Aaton out of the Game? updated

Update Monday April 29 1600GMT

On the Association Françaisedes Directeurs De La Photographie Cinématographique web site, Jean-Pierre Beauviala, Founder and CEO of Aaton posted the following statement:

With its perfect ergonomics, its bright reflex viewfinder, its low noise, and, above all, with its chromatic finesse and its skin tone rendition never before seen in digital images, the Penelope Delta camera has shown that it is the worthy descendant of the Penelope film camera.
Unfortunately, final production has been hit by defects in the controller for the Dalsa sensor, and then by non-uniform performances of the sensors themselves, whose quality did not match that of the prototypes.

Unable to deliver the numerous cameras ordered and already manufactured, Aaton found itself short of capital, and we have had to resort to a financial receivership procedure so as to allow the company to be bought by an outsider.

The future Aaton will offer two new cinema tools : a successor to the Cantar audio recorder, and a digital ’documentary’ camera with a reflex viewfinder in the style of the A-Minima.

Further update: May 1st

Also posted on CML was

Statement from Jean-Pierre Beauviala

Dear friends,

Over the last couple of years, Aaton devoted its energy and resources to the development of a new high-end camera, Delta Penelope. The prototype got rave reviews for its crisp but still velvet image structure, and its outstanding chromatic finesse resulting in exceptional skin tones and subtle hues.
The CCD sensor used, though its imaging was excellent in the prototypes, has not allowed us to ensure the same perfomances in industrial production. This is particularly regrettable, since many orders have been placed for the camera.

Aaton is not closed; the company will be taken over by new owners.
At this stage, finance will not in itself solve the Delta Penelope problem, but it will allow us to continue on other developments (based on Aaton
patents) already in the pipeline.

The new Aaton will focus on two new products to start out with:
the CantarX+ audio recorder (the current crop will be maintained), and the D-Minima documentary style reflex-viewfinder digital camera.

Many thanks to those who send me their personal “encouragements”
and to those who offered us their dreams about the new Cantar, I think you will love to play/work with it.

With companies falling like flies, Geoff Doyle, CML Owner posted “I just heard that Aaton have closed whilst looking for an investor. So so sad”, on twitter an hour ago.

JP Beauviala Sveridge Film Institutet Stockholm in 1972
JP Beauviala Sveridge Film Institutet Stockholm in 1972

Aaton is/was a camera manufacturer, based in Grenoble, France. Aaton was founded in 1967 by Eclair engineer Jean-Pierre Beauviala, and was known for small and reliable cameras -often used in documentaries. Their motion picture film cameras were always produced as “cat-on-the-shoulder”, – a small, light, quiet motion picture camera. After several initial prototypes, the Aaton LTR 16 mm camera became available on the market in the late 1970s. It has been succeeded by several improved models, including the LTR, LTR 54, XTR, X0, XTRplus, and XTRProd. The last available 16mm film camera  was the A-Minima, a specialized small 16mm camera with a 200ft load.

From a post point of view ‘Aatoncode’ was one of the earliest schemes for encoding a timecode signal in the frame margins of 16mm film, allowing rigorous synchronization of audio and film in post-production. This timecode of film proved key in improving film workflows in TVC and film and spread to KeyCode and other areas.

Jean-Luc Godard 1982 with the LTR Super16.
Jean-Luc Godard 1982 with the LTR Super16.

Aaton’s contribution to the new wave of first French and then American Cinema can not be underestimated.

The cameras were small flexible and very versatile allowing French directors such as Jean-Luc Godard to produce powerful independent films in the 70s and 80s.

The French company may have been – some may say ‘quirky’ at times, but their legacy is huge.

The company was not limited to 16mm it also made very successful 35mm cameras such as the Penelope. Aaton introduced the original Aaton Penelope as a field switchable 2 perf / 3 perf 35mm camera.   Originally the idea was to make a 35mm motion picture film camera that would have a digital magazine that could convert the camera into a digital cinema camera by simply switching the film magazine for a digital one.

