ARRI ALEXA: A Weekend with ALEXA
Much has been made, said, debated and discussed over the battle for digital film supremacy. Filmmakers and industry watchers are keenly tracking the key players and wondering which digital camera might emerge as the favorite to one day replace black and white or color negative film as the preferred choice for feature film, commercial, TV series and MOW production.
This is not to say that digital acquisition has had no penetration into these genres, but the relationship has been more of a first date, a short term love affair, maybe not the person you are going to marry. As most any cinematographer will attest, many still prefer the images captured by light hitting silver on a frame, from a roll of 35mm film. Call it nostalgia or specialized perception, but film has a "quality" that every generation of digital camera wishes to claim and "be like".
My most recent date with a camera was with the much anticipated, newest offering from German camera manufacturing legend ARRI. For the benefit of those of you who need a comparison, ARRI is to filmmaking, cameras and lenses, what the Mercedes is to the automobile. Known for quality, excellence in engineering and -- as it were -- built for drivers.
First, let me say that this is not a head to head test, and this article focus will not be a comparison to other products like: RED One, Genesis, SONY or any of the many DSLR offerings. It will be rather, thoughts on what the ALEXA camera is capable of and what the driver (operator) can expect when recording images and using the technology. Movies follow on pages four, five, and six of this article.
It is important also to note that the camera, as tested, did not have all features enabled. This means that the Prores 4444 SxS slots were (although physically installed) not a functioning part of the camera system. We were unable to secure a HDCam SR recorder for the test, so we did something that might give us the true feel of the camera -- we recorded all if the images in LogC color space to an AJA KiPro recording high quality Prores 422 images at 1920x1080 frame size.
This allowed us some portability while remaining tethered and still recording a high quality signal somewhat emulating the onboard Prores mode which is forthcoming. Jack Mosor of PS production services in Toronto secured the camera from ARRI Canada and lent his expertise to all phases of testing.
ALEXA at night with Jack Mosor.
Our test began capturing night time imagery using available light in the streets of Toronto. This is a good real world test because it forces the camera to be a direct comparison to the human eye. (don't worry we shot charts, too) and let's us know how much light the camera will see in fully lit scenes. It's a good indication of visual perceptual noise as well.
While this is a point of aesthetics many of these new digital cameras afford the cinematographer more opportunity to use more natural light and augment scenes with less light than they may often be used to using. I view it as the artist having new tools to work with but not a tool that replaces or eliminates the need for true lighting of dramatic scenes. The digital cameras (as high speed film stocks and lenses before digital came on the scene) have given us new choices, more variables and in some cases more flexibility to create beautifully lit scenes that embody the overall story.