With competitive options such as Kine and Blackmagic, and Red before them, there’s at least one part of the process that’s become more accessible via technology 3. But there are hidden costs to using physical products that aren’t yet fully embraced by the marketplace: namely support.
My parents used to tell stories of Volkswagen drivers in the 1970s who’d wave to one another when passing – there were so few Beetles on the road. Most owners learned a tiny bit of repair just to get by, and you could count on another VW owner stopping if you had pulled over with a radiator problem.
We’re not so lucky with digital tech, almost none of it is user-serviceable. I learned this firsthand when, though I was proud to receive the very first Terra 4K in America, I returned it for an upgrade to the 2018 version of the OLPF. The couple-months turnaround was an inconvenience tax that larger brands don’t usually charge. But I still count myself as lucky: I own a camera with specifications I could have only dreamed about just a few years ago.
Zooming out a little further: the hashtag is growing on Instagram and new content is popping up on Vimeo and YouTube every couple days. Kinefinity has made two excellent cameras in the past year. And the granddaddy of them all, the Mavo LF, is on the way. Things are looking up. You just have to look back to know why.
- There I am holding a light in Tom Antos’ review of the KineMax, and some of the footage was shot on my since-stolen vintage Leicas. ∧
- Kinefinity co-founder and CEO Jihua Zheng gives a brief history of the company in this great interview by @carl_proav including its roots in the aerospace industry. ∧
- Postproduction costs have also fallen with the increase in computer power and good-enough software like the Adobe suite and Davinci Resolve. ∧