The Omnicam – a new panoramic camera system developed by the FascinatE Consortium (Format-Agnostic SCript-based INterAcTive Experience) – utilizes six ARRI ALEXA M cameras to capture footage in ultra-high resolution for immersive viewing. On May 26-27, the Omnicam was employed at Arena Hall Berlin to record a dance performance of the “Carmen Suite” by the Berlin Philharmonic. This prototype system allows users to interactively view and navigate the video panorama of the live event – no matter what display device they are using. Meanwhile, synced audio automatically adjusts to match the selected view.
For Johannes Steurer, principal engineer at ARRI, this was an opportunity to explore a novel approach to visual language and technology. “The project is about immersive viewing conditions. As a visitor to a live performance of more than 200 dancers you can see the full panorama and at the same time focus on any individual dancer at will. We bring this experience forward to electronic imaging in public and home viewing environments. The full 7K by 2K video panorama and novel approaches of user interaction makes it possible.”
Earlier configurations of the Omnicam used smaller HD cameras due to sizing concerns. However, image quality including attributes like noise level and color reproduction was problematic. At that time the ALEXA was just coming to the market, but it was considered too large and too heavy. According to Steurer, “The ALEXA M was born out of this project. We decided to separate the sensor head from the body and connect both components by optical fiber cables. That way we reduce the size and weight of the camera head and we can still offer the same well-known image quality.”
The array of six ALEXA M cameras is rigged with mirrors for the panoramic camera and 24mm Ultra Prime lenses for each head to create a total 180-degree viewing angle. Weighing under 7 pounds (3 Kg), the M’s compact front end with multiple mounting points and versatile maneuverability made it the ideal conception for the Omnicam. The option of having distance between the head and body allows full control without interference of the performance. In this case the distance between the Omnicam and the video control room is 100 m, easily spanned by the optical fiber connection.
“The ALEXA M is the perfect camera in terms of quality and size to fit in the Omnicam. We want to engage audiences with a new viewing experience,” FascinatE project coordinator Georg Thallinger. “Joanneum Research. “We knew, being ARRI cameras, they would shoot beautiful images and have the best quality.”
“In our R&D department we are always looking for future technologies,” said Steurer. “We are proud of working closely together with such a high-ranking consortium of European research institutions and subjecting our latest specialist technologies to challenging applications like this world class dance performance.”