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ARRI Alexa: Love at First Sight!

COW Library : Cinematography : Gary Adcock : ARRI Alexa: Love at First Sight!
CreativeCOW presents ARRI Alexa: Love at First Sight! -- Cinematography Review


Chicago Illinois USA
CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


I am not different from anyone else here on the Cow, so when there is a new toy in town, I am really glad when I get to be one of the first in line. Stay tuned while I share my thoughts on the new ARRI Alexa camera, which I now firmly believe is as much of a game changer as either the launch of the RED One or the revolution with the DSLR has been.

 

OMG! I AM IN LOVE.

Alexa is being released in limited numbers, and there are only a very few of these cameras even available. My guess is that there are possibly a couple of dozen worldwide at this writing, and I expect that the camera will remain in fairly limited release for the time being. This is mainly because ARRI is being the careful and cautious company resulting from 90+ years in film. To that end there are a number of functions not yet enabled, but I will get to those that I am able to talk about later.

 

ARRI Alexa configured for shooting and monitoring

This is a camera designed for production. Real Production. It shoots Raw and it has a full quality video out. It’s got rock solid construction with thoughtful placement of controls and connectivity, with a surprising number of subtle guides that allow an experienced hand to operate most functions blindly. It also has far and away the easiest menu navigation I have ever run across on any camera geared for pros.

 That also means that it costs more than my German-made automobile, but considerably less than Sony’s Digital Cinema offering of either the F23 or F35.

Alexa has a variety of outputs. I can currently record 1920x1080 ProRes internally -- including ProRes 4444, in up to 12 bit color depth. Alexa also offers multiple connections that allow up to Dual Link Baseband video as Uncompressed in either 422 Varispeed or 444 RGB, or output of the cameras native ARRIRaw format -- 2880x1620 when captured to an externally tethered recorder. So unlike RED, you are not forced into using the camera’s raw signal output prior to getting easily editable content into post.

ARRI Alexa records directly to Apple ProRes

This is a huge leap. Since Avid announced that Media Composer 5 will now directly support ProRes material for ingest via the Avid Media Encoder (again, no transcoding or re-wrapping) ARRI has proclaimed that ProRes should no longer be seen as simply an offline codec. By including ProRes 4444 for acquisition, ARRI has confirmed once and for all that ProRes is viable as an acquisition codec that can -- and will -- be used throughout the production process for film-style digital workflows.

To me, this is a major change in the RAW mindset. No longer will you be forced into converting your RAW video content before being able to expediently edit your content. Now you can start editing immediately with the camera-captured ProRes content, while still having the ability to go back to the ARRIRAW format for the final conform if you choose to record that format also. Granted, that can only be done currently with expensive additional 3rd party hardware, but when speed and quality are both needed, this will be the workflow of the future: capture internally and externally for Direct to Edit (DTE) workflow and highest-quality final finish.

 

SHE'S SO SENSITIVE

Gary is constantly updating the coverage of his experience at his Creative COW Blog. up-to-the-minute coverage of his experience with ARRI Alexa. From his entry, "She's So Sensitive:"

So after shooting with Alexa one thing is really standing out. This is the most light sensitive professional camera I have ever worked with, I think that it may even surpass the MX Red's for low noise and clean image.

This is available window light- on a overcast day, the camera is rated at ASA 800, shot with an ARRI 100mm Macro lens.

Click to enlarge.

Available light macro shot with ARRI Alexa and ARRI 10 mm macro lens

 

Click here for the rest of Gary's current look at Alexa's sensitivity.

 

 

 

GETTING AROUND
           
The menu structure of Alexa is going to put a lot of guys like me out of business. It is a simple, concise structure that is not a great leap from the early iPod, even down to the click wheel to make adjustments and selections with.  Creating a useable, functioning tree structure that accounts for the current state of the camera as well as placeholders for future additions to the architecture is not something I have ever seen on ANY professional camera system. ARRI should be quite proud of this accomplishment; it is not easy to create functionality and usability for so many in such a clearly defined menu structure.
           