“While Aaton shipped nearly one hundred of the film variants of Penelope, they decided to change direction and instead of making the digital magazine, build a fully digital camera from the ground up”  commented John Brawley on his blog. (johnbrawley)

More recently they developed the Digital Delta camera which had one of the first optical viewfindesr for a digital camera and worked with an internal SSD recorder (DeltaPack*) for full resolution CineDNG ucompressed RAW, and editorial-ready proxies.

True to the original vision the digital camera was lightweight: 7.5 kilos with internal recorder and still worked with a ” Cat on the Shoulder” profile. The camera has a ground-glass viewfinder and a rotating mirror shutter to avoid rolling shutter artifacts.

Eric Gautier DP & 35mm Penelope (launched in 2008)
Eric Gautier DP & 35mm Penelope (launched in 2008)

In recent times the company had struggled against both the small innovative RED cameras and the traditional powerhouse of German rival Arri with the Alexa.

Even with the current problems the company is much admired and fondly remembered for its incredible contribution to cinema.


6 thoughts on “Aaton out of the Game? updated”

  1. Hi Mike,

    How should we understand : “The company may have been French” ? I’m sure you don’t mean bad when writing that but honestly it’s a bit strange to read when you’re French.

    Imagine something like “The studio may have been American but the movie story was interesting” 😉 How could react American people ?


  2. “More recently they developed the Digital Delta camera which had the first optical viewfinder for a digital camera” – this, IMHO, is incorrect, with all respect.

    As far as I know, the Delta was announced at NAB 2010 and finally shown as a fully functional camera at IBC 2012 – Arri’s D20 was already used in production in 2006 (or even earlier) and featured a very similar concept: Essential body parts from an Arri 435, including a mechanical shutter and an optical viewfinder, and a digital ‘magazine’/ with a 35mm width CMOS sensor. The magazine, however, was not swappable and hardwired/mounted to the rest.


    1. So far I can remember was it Joe Dunton who introduced the world a digital magazine upgrade concept for an ARRI 16SR camera at IBC 2002. It took a while before P+S Technik could deliver the world a 16Digital Mag, which is able to transform an ARRI SRIII film camera into a HD camera.

      The first (conceptual) digital 35mm digital cinema camera with an optical viewfinder was the Dalsa Origin, which was showed on the NAB showfloor in 2003. A concept that evolved into the Origin II and it’s ‘little’ brother the Evolution, which were rental items only just like the ARRIFLEX D-20. The D-21 was the first commercial to buy 35mm digital cinema camera with an optical viewfinder.

      It was clever from Aaton to adopt Joe Dunton’s digital magazine concept into their Penelope roadmap. The Penelope was launched in Q3 of 2008 a period that the Red One just had to be commercially launched. Reintroducing the 2-Perf 35mm format was an welcoming concept in Europe, and a big succes. The tide changed in 2010 when Red came with the Mysterium-X sensor upgrade and the ARRI Alexa was introduced. It took a while for Aaton to show the world a working prototype of their Penelope Delta, which became a permanent digital back upgrade camera. Still a camera with some clever inovations, like a multislot shutter to reduce the light going to the sensor and the sensor which is mounted on a moving assembly to deal with spatial resolution. It’s very sad news that Aaton has been hit by defects in the controller for the Dalsa sensor, and then by non-uniform performances of the sensors themselves, whose quality did not match that of the prototypes.

      There’s an official statement about “Aaton turns to financial recievership” by Jean-Pierre Beauviala on AFC website: http://www.afcinema.com/Aaton-turns-to-financial-receivership.html

      1. Vincent,

        that’s some excellent information, thanks! I forgot about the DALSA, you are absolutely right.


    1. No problem, people are a bit picky with fxguide simply because they know you aim to high standards in your articles. I am happy to be an insider each time I go to fxguide.com 🙂


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