Digital Cinema Comes of Age
As we have seen many times in this industry, many long established companies cannot always get out of their own way. For 97 years, ARRI has been making what many believe are the finest film cameras available. They pioneered sync sound, super 16, laser film scanning, logarithmic data encoding, recording lens metadata -- all the way down to the industry standard PL mount system used for the lenses found on most high-end camera systems. So when a company as old as ARRI rethinks how they will make future cameras, you might expect them to make many mistakes as they retool to meet the demands of today's rapidly changing market. But with ALEXA, ARRI got it right, and only a couple of years after their first digital cinema efforts.
ARRI's ARRIFLEX IIC -- a wonderful representation of ARRI's fine history.
Simple to use and navigate, with almost unbelievable latitude and image quality, ARRI has refined this camera design to include not just the cinematographer, but camera assistants, and with the adoption of Apple's ProRes codec as their internal recording format, post as well. ALEXA is a whole new ballgame.
The ALEXA menu showing its native ProRes support options
If your ideal camera is a Canon 7D or a Sony EX-1, then this is not the camera for you. When you need a camera that can handle extreme conditions and temperature ranges, one that is infinitely and easily configurable, offering unrivaled expandability and ease of use, yet as durable as a tank, ALEXA is the camera for you.
ALEXA offers exposure ratings from 160 - 1600, with the base rating ARRI recommends at ASA 800. At that setting, ALEXA produces an incredibly smooth, noise-free image, with edge-to-edge continuity. It is virtually free of random noise, or the dreaded CMOS pattern noise, at even the highest ASA ratings.
Recording to what ARRI calls ALEXA's "35mm format, film-style digital camera system," is via their third generation of the ALEV CMOS sensor. This is the same sensor used in ARRILASER film scanners and ALEXA's imagery upholds that high standard.
In fact, it has the greatest dynamic range I have ever worked with in ANY digital camera, ever. I am talking absolutely scary. I can finally see on screen what I have always thought I should be able to capture. Now, I am no longer tweaking fill or going less dramatic with lighting due to the imager's inability to record the contrast range of my subject matter.
We are not talking about a minor increase in dynamic range here either. My initial look showed 13+ stops of dynamic range! I say "plus" because I had to trust my waveform reading, as my DSC Labs ChromaDuMonde 12+4 chart shows only 11 stops + super black. I had to contact Michael at DSC Labs to have a -102db / 18 step camera chart created to test with.
ALEXA is the first shipping digital camera to truly encroach on the capabilities of film's extended latitude range, in my opinion recording with as much latitude as 35mm film can capture even when rated at 1/2 of ALEXA's base rating of ASA 800.