Recording options offer access to a myriad of recording possibilities from the SxS ProRes capture internally on Sony’s 32GB SxS media cards offering 19+ min. of ProRes 422 HQ(10bit) and 15 mins of ProRes 4444 (up to12bit), while external recording offers any and all formats and flavors that most pros use -- from HDCAM SR, using external digital disk recorders like AJA’s KiPro (ProRes),  Cinedeck (Cineform and DNxHD), and the top of the line professional units from the likes of Stwo, KG, Codex and RaveHD that all offer both DPX and Uncompressed capture of single dual and quad link content. All should soon see some type of ARRIRAW recording capabilities.

 

ARRI Alexa menus

 From the start, you can use the internally-captured ProRes content in directly in Apple and Adobe’s NLE’s and with the Media Composer 5 upgrade to Avid Media Access, even Avid now supports ProRes in its native QuickTime form. Adding DPX and ARRIRaw support in these NLE’s is supported by Gluetools on the Mac side and with PomFort on windows for native ARRIRaw codec handling, there are already a variety of workflow possibilities no matter what platform or editor you choose to use.

The camera I am working with has been configured so that I am able to test some features that have been announced, but not yet fully tested and ready to be released. These include the ability to capture all 5 flavors of ProRes internally, and to externally test capturing the 2880 x1620 raster that is uncompressed, or, soon, Alexa’s update to ARRIRaw.
             
ARRI’s Raw format is not anything new, now more than 5 years old, starting first on the D20 then later modified on the upgraded D21 -- a magnificent camera that was not popular until the last year or so, with the highly styled FOX series “Lie To Me” being one of the episodic series that embraced the D-21 for TV production. Alexa will change all of that, and soon. I know of at least 6 TV shows shooting in the Midwest trying to get their hands on the few cameras available. 

 Alexa has a base ASA of 800, with what appears to be 13+ stops of useable exposure latitude at that setting, but with an overall ASA range from 160-1600 in the menu. So there is a lot going on under the hood with this camera.

The fan is so quiet that you have look to be sure that the camera is actually is turned on, but that is  easily accomplished by the bright and clear LCD on the side of the camera (that changes to green when recording) and lit buttons on both sides of the camera.

Bob Primes, ASC::
"The ARRI Alexa seems to be the presumptive heir to the crown. Its stunning imagery, vast latitude and amazing mix of image quietness and sensitivity combine with superb ergonomics and an open architecture to win my vote. Alexa is not only a nail in film's coffin, but a double headed spike.

I'll gladly genuflect in the direction of Munich."

From his article in Creative COW Magazine, "The Blue Ribbon Awards Issue."

 

 

TAPELESS WITH LESS TRAGEDY

With any tapeless recording system, from the first time I get my hands on it, I spend a good deal of time trying to break the workflow. Many of you have lost files, corrupted the media or just plain forgot to properly copy all of the media needed to open your files in post. I do not care whether you work with P2, SxS or CF cards, data corruption is a way of life with tapeless production, just as a “hair in the gate” was disastrous when shooting film.

With Alexa, the only way I have been able to corrupt a file on this camera was to physically remove the SxS card during a live capture. Running the card until it was overflowing with data was handled internally by the camera and I was able to open and edit without issues. Not only that, on every one of the 15 times I tried (5 flavors of ProRes multiplied by 3 different frame rates), I was not able to get a single card or file to be corrupted.

 

ARRI Alexa cards

Even when pulling the battery off the camera, certain death should ensue, yet the internal conversion system that the camera uses to convert from 12v battery power to the 24v needed to run the camera and accessories, seemingly has enough reserve to close out the file properly before the camera falls silent. 

 

BUT WHAT ABOUT…?

Since this is a released but still “beta” camera in many respects, there are a number of features that have yet to be activated, but are placeholders set in the menu structure, and embedded in the file handling that have markers leading to the future.

