A couple weeks ago I got a last minute call for a commercial gig which was gonna be my first time interacting with an Alexa. This camera has become more common in LA since everyone is beginning to make the transition to Digital. Mad Men has shot film up until season 5 which is now shooting Alexa. Legendary Roger Deakins has shot “In Time” and the new Bond film “Sky Fall” on Alexa. Arri has made a huge impact for Digital Cinema and has proved that a DP can live without RAW and 4K images in todays fast paced world. With out a doubt the Alexa is very dependable and durable, it can even take explosions and still function.
In 2010 at Cine Gear I heard one call the Alexa “It’s a Red One that works”, pretty bold statement if you ask me. There’s been some internet drama due to the “Phillip Bloom incident” about RED cameras not being reliable. Like everything you take it with a grain of salt, some people don’t and tend to over exaggerate. I’ve heard horror stories and I can understand why some producers prefer Alexa, it’s a “dumb proof” camera. Every show has specific camera needs and the Alexa has some bases covered. It’s mainly made recognition in the commercial and music video scene. But shortly after “In Time” and “Drive” there’s been a growing buzz about it’s cinematic images. Without a doubt I’ve watched Alexa films on 4K projectors and not once did I think I was looking at a video image.
At first I was a little concerned as anytime you work with something new you try to do as much research as possible. How does it work? What problems can I come across? Etc. Strangely enough I was actually mad that I didn’t learn anything new. It was so easy and intuitive that it’s very much like Apple but in the Camera Industry. It’s super simple and it works but has limitations (really wish ArriRAW was more common).
Hardware/Design: In my opinion it’s a little big but that’s cause I love my Epic/Scarlet form factor. So yes you do need a 1st AC with this camera, I’d hate to go out solo with this thing. SteadiCam operators love it due to fast balancing both in High or Low mode. The Menu is well designed with lock features so you don’t change the settings on accident, the Screen is BRIGHT and is very conveniently located.
The best part is if your prepping for a job and would like to learn the UI, Arri has an emulator which allows you to finess with Menu on a browser. The camera takes about 12-15 seconds to boot up which isn’t painful at all.
I wish I could go more into RAW and 3D details but this shoot was pretty basic so I can’t really fill you in with those features. Most productions are scared of ArriRAW since you need a Codex recorder and most Producers prefer ProRes workflow. I have yet to speak to someone who has used ArriRAW on a production. Hopefully for another post 🙂
Image: Arri uses a Logarithmic decoding process which does everything in it’s might to prevent the Whites from clipping which creates an exposure curve similar to celluloid. This allows for an amazing 13-to-14-Stop Latitude which is awesome! Loaded with a CEMOS 2880 x 2160 resolution Sensor with Bayer pattern, it’s 1.5x oversampling for a 1920 x 1080 output. The AlexaPlus can do 60fps and a license is required to unlock 120fps. The camera has an On-Board Recorder which writes Apple ProRes 444 or 422 files onto Sony SxS cards. We recorded using C-Log Color Matrix to preserve the WaveForm for maximum Latitude and Post-Color manipulation. C-Log resembles an Exposure Curve similar to a negative scan from an ArriScan. The 60fps sequences where truly amazing and the light sensitivity is unreal at 800ASA.
One note, after about a year of digesting this cameras footage, to now having work with it, I can say that the color pallet for this sensor is different to a RED. The Red and Green reproduction is more of a Magenta and Cyan. Where I notice it most is in the mids-blacks and skin tones. See for yourself in the videos below…
Post/WorkFlow: We used six Sony 32GB SxS cards which would take about 8-12 Minutes to dump onto a drive. I was using a MacBook pro w/PCIe slot and two G-Tech via FW800 (Diasy Chained).
If the cards where coming faster than I could turn them around I’d use a Sony USB SxS reader to allow two Dumps at a time to speed up the transfer process. Luckily I only had to do it once which is always a life saver. If you shoot DSLR or R3D there’s transcoding involved, shooting SxS eliminates thats process for fast turn around.
The On-board recorder on the Alexa only records to Apple Pro Res and now Avid DNxHD. I just spoke with my friend who’s an editor and mentioned that the new Avid and Adobe can support ProRes which is great.
Wrap-Up: The Alexa is still fairly new but has been making a huge impact with all the older DP’s who are use to film. It’s made the switch super simple and has established a standard for True 1080p accessibility. I feel like the ease of use, reliability, and fast workflow are what sells this camera. Alexa is here to stay with new models yet to come, Arri has done an excellent job in creating a digital line of cameras and setting a great standard for a new age in cinema.
Videos Shot on ALEXA:
Probably one of the first projects to be shot on an ALEXA. The 30-min Kanye video “Run away” really set the tone of how one can manipulate an image through the crisp color rendering from an Alexa. (All the high-speed shots where done on a Phantom Felx)