Interestingly enough in that vein, Alexa hands off a standard XML 2.0 data file on every card, making your post workflow much simpler. In ARRI’s version of the ProRes workflow, you get an XML file with every recording that will support all of the captured clips along with camera metadata. When that XML file is dropped into an NLE like Final Cut Pro or any other XML aware editor, it initiates the ingest process direct from the media, bypassing the transfer process and importing the media directly with the metadata intact.

What about other kinds of metadata in regards to that same XML file then? Since ARRI is one of the first companies that supported active camera and lens metadata protocols using their LDS (Lens Data System), and while it is closed data tracking system, ARRI was one of the first camera manufacturers that started adding the electrical contacts to both the camera bodies and the lenses to handle data intelligence in production and post.

Below: Alexa with an Stwo OB1 onboard recorder set for dual link capture of a DCS Combi chart.

Alexa with an Stwo OB1 onboard recorder set for dual link capture of a DCS Combi chart

To that end there are within the XML structure multiple places to allow virtually any type or kind information to be written and handled by standard XML. Everything from the ASC CDL (American Society of Cinematographer’s Color Decision List) -- a universal format for exchanging of primary color information between production and post -- to the serial number of your lens, aperture and zoom settings down to GPS, and most likely even Facebook friends could be added to the metadata mix. I hope that with Alexa, ARRI looks toward opening up their access to also allow for the iData system, a standard that is supported by Angenieux and Cooke Optics.

The issue I currently have is the file naming structure. It has 24 characters, all place holders padded to 4 digits, and it cannot currently be modified beyond camera reel and take. Because ARRI uses the UDF, or universal disk format, there is not currently a way to properly name individual cards when using the internally recorded ProRes on SxS cards. That would make every card you shoot named as “ARRI UDF” without the ability to add numbers or letters to the card, something that can and will cause confusion. I would assume that this is one of the main reasons that working with ProRes is not fully authorized or accepted by ARRI for production at this time, because I cannot find any serious issues otherwise.

           

CONCLUSIONS

In closing, this has just been my very first week with the camera, one of the first in the US. I am incredibly grateful to Tom Fletcher and the entire crew at Fletcher Camera in Chicago, Michael Bravin and the entire team at ARRI in both the US and in Germany for allowing me access to a ‘special” release of their camera.

Below: ARRI's Mike Bravin discusses the Alexa in action with Gary Adcock

ARRI's Mike Bravin discusses the Alexa in action with Gary Adcock

There will be more to come on Alexa, much more, as I still have to wait to test the capture capabilities of the ARRIRaw vs. ProRes vs. Tape/ DPX workflows that will soon be available. Those tests I hope to complete in the near future with assistance from some of my good friends so that we can show users what this camera might be capable of.

So far, this camera, the one in my hands, is already everything that one would want from a digital cinema system and it is my guess that it is only about 50% of what has planned for "under the hood". ARRI has, without a doubt, learned from the others mistakes on how to handle a camera’s tapeless workflow, yet also understands the needs and wants of the mainstream production market, as well as those highly specialized markets geared towards episodic television or digital cinema. I personally cannot wait to see some of the camera features that have been discussed semi-privately in regards to the exposure and LUT controls and especially some of the innovation for 3D Stereoscopic work, one of the areas I believe that this camera will really shine, as it was built from the ground up with 3Ds production in mind.

 




Gary Adcock, Creative COW Magazine

 

 

Gary Adcock
Chicago, Illinois USA


2010 marked Gary's fourth consecutive year as the Tech Chair for NAB's Director of Photography Workshop, now held as part of the Post | Production World Conference produced by Future Media Concepts in association with the National Association of Broadcasters.

You can find him hosting Creative COW Forums for Stereoscopic 3D, RED, HD High End, Panasonic Varicam, Apple iPad, and many more.

Follow his ongoing coverage of the ARRI Alexa at Gary's Creative COW Blog.


Comments

Re: Article: ARRI Alexa: Love at First Sight!
by Keith Collea
Well done Gary!
hm
by Francis Sawyer
"2880x1620 when captured to an externally tethered recorder. So unlike RED, you are not forced into using the camera’s raw signal output prior to getting easily editable content into post."

Red creates reference movies in various resolutions that you can use directly in your NLE. Having to lug an external recorder around for sub-3K raw recordings is a pretty massive trade-off for the convenience of having the camera generate QuickTimes; I'd rather have full-quality onboard recording and then kick off a batch transcode to get QuickTimes in the codec of my choice, whether that's ProRes or a lossless one like Sheer. With storage getting cheaper and more plentiful all the time, forward-thinking filmmakers don't need to rely on lossy codecs.

Re: ARRI Alexa: Love at First Sight!
by Peter Krause
Best thing for me, passing eyes and not really reading the whole thing, is that it "speaks photographese". On of the reasons I like shooting with DSLRs, besides the fact that I also shoot a lot of stills, is that I can keep thinking light and color the way I usually do. May sound strange for peole how grew up with video, but it makes perfect sense for people who can do the ASA-ISO/shutter/apperture/warmth math in their mind. I looked at the first camera picture on my email and thought immediatly: cinematographers just may have gotten their M9. By the looks of it, I was right.
Re: ARRI Alexa: Love at First Sight!
by Stephen Ashton
$70K?? The last two camera reviews I've read here have been for super high end equipment. For those of us who operate down here in the real world, these reviews are akin to reading about the latest Ferrari in Car and Driver. Good for a chuckle but not much practical value.

Any chance you guys might review some sub $10K equipment anytime soon?

Media Maker FL
-1
Costs
by gary adcock
For those of us who operate down here in the real world, these reviews are akin to reading about the latest Ferrari in Car and Driver.

My first digital betacam cost that much.While everyone assumes that most cameras have to be under 10K, that is not the world I work in.

I understand that this a large amount of money, but when you compare the costs to other cameras designed for similar needs like the f23, f35, D21, Genesis and Phantom, all of them are well over $100,000 USD if you can buy them.

So I am more of the F1 driver then - since I think a Ferrari is for everyday use, not just for weekends.





gary adcock
Studio37

Post and Production Workflow Consultant
Production and Post Stereographer
Technology Development
Quality Assurance Assistance

Chicago, IL

http://blogs.creativecow.net/24640

@gary adcock
by Stephen Ashton
You are definitely the F1 driver, Gary. But I suspect the majority of folks who visit this site are more the Jetta and Mini Cooper drivers. I was just wondering if reviews for us might be in the pipeline.

Media Maker FL
-2
@Stephen Ashton
by Ron Lindeboom
Stephen Ashton said: "You are definitely the F1 driver, Gary. But I suspect the majority of folks who visit this site are more the Jetta and Mini Cooper drivers. I was just wondering if reviews for us might be in the pipeline."


Stephen,

You may think this to be true, but the reality is far from what you imagine.

We get to see the addresses of our members who log-in and where they hail from. And yes, many are from one- and two-person teams. But many are also from major studios and networks and many have won Oscars and Emmys. As the years go on, we get more and more of these higher-end users coming to the COW and so we are serving them also.

Over the years, we have had many reviews and articles of lower-end and mid-market cameras. Today, we seem to be getting many articles targeted at higher-end tools and products. Is it intentional? No, it is merely the way that the market is driving things. We have always been a user-driven site and so what you hear are the voices of users who are talking about the things that interest and inspire them.
+1
@Stephen Ashton
by Tim Wilson
Several thoughts:

1) Please use article comments fields to talk about the articles. This is absolutely the wrong place to talk about articles you WANT to be written, or coverage you'd like to see. Do that in the COWmunication Forum, where we actively solicit all kinds of input, criticism, advice, etc.

Which means that we're happy to continue this aspect of the conversation - THERE, not here.

2) Now that it is starting to ship, the demand for Alexa information is skyrocketing even higher than it was when we recognized it with a Creative COW Magazine Blue Ribbon Award. Gary is chronicling his experience nearly every day at his COW Blog, and is nowhere close to answering the hundreds of questions he's getting.

Look for a lot more Alexa coverage coming as quickly as we can get it to you.


3) That said, DSLRs continue to generate heat, which is why our coverage of them is so rapidly expanding.


4) In fact, outside DSLRs, we aren't seeing many updates to pro cameras in the price range you're talking about. When there's new news to report in pro cameras and camcorders, you'll see reviews here. In the meantime, we have great forums for individual manufacturers, the Cinematography forum, DSLR Video forum, and many more, covering cameras in every price range. There are even a couple of threads on shooting HD commercials with the iPhone 4! It's all here, man.

Please discuss them in the proper forums.

5) Even at the list price, the Alexa is a remarkable breakthrough in affordability. But note that many people using the cameras Gary lists above - maybe even most people - will never spend a penny on them. They rent as needed, and build the price into what the client pays.

Rental is definitely something to keep your eyes on regardless of your price range. The Sony EX-3 is an extremely popular rental camera for the same reason as with more expensive ones: you only pay for the camera on the days that you use it.

This obviously doesn't work for every situation - buying a camera can help keep your hourly rates lower over time - but you're looking at price more narrowly than is necessary.

That said, if these aren't your products, price ranges, or business models, please talk about the appropriate ones in the appropriate places. This is absolutely the wrong place.

Thanks,
Tim




Tim Wilson
Associate Publisher, Editor-in-Chief
Creative COW Magazine

My Blog: "Is this thing on? Oh it's on!"

Don't forget to rate your favorite posts!
+1
Re: ARRI Alexa: Love at First Sight!
by gary adcock
Chris,
the cost for the camera is in the $70K USD, and while other Digital Cinema cameras are offered at a lesser cost, by the time you add the accessories, most cameras at this level are 50-60K so this one is not that off the mark


As for the RED comment, there is a place for everyone, yet I see this camera as the first to really give the 4K revolution a serious pause.

For the record I have not seen Raw from the Alexa yet, when I do we will be talking about it here, so any real tests of the camera need to ALL of the formats possible, not just ProRes or UC, I am hoping to see Raw capture soon.



gary adcock
Studio37

Post and Production Workflow Consultant
Production and Post Stereographer
Technology Development
Quality Assurance Assistance

Chicago, IL

http://blogs.creativecow.net/24640

Re: ARRI Alexa: Love at First Sight!
by Pat McGowan
As I understand it the camera is priced at 50K Euros so that might make a difference to some who are into speculating on the currency markets...

Pat McGowan
President, inMotion DVS Inc.
Ottawa, Canada
Sony PMW350K, 2 Sony EX-3s, Sony EX-1
Final Cut Pro (6 seats), CS5 (4 seats), C4D
Small-Tree GraniteSTOR 32TB RAID
Re: ARRI Alexa: Love at First Sight!
by gary adcock
yes that is Mike Bravin, he is becoming a regular in Chicago.

gary adcock
Studio37

Post and Production Workflow Consultant
Production and Post Stereographer
Technology Development
Quality Assurance Assistance

Chicago, IL

http://blogs.creativecow.net/24640

Re: ARRI Alexa: Love at First Sight!
by Daryl Lannert
You hit it right. Game Changer. Does this stop RED in its tracks?
Re: ARRI Alexa: Love at First Sight!
by chris tangey
Gary, you have given a subtle hint on the pricing, but the German car analogy has left me scratching my head. Are we talking volkswagen or BMW, do you have even a ball park $ range?
Re: ARRI Alexa: Love at First Sight!
by Blair Paulsen
Would that be Mike Bravin, Jr. in the photo? If that's the Michael Bravin I know, then I want to get a makeover wherever he went ;-)

Peace - Blair


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